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Police display bizarre sympathy for Atlanta massage parlor mass shooter

A man named Robert Aaron Long has apparently confessed to carrying out a mass shooting in the Atlanta area Tuesday night. Eight people were killed at three different massage parlors, six of them Asian women.

The identity of the victims naturally led to speculation that there was a racial motivation for the murders. But in a press conference Wednesday, Cherokee County sheriff’s captain Jay Baker tried to downplay that possibility. He repeated Long’s claim that the murder spree “was not racially motivated,” and instead that it was about his supposed sex addiction. He “sees these locations as … a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate,” Baker said. Sounding almost like a defense attorney, Baker also said Long “understood the gravity of it … yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

Setting aside the bizarrely sympathetic comments about a confessed mass murderer, this argument is not plausible. Though we don’t yet have all the facts here, there is an extensive literature on how racist prejudice can fuel unhealthy sexual fetishes and violence (by, for instance, instilling a belief that women of Asian descent are naturally submissive, possibly leading to violence when advances are rejected). Driving for dozens of miles to commit mass murder at three different specifically Asian massage parlors to somehow exact vengeance for a purported sex addiction is not evidence against a racist motive; it is evidence in favor of one.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Baker as an Atlanta Police captain. We regret the error.