The four reasons people commit hate crimes

Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT) June 12, 2017

(CNN)What motivated the man who killed two people on a Portland train after shouting anti-Muslim slurs?

What prompted the person, or people, who spray-painted the N-word on an NBA star's home?
What ideas would incite an Israeli teen charged with threatening dozens of Jewish centers in the US, throwing communities into chaos and terrifying the parents of young children?
We call them all "hate crimes," as if the same motivation lurks behind each of these disparate incidents. But that term is outdated and inaccurate, experts say.
What spurs offenders into action is rarely animosity alone. It's a toxic mix of emotions, from anger to fear to indignation. And, as the FBI says, "hate itself is not a crime." Instead, bias is considered an "added element" to offenses like murder, arson and vandalism, leading at times to longer prison sentences.
The public and prosecutors often disagree on what constitutes a hate crime. Besieged minorities like Muslims and transgender people often see an assault on one of them as an attack on their entire community, especially in this era of intense rancor and fear. Between the November election and February, for instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 1,300 "hate incidents" across the country.
But how do prosecutors determine the role hate had in a given crime? For more than two decades, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have relied on a somewhat obscure study to help spot bias in criminal offenses.
In 1993, Jack McDevitt and Jack Levin, two social scientists in Boston, examined 169 hate-crime case files at the Boston Police Department. They then interviewed victims, offenders and investigators. McDevitt and Levin found that there are four main kinds of hate crimes, ranging from thrill-seekers, the most common; to "mission-offenders," the rare but often lethal hardcore hatemongers.
Knowing the differences between the types of hate crimes -- and their motivations -- not only helps law enforcement better understand them, McDevitt said, it also helps find perpetrators and put them in prison. "If they know the motivation," he told CNN, "they know where to look."
Here are the four categories of hate-crimes, along with some examples, many of which are hypotheticals taken from the FBI's training manual on recognizing and collecting data on hate crimes:


These hate crimes are often driven by an immature itch for excitement and drama. Think bored and drunk young men marauding through neighborhoods, mayhem on their minds.
Often there is no real reason for these crimes, experts say. They're committed for the thrill of it, and the victims are vulnerable simply because their sexual, racial, ethnic, gender or religious background differs from that of their attackers.
Often the attackers think society doesn't care about the victims -- or worse, will applaud their assault.
The attackers may be young, but they are dangerous. In McDevitt's study, 70% of these "thrill offenses" were assaults, including vicious beatings that put victims in the hospital.
That said, the attackers' animosity toward their victims, who are chosen at random, can be relatively low, which at least offers the opportunity for rehabilitation.
Examples: A group of teens breaks into an LGBT center, destroys property and scrawls anti-gay graffiti on the walls. A street gang assaults a Hindu man while yelling anti-Hindu epithets. A group of men viciously attack men leaving a well-known gay bar, yelling "Sissy!" and "Girlie-man!"


In these hate crimes, the attackers sees themselves as "defending" their turf: their neighborhood, their workplace, their religion or their country.
Unlike thrill-seekers, who invade other neighborhoods and attack without warning, "defenders" target specific victims and justify their crimes as necessary to keep threats at bay. Many times, they are triggered by a particular event, such as a Muslim or black family moving into a new neighborhood.
Like thrill-seekers, the "defenders" show little or no remorse for their attacks and believe that most, if not all of society supports them but is too afraid to act.
"They honestly believe that what they're doing has some sort of communal assent," said Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
Examples: A group home for people with psychiatric disabilities is set on fire by a man heard to say, "I'll get rid of those crazies." A transgender woman is attacked near her home by men who yell, "We don't want no queers in this neighborhood!" A Japanese man is attacked by a white man who called him an anti-Asian epithet and complained that the Japanese are taking jobs away from Americans.


These hate crimes are often seen as revenge, whether in response to personal slights, other hate crimes or terrorism.
The "avengers," who often act alone, target members of the racial, ethnic or religious group who they believe committed the original crime -- even if the victims had nothing to do with it. They care only about revenge, and they will travel to the victims' territory to enact it.