Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Hate crime motivation

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Hate crime motivation:
What motivates people to engage in hate crime?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Martin Luther King in Washington, D.C.

“Darkness cannot drive darkness; Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King (1963)

Hate crime is one, if not the most important[grammar?] category of crime to agencies such as the FBI, due to its prevailing and devastating impact on families and surrounding communities.

The history of hate crime dates back before the term "hate crime" was first introduced in the 1980s, where crimes against historically oppressed groups were committed both by the individual and governments. Acts of hate crime are seen as especially heinous and inhumane, leading people to wonder why individuals and certain governments are motivated to participate in such acts. Many aspects of motivation are needed for considering these motivations: including thrill- or sensation-seeking, defensive mechanisms, mission offenders, or bias behaviours. Individuals who participate in hate crimes also vary in characteristics, and there is no one defining factor of a hate crime perpetrator. Certain psychological theories based on motivation and criminal behaviour can help describe why these individuals and groups behave in such ways.

Throughout this chapter, individual case studies and examples of hate crime throughout history will be shown - as well as ones we are all familiar with, the rage of Nazi slaughter against the Jews - The Holocaust, (see also The Final Solution), and also the ongoing racial hate crimes that was brought into mainstream relevance in the United States in the 1870s, combatting the racially motivated crimes of the Klu Klux Klan. The term "hate crime" is still a relatively new term, so it is important to highlight relevant information for the purpose of educating people and communities of its dangerous effects, and also ways in which to prevent this type of behaviour arising.


There is only one defining factor for hate crime motivation


Hate Crime[edit | edit source]

In order to understand what a hate crime is and the motivations surrounding such acts, it is important to define how prevalent it is in certain countries and the origins of it. For the purpose of this chapter, two countries will be focused on, the United States and Australia respectively, exploring the terms, statistics, history, and types of motivation. The United States has been an integral country in the history of hate crimes, as the first hate crime laws were passed after the American Civil War, beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Australia is the second country to focus on, and even though there are very few reported and prosecuted hate crimes within the borders, there are still important examples to draw from.

Hate Crime in United States[edit | edit source]

The US FBI Department of Justice defines a hate crime as "a criminal offence against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's basis against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity," (FBI, n.d). This signifies that hate crime occurs under many sources of motivation, and highlights the major differences between each origin or cause of the crime. There are also acts of non-criminal nature that involve the same factors, which are called "bias-incidents". In 2017, law enforcement agencies in the US identified a total of 7,175 incidents of hate involving 8,437 different offences (FBI, n.d). Hate crimes against race, ethnicity, and ancestry predicted to be the most common form of targeted hate crime.

Hate Crime: Bias Motivation of Single-Biased Incidents in 2017
Bias Motivation Incidents Offences Victims Percentage %
Total 7175 8437 8828 100
Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry 4131 4832 5060 57.57
Religion 1564 1679 1794 21.8
Sexual Orientation 1130 1303 1338 15.75
Gender Identity 119 131 132 1.65
Disability 116 128 160 1.62
Gender 46 53 54 0.64
Multiple-Bias Incidents 69 311 335 0.96

Criminal acts of hate crime in the United States included aggravated assault, assault and battery, vandalism, rape, threats, arson, trespassing, stalking, and various other crimes, until 1987 where California state legislation included all crimes as possible hate crimes. Each state within the US has varying degrees of prosecution regarding types of hate crimes, however all states recognise that federal prosecution is possible for any type of hate crime committed, particularly if motivation was towards person or person's race, gender, religion, or nation origin, (United States Department of Justice, 2008).

Racism against black African Americans in the United States has been, if not the, most prominent acts of hate crime throughout the countries history. One of the largest and most well-known hate crime case in the United States was in the 1960s, the civil rights movement. This was a wave for social justice for African Americans who had been oppressed and discriminated against for several decades. Black men and women had been severely segregated, dividing them from white people by seperate toilets to even designating specific bus seating. Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. became the front and centre leader for civil rights across the United States. The March on Washington, held on August 28th, 1963, led by Luther King as well as other prominent leaders, hosted over 200,000 people, black and white, for the main purpose of forcing legislation for civil rights and job equality. Of the 6370 known hate crime offenders towards race it is important to note that 50.7% were white, 21.3% were African American, and 7.5% were of mixed-racial groups, (FBI, n.d). Hate crime against Hispanics is steadily increasing, as of 2012, violent hate crimes targeted towards Hispanic people had increased 300% (NCJRS, 2014). This rise in hate crimes targeting Hispanics surged due to the reported 758 hate crime incidents in the month of November 2016, coincidentally the same month that Donald Trump won the presidential election against Hillary Clinton.


What was the most frequently reported hate crime in 2017?

Race, ethnicity and ancestry.
Sexual orientation.

Hate Crime in Australia[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Pauline Hanson, leader of the ONE Nation party, has been criticised for mocking the Islamic faith after she entered Australia’s Senate Question Time wearing a burqa

History and magnitude of hate crime in Australia is hardly comparable to its prevalence in the United States, which gives good insight into the comparisons of motivation for perpetrators. This does leave however little research and information into data and motivational aspects of hate crime in Australia. The legal history of hate crime in Australia indicates that only 21 people have ever been convicted under hate crime laws. This does not however account for the many offences connected to discrimination and prejudice, noticed by the 4,257 incidents the Victorian Police linked to prejudice within a four-year period, (Cohen and Mitchell, 2019). Media outlets of ABC News and SBS News, have identified several issues regarding hate crime information and coverage, in particular the absence of: a national hate crime database, relevant statistics of hate crime including the victims, motivations, types of offences, and perpetrators, as well as the little effort taken by Australian law enforcement community to take acts of hate crime seriously. Extensive research from the e-Safety Commissioner (2017) shows that 53% of surveyed 12-17 year olds have witnessed anti-Muslim harmful content online, (Netsafe, 2018). In May 2017, an incident occurred on the campus of University of Technology in Sydney, where four Muslim women were physically attacked from an unknown suspect, (Cohen and Mitchell, 2019). Each of the four women were wearing a religious scarf. One of the victims, Hanan Merheb, stated that not only was the attack disturbing, but also the reaction from bystanders. She stated that there was only one witness of the attack that came to ask if she was okay, despite it being a busy and occupied street. Islamophobic attacks in Australia are steadily increasing, and reports from the police are not reflective of what is experienced in the Muslim communities. Several small, not-for-profit organisations have risen to combat this form of hate crime in Australia; such as Islamophobia Watch and Islamophobia Register. Both organisations have services to report any acts of hate crime against the Muslim community, identifying the lack of coherent documentation of Islamophobia across Australia.

Motivations for and Types of Hate Crime[edit | edit source]

Motivation in psychological terms is defined by the reason's[grammar?] for peoples[grammar?] actions, willingness, and goals. Motivation is our desire to do things that lead us to certain goals and certain needs are met. Motivation occurs on a biological, emotional, cognitive and social level. It is the "why" behind why we do the things that we do. One of the most interesting topics of motivation in psychology is questioning why people engage in criminal behaviour, despite the many consequences that follow such behaviour. This chapter will focus on the motivation of why people choose to engage in hate crime, and the many emotions, anger, fear and indignation that inspire such behaviour.

There are many motivations attached to why hate crime perpetrators choose to partake in such behaviour. These motivations can be broken down into four main categories: Thrill-seeking, Defensive, Retaliatory, and Mission Offenders. Knowing the differences between each motivation is extremely important for both the public and law enforcement agencies to identify predictive behaviours and how to effectively approach each one. by identifying the differences, this increases the available information to the community, enabling them to have better, more inclusive data collections on hate crime.

Thrill-seeking[edit | edit source]

Thrill-seeking behaviour is a personality trait defined by the search for experiences and feelings, that are "varied, novel, complex and intense", and by the readiness to "take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experiences." Risks of these behaviours are either ignored, tolerated, or minimised and may even been considered added excitement to the activity. Often there is no real, legitimate reason for some hate crimes, as some are purely attributed to excitement, entertainment, or drama, and many hate crimes like these go unnoticed or unreported. An example of thrill-seeking motivation would be a group of young, white teens verbally assaulting a Muslim girl wearing a hijab on the street, purely due to the fact she is alone and can be identified as Muslim. Victims of thrill-seeking motivated hate crimes are often picked because of their vulnerability or because they are a minority, and they usually differ from their attackers. A study found that 70% of "thrill offences" were assaults, including vicious beatings that put victims in hospital, (Burke, 2017). Victims based on this motivation are picked often at random, usually alone, and because they are perceived as different.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory can explain this type of behaviour. Maslow claimed that people have an innate need to feel belonging and acceptance amongst their social groups. These groups do not depend on size, as long as feelings of love and acceptance are felt and reciprocated. Depending on the power and subjective pressure of the group, this can override the physiological and security needs of the individual. Many people are motivated to give into peer pressure in the fear of rejection and isolation from the group, therefore behaving in ways that agree with the group norms that they might not behave in if by themselves or with a different group.

Defensive[edit | edit source]

This type of motivation towards hate crimes is driven from the perpetrator feeling "attacked", or "defending" what and who they are; their community, workplace, religion, or country. The main difference is victims are often targeted, unlike thrill-seekers. This helps the perpetrator to justify their crimes, since they are usually acting out as an emotional response to a perceived threat. Where defensive thrill-seeking perpetrators are alike is their lack of remorse for attacks and perceive they are doing so on behalf of the community. An example of this might be an old man refusing to be served by a transgender woman at the supermarket, stating that these people shouldn't be given jobs and are taking employment away from 'normal' people. This prejudice is often triggered from past experiences that might have affected the perpetrator directly or indirectly, perhaps something they saw on the television and experienced an emotional reaction towards it.

Figure 6. September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre saw a major surge in defensive hate crime against the Muslim community

Defensive hate crimes tend to follow an event as an emotional reaction guided by prejudice. This type of motivation is often connected to terrorist attacks. The aftermath of the September 11 attack on America led to a substantial increase in defensive-motivated hate crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database reported the number of hate crimes directed towards Muslims and Arabs was 28 in 2000, and surged to 481 in 2001, (Levin and Reichelmann, 2015). Group factors are more important for the purpose of explaining defensive hate crimes. Prejudice against race was explained by Blumer's 1958 theory of group position as a collective perception rather than feelings between the individual members of different groups. Prejudice is an emotion felt by the dominant group and holds a position of superiority over the subordinate group, which is evident in historically White dominant communities who have a sudden surge in minority populations. This surge is interpreted as a threat to the dominant group, and violence is used to combat in order to retain power.


What is the main difference between thrill-seeking and defensive motivated hate crime

Defensive involves targeted victims.
There is no difference.
Defensive hate crime occurs from oppressed groups.
Thrill-seeking involves targeted victims.

Retaliatory[edit | edit source]

Retaliatory-motivated hate crimes share similarities with defensive-motivated hate crimes, both driven by prejudice. The main feature of retaliatory-motivated hate crimes is that it is a response to a previous hate crime, whether real or not, as an act of revenge. They [missing something?] often associated any individual with those that were involved in the original crime, even if they had no involvement at all. These types of motivated hate crimes are also linked to terrorism, (Burke, 2017). A case in 1991 in Brooklyn, New York involving a Jewish school-boy named Yankel Rosenbaum visiting from Australia was randomly selected and killed after several days of racial hostilities, (Pallone and Workowski, 2015). The events prior to his fateful death began with a young black child being accidentally killed by an Orthodox Jewish driver. Rumours began that entailed the ambulance attendants refused to treat the black children in the accident and instead attended to the Jewish passengers. Fuelled by these rumours, black youths marched through the streets shouting "Kill the Jews." Unfortunately, Rosenbaum, who had nothing to do with the prior events or accident, fell victim to fatality and was killed. This case illustrates that complex nature of retaliatory hate crime and the devastation that can occur from public prejudice.

McClelland's [factual?] three motivators theory describes the need for power through attainment for control over one's own work or the work of others. People who are authority-motivated have a strong need for success and leadership. They also have a strong need to increase personal status and prestige. Certain individuals who are motivated by authority and power often attain this by asserting dominance over group decisions and influence actions in the most extreme form, violence. Retaliatory-motivated offenders are inspired by a desire to assert authority by avenging a perceived assault on groups they belong or identify with.

Mission Offenders[edit | edit source]

The last and rarest type of hate crime motivation is mission offenders. These individuals that are committed to create war against members of a rival race or religion are the deadliest type of hate crime perpetrators. They are often considered by society as "crusaders", acting alone or in small groups that are linked to racist groups, (Burke, 2014). Their behaviour prior to their violent crimes often include long memoirs posted publicly of hate speech and violent imagery. They are very calculated in their target audience, dissimilar to retaliatory-motivated hate crime, and heavily plan their hate crime attacks. Often they will choose a very public or well-known place, and sometimes even travel to symbolically significant sites to maximise their coverage. Rather than acting on an emotional response, mission offenders perceive they are riding the world of evil and justify the excessive violent behaviour against innocent people. Organisational groups that fit into this category would be the Ku Klux Klan or the National Alliance, or they may operate alone, such like the gunman of the 2014 Sydney Lindt hostage crisis.

Sydney Lindt Siege[edit | edit source]

Figure 8. The Sydney Lindt Cafe in Martin Place 2 days after the terrorist attack

The Sydney Lindt Siege, also referred to as the Sydney hostage crisis, occurred on the 15-16 of December 2014, when a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held eighteen people hostage in the Lindt chocolate cafe in Martin Place, Sydney. The Coroner concluded after debate of the gunman's motive that it was a terrorist attack. The events prior of Monis' behaviour reflect those similar to mission offenders. 48 hours before the siege, an anonymous tip was made to Australia's anti-terrorism hotline, raising concerns of information published on Monis' website. Monis had denied all the charges against him on his criminal record - including accessory to murder, hate mail offences, and sexual assault charges - calling them politically motivated, and accused the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Australia's ASIO of framing him. Terrorist attacks and mission offenders share many similarities, both motivated to act out in terror and hate, and there has been many debates over whether he was classified as a terrorist or not. Prof Greg Barton (from Deakin University) and Dr Clarke Jones (ANU) told the inquest that "Monis was a loner and had mental health problems, and was desperate to attach himself to something". Roger Shanahan from the Lowy Institute said that if Monis had followed ISIS direction he would have just killed everyone. Other opinions from the chief of ASIO, terrorist experts and researchers of Australian Muslim Centre's believe that Monis was a terrorist.


Did Monis act as a lone gunman or was he a member of a terrorist group.

He was a member of a larger terrorist group acting on behalf of them
He was a lone gunman

Connecting theory to hate crime[edit | edit source]

Theories and research specific to hate crime motivation and causes is very limited. Similarly, current research on the link between hate crime and motivation theories remains scant. This is primarily due to two factors; the concept of motivated hate crime is a relatively new category of criminal behaviour, and two, national databases and protocol regarding the outcome of hate crime incidents' is very basic, (Walters, 2011).

One of the most common criminological theories used for hate crime is Merton's (1968) strain theory. Merton argues that deviant behaviour is a result of the 'disequilibrium' from culturally prescribed goals and the opportunity to attain these, (Merton, 1968). Individual's[grammar?] sometimes respond to the pressures and expectations of income, education and individual capacities by acting out in violent behaviour or illegitimate avenues in order to try gain materials and respect that accompanies the social status society encourages. Agnew (1992) adapted this theory by including the viewpoint of the effect of relationships. Agnew argued that others who 1. prevent individuals from obtaining socially valued goals, 2. threaten to remove positive valued stimuli (e.g. a death of a family member or loss of romantic relationship), or 3. present negative valued stimuli (e.g. verbal insults), can result in the individual to respond in anger and frustration, and sometimes even violence. To connect it to hate crime, various minority groups become scapegoats and victims to these negative relationships, often viewed as invaders and unstable threats to society. Dominant groups will blame these minorities for problems with unemployment, housing and job loss, which snowballs into unanticipated feelings of animosity, unfairness, anger and frustration.

A theory that can in part explain the certain behaviours hate crime offenders is self-control theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990). Self-control is defined by "the ability to forego acts the provide immediate or near-term pleasures, but that also have negative consequences for the actor, and as the ability to act in favour of longer-term interests," (Gottfredson, 2017). According to this theory, people are not inherently criminal, nor is their behaviour formed from socialised crime, rather, people differ in how well they have developed self-control and attend to the types of stimuli in their environment which inhibit crime-type behaviours. It assumes that socialisation differences in childhood rearing produces a continuum among people in their ability to focus on long-term goals. Self-control is a general cause of crime and can't predict all factors such as peers, school, age, family, and opportunities for crime. This theory is the best description for thrill-seeking hate crime. The theory states that most delinquent and criminal acts are highly opportunistic, adventurous, and involve little planning. These types of crimes require little ingenuity (e.g. vandalism) and usually don't offer any success or status to the offender, but often have high cost for the victim.

Treatments[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Desistance Theory[edit | edit source]

Treatment programs for hate crime perpetrators and criminals in general are extremely important to integrate them back into society pro-socially. A treatment program that has been adopted to target offenders to cease engaging in these types of behaviours is desistance theory (Giordano et al, 2002). The theory outlines a four-part 'theory of cognitive transformation' where they argue that the desistance process involves:

  1. A 'general cognitive openness to change'
  2. Exposure and reaction to 'hooks for change' or turning points
  3. The envisioning of an appealing and conventional 'replacement self'
  4. A transformation in the way the actor views deviant behaviour

Overall, the process involves the offender/s from ceasing to engage in behaviour by maturation, gaining employment, forming pro-social, intimate relationships, gaining a sense of agency over their lives, and changing the schemas of their self-identity, (Iganski, 2008). This theory is based on the relationship between the individual and social structures, and how the elements of their environment and significant life changes can cause anti-social behaviours. The treatment process is 'complete' when old behaviours are no longer perceived as desirable or relevant. Each treatment process is different every individual, some see desistance as a permanent change of behaviour that can take several years, and others see it as more fluid with episodes of violent behaviour reappearing.

Good Lives Model[edit | edit source]

A second model that is predominantly used for domestic and sexual violence cases is the Good Lives model, (Ward, 2002). This model focuses on a more holistic approach, placing emphasis on fundamental human needs of life (healthy living and functioning), knowledge, excellence in work/play, excellence in agency (autonomy of self), inner peace (freedom from stress), friendship, community, spirituality (finding meaning and purpose for life), happiness, and creativity, (Ward, 2002). It argues that criminal behaviour is a result of internal and external obstacles interfering with the acquisition of these primary goods, and individuals who posses many obstacles and few strengths are more susceptible for engagement in problematic and violent behaviours. These individuals are unable to utilise their positive skills or strengths to maintain desired outcomes in prosocial ways, thereby forcing them to engage in maladaptive behaviours. From example, impulsive behaviours may prevent good fulfilment or a loss of attainment for the primary good of agency. Poor or lack of emotional regulation is similar in preventing attainment of inner peace, which can lead to anti-social behaviours such as alcohol abuse.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Hate crime is a new issue for typology of criminal behaviour, and needs to be addressed seriously. The emerging magnitude of these types of crimes, reported and unreported, affect not only the victims but also communities and nations as a whole. From research, it can be concluded that proper databases that report on these crimes needs to be established with coherent framework and guidelines across nations to address these types of behaviours appropriately. There is a major gap on the reporting of these crimes, especially in Australia, which needs to be addressed in order to understand the motivations behind these crimes. Current research that outlines the four motivations: thrill-seeking, defensive, retaliatory, and mission offenders, offer major insight on positions to start tackling this issue, as each hate crime case is different.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47–87.

American Psychological Association, (2019). The Psychology of Hate Crimes.

Armstrong, T. (2005). Evaluating the competing assumptions of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) a general theory of crime and psychological explanations of aggression. Western Criminology Review, 6(1), 12–21.

Blumer, Herbert (1958-04). "Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position" (in en-US). The Pacific Sociological Review 1 (1): 3–7. doi:10.2307/1388607. ISSN 0030-8919.

Craig, K. M. (2002). Examining hate-motivated aggression: A review of the social psychological literature on hate crimes as a distinct form of aggression. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 7, 85–101.

Cohen, Hagar; Mitchell, Scott (2019-05-03). "Hate crime laws rarely used by Australian authorities, police figures reveal". ABC News

CNN, Story by Daniel Burke (2017), CNN Religion Editor Graphics and data analysis by Sergio Hernandez. "The four reasons people commit hate crimes". 

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Hate Crimes | Federal Bureau of Investigation. [online] Available at:

Gottfredson, Michael (2017-07-27). Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.252. ISBN 9780190264079

Hamad, R. (2017). Hate Crime: Causes, Motivations and Effective Interventions for Criminal Justice Social Work. Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, UK.

Iganski, P. (2008) 'Hate crime' and the city. Bristol University Press. (1) pp. 95–114. ISBN 9781847423573. DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9qgq3n

Kolb,W. L.(1954-10-01)."THE NATURE OF PREJUDICE. By Gordon W. Allport. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1954. 537 pp. $5.50".Social Forces33(1): 90–91.doi:10.2307/2573151.ISSN 0037-7732.

Kutner,N. G.(1968-09-01)."ON THEORETICAL SOCIOLOGY: FIVE ESSAYS, OLD AND NEW. By Robert K. Merton. New York: The Free Press, 1967. 171 pp. $2.45".Social Forces47(1): 91–91.doi:10.2307/2574724.ISSN 0037-7732.

Levin, Jack; Reichelmann, Ashley (2015-11). "From Thrill to Defensive Motivation: The Role of Group Threat in the Changing Nature of Hate-Motivated Assaults" (in en). American Behavioral Scientist 59 (12): 1546–1561. doi:10.1177/0002764215588812. ISSN 0002-7642.

Levin, J., & Rabrenovic, G. (2009). Hate as cultural justification for violence. In B. Perry (Ed.), Hate crimes

McDevitt, Jack; Levin, Jack; Bennett, Susan (2002-1). "Hate Crime Offenders: An Expanded Typology" (in en). Journal of Social Issues 58 (2): 303–317. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00262. ISSN 0022-4537.

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: Free Press.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service. "NCJRS - National Criminal Justice Reference Service - In the Spotlight". 2016-12-16.

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), (2010). Understanding Hate Crimes

PALLONE, NATHANIEL J.; WORKOWSKI, ERIC (2014-01-09). Young Victims, Young Offenders. Routledge. pp. 1–10. ISBN 9781315792897.

Perry, B. (2009b). The sociology of hate: Theoretical approaches. In B. Perry (Ed.), Hate crimes (Vol. 1).

United States Department Of Justice. Office Of Justice Programs. Bureau Of Justice Statistics (2008), National Crime Victimization Survey, 1999 [Record-Type Files]: Version 1, ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research, doi:10.3886/icpsr22922.vl

Walters, M. (2010). A General Theories of Hate Crime? Strain, Doing Difference and Self Control Critical Criminology, 19 (4). pp. 313-330. Doi: 10.1007/s10612-010-9128-2

External Links[edit | edit source]