On March 16, a young man with a head stuffed full of conservative evangelical notions about sex shot and killed eight people, six of them Asian women. The accused shooter is 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia. Yesterday, a young man who appears to have been struggling with and defensive about his identity as a Muslim in America shot and killed ten people. The accused shooter is 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Denver.
I’m hearing that the Right was joyous when they found out the Boulder shooter was a Syrian immigrant and Muslim. Now they can blame Islam, or terrorism, or both. But I’m not seeing a significant difference between the Boulder and Atlanta shooters, and the Atlanta shooter was a Christian. From what little we know at the moment, it appears they were both confused young men who would have benefited from some psychological counseling. Instead, they bought guns.
I’m not saying either one was “mentally ill,” mind you. I’m not even sure what that means. No one is saying that either shooter was psychotic, although psychosis often presents itself in young adulthood. Assuming Mr. Alissa is not psychotic, I doubt that a serious terrorist would choose a neighborhood grocery store as a target. We may learn more about what was eating at him eventually.
Mr. Long had been a patient at an evangelical treatment center very near the first spa that he targeted. He was there to be treated for “sex addiction.” The treatment center doesn’t seem to be of the sort operating under American Psychological Association guidelines.
HopeQuest has ties to major evangelical institutions and has promoted “ex-gay therapy,” the idea that people can become heterosexual through counseling. Long, 21, who grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church, was a patient at the treatment facility in 2019 and again in 2020, according to his former roommate Tyler Bayless. … The founder and creator of HopeQuest, Roy Blankenship, was once considered one of the nation’s foremost conversion therapists.
So it’s a quack center, and the “help” Long got there probably made him worse. It’s a damn shame.
Oh, and targeting three different Asian-women-owned businesses in three different locations kind of does speak to Long’s having an issue with racism and misogyny, no matter what Andrew Sullivan thinks.
A number of articles have been published since calling out evangelical “purity” culture as a possible motivator. For example:
The murders in Georgia represent a uniquely American twinning of racism, sexism, and religion.
“It’s not a jump to say white conservative Christianity played a role here,” said Joshua Grubbs, an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “The facts need to come to light, but all the facts that are in the light right now suggest it’s at play.” …
… gender experts say it’s impossible to understand the role of misogyny in the killing of six Asian women at massage parlors without also thinking about the way sexist stereotypes objectify Asian women. And religious studies scholars say it’s impossible to understand either without looking at evangelicalism.
Please also read Atlanta Suspect’s Fixation on Sex Is Familiar Thorn for Evangelicals by Ruth Graham in the New York Times and Evangelicals Must Confront Their Toxic Sexual Politics by Sarah Jones in New York magazine. At the very least, Long’s “Christian” upbringing failed to teach him that Asian women are human beings, not objects sent by the Devil to tempt him.
Back in 2017 I wrote a post titled Evolutionary Psychology and Extreme Gun Ownership that proposed that American mass shooters, violent gang members, and Islamic men who join ISIS are being motivated by similar if not identical social-psychological factors. One person quoted in the post called them all “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” Again, we don’t yet know enough about Alissa to know if he fits this description. But certainly there’s some kind of toxic stew that involves extremist, reactionary political or religious views, some sort of fanatical grievance, and young males stumbling on their way into adulthood at the root of a lot of atrocities these days.
And, as ever, there’s just too damn many guns.