Lazy Caturday Reads: The Atlanta Mass Shootings

Woman reading with large cat under the couch

Woman reading with large cat under the couch, Paula Zima

Good Afternoon!!

I’m going to focus on the Atlanta spa shootings again. There has been an effort by some white male writers to argue that racism and misogyny didn’t motivate the shooter. Of course these things are complicated, but there is no doubt that attacks on Asian Americans have increased dramatically over the past year, as the former occupant of the White House tried to put the blame for the pandemic on China. Some white journalists have also been defending the Cherokee Sheriff’s spokesman who appeared to sympathize with the shooter having “a bad day.”

Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on this story: When The Narrative Replaces The News.

…this story has…been deeply instructive about our national discourse and the state of the American mainstream and elite media. This story’s coverage is proof, it seems to me, that American journalists have officially abandoned the habit of attempting any kind of “objectivity” in reporting these stories. We are now in the enlightened social justice world of “moral clarity” and “narrative-shaping.”

Woman Lying on a Bench, Carl Larsson, 1913

Woman Lying on a Bench, Carl Larsson, 1913

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

The sympathy for the sheriff’s spokesman has led to attacks on Vox’s Aaron Rupar, who posted the original video of the spokesman.

I admit that I have no way of judging the shooter’s motives, but I do know that mass shooters tend to be men who have previously abused women, and they are frequently racists. I went looking for takes by people who are more knowledgeable about anti-woman and anti-Asian violence than Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, and Ken Vogel. Here’s some of what I found.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Before killing spree, women – especially Asian women – exploited and ‘enslaved’ at spas.


Six large red arrows point to the entrance of Aromatherapy Spa on Atlanta’s Piedmont Road, beacons to those seeking untold pleasures within.

Robert Aaron Long claimed he found the invitation irresistible.The 21-year-old from Woodstock frequented Aromatherapy, as well as the Gold Spa directly across the street, establishments open around the clock and whose advertisements feature women — particularly Asian women — in suggestive poses.

On Tuesday, authorities say, Long purchased a 9 mm handgun and headed to three spas — one in south Cherokee County and the two in Atlanta — where he shot eight people to death and seriously wounded one other. His motives remain the subject of investigation, but he told police he was trying to purge the sources of temptations while battling sex addiction.

This is what we know about the industry and the women that Long chose to attack:

Fritz von Uhde

Painting by Fritz von Uhde

While the exact services offered at the spas that were attacked are not clear, last week the eyes of the world fell on this often-ignored segment of Atlanta’s “adult entertainment” industry. Despite more than a decade of trying, Georgia has failed to rein in certain illicit massage businesses that hypersexualize and commodify women.

Laws and local ordinances aimed to crack down on prostitution and potential human trafficking have only resulted in sporadic police busts and occasional losses of state-issued massage therapy licenses. Meanwhile, behind the darkened windows of undistinguished commercial buildings, an invisible population remains vulnerable to the type of deadly, misogynistic violence seen Tuesday….

What roles the victims played at the spas is not clear. At least one woman who died at Young’s Asian Massage, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, was on the premises as a customer. Paul Andre Michels, 54, who was white, also was killed in the Acworth shooting, along with Daoyou Feng, 44, and Xiaojie Tan, 49.

Tan, who held a state massage therapy license, is listed as the owner of that spa, as well as at least one other in Kennesaw.

Greg Hynson, a customer of the Cherokee location, said he was close friends with Tan and never saw or heard any evidence of illegal activity. “She ran a reputable business,” he said.

On the Atlanta victims:

The Atlanta victims, all of Korean descent, were identified Friday as Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51. According to a report in The Korea Daily, a Korean language daily published in the U.S., the three older women essentially acted as site managers, opening the door for customers or serving meals to workers.

Court records indicate a 51-year-old by the name of Hyun Jung Grant was arrested in Gwinnett County in 2009 on charges of pimping, prostitution, keeping a place of prostitution and giving a massage in a place used for lewdness.

Were women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s really engaged in prostitution? I’ve quoted a lot from this article, but it is very long and the rest is well worth reading at the link.

Patrick Adams at The Daily Beast: Son of Atlanta Shooting Victim Calls ‘Bullshit’ on Sex Addiction Claim.

Randy Park said he learned of his mother’s murder while he was playing his favorite video game, League of Legends, in their townhome in Duluth, Georgia.

Woman Reading with Cat, Carol Keiser

Woman Reading with Cat, Carol Keiser

It’s a short drive from the Atlanta spas where police say 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long shot and killed four Asian women shortly after he shot and killed four other people in a suburb north of the city, two of those victims also Asian women….Park, 23, said he got a call that evening from the daughter of a survivor who had been next to his mother, Hyun Jung Grant, at Gold Spa when the shooting occurred….

Park and his mother were “very close,” he said. “I could tell her anything. If I had girl problems or whatever. She wasn’t just my mother. She was my friend.” [….]

Much of the national conversation about the shooting has centered on Cherokee County sheriffs apparently taking the suspect, a white kid from the suburbs, at his word that he was not motivated by racial animus. That dynamic was only worsened when, as The Daily Beast first reported, it was revealed the very official in that department perpetuating that narrative posted racist T-shirts that specifically targeted the Asian-American community.

Instead of racism, law-enforcement officials have said, the suspect has suggested he was motivated by his addiction to sex. Atlanta police on Thursday said he frequented the spas he attacked.

Park does not buy that explanation for a second.

“That’s bullshit,” he told The Daily Beast.

“My question to the family is, what did y’all teach him?” he added. “Did you turn him in because you’re scared that you’ll be affiliated with him? You just gonna scapegoat your son out? And they just get away scot free? Like, no, you guys definitely taught him some shit. Take some fucking responsibility.”

Park didn’t know anything about his mother being involved in sex work, but it sounds like he had been worried about it. But they were poor and “she did what she had to do” to keep her family going in the U.S. I think Park has a point that racism had to be involved in this crime and it’s important to know what the shooter learned during his upbringing. 

Frankie Huang at The Daily Beast: White Fragility Is a Disease, and It Just Killed Six Asian Women.

For most of my life as a Chinese American woman, I accepted that a “normal” amount of feeling unsafe is simply part of my life in America, that if I lived more carefully I can avoid danger. Now, as I’m bombarded with reports of people who look like me that are being assaulted on sight, like vermin, I wonder how I ever thought this kind of dehumanization is something I can live with?

Actually, I do know how. It’s easier to self-soothe with the wishful fantasy that good behavior can be an effective prophylactic than it is to confront the bleak reality of being a person of color who lives in a country with a white supremacy problem.

Woman reading with a cat on a snowy day

Woman reading with a cat on a snowy day, Belinda Del Pesco

Which is what I reflexively did when the news about the horrific shooting in Atlanta popped up on my phone. My very first thought was, “Maybe it wasn’t a hate crime, but just a coincidence that six out of eight victims were Asian women.” I was scared to acknowledge that there are those who would want me dead just from the look of me, and that I live in their midst.

But then I came face to face with a different kind of denial about America’s problem with racism, one far grander and more dangerous than my own: the powerful white fragility engine that has roared into life to efficiently and systematically distort the narrative about the Atlanta massacre.

One can almost admire how the machine churns, the way the killer’s claim that his actions were not racially motivated has been amplified by the police and major media platforms, accepting a young white man’s claims at face value even after he murdered eight people. The Cherokee County sheriff said in a press conference, almost sympathetically, that the murderer “had a really bad day” and had admitted to “sex addiction.” Online, I’ve seen people speculating about mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse, with these narratives laid on thick to create a barrier around the obvious, distinct possibility that it was white supremacy that drove this white man to kill Asian women.

I’ve heard this song before. It starts with “maybe it’s not racism” and builds briskly to “he’s just a sad lone wolf” and ends in fading refrains of “thoughts and prayers.”

Read the rest at the Daily Beast link.

May Jeong at The New York Times: The Deep American Roots of the Atlanta Shootings.

In some massage parlors, women, often Asian, may sometimes perform sexual services.But I did not know whether those who died this week would have identified themselves as sex workers.

I have spent the past few years researching the various ways sex work intersects with race, class and gender, routinely amazed by how it connects to such disparate issues as criminal justice, gentrification, poverty, immigration and trans rights. I have come to understand sex work rights as an overlooked civil rights issue that deserves study. I soon found myself placing the Atlanta killings within the context of a horrific history….

Since the terrible events this past Tuesday, much effort has been devoted to understanding Mr. Long — an earnest inquiry that betrays a particular kind of American naïveté. He claimed to have been driven by “sexual addiction”; investigators have not yet ruled out race as a factor. For now, we do not know whether the massage parlor workers who were killed would have considered themselves sex workers, and we may never know. But the answer is less relevant to their deaths than their murderer’s answer: Does it matter how one identifies oneself if a mass killer conflates any Asian woman in a massage parlor with a sex worker?

Fernand Léger. Woman Reading with a Cat, 1921

Fernand Léger. Woman Reading with a Cat, 1921

The stereotype of the Asian woman as simultaneously hypersexualized and submissive is borne of centuries of Western imperialism. An early documented instance of Asian fetishization can be found in “Madame Chrysantheme,” a thinly fictionalized account of a French naval officer’s time visiting 19th-century Japan. “Madame Chrysantheme” was wildly popular when it was published, and went on to create a subgenre of Orientalizing prose. The women in such accounts were, as Edward Said wrote in “Orientalism,” “creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing.”

Later, an untold number of American servicemen in Korea and Vietnam had their first sexual encounter with Asian women. The U.S. military tacitly endorsed prostitution, considering it good for morale, and at times even explicitly encouraged troops to explore the local sex industry. According to the book “Sex Among Allies” by Katharine Moon, an assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College, an ad in Stars and Stripes, the main military newspaper, read: “Picture having three or four of the loveliest creatures God ever created hovering around you, singing, dancing, feeding you, washing what they feed you down with rice wine or beer, all saying at once, ‘You are the greatest.’ This is the Orient you heard about and came to find.”

This is an important article–I hope you’ll go read the rest at the NYT.

More stories to check out on this topic:

The Washington Post: Surveillance video shows Atlanta suspect entered first spa more than an hour before shooting.

Alex Wagner at The Atlantic: Our Asian Spring. In the ashes of violence and death, Asians and Americans of Asian descent are ready to put up a fight.

Melissa Jeltson at New York Magazine: The Flattening of the Atlanta Shootings.

USA Today: Atlanta spa shootings: Illicit reviews raise red flags that shooter targeted vulnerable women.

Slate: Coverage of Bay Area Anti-Asian Violence Is Missing a Key Element.

I think it’s clear that the motives of men who murder women are complicated. It may be true that Long had a sexual addiction, but he chose to act out the addiction in specific places with primarily Asian women employees. I doubt if he is a reliable reporter of his own reasons for his behavior. I think it’s important to listen to Asian and female voices over white men like Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias and Ken Vogel.

As always, this is an open thread.

15 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads: The Atlanta Mass Shootings”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

  2. bostonboomer says:

    From the Slate article (listed in extra links section)

    Amid a frightening uptick in violence against Asian Americans, the attack was quickly labeled by many as primarily motivated by race. But Long told investigators that he attacked the massage parlors because he was struggling with a “sex addiction” and wanted to eliminate the “temptation” of buying sex. While an alleged mass murderer is an unreliable narrator, others have come forward with stories that corroborated his account — and further reporting has painted a picture of a suspect consumed with religion-fueled shame over his urges. Suddenly, Long’s attack began to more closely resemble a classic type of American mass shooting: one largely driven by loathing of women.

    Yet asking who Long hated the most only goes so far. As much as we can ever know the truth about any person’s motivation for violence, the Atlanta shooting likely stemmed from a toxic stew of racism, misogyny, prejudice against sex workers, religious beliefs, and mental illness. (Despite cries to the contrary, mental health is a factor in a significant percentage of mass shootings.) The rush to identify one true motive prevents us from understanding the complexities of a crime like this — and ultimately does a disservice to the victims themselves.

  3. johncoyote says:

    The company that was attacked. Is a legal business. Many of them in Michigan. I dislike the media trying to blame the people lost to violence. It is a scary world my friend. Here in Michigan. People killed pumping gas in Detroit. I have great respect for the Asia people. They work hard and they are kind. The people lost to violence are in my prayers.

  4. An abusive man is NEVER a reliable reporter of his crimes as per Lundy Bancroft & many of us survivors. & the illogical thinking … he has a sex addiction so he shot up massage parlors … is simply beyond stupid. Shooting up a few massage parlors doesn’t cure his stupid addiction … if it does exist, I mean, he’s just a kid, he’s SUPPOSED to be wanting sex all the time.

    IMHO, it’s just an excuse. Typical abuser shit.

    • NW Luna says:

      “Sex addiction.” Bullshit. He’s blaming others for his unwillingness to control himself. Men are so emotional.

  5. lateboomer63 says:

    I don’t understand why it matters so much whether Long was motivated by racism. He’s a psychotic killer and he deserves to be punished. He killed two white people and six Asian people. If it could somehow be proved that he wasn’t motivated by racism would it make the crime less horrific? Would that make him a good person? It’s an odd place we’ve come to where a killer isn’t really a killer unless he’s also a racist.

  6. dakinikat says:

  7. NW Luna says:

    “I think it’s important to listen to Asian and female voices over white men like Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias and Ken Vogel.”


    • quixote says:

      Which isn’t to say there are no men worth hearing. (Robert Jensen, Danial Webb, James Kirkup, Graham Linehan, Jack Appleby) But the three in that list are even more hopeless than the usual hopeless norm. It’s like they went looking for the next-to-worst they could find among coastal elites.

      • NW Luna says:

        I enjoy listening to Graham Linehan and his mates! Do you watch The Mess We’re In?

        • quixote says:

          Clips only. My personal situation has involved moving, sorting, throwing out, moving, sorting, throwing out, for the last two (no, three!) years which isn’t good for any kind of sustained attention to anything 😦 >( Now that you mention it, I’m going to go look for past episodes 😀