Killers, hate crimes, and unholy guidance




By Mark Harris

I’ve been thinking and meditating on the killer at the Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday, and also about the bomber, and about the notion that these were mentally ill people, or people who hate.


It is too easy to simply call the killer “hate filled” or his action a “hate crime.” There is plenty of hate to go around… unfortunately. And the bomber, successful or not, may be a fanatic lunatic. But it seems to me these are about something more… maybe something like “guided-hate.” The killer and the bomber may have been sick, or mad, or angry, but the focus of his hate came from a deeper place in the social fabric… his hate “exists” in a context where hate is focused by greater forces than personal hate as derived from personal illness.


I think perhaps that the focusing is a product of the sort of bundling that fascism provides – where hate is given focus, people’s hates are bundled, and enemies become specific target groups. So this killer, and the bomber of last weeks’ mailbombs, find their hatreds guided. To put the blame on the killer’s craziness is not enough. The blame lies as well with those who help shape and form the focus for these hatreds, no matter how psychotic the perpetrators may be.


I don’t think it is enough to talk about hate crimes. These are higher crimes, somehow more deeply embedded in the social fabric. These crimes are the strategic outcomes of those who form a social narrative in which the crimes are never traced to their source, but rather are left charged, if at all, to the immediate perpetrators. The manipulators of the social narrative hope to never get charged. And what’s more, WE hope never to be charged; in order to avoid having to be accountable, we too easily accept the verdict against the localized perpetrator as sufficient and bundle ourselves in the protection that “we” are not to blame.


So we end up saying, “it’s awful,” and move on, deciding, on the whole, that after all, it was a small thing, tragic, but not unusual.


This killing and those bombs were not about tragedy. They were products of unholy guidance from an evil place. This is not about personal irrational or criminal behavior. It is about the use of focused hate as an instrument of power, a power whose name is not mentioned, but whose fingerprints are everywhere.


The Rev Mark Harris is Associate Priest, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lewes, DE and a prominent Anglican/Episcopal blogger at


image: Havdallah Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue, Lafayette Square across from the White House, Washington, DC (Adam Fagen/Flickr)

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Philip B. Spivey
Philip B. Spivey

As folks in my family like to say, "Tell the truth and shame the devil". And in this post, we have truth telling and prophetic witness that goes to the heart of what we witnessed yesterday.

James Alison, by way of Girard, speaks to the phenomenon of 'scapegoating'. Simply, finding "scapegoats" is the quickest way to unite a populous behind you while, simultaneously, supplying that populace with frequent jolts of adrenaline. (Nothing excites and incites like adrenaline.) Scapegoating is the oldest and most lethal trick in the book: Through the eons, its victims have been women, children, and Jews. In recent human history, it's been people of African descent, other people of color and gender nonconformists.

Yesterday's atrocity is the latest in a long list of atrocities that are becoming almost common place. I only pray that we don't become inured to it and acknowledge that for different folks on different days, scapegoating has become pattern and practice. Who's next?

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