What We Know – and Don’t – About the Atlanta Shooter

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer


Robert Aaron Long (Picture Credit: Crisp County Sheriff’s Office)

Two days ago, a string of shootings at three Asian massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia, left eight people dead, six of them Asian. A 21-year-old man named Robert Aaron Long has since been arrested and charged for these attacks. In light of what seems to be a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, many politicians and celebrities quickly jumped to the conclusion that Long was motivated by racism against Asians.


There is, however, nothing to suggest that. Long told the police that he wasn’t motivated by anti-Asian racism, but by his unhealthy relationship with sex. There would normally be no good reason to take a murderer at his word, except for this: his story seems to check out.


From the facts publicly available now, Long came from an extremely religious Christian background that taught him to repress his sexual urges. A former high school classmate described him as “innocent,” “nerdy,” and very religious, and said his father was a youth pastor or minister. This piety seems to have continued to this day: a more recent acquaintance never heard him say anything racist, but described him as “deeply religious,” and social media posts show him talking about the importance of his faith.


This religiosity was at odds with (and likely contributed to) what Long calls a “sex addiction.” A law enforcement source told CNN that Long’s family recently kicked him out of his house because of his “sex addiction,” which often led him to spend hours at a stretch watching porn online. A former roommate said Long went to rehab twice for this “sex addiction,” and that he seemed to suffer from “self-hatred.” A former housemate said Long felt “tortured” by his addiction and “relapsed,” frequenting dodgy Asian massage parlors for paid sex, which he said he chose to patronize not because of their employees’ race, but because he thought they were safer than paying for sex elsewhere. The former housemate said this apparent violation of his religious beliefs “tore him up inside” – so much so that he once almost turned a knife on himself – and described Long’s condition as “religious mania.” Cherokee County sheriff’s captain, Jay Baker, said Long told the police about his “sex addiction,” and claimed to see these Asian massage parlors as “a temptation…that he wanted to eliminate.” (It is unclear at present if any of the Asian massage parlors he attacked were the dodgy ones he frequented, or if he just associated them in his mind.) At the time he was caught, Long was apparently driving to Florida to attack businesses linked to the porn industry.


Is a picture of Long starting to emerge here? A man who was taught from a young age to repress his powerful sexual urges in the name of his religion, only to succumb to them and be wracked with self-loathing at having done so, and that self-loathing driving him to hurt himself and those he blamed for it. He wanted the women at these dodgy Asian massage parlors and the women in the porn videos he binged, but hated himself for wanting them, and so sought to kill them to try to destroy his desire.

He wanted the women at these dodgy Asian massage parlors and the women in the porn videos he binged, but hated himself for wanting them, and so sought to kill them to try to destroy his desire.

It’s a familiar script to readers of Victor Hugo. Long seems to resemble no one more than the villain Claude Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Frollo is an ascetic archdeacon, a man who has dedicated his life to the church, bound by vows of chastity, but who hides a dark lust for the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. This lust torments him and makes him hate himself, and eventually leads him to kill her for tempting him into sin. (See here for more on this phenomenon.)

Claude Frollo in the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Some have refused to believe that this is true, suggesting that Long was actually motivated by a hatred of Asians and that he fed the cops a false story about being driven by his screwed-up relationship with sex to try to mitigate his crimes, but this doesn’t make much sense. First of all, his story seems to be corroborated by what we know of his background, and by people who knew him, including some who helped the police to catch him. Secondly, blaming it on his repressed “sex addiction” is unlikely to make things much better for him, especially since, under Georgian state law, a crime doesn’t have to be racially motivated to be deemed a hate crime; it can also be motivated by sex. In any case, Long has not only confessed his culpability to the police, he’s waived his rights to a lawyer; these are not the actions of someone trying to escape or mitigate his guilt at this point.


In spite of all this, though, some seem so wedded to the idea that Long’s attack is an example of “white supremacy” and anti-Asian racism that they’re continuing to push this (as far as we can tell) false narrative. Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen said she believes, apparently without evidence, that the shootings were “a racially-motivated crime,” and claimed that the US “has a reluctance to admit that there is very real and deep-rooted systemic racism that does result in violence.” She added that “In this particular case, where the victims were Asian women, we see the intersections of racism, xenophobia, and gender-based violence.”


“Did the murderer in the Atlanta area shoot employees at strip clubs to relieve his alleged temptations?” tweeted Ted Lieu, Congressman from California. “Or adult video stores? Or adult movie theaters? NO. He specifically went to three locations that disproportionately had Asian women employees.” (But it seems Long was in fact on his way to Florida to attack people tied to the porn industry when he was arrested, and there’s nothing to suggest they were Asian.)


These attempts to propagate this dubious narrative that Long was motivated by hatred of Asians are stupid and misguided. If Long represents a religious repression problem, who does it help to pretend he represents a racism problem? Hate crimes against Asians are a serious enough problem from the real cases we already know about: Long’s rampage doesn’t and shouldn’t need to be included for them to be taken seriously. And neither does Long being motivated by sexual repression rather than race hatred absolve him of guilt. Frollo was an evil, self-righteous prick who deserved to be killed in the end, and Long’s decision to murderously take out his sexual frustration on innocent people is despicable and deserves the severest punishment under the law.

The attempts to propagate the dubious narrative that Long was motivated by hatred of Asians are stupid and misguided.

It’s still early days, of course. Long was only arrested yesterday, and it’s possible additional facts might emerge that indicate he was motivated, at least in part, by hatred towards Asians. Until then, though, everyone should refrain from claiming that this tragedy was due to racism. There’s already enough misinformation floating around; the last thing we should do is add to it.