Emanuel Samson is accused of killing one and wounding eight in a Tennessee church shooting. (CREDIT: AP PHOTO / METRO NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT)
On Sunday, a masked gunman opened fire on a church in Antioch, Tennessee. With one dead and eight others wounded, the attack was the largest mass shooting at a church since Dylann Roof’s 2015 killings.
The alleged shooter, who injured himself in the shooting, has been identified as Emanuel Samson, a 25-year-old U.S. resident who moved to the U.S. from Sudan in 1996. Samson, still in custody, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting.
While the motives for Samson’s alleged involvement in the shooting remain unknown, far-right figures and outlets have been eager to play up the racial angle, noting that Samson is African American and he targeted a predominately white church. Multiple conspiratorial Twitter accounts have further claimed that Samson is a Muslim, with one even incorrectly claiming he was a Muslim refugee, adding that “This is why we are grateful for EXTREME VETTING & thanks to @realDonaldTrump it got more extreme.”
But according to a Nashville police spokesperson, Samson recently attended church services, and was recognized by some of the parishioners in attendance. And according to his Facebook profile, Samson wasn’t shy about his religious beliefs – or the fact that he was a practicing Christian.
Most Christians, of course, disavow the type of violence Samson allegedly wrought. But Samson’s social media profile suggests he could be the latest in a string of professed Christians to target civilian populations in the United States.
For instance, in 2010, Samson wrote that he was “aiming at … becoming a preacher,” while multiple other status updates point to Samson’s affections for his Christian faith – with one noting that he’s a “church boy, that wants a church girl. As serious about God as I am, plain and simple.” Added Samson, “If youre [sic] not with God-then you’re not with me!”
Samson also had a raft of public interests pointing toward his faith, including having liked movies including The Passion of the Christ and Left Behind: The Movie. Other likes include groups ranging from “Jesus Christ” and “Resolved To Know Christ” to “I Love Jesus” and “Jesus the Savior.” Some of the other groups followed by Samson had more grammatically challenged names, including “Help put Jesus back in EVERYTHING!”, “JESUS IS LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if you know this is true press like. :)” and “Let’s join forces as Christians and start a Jesus Christ revival! Press like if Jesus is your Savior!!!”
The alleged shooter additionally liked only one book on Facebook: the Bible.
None of this means that Samson necessarily leaned on his Christian faith as justification for the mass shooting. There isn’t enough information about his motives to draw that conclusion.
However, the United States has seen a recent spate of domestic terror incidents specifically tied to fundamentalist Christianity, as well as the rise of white supremacist “Christian Identity” groups and individuals who, as ThinkProgress detailed in 2014, “spout scripture while engaging in horrifying acts of violence.”
The rise in violent acts committed by self-avowed Christians, ranging from plotting to bomb civil rights organizations in Oklahoma to plans to assassinate state officials in Washington to shooting sprees in Texas, has paralleled a broader spike in right-wing domestic terror incidents since the mid-2000s. As the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism recently found, some three-quarters of extremist-related murders from 2007-2016 were attributed to right-wing extremists – a rise, and a reality, to which the Trump administration has paid little heed.
Samson was not a white supremacist, and did not appear to be a member of any “Christian Identity” sect. But just like Roof’s church attack two years ago, Samson’s shooting further highlights the reality that what’s often called domestic terrorism is by no means confined to any specific ideology – nor, as we’ve seen, to any specific religion.