Can we blame the Fred Phelps's of the world for the Jacob Robida's?
What’s the difference between Fred Phelps and Jacob Robida? Phelps is patient enough to let God take care of the smiting of gays on His own time. That and Phelps probably doesn’t like Insane Clown Posse or keep Nazi memorabilia.
Within our comments we’ve seen a raging debate about the homobigot cop-killing murderer, Jacob Robida, and the culpability of the atmosphere of intolerance and homophobia, fueled by the Religious Right and the Bush Administration, that leads to such anti-gay violence.
One of our commenters believes that the attacks by Robida are just a sad example of another violent psychopath, and that trying to pin any blame on anti-gay wingnut preachers or politicians is a fool’s errand, as silly as blaming liberals for the murderous rampage of Jeffrey Dahmer.
So don’t be shocked when I say that he is right… to a point. Homophobic George W. Bush and the Homophobic Religious Right are not directly to blame for Jacob Robida’s unprovoked homophobic attacks. Robida was obviously a deeply disturbed nutjob, and no one from the administration or the religious right ever called him up and commanded, “Jake, go hatchet me up a fag or two.”
Now, if we want to talk about how a deeply disturbed nutjob goes about choosing his class of victim, that’s where Bush and the AmTaliban come in. Robida’s self-loathing and hatred of gays could be entirely of his own creation. Certainly, there are plenty of psychopathic homicidal nutjobs out there, like guys who shoot up a restaurant in Ruby, Texas, or guys who bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City, or guys who murder and eat teenage boys in Milwaukee.
The question is this: how much does the cultural atmosphere contribute to pushing a nutjob over the edge? I’m not aware of any religious or political leader saying that God considers eating in a Texas diner an abomination, that God is disgusted by federal government employees who will all burn in hell, or that God says Cambodian teenagers are the other white meat. Furthermore, I can’t think of any group of normal, sane Americans who would advocate any of those things.
So, yes, I’m sure Robida’s homophobia and his own lack of impulse control is almost entirely to blame. But you know, we don’t see a whole lot of diner shoot-ups, domestic anti-gov’t bombings, or serial killing cannibals. When they happen, they are an aberration; a sad, unpredictable tragedy. We do see a whole lot of anti-gay attacks, though, and while they are equally sad, they’re not entirely unpredictable.
We also accept that in the sad, unpredictable tragedies, there is often an underlying motive behind the violence, however insane it might be. The postal worker who shoots up his former place of employment doesn’t randomly walk into a supermarket and shoot people; his actions have motive and purpose – revenge, anger, or the spiraling cost of stamps. Jeffrey Dahmer stalked, seduced, killed, and ate people because he was truly crazy and a little bit peckish. These guys are the rarity, the guys who kill from motives they harbor alone, with no input or support from anyone.
We also accept that belonging to a cult or a fringe movement can push people over the edge into violence. We certainly see that with recent embassy burnings over a cartoon. We saw it with McVeigh and his belief in a fringe militia movement. These actions are also the work of a small minority, but this minority at least has the support of people who, while they don’t support the actions, certainly agree with the motivation.
There is widely documented evidence in social science that says people will do things when part of a mob that they would never do on their own. Without a militia movement to bolster his ideals, would McVeigh have bombed the Murrah Building? Who knows? Without imams calling for death to the infidels who blaspheme The Prophet, would young radical Muslims burn down embassies or set off car bombs?
What is the fringe Religious Reich if not a huge echo chamber of anti-gay sentiment? What is the outright hostility toward LGBTQ issues in this administration if not an anti-gay mob mentality? Would Robida’s own internalized homophobia and anger been enough to set him off on a hate crime spree? Or, would Robida have just been another gay-hating teen who merely dreams of killing gays if not for constant messages from parts of society, politics, and religion that support his hatred and rationalize the dehumanization of his victims?
We may never know the answers, since there won’t be a trial of Jacob Robida and since John Edward probably won’t “cross over” to ask him. But I believe if you’re in a room full of powder kegs, it’s irresponsible and dangerous to advocate cigarette smoking. And if you’re selling lighters, you can’t be blameless if someone uses it and blows up the room.
Even if we elect Carson Kressley as the 44th president and Jesus Himself comes down and tells the believers that God actually loves the gays more than the straights, for He made them in His own fabulous image, yes, there will still be homophobes, and some will be stalking and perpetrating violence against gays. But probably not as many, since the timid, weak, or not-entirely indoctrinated ones won’t have that support group telling them their hatred is justified.