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After shooting, Josh Hawley has a new perspective on hate crimes

Josh Hawley was the only senator to vote against a federal hate crimes bill in 2021. After this week's shooting, the Republican's perspective is different.


On Monday, a shooter opened fire at the Covenant School in Nashville, killing six people, including three children. On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a congressional resolution condemning the slayings “as a hate crime.”

To be sure, there may yet be evidence to support such a claim, but the investigation has just begun — it’s only been two days since the shooting — and as Attorney General Merrick Garland reminded senators yesterday, the shooter’s motive “hasn’t been identified.”

It appears Hawley isn’t inclined to wait for the factual details to come into sharper focus. NBC News reported:

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Tuesday called on federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the shooting at The Covenant School as a religious hate crime. ... “It is commonplace to call such horrors ‘senseless violence,’” Hawley wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “But properly speaking, that is false. Police report that the attack here was ‘targeted’ — targeted, that is, against Christians.”

Again, it’s entirely possible that the killings were the result of religious animus, but given the circumstances, it hardly seems outlandish to wait for investigators to collect evidence and share their findings. At least, that is, unless political grandstanding is deemed the higher priority.

It’s also an open question as to why a senator from Missouri, who lives in Virginia, is trying to make snap judgments about a case in Tennessee.

But there’s also a disconnect between the message and the messenger. Remember this NPR report from two years ago?

Capping nearly two weeks of talks between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate approved legislation on Thursday to ramp up law enforcement efforts to better protect the Asian American and Pacific Islander community from hate crimes. The move marks a rare moment of bipartisan unity needed to approve the Senate legislation despite a new political era marked by increasingly bitter party divisions. The bill, which needed 60 votes for passage in the evenly divided Senate, was approved by a 94-1 vote. Only GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri voted no.

Yes, in April 2021, the Senate easily approved new hate crimes legislation. Hawley knew the measure — designed to empower law enforcement to help prevent and investigate hate crimes — would pass with overwhelming bipartisan support, but the far-right Missourian voted against it anyway.

Now, evidently, the senator has a different perspective on the issue.

But The New Republic’s Prem Thakker raised a related point yesterday that’s worth keeping in mind, noting that Hawley did not scramble to label the May 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo a hate crime, despite the fact that the shooter left behind a racist manifesto, leaving no doubt about the racism at the heart of the gun violence.

After the Buffalo shooting, members of Congress began pushing for a Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which sought to establish offices to focus on neo-Nazi and white supremacist terror threats. Hawley stood in full opposition to the bill, calling it the “Patriot Act for American citizens.” (The Patriot Act, a vestige of 9/11, already was policing American citizens, but perhaps Hawley didn’t reflexively think of them as such since they were largely Brown men). And while it’s fair to be hesitant of increasing American policing power, Hawley did not offer any meaningful alternatives to confront white supremacy (nor has he been a critic of law enforcement overreach when it comes to marginalized people anyhow).

I’m eager to hear the senator explain the evolution of his perspective on hate crimes, because at this point, his principles appear quite malleable.