Travis Reinking, 29, killed four people, and wounded three others with an AR-15 rifle last weekend. The shootings took place in Antioch, Tenn. at a Waffle House restaurant famous for being a popular late-night hangout for local college students and a regular breakfast spot for the community in general.
Following the incident, dozens of enraged critics flooded social media with complaints about Reinking being described as a “lone wolf” suffering from mental illness as opposed to being described as a White terrorist.
Dr. Javon Johnson, an assistant professor and Director of African American & African Diaspora studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, believes socially conscious people should be upset.
“White shooters are often described by the media as ‘lone wolves’ suffering from some type of psychosis,” Johnson explained. “They’re automatically labeled as being mentally ill, which causes them to act on festering feelings of rage. When Blacks or Muslims carry out mass shootings, they are considered, terrorists. That’s a double standard.”
Johnson added that White males have committed more than 65 mass shooting on American soil this year.
According to Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a nonprofit entity formed in 2013 to provide free online information about gun-related violence in the United States, there have been 67 mass shootings and most of the shooters have been White.
Johnson believes that President Donald Trump’s polarizing antics have widened the racial divide in this country, fueling white supremacy and violence against blacks and other minorities.
Johnson also pointed out that Trump has used the excuse of “mental illness” as a reason for the recent spate of mass murders while omitting the very real probability that these shootings were racially motivated.
Lisa Cutliff, a federal law enforcement officer, informed Our Weekly that if the Department of Justice believes it has sufficient evidence to prosecute and convict a mass shooter’s actions as a hate crime, it will.
The primary issue in these cases, she explained, was gathering the necessary evidence to make a strong case, and that usually involves “digital forensics” (the recovery and investigation of material found in digital devices). Reinking, she said, was once detained by White House security and identified himself as a “sovereign citizen,” a term often invoked by White supremacists.
According to Cutliff, last week’s mass killing is still under investigation and it may be later classified as a hate crime which is a federal offense.
Hate crime statutes are filed if a victim is intentionally selected for violence because of his or her personal characteristics (race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.). In the Tennessee shootings, each of the victims were persons of color—five black and one Hispanic—in a region of the country with a history of racial tensions.
At first glance, the circumstances may lend themselves to the incident being racially motivated, although the 2016 The Dylann Roof (killings at Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C.) took five days to be announced as a hate crime because of racist paraphernalia found in his residence.
It’s not just the issue of evidence – Cutliff states there are other factors that influence whether authorities describe a mass killing as a “hate crime.”
Very often you have individuals that commit copycat crimes – a criminal act that is modeled or inspired by a previous crime that has been reported in the media.
In regard to the Waffle House shooting, federal agencies will likely delay calling it a hate crime while they implement countermeasures to prevent other individuals and groups from duplicating the attack.
“You must understand our mission is to protect,” explained Cutliff. “There are some cases when a hate crime statute may be delayed to allow law enforcement to prepare for copycat shootings or reactionary shootings, and I understand using the term lone wolf shooter is disappointing when this recent shooting has racist attack written all over it. Believe me, if there is evidence found leading to a hate crime, Reinking will be prosecuted under hate crime statute.”
Cutliff described how a man identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson walked into the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn. and opened fire with two handguns, striking seven people and killing one. Samson, who is Black, had attended the church. His victims were White.
The Tennessean, a local newspaper wrote an article explaining that his car contained a letter referring to the Emanuel murders, raising the possibility that his shooting spree was an act of revenge for the South Carolina murders.
Following Samson’s mass shooting exactly one month later, a group of White supremacists rallied in nearby Shelbyville, which they hoped would attract recruits, in part, because of anger at the Antioch church shooting involving Samson.
Could the recent Waffle House shooting be a reaction to the White supremacist rally in Shelbyville?
“These are the types of unknowns we are dealing with and have to prepare for them while attempting to investigate,” Cutliff explained.
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., warns that speculating about cases like the Antioch church and waffle house shooting can be “hazardous” for those who are rushing to politicize it before hard facts trickle in.