The murders of two black shoppers at a Kentucky grocery store last month were indeed motivated by race-hate, federal prosecutors confirmed this week.
Gregory Bush had attempted to gain entry to a prominent black church in the Louisville suburbs shortly before walking into the grocery and killing one shopper inside, then walking out front and killing another.
Both targets were black. When a white man with a gun confronted Bush in the parking lot, he defused the situation by telling Bush “Whites don’t shoot whites.”
Bush was charged with hate crimes on Thursday. He committed the murders “because of [the victims’] actual and perceived race and color,” a federal grand jury indictment unveiled by the Department of Justice said.
Bush’s racially motivated killings, combined with his apparent interest that day in replicating the church massacre of Dylann Roof, was overshadowed at the time by the hunt for the so-called “MAGAbomber” who’d sent functional explosives to various prominent liberal figures. Days after the Kroger killings in Kentucky, another heavily armed white supremacist murdered 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“There is no place for hate-fueled violence in our community or Commonwealth,” U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said in a press release announcing the Bush indictment. “Federal, state, and local law enforcement stand united to ensure that Kentuckians can shop, worship, or attend school without the specter of fear.”
Hate crimes statutes and penalty enhancements have long been a sticking point for conservative lawmakers, elected officials and pundits, who argue that the laws require mind-reading to enforce and that murder is murder regardless of motive.
But the indictment of Bush is the latest example of how the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sometimes seeks severe penalties for white identitarian killers, as an emboldened and newly normalized white supremacist movement flexes its muscles in the Trump era.
Federal law enforcement officials have been on notice about the rising tide of white supremacist violence for years but both the feds and local partners have still been caught by surprise over the past two years, as the New York Times Magazine reported in detail earlier this month.
While most attention paid to political violence and terrorism on U.S. shores has focused on Islamic extremism, the Anti-Defamation League notes that white supremacists and other far-right extremists have racked up more than twice the body count of their more cable news friendly jihadist peers.
The group attributes 26 percent of all terrorism fatalities from 2008 to 2017 to Islamic terror groups, and 71 percent to far-right and white nationalist assailants.