San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus has identified the man who allegedly shot and killed California store owner Laura Anne Carlteon for displaying an LGBTQ+ Pride flag before he himself was killed by deputies. Travis Ikeguchi, 27, was responsible for Carleton’s killing, police say—and his social media profiles absolutely support the notion that Ikeguchi would be going around “yelling many homophobic slurs” and becoming violent at the mere sight of a rainbow flag.
Carleton’s daughter told NBC News that the family wanted “to steer the narrative away from him and towards my mother and honoring her” because the killer “is irrelevant," but it’s important to understand this killing in the context of the hate-filled political movement messages Ikeguchi consumed and spread. It’s a fine line to walk between further publicizing the hateful messages and talking about how killings like this are not simply isolated acts, but part of a broader pattern.
”Dehumanizing and vilifying a person or group of people can provoke what scholars and law enforcement officials call stochastic terrorism, in which ideologically driven hate speech increases the likelihood that people will violently and unpredictably attack the targets of vicious claims,” Bryn Nelson explained in Scientific American recently. In other words, we may not know which person eagerly reading and spreading hateful, dehumanizing memes and messages will launch a violent attack, but it’s likely that someone will if the messages spread enough.
That’s why it’s important that we know Ikeguchi didn’t just come up with this level of rage at the sight of a rainbow flag all on his own, and his hate wasn’t only directed at LGBTQ+ people:
Ikeguchi isn’t alone in having these stances and going on to commit violence. “If you got him talking about politics, it was all over,” a friend and part-time employer of the man who attacked then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband told The New York Times. “Because he really believed in the whole MAGA, ‘Pizzagate,’ stolen election—you know, all of it, all the way down the line.” The shooter who killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022 embraced a white nationalist ideology often promoted by the likes of Tucker Carlson and Rep. Elise Stefanik. The killer in a 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was motivated by anti-immigrant racism and was a supporter of Donald Trump’s immigration policies. The list goes on and on and on.
So, no, we don’t want to elevate or glamorize murderers. But if we don’t stop to consider the links between the dehumanizing hate expressed by some murderers toward the people they target and the dehumanizing hate they are hearing and reading and reposting from major right-wing political and media figures, then we’re missing too much of what’s going on here.