A Democratic opponent of Josh Hawley labelled the Republican “a fraud and a coward” after the far-right Missouri senator demanded that the killing of three nine-year-old children and three adults at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, be investigated as a federal hate crime.
Less than two years ago, Hawley was the only US senator to vote against a bill to crack down on hate crimes against Asian Americans during the Covid pandemic.
That bill, Hawley said, would “turn the federal government into the speech police [and] give government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it”.
Federal and state authorities have said any motive in the Nashville attack has not yet been established.
On Tuesday, Lucas Kunce, a Missouri Democrat running to oppose Hawley in 2024, said: “One out of 100 senators voted against the anti-hate crime bill in 2021. His name is Josh Hawley. He’s a fraud and a coward. Some days it’s more obvious than others.”
Hawley addressed the Nashville attack in remarks on the Senate floor, in a Senate resolution and in a letter to the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
Condemning the “murderous rampage at a Christian school known as the Covenant School”, Hawley wrote: “It is commonplace to call such horror senseless violence. But properly speaking, that is false. Police report the attack here was targeted … against Christians.
“… I urge you to immediately open an investigation into this shooting as a federal hate crime. The full resources of the federal government must be brought to bear … Hate that leads to violence must be condemned and hate crimes must be prosecuted.”
At the White House, Joe Biden was asked about Hawley’s contention. The president said: “Well, I probably don’t [think so] then. No, I’m joking – I have no idea.”
In the Senate, the US attorney general was asked by John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, if he would open a hate crimes investigation.
Merrick Garland said: “As of now, motive hasn’t been identified. We are certainly working full time with [federal agencies and Nashville and Tennessee law enforcement] to determine what the motive is and of course motive is what determines whether it’s a hate crime or not.”
In Tennessee, authorities continued to investigate. Police said the shooter, who was killed, wrote a “manifesto” and planned the attack extensively. The police chief, John Drake, told NBC that “resentment” over attending the school might have played a role in the shooting.
On Monday, police said the 28-year-old shooter, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, was transgender.
LGBTQ+ rights groups have expressed concern that Hale’s writings could be published, a step police have said they will not take while the investigation continues.
Gun law reform group Gays Against Guns, formed after the Pulse nightclub massacre of 2016, condemned the Nashville shooting but also criticised Republican policies and laws.
Gun violence and mass killings, the group said, “cannot be separated from the efforts of the cisgender white supremacist patriarchy to keep us divided along lines of race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation”.
“Until our society confronts these realities, rather than hide from or obscure them as ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and anti-‘Critical Race Theory’ laws proliferating across the nation … intend, we can, sadly, expect many more incidents like today.”
The group also said that “expectations and demands can take their toll on members of our LGBTQ+ communities who, instead of receiving support and understanding from their families and communities, receive hatred, ridicule, denigration and persecution”.