‘Self-hate crime’ – plot thickens as we learn more about Colorado shooter’s life

Mourners visit a memorial outside of Club Q, the place of the fatal shooting, on November 23, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo: Chet Strange/Getty Images

The shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs on November 19-20 left five dead and some 20 injured. If it were not for the heroic intervention of Richard M. Fierro and Thomas James, the death toll could have been even greater. But what appeared to be a hate crime against the LGBTQ community becomes more complicated now that we know a bit more about the identity of the shooter. Yet the original narrative persists. Take a longer read.

The day before Anderson Lee Aldrich was set to appear in court for the first time, attorneys representing the Club Q shooter submitted a filing explaining that Aldrich identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

The facts of the case appear to be undeniable when it comes to Aldrich's responsibility for the tragic deaths at Club Q. But this revelation puts into question whether they should be charged with a hate crime (or “bias-motivated” as Colorado laws more appropriately call it).

Can Aldrich, as a member of the Queer community, be charged with having perpetrated a crime against the said community? Even if for some reason they harbour a feeling of self-hate so profound that it motivated them to commit the heinous crime they are charged with?

These are not “gotcha!” questions. Aldrich is obviously a disturbed individual, which is evident from their actions, recent as well as past. Had they decided to start their killing spree in a country club it is not likely their gender identity would be of any relevance to the case. And perhaps it has no place in this case either. If the prosecution insists on charging Aldrich with a bias-motivated crime, what will happen if Aldrich’s attorneys successfully argue before the jury that the crime was not motivated by hate against the LGBTQ community?

While the focus should be on the tragedy of the victims, we should try to understand the perpetrator. Not to justify them or lessen the horror of the crime, but because without that, there is no speaking of identifying a motive. As ugly as a venture into their headspace might be, here is what is so far known about Anderson Aldrich.

How to abuse a child into becoming a mass shooter?

Aldrich was born Nicholas Franlink Brink on May 20, 2000, to Laura Voepel and Aaron Brink. The next year, Brink filed for divorce and Voepel was given full custody of their child, with no visitation rights granted to Brink. Ms Voepel brought up her child in the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Do not let that mislead you into imagining she had a squeaky-clean criminal record.

Aaron Brink is a pretty colourful personality: a mixed martial arts fighter, former pornographic actor, and with an impressive criminal record to boot. He also identifies as a religious and conservative Republican. Brink was the only member of Aldrich’s family who decided to speak to the media, and while expressing sympathy to the victims’ families, he admitted to having voiced disapproval of gay people when Aldrich was younger.

When Aldrich filed for a legal name change, their cited reason for doing so was estrangement from their father and his criminal history.

On the mother’s side, Aldrich is the grandchild of Randy Voepel, an outgoing California Assemblyman (Republican) and former mayor of Santee. He also voiced his support for the crowd that stormed the Capitol building on January 6, 2020.

Save for Mr Brink’s acting career choices, the entire clan fits perfectly into the Hillarian “basket of deplorables”.

Aldrich also has their own history of violence and their own criminal record. In 2021 Aldrich was arrested after an incident in which their mother accused them of threatening her with a homemade bomb. Law enforcement managed to pacify Aldrich, who throughout the incident was live-streaming a video on Facebook in which they threatened to detonate the bomb.

Several months later, Ms Voepel posted in a Facebook group for women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asking for recommendations regarding a “trauma/PTSD therapist” for her child, reported LA Times.

The altercation with the police may have been traumatic, but according to the Washington Post, at the age of 15, Aldrich was the victim of a “particularly vicious bout of online bullying”, during which time their bullies hurled ridicule and homophobic insults in a fictious-biography posted on a Wikipedia-like website. Notably, it was about that time that Aldrich petitioned to have their name changed.

Several months after the query about the therapist, Aldrich’s mother figured out sports might do her child some good.

She was seeking a private boxing coach for her child, whom she described as “6’6” tall and hits like a freight train”. Perhaps she should think better than signing up Aldrich to train in pugilism, but as she said, her child had “made huge life changes and needs this!”

Whether Aldrich was trying to shake off the years of trauma or former abuse, or training in preparation for their killing spree is anyone’s guess.

Does it matter for the case?

According to LA Times, a spokesperson with the district attorney’s office declined to comment on whether Aldrich’s gender identity would disqualify them from any charges in connection with the fatal shooting and said that “evidence will drive the appropriate charges”.

One legal expert stated flatly that it makes no difference what Aldrich claims in regard to their identity.

“One’s membership in a protected group in no way obviates the possibility that the crime the individual commits is motivated by hatred,” said Kristen Browde, an attorney and chair of the National Trans Bar Assn., appearing to suggest a crime can be committed out of self-hatred.

“The reality is that no matter what this individual’s motivation turns out to be, the fact is there are extremists who are speaking from pulpits and broadcast microphones who are inciting this violence and saying things like, ‘I would shed no tears’ or that LGBT people should be tied up and shot in the back of the head,” Ms Browde further told LA Times. “Whether that turns out to be the motivation for this attack or not, these kinds of statements are beyond dangerous.”

Now, that is something entirely different. The risk of Aldrich merely masquerading as a member of the LGBTQ community to spout hate from the dock (which is what he might choose to do should he want to testify or represent himself, as those are their rights), or at least to use it as a way to get away from bias-motivated crime charges is not impossible.

As a matter of fact, Leslie Bowman, who was renting a room to Aldrich’s mother at the time of the bomb incident, said that she found the claim pretty hard to believe.

“I have only ever known him as a he/him. Laura only ever referred to him that way, as ‘my son,’” Bowman said. “There was never anything other than he/him pronouns and referring to him in the masculine.”

This appears to support Ms Browde’s fears. Or maybe Ms Voepel refused to accept her child's identity, or they never revealed it to her. And although a suspect should be considered innocent until proven guilty, although Aldrich’s guilt is fairly evident, Ms Browde is not the judge that needs to keep that at the back of their head during the trial. So far, what she has done, is to call for effectively putting a gag on the defendant.

What is a bit more problematic, are the ideological implications of outright denying Aldrich’s claimed gender identity.

Misgendering is bad, unless we do it

LGBTQ activists have fought for years to achieve a point at which a person claiming that their gender identity is misaligned with their biological sex deserves to have that claim accepted at face value. We have reached times in which a person denying another’s claimed gender identity is branded as a transphobe. And this is done by a transgender person who speaks for an organisation that is supposed to represent transgender people.

In other words, those who otherwise go into hysterics whenever someone’s transgender identity is put into question are very happy to do it themselves, like Ms Natalee Bingham. To give her some leeway, let us assume her judgement is affected by the fact she was friends with one of the victims. Because as a transgender person herself, Ms Bingham surely knows that being a non-binary person does not mean the same thing as being a transgender person. Those are apples and oranges.

Politicising the tragedy

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Immediately it was assumed that the shootout was motivated by the perpetrator's hate of the LGBTQ community. This is not an unfair assumption. A shooting in Oslo that occurred in late June was motivated by the perpetrator’s radical Islamic beliefs.

But in the case of the Colorado Springs tragedy, there are now reason’s to put anti-LGBTQ prejudice as a motive into question. And that is something that would not be very convenient for those, who have already proclaimed the victims, Daniel Davis Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump, and Raymond Green Vance, as martyrs to an ideological cause.

In a November 24 article published by Solidarnośc weekly titled “It is ‘right-wing hate’ that is always at fault. Even when a ‘non-binary’ transsexual was the shooter”, Polish publicist Waldemar Krysiak says as much, making some spot-on observations, and levelling serious accusations.

Admittedly, Mr Krysiak appears to have forgotten that there is a difference between the non-binary and transgender identities, but as he is himself a homosexual and not transgender, he may not be an expert on the matter. What Mr Krysiak is, is an expert on is LGBTQ activism. A movement that in his youth offered him a sense of belonging, but eventually evolved to be so radical, that Mr Krysiak became disenchanted with it and became a conservative publicist. Something that earned him scorn from his former fellow activists, who appear to share Ms Browde’s and Ms Bingham’s belief they have a monopoly on issuing LGBTQ certificates.

Mr Krysiak sees the narrative that quickly developed around the Colorado Springs tragedy as something typical of radical liberal narratives that pop up in similar cases. He lists the death of George Floyd as one example. Floyd was eventually revealed to be a repeat offender with a really ugly record. But because he was black and officer Derek Chauvin was white (two other officers involved were Asian-American), the court of public opinion immediately decided that the death of Mr Floyd was caused by Chauvin’s racism and not the drugs found in his system.

The death of George Floyd sparked the BLM movement, and the riots that ensued have only caused more tragedies. Mr Krysiak recounts the death of two men and the serious injury of another at the hands of Kyle Rittenhouse. The problem was in court it was ultimately shown that the purported white supremacist was defending himself from a vicious attack by his purported victims.

“Most media consumers remained unresponsive to such details,” writes Krysiak. “The first version provided by the mainstream [media] has forever stuck in their heads.” What follows, is simply a matter of “confirmation bias”, with people who have once made up their minds as to what they like to believe prompts them to only accept information and explanations that support their beliefs on a given matter.

And so at fault are always “the patriarchy! Or conservatives!” writes Krysiak. “Republicans, happy to vote in midterms! Oppressive heteromatrix! Queerphobia!”

He asks how much truth is in the existing narrative that it was a heterosexual that was the shooter or that the tragedy was caused by some sort of prejudice they supposedly felt.

“Maybe it was about something different, revenge or envy, for example?” Maybe the morbidly obese perpetrator [...] felt excluded from the rainbow subculture and resorted to violence?” muses Krysiak.

Or maybe, he continues, we cannot know that yet and should see what will be established at the trial. Mr Krysiak thinks this will not satisfy the activist as it “does not generate clicks”.

“Such a frank admission [uncertainty regarding the truth] cannot be used to fan hysteria, to support the narrative that the rainbow [flag] is under attack. And cannot be used to push further privileges for the left, which the activists so crave. They are ready to politicise any tragedy, just to convince people that they, supposedly persecuted, must be given more rights than others. In the name of equality, of course,” concludes Mr Krysiak.

Mr Krysiak is levelling some serious accusations against LGBTQ activists. Having become a target of vicious attacks following his change of political stance, he has reasons to be bitter, but that does not mean his insider knowledge of how radical left-wing activism operates can be dismissed.

In a broader sense, the revelation made by the shooter regarding their gender identity, be it true or a ruse, has shown that when tragedy strikes, human beings are quick to jump to conclusions and make judgements based on extremely limited information. And on the narratives that the media rush to churn out as fast as possible in a race to report on an event as soon as possible.

The unfortunate truth is that providing the latest news does not always mean providing the most reliable news. And quickly pronouncing the Colorado Springs tragedy to be a “bias-motivated crime” really only tells us more about our own preconceived notions and biases. And then it feeds them.