In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting in Atlanta last week that left eight dead, including six Asian American women, Fox News insisted that Democrats were in a “rush” to falsely call it a hate crime. This dismissive coverage continued the network’s history of downplaying violent incidents against people of color and ignoring the possibility that such attacks are driven by racism.
On March 16, a 21-year-old gunman opened fire in three different Atlanta-area spas. The gunman, who had reportedly visited two of the spas prior to the shooting and previously sought treatment for an alleged sex addiction, legally bought a firearm less than an hour before he carried out the massacre. The gunman was apprehended by police, who uncritically repeated his claims that the shooting was not racially motivated but instead was meant to eliminate temptation because of his sex addiction.
Despite the racial and gender identities of the victims, Fox News figures said there was “no indication” of a hate crime and claimed that calling it one is meant to "divide the country along racial lines.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson slammed Vice President Kamala Harris and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) for offering condolences to the Asian American community, saying their comments were meant to “inflame America’s deepest wounds” and are meant “to divide the country along racial lines.”
Fox’s Sean Hannity accused “the left” of “doing their usual rush to judgement” and “immediately attempting to assign a racial motive to the tragedy.” Hannity continued that people “need to stop trying to divide this country.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade insisted there is “no indication” that the Atlanta shooting was a hate crime, adding, “I’m just astounded that people are jumping to that scenario from the White House on down when the investigation is not revealing that. Do we have to create it?” He continued that it seems like an “all-out race to make it a hate crime. Isn’t it bad enough?”
Fox News contributor Leo Terrell said “there is not a single shred of evidence” that indicates the shooting was a hate crime and claimed that calling the shooting a hate crime is “playing this race card” straight out of the “Democratic playbook.”
Fox News was similarly dismissive of the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, at a historic Black church that left nine dead. In the aftermath of that racist attack, Fox figures said it was extraordinary that the shooting was called a hate crime and questioned whether it was religiously motivated instead. The network’s dismissal came despite witness statements that the gunman had yelled “racial epithets” before firing and reports that he had previously posted to white supremacist websites.
Fox will, however, call something a hate crime if it fits the network’s overall narrative. That same year, the network’s hosts immediately declared the on-air shooting of a white journalist and cameraman by a Black former colleague to be a “hate crime,” and in 2016, “news”-side anchor Shannon Bream referred to incidents of anti-Trump vandalism as hate crimes. Following the 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball team practice in which the gunman appeared to target Republican politicians, Hannity said that “the biggest issue we need to address as a country is what is a record level of vicious left-wing hate that is being spewed day after day, hour after hour, by a left-wing news media that wants to destroy the president.”
The mass shooting in Atlanta takes place against a backdrop of rising anti-Asian racism in the U.S. -- hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020. Fox’s reflexive push to dismiss potential racial hatred as a motivation for the Atlanta shootings only serves to perpetuate that racially driven violence.