Tuesday, December 5, 2023

I Was A Teenage Robert Long: An inside confession about the right-wing evangelical movement

It had been one year since America’s last mass shooting. Writer Jason Webber reflects upon the sobering similarities between his own life and the path followed by Atlanta shooting suspect Robert Long.

Today I am a 45-year-old proud nonbeliever who enthusiastically voted for Biden in the last election. But at 16, I was very much forged in the same fire as Robert Long, the suspect in the Atlanta Asian spa shootings.

Sounds like we could have gone to the same church youth group. We both loved pizza, God, country and good old-fashioned American values like the importance of family and of electing good, strong Christian men as President of the United States. We were white, God-fearing, rugged individualists who simply believed that mankind (notice the emphasis) was put here to rule over the Earth that God had created just for us.

The fact is, I grew up in the same type of cloistered evangelical family that Long did. On a basic, purely bleeding-heart level, I feel bad for the guy because it sounds like we both grew up with the same kind of parents. The ones with fathers who worked hard as the main breadwinner and mothers who knew their place as the homemaker and nurturer. Where backtalking to parents was a sin tantamount to breaking the Commandment of “Honor thy father and thy mother,” and punishment was doled out accordingly with a belt, paddle or wooden spoon, depending on the severity of the perceived offense.

I guarantee you Long and I would probably have shot guns together, attended Bible study together, maybe even dated the same girls at different times, who knows? But I do know what kind of environment created the monster that is Robert Long.

Under the umbrella of evangelical Christianity lies the original version of “cancel culture”— Christians have been rioting about the “evils” of society like rock music, R-rated movies, Dungeons & Dragons and immodest clothing on women for the better part of the last 60 years, but nothing is said about the homophobia, transphobia, chauvinism, jingoism and sexism that runs generations deep in this uniquely American culture.

The late Plasmatics singer Wendy O. Williams once said “The brainwashed don’t know they’re brainwashed.” She wasn’t kidding. In the evangelical community, it’s more than just church picnics, casseroles, and prayer request chains— it’s about the very soul of the nation. Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war. To them, it’s not just a song, but an instruction given to them by God and those he’s anointed, such as Donald J. Trump.

The only reason— and I mean the only reason— I didn’t turn out to be a right wing Incel maniac bastard like Robert Long is because I’m too old. The internet wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I can honestly say I would probably have been just as blinded by religious and political charlatans like the Trumps, the Grahams, the Bakkers, these revered men of God who proved to be all too human in their foibles and misdeeds.

I was a computer nerd as a teen, but I preferred talking about Zork and Ultima VI In the early ‘90s internet of yore. There was no America Online back then, you had Prodigy, PC Link, Compuserve. You bought Nintendo games at one store and computer software at another. It was a simpler, more innocent time where the only thing you had to be worried about regarding your kids and the computer was “What if the kids find our copy of Leisure Suit Larry?”

But if I had grown up in the age where Incels were a thing, where QAnon conspiracy theorists were being taken seriously AND living in that oppressive evangelical environment, who knows what right-wing fringe sect I’d belong to today? Those white men and women who stormed the Capitol? Had I stayed in that evangelical mindset of my youth, I very well may have been a participant. Hate and bigotry are taught, but when you’re born into that world and it’s all you know, your elders ensure that you are groomed into becoming a strong, ‘Murica-loving Christian who is terrified of “freedoms” being stripped away and given to these “foreigners,” who haven’t paid their dues or something like that.

If you’re going to rid the world of Robert Longs, America needs to do what it’s still not mature enough to do: Acknowledge that the old ways of our parents and grandparents were severely skewed in favor of one race and gender— the white male. Long was promised by the American Dream that he would be rich and laid beyond his dreams. When that didn’t happen, he did what so many other lost souls who had been betrayed by that mirage in the desert— he got angry at the forces that had let him down. Jesus loved him, this he knew, for the Bible told him so. And Jesus wanted him to be successful because goddamn it, it was owed to him.

There will be another Robert Long again somewhere soon in these United States. He will be young. He will be white. He will consider himself a God-fearing, Trump-voting patriot who is ridding society of a larger evil. Everyone is wringing their hands trying to pin a motive down for the shootings. Was it hate against Asian-Americans or Long’s “sexual addiction?” Both motives were likely born and nurtured by Long marinating in right-wing evangelicalism for 21 years. Either the man hated people who looked different than him, or the man was a porn addict and couldn’t get laid, and there’s nothing more frustrated than an Incel with Christian guilt. Most likely, it was a combination of the two. So he snapped, the unknowing victim of the very world he’d been born into. In the end, Jesus cannot save Robert Long from his crimes. Donald Trump will not be issuing him a pardon. He is going to trial. He’ll certainly be convicted. And he’ll hopefully be locked up for the rest of his life. But it won’t matter. Because those exactly like Long are out there. Waiting for the right time to score one for Jesus and the rest of the white race.

The thoughts & opinions in this article don’t necessarily reflect those of The Toledo City Paper.

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