Still, it seems significant that Hicks’s anger intensified after Abu-Salha moved in and began receiving regular visits from her friends and her sister. Imad Ahmad, Barakat’s former roommate, told me it was his understanding that Hicks had come “about six times to their house in January and harassed them.” He added, “I also know that he left a note on Yusor’s car at one time. That never happened to Deah or me.” Barakat and Ahmad dressed like other college guys, in sweats and T-shirts. But the head scarves that Abu-Salha and her sister wore signalled their religion. Judging by Hicks’s Facebook page, any display of faith infuriated him. He didn’t single out Islam—“I hate Islam just as much as Christianity, but they have the right to worship in this country just as much as any others do,” he wrote in 2012—but he expressed the wish that Jews, Christians, and Muslims might “exterminate” each other. As it happens, photographs taken the day after the murders show that none of the three students’ cars were parked in spaces allotted to Hicks when he went on his rampage.
Perhaps it makes the most sense to think of anti-Muslim feeling as an enabler of Hicks’s crime rather than its cause. Kennedy, the law professor, observed to me, “It can be easier to commit violence against someone who is an other. Prejudice is one of the easiest ways to dehumanize someone.” But he added that it’s worth distinguishing between a crime that involves ethnic or religious hatred and one that is motivated by it.
In this case, he’s angry about the way people around him live, but he’s chosen these specific people because they also represent a religion he’s intolerant of.” According to McDevitt, one factor that the F.B.I. considers when assessing a possible hate crime is whether “the level of violence is more than what is required to do the crime.” By that light, the fact that Hicks fired a number of shots and pressed his gun to the women’s heads seems relevant.