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October 23, 2015 9

Plumbing the Depths: Were the Umpqua Shootings an Anti-Christian Hate Crime?

On Octo­ber 1, 26-year-old stu­dent Christo­pher Harper-Mercer walked into a class­room at Umpqua Com­mu­nity Col­lege in south­west Ore­gon and opened fire, killing nine peo­ple and wound­ing another nine before killing him­self after law enforce­ment arrived and wounded him.christopher-harper-mercer-hate-crime-shooting

In the weeks since the shoot­ing, Harper-Mercer’s moti­va­tion has remained largely a mys­tery, the sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion and alle­ga­tions, thanks to the lim­ited, often ambigu­ous infor­ma­tion avail­able on the shooter.

The issue most often raised about the shoot­ings is whether they con­sti­tute an anti-Christian or anti-religious hate crime.  Pro­po­nents of this the­ory note that Harper-Mercer asked sev­eral of his vic­tims about their reli­gion before shoot­ing them, and that his lim­ited on-line foot­print sug­gests a dis­dain for orga­nized reli­gion.  On the other hand, it turns out, Harper-Mercer was angry about a great many things, some clearly more so than reli­gion.  He also had a his­tory of men­tal health and behav­ioral issues.

What moti­vated the shooter?  It seems pos­si­ble that a clear-cut answer will never emerge.  But an analy­sis of what is known so far about Harper-Mercer and the shoot­ings may offer a slightly clearer pic­ture of what hap­pened that day—and why.

Acquain­tances of Harper-Mercer inter­viewed since the shoot­ing have not revealed much about his atti­tudes towards reli­gion.  But on an on-line dat­ing pro­file, Harper-Mercer chose the options “not reli­gious” and “not reli­gious but spir­i­tual” to describe him­self.  As a prospec­tive match, he sought some­one pagan, Wic­can, or “not reli­gious, but spir­i­tual.”  On the same site, he joined groups called “doesn’t like orga­nized reli­gion,” “mag­ick and occult,” and the “left-hand path,” another occult ref­er­ence.  How­ever, to date no on-line anti-Christian or anti-religious rhetoric by Harper-Mercer has been discovered.

Accord­ing to the accounts of wit­nesses, on the day of the shoot­ing itself, Harper-Mercer walked late into his writ­ing class and fired a gun, appar­ently to get people’s atten­tion.  He fatally shot the instruc­tor, Lawrence Levine, after telling him, accord­ing to the account of one wit­ness, “I’ve been wait­ing to do this for a really long time.”

Harper-Mercer than ordered the 15 or so stu­dents onto the floor.  Accord­ing to one sur­vivor, Mathew Down­ing, he “fired a cou­ple of shots into the crowd of stu­dents in the cen­ter.”  He sub­se­quently ordered sev­eral stu­dents to stand, one at a time, and asked about their reli­gion, then shot them.  For exam­ple, the mother of one vic­tim told reporters that Harper-Mercer asked her daugh­ter, Cheyeanne Fitzger­ald, about her reli­gion, shoot­ing her in the back when she didn’t answer.

The sis­ter of one Umpqua stu­dent told NBC News shortly after the attack that Harper-Mercer asked his poten­tial vic­tims if they were Chris­t­ian.  If they said yes, he would shoot them in the head.  How­ever, if they said some­thing else, or noth­ing, “they were shot else­where in the body, usu­ally the leg.”  This state­ment was widely repeated on the Inter­net.  How­ever, the stu­dent, J. J. Vic­ari, was not actu­ally in the shooter’s class­room at the time, but in another class­room in that build­ing.  When NBC sub­se­quently inter­viewed Vic­ari him­self, he said that he never heard Harper-Mercer ask about religion—or even heard his voice at all.

The most frequently-repeated account came from the father of vic­tim Anas­ta­sia Boy­lan.  Her father told the media that Harper-Mercer asked peo­ple if they were Chris­t­ian, then said “Good, because you’re a Chris­t­ian, you’re going to see God in just about one sec­ond,” killing peo­ple who had iden­ti­fied them­selves as Christians.

How­ever, when Anas­ta­sia Boy­lan her­self was sub­se­quently inter­viewed by Good Morn­ing Amer­ica, her account was dif­fer­ent:  “He had us get up, one by one, and asked us what our reli­gions were.  The shooter said [vic­tims] would only feel pain for a cou­ple of sec­onds, and that [they] would be with God soon.  And then he shot them.”  Boylan’s descrip­tion makes it seem as if Harper-Mercer was actu­ally engag­ing in some sort of bizarre attempt to calm or give solace to the peo­ple he was about to mur­der.  He also told the stu­dents he would be join­ing them in death in just a lit­tle while.

Other sur­viv­ing wit­nesses also ques­tioned whether Harper-Mercer was “tar­get­ing Chris­tians.” Rand McGowan said, “He didn’t, really, honestly…Obviously, he was ask­ing what reli­gion, but he wasn’t really just tar­get­ing.  He was kind of just say­ing, ‘Oh, since you have a God, you’ll be join­ing him in a lit­tle bit.’  It wasn’t really like, ‘I’m tar­get­ing you and I’m going to kill you.’”

Tracy Heu, another sur­vivor, recalled that Harper-Mercer told vic­tims, “I’m going to send you to God.  You’re going to see God.”  How­ever, she did not think that Chris­tian­ity or reli­gion were a motive, not­ing that he shot peo­ple regard­less of how they responded to his ques­tion about religion.

It is not clear how many stu­dents Harper-Mercer asked about their reli­gion.  How­ever, it is clear from Downing’s detailed writ­ten account that a num­ber of stu­dents were shot or shot at with­out hav­ing been asked any­thing about their religion.

Harper-Mercer killed or wounded most of the stu­dents in the class­room (shoot­ing one vic­tim at least five times), regard­less of faith.  How­ever, one stu­dent he spared, giv­ing him an enve­lope for police that allegedly included a flash drive and doc­u­ments, includ­ing what has been described as a “manifesto.”

Weeks after the shoot­ings, author­i­ties still have not yet released any of the con­tents of this enve­lope.  How­ever, offi­cers or oth­ers with appar­ent access have leaked descrip­tions and excerpts of its con­tents to the media.  The doc­u­ment allegedly con­tains racist lan­guage, though race does not seem to have been a motive for the attack (and Harper-Mercer was from a multi-racial fam­ily).  It also allegedly con­tains lan­guage about his sex­ual frustrations—which echoes com­ments Harper-Mercer made on-line prior to the shoot­ings.  One anony­mous source told Peo­ple Mag­a­zine that the shooter wrote, “I am going to die friend­less, girl­friend­less, and a vir­gin.”  The source also said that the man­i­festo had “666” writ­ten on it and that Harper-Mercer wanted “to serve darkness”—characterizing the attack as “strictly for Satanic purposes.”

How­ever, in a sub­se­quent Peo­ple arti­cle, an appar­ently dif­fer­ent anony­mous source allegedly read parts of the man­i­festo to reporters, telling the mag­a­zine that the man­i­festo chron­i­cled Harper-Mercer’s life and his frus­tra­tions:  “no job, no life, no suc­cess.”  Accord­ing to this source, Harper-Mercer allegedly wrote, “I was hated ever since I arrived in the world.  I was always under attack.  I’ve always been the most hated per­son in the world.”

Harper-Mercer allegedly wrote in the man­i­festo about pre­vi­ous mass killers (as he did on-line, prior to the attack), claim­ing that they too had been denied every­thing they deserved and wanted.  This source quotes Harper-Mercer mak­ing ref­er­ences about demons and Hell, though the ref­er­ences sound as though they may have been more metaphor­i­cal than actu­ally Satanic.  How­ever, with­out being able to see the actual lan­guage in its true con­text, it is hard to know for sure.

So was Harper-Mercer’s deadly attack a hate crime?  Cer­tainly, Harper-Mercer was capa­ble of hatred.  The evi­dence sug­gests that he was a supremely dis­turbed and alien­ated young man, frus­trated by vir­tu­ally all aspects of his life, from being kicked out of the mil­i­tary, to being placed on aca­d­e­mic pro­ba­tion, to being unable to form con­nec­tions with other peo­ple, espe­cially women.

Hate and resent­ment, Harper-Mercer thus had in full mea­sure. But anger alone does not define a hate crime.  Was his attack directed against Chris­tians or against peo­ple with reli­gious beliefs?  The evi­dence that has so far emerged to sup­port such a propo­si­tion is not very strong.  Harper-Mercer appears to have stored up anger against soci­ety in general—and when he unleashed his deadly fury, he spared nei­ther Chris­t­ian nor non-Christian, nei­ther the reli­gious nor the agnostic.

It may well have been the act of shoot­ing and killing peo­ple, rather than shoot­ing any­one in par­tic­u­lar, that was most impor­tant to Harper-Mercer.  And while new infor­ma­tion could prompt a re-examination of the entire event, it seems quite pos­si­ble that pro­found alien­ation and resent­ment, rather than ani­mus directed specif­i­cally at Chris­tians or the reli­gious, was the most impor­tant moti­va­tion in Harper-Mercer’s mur­der­ous rampage.

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June 17, 2014 2

Murder Suspect Fan Of “Patriot” Movement Survivalist Guru


Gary Alan Lewis

After a man­hunt that lasted sev­eral days, police in Port­land, Ore­gon, have arrested Gary Alan Lewis on mur­der and unlaw­ful use of a weapon charges for allegedly killing a female ten­ant and hid­ing her body in the wall of a shed.

The search for both Lewis and the vic­tim was com­pli­cated by the fact that Lewis had built an under­ground bunker on his prop­erty.  Police also feared the pos­si­bil­ity of booby traps as they searched the property.

The bunker, which Lewis built a num­ber of years ago, was appar­ently a prod­uct of his “Patriot” move­ment anti-government and sur­vival­ist phi­los­o­phy.  Lewis viewed the gov­ern­ment as a “Total Mafia Orga­ni­za­tion run by the Elites who want us as Slaves.”  In 2013, Lewis claimed he wanted to move out of Port­land and find a “safe place to escape to when the city becomes unten­able,” a ref­er­ence to the com­mon sur­vival­ist belief of an immi­nent col­lapse of civ­i­liza­tion.   A year ear­lier he posted to a sur­vival­ist “Meetup” group that “col­lapse is emi­nent [sic] if you have been watch­ing long.”  Peo­ple, he wrote, “need to prep for Mar­tial law or UN law.”

Lewis, who also used the names Gary Allan Lewis and Gary Loomis, was in par­tic­u­lar a devo­tee of sur­vival­ist guru James Wes­ley Rawles.  Rawles, a blog­ger, author and sur­vival­ist con­sul­tant, is most well-known for hav­ing writ­ten a series of nov­els pop­u­lar­iz­ing the notion of a “com­ing global col­lapse.”  Rawles, though more well-known as a sur­vival­ist, has also been an adher­ent of the anti-government “sov­er­eign cit­i­zen” movement.

Rawles’ best known book is a novel called Patri­ots, about a band of sur­vivors of a global col­lapse who find a refuge in north­ern Idaho where they rebuild a soci­ety based on “true Con­sti­tu­tional law.”  Lewis described Patri­ots as “the book that tells it all” on one of his Face­book pages and repeat­edly rec­om­mended it in on-line post­ings and comments.

Lewis is even listed on the Meetup group page as hav­ing attended a “Prep­pers Book Club” meet­ing in the Port­land area in June 2012 to dis­cuss another Rawles book, How to Sur­vive the End of the World As We Know It.

Lewis also described Rawles’ Sur­vival Blog as his favorite website.

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October 16, 2013 0

Former White Supremacist Terror Cell Members Arrested In Arizona

atf-agents-raid-kehoe property

ATF agents at raid on Kehoe prop­erty
(Source: ATF)

On Octo­ber 14, agents from the Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explo­sives (ATF) launched a raid on a remote piece of land out­side Ash Fork, Ari­zona, to arrest white suprema­cist Kirby Kehoe and his son, Cheyne, on weapons charges. 

The two Kehoes, both con­victed felons, allegedly pos­sessed around 20–30 firearms, includ­ing assault weapons, rifles, and hand­guns, as well as thou­sands of rounds of ammu­ni­tion. Cheyne Kehoe was also allegedly in pos­ses­sion of body armor, also prohibited.

The Kehoes were among the most noto­ri­ous of the white suprema­cist ter­ror­ists of the 1990s. In the late 1990s, both Kirby and Cheyne Kehoe were mem­bers of a domes­tic ter­ror cell led by Chevie Kehoe, the eldest son of Kirby. While pur­su­ing the grandiose dream of cre­at­ing an “Aryan People’s Repub­lic,” the Kehoes and other cell mem­bers mur­dered five peo­ple, includ­ing an eight-year-old girl, engaged in shootouts with police, com­mit­ted armed rob­beries, and allegedly planted a bomb at the city hall build­ing of Spokane, Washington.  

Chevie Kehoe even­tu­ally received mul­ti­ple life sen­tences for his role in the vio­lent acts, while another mem­ber, Daniel Lee, received a death sen­tence. Cheyne Kehoe received a 24-year sen­tence that was later reduced to 11 years for coop­er­a­tion, while Kirby Kehoe received a 51-month sentence. 

Kirby Kehoe, who lived in the Pacific North­west in the 1990s, pur­chased land in Ari­zona in early 2013, to which he and some other mem­bers of his large fam­ily moved. The ATF inves­ti­ga­tion stemmed from an ear­lier encounter between Cheyne Kehoe and local law enforce­ment offi­cers in early Sep­tem­ber.  In this inci­dent, author­i­ties arrested Cheyne on charges of domes­tic violence-related unlaw­ful impris­on­ment, pos­ses­sion of drug para­pher­na­lia, dis­or­derly con­duct, imper­son­at­ing a police offi­cer, and assault/touching (know­ingly touch­ing another per­son with the intent to injure, insult or pro­voke such person). 

The inves­ti­ga­tion is ongo­ing and fur­ther arrests are possible.

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