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Home/Rod Dreher/Racializing The Atlanta Massage Parlor Killings

Racializing The Atlanta Massage Parlor Killings

Massage parlor killer said he wasn't motivated by race, but by sex. Media knows better (CBS News)

It is striking to see how quickly our media has racialized the narrative of the horrific murders at the Georgia massage parlors. From what we know so far, the alleged murderer was a young man tormented by his compulsive sexual desires. He visited massage parlors in the past, and went to this one to kill the women he once depended on to gratify his desires. From all the available evidence, these killings were the misogynistic act of a sexually depraved man.

But the media and others are bound and determined to make this a racial thing, because six of the dead women are Asian. The same media who couldn’t figure out the racial angle when black men attacked Asians on the street without provocation now seem giddy over the prospect of an anti-Asian hate crime committed by a white man. The New York Times, for example:

The Washington Post:

The alleged killer himself admitted that the motivation for his crime was sexual, not racial! But our media cannot allow that to stand. They are going to find a way to racialize the story no matter what.

And not just the media. Evangelical commenter Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College writes:

As we listen to the cries of so many Asian-Americans today, it would be shameful not to acknolwedge their pain and to see this as the racially connected violence that it is.

All of the locations have been described in news reports as asian massage parlors. And, Daniel Yang asked, “[W]ill anyone point out that the Western sexual fetish for Asian women is racist?” So, yes, of course this is connected to race.

Too frequently we brush off the discrimination faced by our Asian American brothers and sisters because it does not fit into our narratives around race. Asian Americans bring a complex and rich tradition and experience to the church that is frequently underrepresented in broader conversations. It is grievous that it takes a tragedy on this scale to wake us up to their concerns or to highlight their voices in our midst.

Oh, come on. Absolutely Christians and everybody else ought to be opposed to anti-Asian racism. But Stetzer calls this “racially connected violence,” as if the fact that most of the victims were Asian makes racist motive clear. If these killings really are driven by racial hatred, then by all means let’s confront that demon and exorcise it. But there is no reason at this point to believe that. In many cities, if you want to go to a massage parlor for sexual activity, those places will be staffed by Asian women. It’s well worth asking why, and if these are women who were sexually trafficked into sex slavery. But at this point, we don’t even know if the killer had a sexual fetish for Asian women. All we know is that he went to massage parlors. It is more reasonable to think that he went to massage parlors for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: because that’s where the money is.

The alleged killer is also a Southern Baptist, so now we are seeing Southern Baptists demonized. Stetzer (who is Baptist) again:

Over the past few years, women theologians, historians, and church leaders have authored books on the intersection of women and North American Protestantism. Disturbingly, most identified common themes were the corrosive elements of Protestant theology of sexuality and gender. While claiming orthodoxy and resisting the tide of the sexual revolution, church leaders remained ignorant of how their rhetoric laid a foundation for misogyny and violence.

In one example, Rachel Joy Welcher outlines how many popular books on sexuality “use wartime imagery to communicate practical strategies Christian men can employ to fight sexual lust…. Depicting purity as an all-encompassing pursuit which involves one’s motivations, mind, and heart.”

As Welcher concludes, this constant stream of portraying women as dangerous sources of lust that need to be avoided inevitably shaped the way young Christian men perceived and acted towards women. In trying to guard men against the evil of pornography, church leaders failed to construct a positive theology of sexuality and gender.

Victim advocate Rachel Denhollander drew attention to this in response to the tragedy:

The man who murdered women in a massage parlor yesterday says he was “eliminating temptation” because he had a sex addiction.

He was a baptized member of an SBC church.

Brothers. Pastors. Seminary heads. How you teach sexuality matters. It can be life and death…

As church leaders, we must reckon with our role in shaping the culture that gave rise to these events.

The Washington Post wrote a story about the alleged killer’s connections to his Southern Baptist church. Excerpts:

According to a video that was captured by The Post before it was deleted, on Sunday the church’s pastor, the Rev. Jerry Dockery, gave a sermon on the apocalypse. Christ was coming soon, Dockery said, and the world must be ready.

“We’ve had, what, 45 presidents in our brief history as a nation? How many other kings around the world? How many other rulers have sat upon thrones, claiming to be in charge?” he asked. “The King is coming again.”

When Christ returns, Dockery said, he will wage war against those who have rejected his name.

“There is one word devoted to their demise,” the pastor said. “Swept away! Banished! Judged. They have no power before God. Satan himself is bound and released and then bound again and banished. That great dragon deceiver — just that quickly — God throws him into an eternal torment. And then we read where everyone — everyone that rejects Christ — will join Satan, the Beast and the false prophet in hell.”

It is not uncommon for pastors to preach on the apocalypse, and it’s unclear whether Long heard the pastor’s teachings Sunday. Police said Long told them he had a “sex addiction,” and authorities said he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation.

Wait a damn minute here. The story says — correctly — that pastors preach on the apocalypse all the time, and the reporters don’t even know if the suspect was in church to hear that sermon. But they’re still going to bring it up. Why on earth would they do that, if not to connect a bog-standard Baptist sermon about the End Times to the murderous mindset of a man who the paper’s reporters don’t even know for sure was in church that day! 

The story goes on to talk about how the murders might be connected to conservative Southern Baptist theology. There are something like 16 million Southern Baptists in America. About half of them are men. Eight million men have been exposed to some degree to conservative Southern Baptist teachings about sexual purity, but this is the first one who has gone out and shot women at a massage parlor. Does it even occur to these journalists and commentators that the problem here is not necessarily Southern Baptist theology, but a depraved young man? Of course not! Anything to destroy one’s culture war enemies.

Of course I know nothing about how Southern Baptist churches teach sexuality. I may well agree on certain points with critics of their approach. But it is slanderous and inciteful on its face to blame Southern Baptist theology for these murders, with almost no evidence whatsoever.We know that serial killers often target prostitutes, for a variety of reasons, including a contempt for women who do sex work.If the women at these spas were prostitutes, then what Long is alleged to have done is explainable by misogyny, and his turning outward his hatred of himself for having uncontrollable sexual desires. We know that Long was so tormented by his demons — his obsessions with sex and pornography — that he went to rehab for sexual addiction.We also know that he was a quiet loner and weirdo in high school, who was sometimes bullied.

Every young Christian man who takes the teachings of his faith seriously, and tries to live by them, struggles to conquer sexual desire. This is normal. This does not turn them into monsters. Where are all the other Southern Baptist misogynist serial killers? They don’t exist. We are likely to find out that this Long fellow had deep psychological problems — again, he went to rehab for his sex addiction. But hey, why miss this opportunity to slander and slime conservative Southern Baptists. The fact that conservative Southern Baptists are against Critical Race Theory is, incredibly, also trotted out in this story — as if that had anything to do with mass murder.

The Post had this paragraph, which explains a lot of the coverage we’re seeing:

Long has told police the shootings were not racially motivated. But Melissa May Borja, a religion scholar in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan, said that it’s important for people to not just consider his intent but also his impact.

“Maybe he didn’t intend to harm Asian Americans, but it’s clearly had a disparate impact on Asian American women,” she said, adding that women doing the work in spas like the ones Long targeted tend to be economically vulnerable and the targets of harassment.

And there it is: the alleged killer has said point blank that he did not target his victims because they were Asian, that their race was just a coincidence. But disparate impact theory makes his murders racist, even if the killer himself said they were not, and even if all the available evidence indicates that these killings were acts of a depraved man who was driven to homicide by his sexual urges. It just feels too good to our elites — media, professors, et alia — to blame their ideological enemies.

I say this all the time on this blog, but it can’t be said often enough. Here is a quote from Live Not By Lies:

[I]n 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:

Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.

Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.

A softer, bloodless form of the same logic is at work in American institutions. Social justice progressives advance their malignant concept of justice in part by terrorizing dissenters as thoroughly as any inquisitor on the hunt for enemies of religious orthodoxy.

For these journalists, academics, preachers, politicians and other commenters, the most important thing to know about the mass murders in Atlanta is that the victims were Asian women, and the confessed killer was a white male Southern Baptist. No facts that complicate the narrative should be allowed to interfere with the conclusions drawn, which is that this is the fault of white supremacy and religious conservatism.

We are in the middle of a moral panic over race and racism in this country, a panic driven by the media and elite institutions. We are seeing a horrible act of mass murder being turned into a culture-war weapon by people who are not seeking understanding, but just looking for enemies, and looking to reinforce an intoxicating narrative.

UPDATE: OK, OK, some of you are saying, “Why should we believe the killer when he says he didn’t kill out of racial motives?” Well, usually when someone confesses to a crime, and says, “This is why I did it,” we give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if the facts in the case fit the claim. We know that Long has a history of disordered sexuality, and went to rehab for sex addiction. He says he visited those massage parlors before. It stands to reason that a deeply religious man who is sexually compulsive and tormented by his desires would seek to eliminate what he believed to be the sources of his torment. (To be clear, those victims were innocent; the sources of Long’s torment were inside of Long.)

There is a single Korean media report in which someone says that the killer said he was going to “kill all Asians.”

It may yet come out that Long was motivated by racism. If so, let’s confront that ugly reality. My point is that people in the media, and in progressive circles, are acting as if they are excited to pin all of this on race hatred, when that may play little or no role at all in why that man killed all those people (not all of his victims were Asian, too).

A bigmouth Evangelical race-baiter at The King’s College in New York is now trying to blame Long’s Baptist Church, and the 9Marks movement, for what Long did:

This is utter slander, and disgusting. Of course Bradley will get away with it.

We are moving towards a war of all against all.

UPDATE.2: I think people must have this idea that Long chose to attack Asian massage parlors because he hates Asians. In fact, based on what we know at this point, he went to those massage parlors to kill because those were the ones he had gone to for sex.

Why would have have gone to Asian massage parlors for sex, and not to other massage parlors? Because low-end Asian massage parlors are often fronts for prostitution. The New York Times did a story on this phenomenon in 2019. Excerpts:

In strip malls across the country, neon signs and brightly colored placards promise hot stones, acupuncture and shiatsu with photos of women or couples receiving relaxing shoulder rubs. But a traditionally Asian form of therapeutic relaxation with deep roots in big-city Chinatowns has spun off a different kind of massage parlor that has little to do with traditional remedies. It has exploded into a $3 billion-a-year sex industry that relies on pervasive secrecy, close-knit ownership rings and tens of thousands of mostly foreign women ensnared in a form of modern indentured servitude.

The frequently middle-aged women who work in parlors with names like Orchids of Asia and Rainbow Spa are often struggling to pay off high debts to family members, loan sharks, labor traffickers and lawyers who help them file phony asylum claims. In some cases, their passports are taken and their illegal immigration status keeps them further in the shadows, with some of them rotated every 10 days to two weeks between spas operated by the same owners. Forced to pay for their own supplies and even their own condoms, many women must sleep on the same massage tables where they service customers and cook on hot plates in cramped kitchens or on back steps.

“We stopped thinking about just cages, bars and chains as the means of coercion,” said John Richmond, the State Department’s top anti-trafficking official. “They are using nonviolent forms of coercion.”

More:

Law enforcement officials said there were an estimated 9,000 illicit massage parlors across the country, from Orlando to Los Angeles. The epicenter of this national underground is the bustling Chinatown in Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens. Women — typically Chinese, but also Korean, Thai and East European — arrive at Kennedy International Airport, learn the trade and are sent out to places like Virginia, Iowa, Texas and Florida. Women are recruited locally through ads in Chinese-language newspapers or over the social network WeChat.

“Flushing is the center of this network,” said Lori Cohen, the director of Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative, which has interviewed around 1,000 massage workers over the past five years and helped the 49-year-old immigrant who was sexually assaulted leave the business after she was arrested. “They are showing up in different parts of the country, but all of them have addresses in Flushing, Queens,” she said.

And here’s why it’s easier to use Asian massage parlors as prostitution fronts:

One reason the Asian massage parlors remain so poorly understood is the extreme reluctance of the women to speak with the police and even with their own lawyers.

“Even though I’ve represented many, many women arrested in unlicensed massage parlors, because of the level of distrust of people working, almost all immigrants, almost all undocumented, they don’t trust even their attorneys enough to let them know what’s happened to them,” Ms. Latimer said.

Some fear retaliation by traffickers to their families in China, and some feel morally indebted to those who helped find them a job, said Chris Muller, the director of training and external affairs at Restore NYC, an anti-sex-trafficking organization.

“This is a powerful exploitation tactic,” he said. “Any favor is implied there is going to be a payment back. ‘Look at what I have done for you. I found you a job. I found you a place to live and this is how you repay me?’”

Small networks of spas are also common, and their ownership structures are complex and opaque. “It’s rare that you have a mom-and-pop business where they’re just running one,” said Lt. Christopher Sharpe of the New York Police Department’s vice section. “Usually if they’re running one, they have a second or a third business.”

If you are some country-hick Georgia Baptist who wants to see a prostitute, you are probably going to figure your best chance is to go to a strip-mall Asian massage parlor.

UPDATE.3: A reader comments:

I’ve gone to massage parlours in my time. Indeed, for quite a while I would say it was an addiction, in that I went even when I knew that I couldn’t afford it and would end up eeking out my last twelve euros in a budget supermarket the weekend before payday. Many (though not all) of those places were staffed by Chinese and Thai women. For what it’s worth, I tended to prefer the Asian girls because they had a gracefulness, a subtlety, which the South American and Eastern European girls often lacked. The latter would ask “You want happy end?” with a bored look on their faces before starting the massage. With Asians, it was all a bit more mysterious and magical. (Yes, no doubt I’m guilty of neo-colonialist Orientalism, or something.)

Sometimes I felt anger towards those women. Even rage. And though I was a Christian, it was not because I thought “They’ve seduced me into impurity and sin, those wicked harlots!” It was because those massages left me disgusted at my own weakness and desperation. I’m sure that if I’d been an atheist, that feeling would have been just as strong, if not stronger.

There is a moment at the end of such massages where the great moment has passed and the girl starts wrapping things up. She wipes you down, says “It’s finish” and starts putting her oils and stuff away. And you swing off the table and start groping for your clothes, deflated, naked, feeling foolish. The exotic seductress of half an hour ago is gone; the girl is now all business and thinking of her next client. You hand over the money, aghast at how much you are throwing away for those fleeting minutes of pleasure. As you leave she gives you a fake smile, looking restlessly at the door even as she does so, impatient for you to be gone. She might even give you a hug, but if you kiss her she’ll turn her lips away. Because, of course, she doesn’t really give a damn about you. How could you have imagined otherwise? You step out onto the street, hoping no one you know sees you, and start the lonely walk home.

Occasionally the masseuses are kinder and friendlier than that, but even they are businesswomen first and foremost.

The worst massages are the ones where the girl is rude and half-hearted the entire time, not bothering to hide her distaste for what she is doing, and you stay on the table anyway like a fool, because you’ve started now and who knows, maybe she’ll get nicer if you give it another five minutes, and she’s already touched you down there once so if you leave now she’ll demand the full price anyway … I’ve left such massage parlours in a very black mood indeed.

I obviously don’t know what the killer’s motives were in this case. I have a hard time believing, though, that they were either “I hate Asians!” or “They tempted me to fornication, which my pastor says is really bad!” When, in my own life, I have felt rage at masseuses, it was not for either of those reasons. It was because of my fury at myself for being weak and gullible, and the brutality with which the illusion would melt away at the end of the encounters, exposing my own loneliness and emptiness.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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