To be completely honest, the story you’re reading now almost didn’t get written. Oh, it was written, mentally, in about five seconds, immediately after hearing the words “North Carolina man guns down three Muslims on University campus.” Cue the Facebook page with guns, flags and crosses…that all-too-common and expected story sadly writes itself. But the reality is far more disturbing. Indeed, Craig Stephen Hicks’ Facebook page did contain guns, flags and crosses — just, not in the usual manner. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no running away from this: A mere 2o hours after posting a video of a puppy playing with a bell, one of our own became a murderer.
The above image is a screenshot of the last thing 46-year-old Craig Hicks posted on Facebook. An adorable puppy playing, with the tagline “A different take on Pavlov!” It went up on February 9th, at 9:29 p.m. At 5:11 p.m. the next day, Chapel Hill University police officers responded to reports of gunshots in Summerwalk Circle.
There, they found three dead: 23-year-old dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, the woman he married one month before, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad, and Yusor’s 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All shot execution-style, with point-blank shots to the head. The motive seems all too clear, and the context of it begs one question above all…
What madness is this?
Hicks, going by his Facebook posts, was a militant atheist — a secular humanist, and an outspoken liberal-progressive. Positions which hardly lend themselves to sectarian violence of the type we’d normally associate with right wing lunatics. And for the 90 percent, his page is that of a perfectly happy and socially conscious married man. If one a bit too fond of cute puppy videos. In fact, just last week, he posted this — a picture taken as he helped to hand out dental supplies to over 75 neighborhood homeless. Notice, behind the table stand two women assisting who are almost certainly Muslim:
And here’s one on gay rights:
Other posts include pieces on organic vegetable gardening, Star Wars, his favorite football team, musical joke memes on Tom Petty and Billy Joel, and links to quotes from Neil DeGrasse-Tyson and Bill Nye. In fact, Hicks’ love of science seems barely trumped by his support for universal healthcare, LBGT rights and basic ethical principles like being good for the sake of good. There is nothing — nothing — that indicates he was even thinking of committing an atrocity like this. In short, his Facebook page could easily have been any one of ours.
That goes for his beliefs on religion, as well. Which is where things get a bit more controversial. And perhaps, relevant.
Hicks wasn’t just an atheist — he was a militant anti-theist, a “plague on all your houses” type who cared little for any religion. Here’s a small sample of his posts:
Little if any mention was made of Muslims at all on his page, save for this:
Apart from that, nothing pertaining specifically to Muslims at all. Not even in the Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens sense that “Islam is objectively more dangerous than Christianity.” If anything, the presence of the two Muslim women assisting with handing out dental supplies to the homeless would seem to indicate that Hicks was at the very least comfortable with them. There’s no word yet on whether those women or Hicks had any relationship with those he murdered — but there is some evidence for it.
The male, Barakat, was planning a trip to Turkey this summer to help give free dental care to Syrian refugees there. “These kids don’t have access to the same health care as us. Their prolonged pain can easily be taken care of by what we do,” he said in a video.
This in itself might give some clue that the killings were personal to some degree — or at least that Hicks knew his victims. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Barakat was a Muslim dentist, and that there were two Muslim women there with Hicks handing out food and dental supplies two weeks ago. The two Muslim women don’t appear to be the two young ladies Hicks later shot — but that is a very strange dual intersection of Islam and dentistry for North Carolina. In short, don’t be surprised to learn Hicks knew his victims, if only secondhand.
Apart from that speculation, though, almost nothing else speaks to any kind of intent on Hicks’ part. Nothing, amid the puppy videos, pictures of Disneyworld and atheist memes offered the slightest hint of what was to come.
Well, nothing, except for this chillingly random post from January 20th:
And that’s it.
Before and after that, it’s nothing but the usual music posts and puppy videos. And yes, this does appear to be the very weapon he used in the killings.
At this point, we can only speculate on the events that lead from handing out dental supplies to the homeless with two Muslim women, to murdering a Muslim dentist (with two other women), who was planning on handing out dental supplies to homeless people in Turkey. We can only speculate on what madness overtook one of our own in the 20 hours between posting a playful puppy video, and executing three innocent people in cold blood.
The Right will say “Ha! See! Liberal murderers! Stalin!” But that’s asinine. This was the work of an irrational individual, a purposeless slaying that accomplished nothing. An act of insanity by a man who seemed for all intents completely sane and rational mere hours before. As for yours truly — I suspect drugs, something strong and perhaps unintentional. A little PCP hidden in a joint will produce just this kind of insanity, particularly for someone who’s never taken it. The fact that he turned himself in immediately afterward might support that hypothesis.
So, was it drugs? Was it a personal vendetta? Some combination of the two, or neither one? How mad has the world become when one of our own turns to an act like this? It would be cowardice to disown this murderer, to run from the story of his horrific deeds — to bury the bright lives of his victims in the shadow of political expediency. We can’t afford the “no true Scotsman” fallacy — that would make us no better than those conservative Christians who disowned Anders Breivik.
That is cowardice on their part…cowardice we can’t afford when it comes time to ask the most chilling questions of all.
Could Craig Hicks be any one of us? Are we all but 20 hours away from becoming monsters, regardless of our most cherished beliefs? Is there nothing we can belief, no truth we can hold, to keep us from committing the worst of atrocities?
How mad the world…and what madness IS this?