Column: The co-conspirators in hate-driven violence

From left, a woman who goes by the name of

From left, a woman who goes by the name of "Queen," views crosses put up in memory of the victims of Saturday's shooting as artist Roberto Marquez, of Dallas, paints and Will Walsh, of Nocatee, Fla., helps construct posts Monday, Aug. 28, 2023, near the site of the attack at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla. Queen says she is a manager at the store and was holed up in the office at the store when the shooting occurred. (Corey Perrine/The Florida Times-Union via AP) The Florida Times-Union via AP — Corey Perrine

Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson

By STEVE NELSON

For the Valley News

Published: 09-18-2023 12:29 PM

Last month Robert Bowers, who slaughtered 11 people and wounded six more at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, was sentenced to death by a federal jury.

Also last month, Laura Ann Carleton, a California shop owner and mother of nine, was shot to death by Travis Ikeguchi, who was apparently enraged by her support of gay rights and proud display of a Pride flag. Each had a history. Carleton was a relentless ally of LGBTQ+ folks and Ikeguchi had a history of anti-gay rants and other warning signs.

In both cases, irrational hatred of the “other” seemed to spark homicidal rage. Like wildfires caused by climate change, the severe uptick in crimes of hatred is also caused by climate change: the climate of hatred created by the political right, leading to bitter souls as parched as the dry village of Lahaina. In such a climate the smallest spark — the colors of the rainbow — can lead to murderous rage.

Among the “features” of the multiple indictments of the former president is the identification of co-conspirators. In Jack Smith’s January 6th case, the co-conspirators are unnamed for strategic purposes. Prosecuting one kingpin is more streamlined than trying a rogue’s gallery. But in Georgia, D.A. Fani Willis named 18 co-conspirators, each of whom played a role in the criminal enterprise.

I suggest that we name co-conspirators in hate crimes, like those committed by Bowers and Ikeguchi. These violent monsters are not created in a vacuum. There are a great many co-conspirators who are complicit in the deaths of innocent women and men, like Laura Ann Carleton or the 97-year-old great-grandmother slaughtered in the Pittsburgh Chapel.

It’s too late in the Pittsburgh case, but not too late in the recent hate crime. While the entire Republican Party might well be charged as a consequence of its anti-gay stances, that would create an unwieldy indictment.

So let’s start with the announced candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The New York Times recently published a Cliffs Notes version of their bigotry against transgender folks. Every GOP hopeful wants to eliminate the right to same-sex marriage. None of them will support inclusion of gay rights in anti-discrimination legislation. Many, led by Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have removed information about sexual or gender identity from schools and colleges.

All of them use heated rhetoric about gay and trans folk to fire up their audiences about “wokeness.” Not a one among them will denounce the disgusting homophobic stances of the many and varied evangelical hate groups that constitute a significant portion of their political base.

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The cumulative result of this political rhetoric is to dehumanize those in the minority. To remove from textbooks, to deny constitutional rights and to ban story hours, is to gradually reduce in stature. This reduction in social and legal stature serves to legitimize the more virulent hatred in the darker corners of the internet. It is as intentional as the smooth-talkers who spew racial hatred, knowing that there are less “civilized” thugs who will do the dirty work for them.

It is not categorically different from the speech and actions of the former president. His exhortations before the insurrection were fully understood by the mob who did his bidding. “Fight like hell!” ” You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” In the Georgia election case, he urged Brad Raffensperger and others to break the law, using barely coded language to try to avoid personal accountability. But that string has played out, and his pre-adolescent behavior is headed for criminal court.

Homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism are not recent phenomena. Vicious bigots like Robert Bowers have been lurking in the shadows for centuries. But it only takes a few right wing politicians and media celebrities bitching about George Soros to drive a pathetic bigot over the edge and have him riddle a 97 year-old woman’s body with bullets from an AR-15.

Similarly, there have been shriveled-spirit homophobes like Travis Ikeguchi calling classmates “fags” and propping up their own insecurities with pseudo-macho hate talk for many generations. But when Trump, DeSantis and others legitimize these perverse ideations, it gives permission to act ... and so Ikeguchi did.

The line between a hate crime and the climate that led to it is nearly indistinguishable, as one gradually rises from the other. Perhaps my hope for legal repercussions is unrealistic, but there should be no easy escape, as these politicians are complicit in every hate crime against our LGBTQ+ community.

Every right-wing bigot in elected office can be held accountable — at the ballot box. And anyone who votes for them is indirectly complicit too.