Josh Hawley demands FBI investigate Nashville shooting as an anti-Christian hate crime

Sen. Josh Hawley
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) Photo: Natureofthought/via Wikipedia

While investigators have just started looking into the motivations of the shooter who killed six people – including three children – at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has already decided what the motive is: anti-Christian hate.

Hawley is taking the lead on calling the shooting a hate crime despite being the only senator to vote against hate crimes legislation two years ago when Asian Americans were being targeted.

Hawley sent a letter today to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security demanding they treat the shooting like a hate crime, despite the lack of evidence that it was one. The school the shooter targeted – Covenant School – was a Christian school, but the shooter attended the school himself. Authorities have said that he left a manifesto, but they’re still looking at the evidence.

“It is commonplace to call such horrors ‘senseless violence,’” Hawley wrote in his letter. “But properly speaking, that is false. Police report that the attack here was ‘targeted’—targeted, that is, against Christians.”

Hawley was likely referring to Nashville Police Department spokesperson Don Aaron who called the attack “targeted,” but he didn’t say that the shooter had targeted Christians as a class. Aaron said the school itself was targeted. “This school, this church building was a target of the shooter, but we have no information at present to indicate that the shooter was specifically targeting any one of the six individuals who were murdered,” Aaron said.

“Nashville police chief John Drake announced yesterday that ‘we have a manifesto, we have some writings that we’re going over that pertain to this date, the actual incident…. We have a map drawn out of how this was all going to take place,'” Hawley wrote as evidence that this was a hate crime. “Moreover, police detectives believe that [the shooter, Audrey Hale] had ‘some resentment for having to go to that school.'”

If the shooter resented the school, that’s not enough to show that the shooting was a hate crime under federal law. The shooter would have had to have chosen his targets because of their religious beliefs, not just because they were part of a school that he had a grudge against.

“I urge you to immediately open an investigation into this shooting as a federal hate crime,” Hawley concluded. “The full resources of the federal government must be brought to bear to determine how this crime occurred, and who may have influenced the deranged shooter to carry out these horrific crimes. Hate that leads to violence must be condemned. And hate crimes must be prosecuted.”

In the Senate, Hawley called the shooting a “hate crime against this community in Nashville” and said that he would introduce a resolution “explicitly condemning this massacre as the hate crime that it is and calling upon this body to condemn hateful rhetoric that leads to violence, hateful rhetoric against religious believers.”

But Hawley wasn’t always so supportive of hate crimes legislation.

In April 2021, the Senate voted on a bill to increase law enforcement efforts to stop hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community after about 3800 cases of anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes were reported in the previous year. Federal hate crimes legislation was already on the books, but this law allowed law enforcement to expedite the review of hate crimes cases.

The Senate voted for the bill 94-1, an exceptionally rare case in which almost the entire Senate agreed on something.

The lone vote against the bill? Hawley.

“It’s too broad,” Hawley said of the law at the time. “As a former prosecutor, my view is it’s dangerous to simply give the federal government open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents.”

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