Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
Four years ago, Craig Stephen Hicks, a mentally unstable man prone to terrorizing his neighbors in a Chapel Hill condo, regardless of race and creed, shot three of his neighbors.
The three neighbors whom he shot over a parking dispute were Muslim.
Hicks, a mentally unstable leftist, was a militant atheist, but no hater of Muslims. In a post about the Ground Zero Mosque, he wrote, “I'd prefer them to most Christians as I was never coerced in any way by the Muslims to follow their religion, which I cannot say about many Christians.”
“I’ve defended Muslims. I know Muslims,” he later told police. “I take pity on them, the way society treats them like they are lesser people.”
“The FBI opened an inquiry into the brutal and outrageous murders of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,” Barack Obama issued a statement five days after the murders. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.”
Obama had frequently urged Americans not to jump to conclusions after Islamic terrorist attacks, but this time he was the one eagerly jumping to the wrong conclusion.
Hicks had confessed to the murder. And the killings had been caught on video. Nor did he try to put up much of a defense. There was no chance that he might escape justice and no need for the feds. But Islamist pressure groups had been lobbying aggressively to treat the murders as a hate crime or, even, as an act of terrorism, despite the absence of a single piece of supporting evidence for such a charge.
The only two pieces of evidence that Hicks had been acting out of hatred for Muslims when he shot his neighbors over a parking dispute was that he was a militant atheist and that they were Muslim.
Over four years later, the trial is over and no better evidence of bigotry was ever presented.
But the official conclusion is that Hicks, who had a history of threatening many of his neighbors over parking issues, was a bigot. Or at least a bigot who was suppressing the awareness of his bigotry.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue apologized for his department's former factual position that the shootings had been about a parking dispute. “What we all know now and what I wish we had said four years ago is that the murders of Deah, Yusor, and Razan were about more than simply a parking dispute. The man who committed these murders undoubtedly did so with a hateful heart."
Murder is always a hateful act and murderers generally have hateful hearts. But Chief Blue was trying to appease Islamist groups without deviating too much from the facts, by imputing Islamophobia.
But the trial became a circus when Satana Deberry, a leftist pro-crime candidate allegedly backed by George Soros, defeated her credible predecessor to become the DA of Durham County.
District Attorney Roger Echols had wanted the death penalty. Satana ruled out the death penalty. The new radical DA had a very political agenda in mind. Not to punish Hicks, but to prove he’s a bigot.
“It is about cold-hearted malice and murder,” Satana Deberry insisted. “It is not about parking.”
The two are not incompatible. Malicious murders are committed over petty things all the time. But while Deberry was not particularly bright, she owed her new job to her ideological fidelity.
“It is about exposing the hate, bias and privilege that substituted for the lives of Razan, Yusor, and Deah,” Deberry ranted. She claimed, that Hicks’ “hate of Islam drove him to kill three innocent people.”
“He did not shoot the first available people – someone in the parking lot; he didn’t shoot at someone who happened by,” Assistant DA Kendra Montgomery-Blinn argued.
Hicks specifically picked fights with a variety of people he believed were parking in his spot. When he came to the door, he complained that his neighbors had three parked cars and there was no free space.
That his actions weren’t random doesn’t prove that he was motivated by hatred of Muslims.
But Montgomery-Blinn, a chair of the Durham People's Alliance and a director of the Innocence Inquiry Commission, had already disgraced herself after the Duke Lacrosse case, and had few standards.
And the target was easy enough.
When Hicks finally showed up in front of the judge, he complained that he had wanted to plead guilty and take the death penalty years ago. His attorneys didn’t put up very much of a fight.
In a bizarre turn of events, the prosecution used Samuel Sommers, a diversity expert from Tufts, to argue that Hicks may have been suffering from unconscious bias, arguing that there was a reasonable likelihood that, "their ethnic and religious backgrounds played a role in how Hicks perceived them, interacted with them and ultimately shot and killed them."
A reasonable likelihood that some parts of the shooter’s brain might have somehow reacted differently to his three victims does not make for hate crimes charges. Or, indeed, for any kind of evidence.
Lawyers for the defendant attempted to object to the circus by pointing out that there was no point to it. Hicks was pleading guilty and already getting the maximum possible sentence, three life terms without parole. The unconscious bias circus had no point and wasn’t accomplishing anything.
But the real point wasn’t to convict Hicks, who could have been tried, sentenced and put on death row a year after the crime, if the system had been willing, but to indict the entire country for his actions.
It was also to prove the unprovable, that Hicks was an Islamophobe.
Legitimate court proceedings would never have allowed the prosecution to repeatedly make claims that could not be proven and for which there was no evidence. It would have also kept out claims about unconscious bias, which even the “expert” making them refused to conclusively treat as absolute.
In April, Mohammed Abu Salha, the father of two of the women, was invited to testify at a hearing on hate crimes and white nationalism. “How many have to die until our government unequivocally stands up against bigotry in all forms, including white nationalist violence?” he demanded.
The man who had shot his daughters was a leftist opposed to white nationalism. But facts had never mattered in Chapel Hill. And as the trial ended, they mattered even less.
Farhana Khera, the head of Muslim Advocates, an Islamic group representing Abu-Salha, argued that we must, "take action to end the bigotry and hate that took the lives of his children. Congress must take this threat seriously. State lawmakers must enact strong hate crime laws and social media companies must do more to curb hate speech."
“The FBI must reprioritize its counterterrorism resources toward fighting white nationalist violence.”
Hicks had never posted anything to social media. But the real agenda was right there in the conclusion.
The actions of one mentally unstable man fighting over parking spaces was an urgent call to redirect resources from preventing another 9/11 and away from some of their terrorist coreligionist allies.
And so Islamophobia is now the official story of the 2015 murders in Chapel Hill. The case will be cited in every Islamophobia story. And yet the complete lack of evidence of bigotry, necessitating the absurd maneuver of inviting an expert on unconscious bias, shows just how unreal “Islamophobia” is.
After four years, the bigotry in the Hicks case had to be manufactured because it was never there. Vague statements by Hicks, “I don’t like the looks of you people”, had to be assembled into a narrative, while his explicit pro-Islamic statements had to be ignored. Hicks wanted to be executed. Instead he was kept alive to be used to accuse Americans of a culture of bigotry. But the culture of bigotry that Islamist groups and their allies in Durham County sought is as absent in America as it is in their case.