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Atheists confronted possibility Texas shooter was one of their own

A law enforcement official stands watch outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the scene of a deadly shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing and wounding many. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(RNS) — Often when a terrorist strikes in America, many Muslims say, “Please don’t let it be a Muslim.”

After 26 people were killed and 20 more wounded at a Texas Baptist church on Sunday (Nov. 5),  it was atheists hoping the gunman wasn’t one of their own.

Reports surfaced late Sunday that Devin Patrick Kelley had at some point “liked” a Facebook page belonging to the Friendly Atheist, the pen name of Hemant Mehta, a writer and secular activist whose blog of the same name is among the most popular on Patheos, a blog host site.

That prompted some social media users to blame atheism and atheists for the killings. Wrote Elizabeth Johnston, whose Twitter handle is @activist Mommy: “The TX mass shooting today is the end result of atheist’s worldview.”

And @jim_rockford1 tweeted: “How many more deaths at the hands of filthy God haters must happen before we arrest all atheists?”

https://twitter.com/jim_rockford1/status/927584378544377856

On Monday, Texas law enforcement officials determined Kelley was motivated by a “domestic situation” and specifically ruled out religious beliefs as motive for targeting the small Baptist church.

“This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on,” Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a morning news conference in Sutherland Springs, the Texas town where the shooting occurred.

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While Kelley’s religious beliefs are still unknown, many of Mehta’s fans — both religious and non-religious — disavowed any link between the shooting and the views of the atheist blogger.

“I’ve never seen you advocate violence against anyone. So, him liking your Facebook page, if true, means nothing,” wrote a man who tweets as  @GarethPineCone in response to Mehta’s tweet.

Sunday evening, Mehta, who is based in the Chicago area, issued a statement on his blog condemning the attack and the conclusion that the shooter was an atheist.

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“Obviously, I think years of posts on this website would make very clear that, no matter how many disagreements I have with religious people and institutions, I’ve made it abundantly clear that violence is never an answer,” Mehta wrote. “Hell, we’ve held fundraisers for churches we disagree with after they were vandalized by strangers using atheist tags.”

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For some, Mehta’s statement was further evidence that the shooter was inspired by “anti-Christian” attacks. Among them was Johnston, whose social media profile says she is a Christian with ten children who does “it all because of Jesus.”

Others agreed and continued to blame atheists for the killings. Tweeted Heather Oates: “It seems like atheists are prone to mental health problems. Christians are dead in Texas.”

 

 

 

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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