Following the brutal murder of 3 Muslim students in North Carolina, calls have started across the world for this to be recognized as a hate crime, and even terrorism on par with Charlie Hebdo. In some respects, Craig Stephen Hicks seems like an unlikely culprit for committing a hate crime of any kind, much less an act of terror. While he was an anti-theist, he also seems to have been an anti-Tea Party liberal who promoted the causes we expect from such a demographic: gay marriage, abortion, and fedora-tipping rants about ignorant bible-thumpers. On the other hand, his neighbours describe him as being angry, intimidating, and often confrontational. Dispensing with the notion that only Muslims are expected to apologize for the crimes of their fellows, Richard Dawkins stepped up on Twitter to condemn the acts. Given that Hicks also liked firearms, we can expect emphasis on the whole “red-state gun owner” angle as well.
Nevertheless, his anti-theism and whiteness have drawn a clear image in many heads: Hicks murdered 3 Muslims in cold blood because of religious and ethnic hatred. Like the Charlie Hebdo terrorists, he could not stand people who differed from him and found an excuse to act on this rage. It’s easy to see why this interpretation would be good for the narrative that rhetoric about terrorism is Islamophobic. When the media talks about terrorism, the lens is often focused on Muslims. Convincing the media to depict more crimes committed by white Westerners as terrorism would make the focus less disparate.
But do the facts align? As things stand currently, it seems that the motive was a long-standing parking dispute – a fact which drives home how senseless the murder was, but which would require an extremely liberal interpretation of terrorism. Even if we discover that Hicks had disliked the students for their religion and thus committed a hate crime as well as three murders, it’s still a huge leap to being America’s Charlie Hebdo. The men who committed the Charlie Hebdo attacks intended them to create terror, explicitly invoked a religious ideology, and had received training from Al-Qaeda. Hicks invoked no agenda, had no training by or even affiliation to any group, and seems to have had no motive for his barbarous acts beyond nursing a deep grudge. His actions didn’t even indicate that he was planning some kind of attack – he was studying to become a paralegal. That is the sort of action which causes the media to speculate about mental instability instead of terrorism. If Hicks had claimed to be representing some anti-religious agenda, this would not be the case.
Nevertheless, these facts will ultimately matter little in how this case is presented. As with Ferguson, the press and online “activists” framed the debate in such a way that only one outcome would have been acceptable to them. Were Darren Wilson’s story to be entirely accurate, he would still had to have been sacrificed for the greater good of Social Justice. This case will likely turn out similarly, especially with the leaders of Muslim countries making statements on the issue. This event is another marker for the direction which debates about hate crimes and terrorism will go in. The demand to treat this attack as equivalent to Charlie Hebdo indicates increasing lines being drawn.
The power of the press to spin news and weave narratives is an immense one. Both Muslim activists and the political Left have an interest in keeping up pressure on the media to paint crimes committed by culturally Western whites as hate crimes, terrorism, and persecution – regardless of actual intent. The figure of the angry white male must become as feared as that of the radical Muslim. If they can use it to further taint MRA’s, libertarians, programmers, or any other group that is too nastily white and male, so much the better. If this trend continues, the distinction between these charges and acts of assault or murder without such motives will become ever more blurred. If there is truth to the idea that criminals with minority backgrounds tend to get painted as representing their entire group, white criminals can ever more expect to join them. As hate crimes and even terror charges become proxies for inter-thede violence, each group has greater incentive to use such charges against opponents. If it doesn’t hold up in court, it can certainly hold up in press headlines.
Thus, the disintegration of the mainstream media continues.