White right-wing extremists are the biggest threats to several Western countries, but law enforcement still has an outsized fixation on Muslims.

On June 12, Craig Hicks, a fifty-year-old avowed atheist, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder for shooting three Muslim American students “execution style” in what now must be considered the first multiple-casualty terrorist attack to specifically target Muslims in the United States.

Four years ago Hicks burst into an apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that was owned by 23-year-old Deah Barakat moments before killing him, his 21-year-old wife Yusor Abu Salha and her 19-year-old sister Razan Abu-Salha.

The day after the attack, the father of Yusor and Razan, was adamant his daughters were victims of an anti-Muslim “hate crime,” telling reporters Hicks had “picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked to them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far,” adding that his eldest daughter had told him months before their deaths how Hicks “hates us for what we are and how we look.”

Despite the family’s insistence, the media framed their deaths as the violent escalation of a long-running “parking dispute,” a narrative that was ignited when Hicks’ wife told reporters it was “related to a longstanding parking dispute that my husband had with the neighbours.”

When white terrorists gun down Muslims, the defence pleas of the perpetrator’s allies matter more than those of the victims themselves.

The framing of the hate crime or terrorist attack as a “parking dispute” was parroted by all kinds of figures within the right-wing media orbit, but was notably and desperately clung onto by high profile atheists, including Richard Dawkins who casually dismissed the killings as a “parking dispute in NRA land.” The killer had listed Dawkins’ The God Delusion as one of his favourite books, and his Facebook page read like a shrine to other prominent Muslim-hating 'New Atheists'.

Today, however, Chris Blue, the Chapel Hill police chief, finally put the phoney “parking dispute” narrative to rest when he made this statement:

What we all know now and what I wish we had said four years ago is that the murders of Deah, Yusor, and Razan were about more than simply a parking dispute. The man who committed these murders undoubtedly did so with a hateful heart, and the murders represented the taking of three promising lives by someone who clearly chose not to see the humanity and the goodness in them.

Farris Barakat, the brother of one of the victims, said, “This was as much a longstanding dispute over parking as Rosa Parks was over a bus seat," with his sister DrSusan Barakat telling the court, “Deah, Yusor and Razan were murdered in an Islamophobic hate crime.”

A terrorist attack it most definitely was, one driven by a racist white guy who had been fed a steady diet of anti-Muslim memes, tropes and conspiracies both within his online atheist echo chamber and the mainstream media.

The fact that the “parking dispute” narrative stubbornly persisted for so long, and despite all visible evidence to the contrary, speaks to the manner and extent of the normalisation of Islamophobia and hate crimes against non-white minorities.

Worse – the widespread dismissal of the Chapel Hill terrorist attack as a “parking dispute” blinded the media, public and even law enforcement agencies around the country to the toxic level of anti-Muslim animus that had been percolating just below the surface within American society and elsewhere in the West.

In the four years since Hicks took the lives of three Muslim Americans, hate crimes against Muslims have spiked upwards in the United States, Europe, United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, culminating in the mass slaughter of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March by an Australian born white-nationalist terrorist.

There was also the attack on a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, which left 6 Muslim worshippers dead in 2017. There was the 48-year-old man who drove his van into a group of Muslims leaving a mosque in London six months later. There was the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota, and then there is the high double-digit, year-on-year increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

False narratives and the fixation on Muslims as a security threat prevented many from foreseeing the situation today where right-wing extremists are responsible for 100 percent of all domestic extremist-related murders on US soil since the end of 2017.

Alarmingly, it appears mainstream US media outlets have not learned a single thing from this tragedy, and pundits, politicians, and the public are likely to be duped into being shocked and surprised when future mass casualty attacks on Muslims take place. The stark reality of this was underscored by the fact that The New York Times responded to Hick’s guilty plea by publishing the following headline, “He Killed 3 Muslim Students. But Did He Commit a Hate Crime?

Even when white terrorists are sentenced to three life sentences for carrying out an act of hate-inspired mass murder, mainstream newspapers provide cover to their atrocities by continuing to question the killer’s motive and impart blame on the victims for their own deaths.

Today the US stands face-to-face with a white nationalist domestic crisis, and it’s becoming increasingly self-evident why it never saw it coming.

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