Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology: The Motivations of the Atlanta Asian Spa Shooter

Yesterday, on Wednesday 17 March Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia visited three Asian spas in the Atlanta area and shot eight people dead. He then fled south where he was apprehended. Apprehended. Not shot dead. He’s white.

While there is a racial focus of this mass shooting event, it isn’t the focus of this blog post. And, while he used guns to commit this crime, guns are not the focus of this blog post, either. Today, we depart from these two tried and true themes that have been addressed so frequently on Ye Olde Blogge and focus on the motivation of the shooter. Today, we will visit forensic psychology!

Forensic psychology is the scientific study of the behaviors and mental processes used by criminals and law enforcement. It covers everything from motivation to interrogation to developmental psychology to personality psychology to situationalism. It covers a lot of ground. But, we’re mainly interested in the why of mass shooters in general and this shooter in particular.

Now here’s the fun part: it’s still early in the investigation, so we don’t know much about this fellow or his motivations. However, we can use some of the clues that we do know and begin to place some bets about the whys and wherefores of this ass.

What We Know So Far

What do we know? We’ll look to both CNN and The Guardian to help us piece together the particulars.

  • Eight deaths:
    • Seven of the eight dead were women
    • Six of the eight were Asian
  • Three crime scenes:
    • two were in Atlanta
    • one was in Acworth in Cherokee County outside Atlanta
    • Acworth is about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta and is adjacent to Woodstock where he lives.
  • All three were Asian spas. You know, I’ve not seen any reporting on this, but I’ve googled all of the spas involved, they were more “spas” than spas, if you know what I mean and I think you do. One of the dead give aways is that they were 24-hour businesses, you know, in case you need that 2:00 AM massage or something. Few windows and pictures of young, Asian or Asian-looking scantily clad female masseuses… Can you say happy ending? I thought you could.
  • About 5:00 PM a shooting occurred at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor in Acworth. Of the five people shot there, two died at the scene, and two at the hospital.
  • About 5:50 PM three women were found dead at Gold’s Spa in northeast Atlanta. All three had been shot.
  • About 5:50 PM but a little later, in fact, while the police were investigating the Gold’s Spa shooting, police were called to a shooting at the Aromatherapy Spa across the street from Gold’s Spa where one woman had been shot dead.
  • About 8:30 PM Long was apprehended as he was driving on Interstate 70 through Crisp County about 150 miles south of Atlanta

Preliminary Conclusions

Just this information suggests three conclusions about the crime:

  1. This is an anti-Asian crime. He went out of his way target to Asian businesses. Six of the eight dead were Asian. Conclusions: He was targeting Asians. No arguing with that.
  2. It’s a crime against women. Seven of those shot dead are women. Conclusion: it was a crime directed against women.
  3. there is a sexual element to this crime. It’s not a sex crime, but it involved some hinky sex stuff. I’ve lived in the Far East for over 20 years. There is a “type” of guy that fetishizes Asian women. Hell, one of the stereotypes of Asians is the meek submissive exotic woman.

So, the shooter was motivated by racism and misogyny. Hmm… where have we heard that before?

Another conclusion is that this attack was planned. He went out of his way to access these three businesses. He drove for an hour after shooting four of five people dead! This was no impulsive crime. This was no crime of inflamed passions. He planned this. He decided it was Young’s and Gold’s spas. He went to Young’s and shot five people. Then, drove thirty miles to Gold’s to kill three more women and crosses the street to Aromatherapy to kill one more. That’s planned.

I’m also willing to bet he’s been a customer at all three.

The Three Types of Mass Shooters

All mass shooters are filled with rage. There are three types of mass shooters that I’ve derived from Kris Mohandie‘s readable, entertaining, and informative book, Evil Thoughts: Wicked Deeds. (1) There are those driven by narcissism. (2) There is the ideologically-driven shooter. And (3) there are those who are violent psychopaths. Of course, there will be those that combine elements of all three.

The narcissistic personality disorder shooter externalizes their own shortcomings and errors and blame others — you know, like we’ve learned from studying the narcissism of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber (N.B. I’m not saying the former guy will ever be a mass shooter; he don’t have the huevos for it. He wants others, Long, perhaps, to do it for him.) These are injustice collecting types. They go through their lives collecting grievances — Alarm bells should be going off in your head! What group of people are trafficking in white grievance? What is the likely outcome of such rhetoric in the narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders among them?

Remember, at the core of the narcissist is a dark empty void of self-esteem that they are protecting at all costs. The shooter combines their sense of grievance — the rejection by society and their peers, their sense of separation from and of being different than those around them, they don’t fit in, ignored, and “bullied.” All of this hurt is a narcissistic wound, which fuels the fire of their rage.

When the narcissistic wound is inflicted, the narcissist must strike out and eliminate those who have injured them. Sometimes this is literally and sometimes this is figuratively. The shooter tries to eliminate those who have inflicted this injury literally by shooting them dead.

The ideology-driven shooter adds violence to their absolute adherence to their creed or belief system. Of course, we think of the Islamic extremist terrorist here, but there are many white Christian’s in this category as well.These folks are known as violent true believers. They are defined as individuals who are believe that their ideology or belief system justifies their use of violence.

Their belief system represents the absolute and only truth and, therefore, anything done to further that belief system is justified. Everything and everyone else is wrong and that makes them expendable, beneath human, condemned or how ever their system defines infidels or non-believers. Think the Puritans and Pilgrims and their relationship with Native Americans (genocide) and people who entertained deviations of their version of Calvinism, like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson who were banished and condemned to die in the wilderness.

Some good examples:

  • Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, is a good example. He thought his would be the first shot in a new American Revolution. He would be its first hero. Jokes on him. At least, he lived to see the error of his thinking.
  • Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, evaded capture for 17 years while periodically delivering deadly packages in a misguided attempt to thwart the Industrial Revolution.
  • And, perhaps the most pertinent example of the violent true believer is Cesar Sayoc who sent sixteen explosive devices to the enemies and opponents of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. Luckily, they were as impotent as the former guy’s time in office was and none of them went off.

This type of mass killer is frightening because they cannot be reasoned with. They are able to ignore any alternatives or objections to their behaviors believing they are utterly justified and will be rewarded in the end. These folks are willing to be martyrs for the cause.

Violent psychopaths kill for their own personal reasons, but frequently, are also seeking notoriety or fame. While they may hold grudges, have grievances, and be enraged, they are almost all characterized by a desire to commit suicide. Which is unfortunate because it becomes difficult to determine what drove them to their crimes unless they have left some trail of evidence before hand. Ironically, the narcissistic killer and the violent true believer are likely to make statements prior to their killing sprees, but these folks may or may not.

There is a thin line that separates suicide from homicide. When violence and death are the only things that will quench the thirst for destruction and vengeance that violent psychopaths harbor, it seldom matters whose deaths are involved, but, of course, the order of the deaths does matter. We’ll never know how many mass murders have been averted because the shooter got the order wrong. However, in their endless fantasizing about avenging their grievances, it shifts from suicide to killing those responsible for the immediate cause of their grievance to those supporting those immediately responsible to those who happen to be nearby when the shooting starts. Killing is killing after all, and in that great American tradition, go big or go home applies here, too.

What Motivated the Atlanta Asian Spa Shooter

In the early reporting on this shooting, there was a lot of speculation and even desire for this fellow to be a violent true believer in the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s white supremacist MAGA Nation rhetoric, but it is unlikely to be true. Undoubtedly, the anti-Asian rhetoric spewed by the former guy and sycophants over the past year contributed to the crime, but it is in the same way that disparagement humor contributes to prejudicial behavior to those hearing it: Because the hearer believes that their anti-social beliefs are shared with the joke’s teller, they are encouraged to act on them at their next opportunity. The hatred that this fellow felt for Asians, especially, or maybe exclusively, of Asian women, was affirmed by Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric. It was encouraging, but, probably, not causal.

Because the fellow was captured by the police 150 miles south of the last shooting — presumably, he was heading to Florida to shoot up porn studios? I had heard that on Chris Hayes’ All In Show today — and wasn’t murdered by police, we know (a) he was white and not black and (b) he was not on a suicide mission. That last point, eliminates or renders the probability of him being a violent psychopath unlikely. Clearly he was not on a mission to commit suicide.

It seems very likely that he was a narcissistic killer lashing out at those who have inflicted a narcissistic wound upon him. It seems likely that he is very conflicted about his sexuality and feeling a lot of shame surrounding his sexual desires. He’s resolved some of this shame by satisfying his desires with Asian women because they are exotic. They are far enough removed from his cultural mores so that they don’t factor into his Madonna-whore complex or whatever the fuck it is he has going on.

Unfortunately, his inner demons intensified to the point where not even that would prevent the narcissistic wound that satisfying his sexual desires caused. In fact, it worsened them. Now even these safe Others, these meek and submissive — unless he was going the dominatrix route, but those types usually aren’t working the happy ending massage parlors — were able to shame him. He was desperate to end the howling shaming cries of his internalized accusations of inadequacy and lashed out.

There may be other factors that contributed to his horrific act, but I feel fairly certain that he frequented these particular establishments. Young’s Asian Massage Parlor being the most often used since it was closest to home and first attacked and suffered the most deaths. Gold’s being second since it was the next, and Aromatherapy being third.

Homicide and Suicide

There are many similarities between homicide and suicide including one that all suicide hotline operators know well. When someone is threatening suicide, you always check for a plan, a means, and a time. The more detailed and thought through each is, the more likely suicide will result.

The same is probably true of homicide, especially mass shootings. The shooter spends a lot of time fantasizing about killing either himself, others, or both. He comes up with a detailed plan. He acquires the means to do it. He establishes a time, date, and place to do it in, and, then, does. Just like with suicide, if you can interrupt any one of those steps, you’re likely to prevent the act.

Suicide happens when impulse overcomes resistance. These types of mass shootings do, too. One of the surest ways to prevent suicide is to remove the preferred means. People do not move on to another means if they cannot access their preferred one. The cycle, essentially, starts over again. Since guns are the most lethal means of committing suicide and homicide, it makes sense that if society restricts access, the number of gun-related suicides and homicides declines.

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Image Attribution

“madonna-whore complex”  by blitheandbonny is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

14 replies »

  1. One of my first reaction on hearing of this crime was, “He’s an Incel.” So, there’s the narcissistic wound of being unable to form a sexual relationship with a “good woman”, and the shame of having to turn to “bad” and “lesser” women. He is quoted as having told police that he set out to “remove the temptation” those places and women represented. Finding out his church affiliation will help explain that choice of words. Although he is also reported to have denied that the act was specifically anti-Asian, the recent spate of reporting on anti-Asian violence may have influence his timing. Maybe we will learn along the way about his “Mommy Issues”. It is a good bet he has some. I also wonder whether, as a repeat customer, he might have escalated his “kink” requests beyond what the establishment was willing to provide (the standard services having lost their edge for him), and having those women say “no” to anything would have been the final straw.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      There’s a lot of twisted up knots in that boy’s psyche. I’ve seen several references to his church affiliation that I haven’t seen reported in the press. I wouldn’t be surprised if either he or one of his parents has strong religious views, though. It’s hard to claim that the crime isn’t anti-Asian when 3/4ths of the victims were Asian and they were committed exclusively at Asian “themed” businesses. He had a lot of choices about where to commit his crimes. He planned this. He chose those particular spas. No one chooses those spas unless they want the Asian “experience.” It’s as simple as that.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Racism may not have been the primary motive, but there is no way (Well, no honest way.) to leave his feelings/attitudes about Asians out of the picture. Also, the reporting of increased attacks on Asians would have some degree of normalizing influence – not a deciding factor, but still there.

        He was apparently on his way to Florida to shoot more. Was he a customer there too? Did he have specific targets in mind? How did he think the game would end? Did he think he could do all that, get away with it, and go home with his “addiction” under control, at least for a while?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          I don’t think he had thought it out that far. I think he had indulged in violent fantasies for a long long time. Like suicide, what allows impulse to overcome resistance? He had a plan. On the day of the shooting, he acquired the means. He arrived at the time and date of his crime. He did it. How far did his planning extend?

          He said he was going to Florida to shoot up pornographers, so he may have gotten production addresses off of the porn videos he’d been watching. What he would’ve done after that is anyone’s guess, even his. I don’t think he had thought it through that far. I don’t think anyone could. One of the advantages of suicide missions is that they’re easier to plan. You don’t have to plan your escape.

          I think that the atmosphere of violence from the 6 January Insurrection and anti-Asian violence from Trump’s rhetoric gave him “permission” to do this. It was part of what helped his impulse overcome his reluctance. There didn’t have to be a triggering event, but there had to be a moment in which he decided and committed to it. It probably came the day of the crime before he decided to go and buy the gun.


          Liked by 1 person

            • Significantly, it is clear that he did not see this as a suicide mission as so many mass shooters have done. Also, it’s not clear whether one of his motives was to gain notoriety and fame. He may be accurately reflecting his point-of-view that he did it to target the focus of his sexual conflicts. It still makes it a racist and misogynistic crime, though.


              Liked by 1 person

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