*I am not a journalist; I can pre-judge Hicks to my heart's content. I can live with certainly being excluded from sitting on his jury. If I'm wrong, I'll apologize.
Hicks is, among other things, an atheist, and his victims were, among other things, Muslims.
Thus, we do have to ask: did the New Atheist "community," however defined, contribute to this crime? I think the question cannot simply be dismissed; it needs to be asked, and we must answer it carefully and deliberately.
In Muslim Panic, Satanic Panic?, the Infamous Brad, presumably a NeoPagan, whom I've been reading for years, and for whom I have tremendous respect, answers in the affirmative: The New Atheist community is nothing "but an anti-Muslim hate group." If Brad's charge is true, then the New Atheist community definitely would bear substantial responsibility for Hicks' murders, even if it is true that Hicks is legally insane or has a serious medical mental illness.
But, uncharacteristically, Brad's argument is substantially flawed.
Brad first mentions the Washington Post article, "Chapel Hill killings shine light on particular tensions between Islam and atheism," where author Michelle Boorstein explores the possible relationship between New Atheism and Hicks' murders. Boorstein delivers a balanced piece, raising the question of the relationship between "public criticism and violence," in contrast with statements by spokespersons of notable atheist organizations decisively rejecting Hicks' kind of violence. Brad then contrasts Boorstein's article with The Baffler article, The Nuances of Nonbelief. In this article, Stuart Whatley argues that atheism, being simply the absence of belief, has no overarching ideology that could be a legitimate cause of Hicks' crimes.
Brad dismisses Whatley's argument out of hand first as a "No True Scotsman" fallacy, but this dismissal seems completely unfounded. A "No True Scotsman" fallacy is a fallacious move from an empirical claim to a definitional claim. As far as I know, no New Atheist claims empirically that all atheists are nonviolent (or even especially good people). Whatley's argument may be flawed — he ignores, I think, that atheists who speak publicly about atheism, and offer public criticism of religion, have formed at least a loose community, with some socially constructed cultural values — but Whatley does not seem to move from an empirical claim to a definitional claim. At best, we might define a "true" New Atheist is one who renounces senseless, infantile, and socially illegitimate* violence such as Hicks'; since Hicks does not meet the definition, he is not a true New Atheist. In just the same sense, I personally was born in the United States of French/Italian/English parents and have never lived in Scotland; therefore, I am not a True Scotsman. That argument would hardly be fallacious: even though the definition might be arbitrary, I simply do not fulfill any component of the definition.
*One does not have to be an absolute pacifist to be a New Atheist.
Inexplicably, Brad compares the New Atheists vs. Muslims to the #NotAllMen vs. #YesAllWomen controversy. I know absolutely nothing about the details of the latter controversy, but on general principles, there's an obvious context there: the existence of a millennial, socially constructed hegemonic patriarchy, from which all men benefit, whether they like it or not. A man cannot simply use his personal attitudes to excuse himself from patriarchal privilege. But there is no such thing as a socially constructed hegemonic atheism. Furthermore it's not NotAllAtheists, it's exactly one atheist out of millions, who's also apparently a gun nut and an American chauvinist. (And furthermore, an atheist who had, according to Michael Nugent, written extensively on social and religious tolerance.) The comparison is especially inapt because Brad himself admits that "atheists are, in America, the single most hated belief group, with approval ratings on par with or maybe even below religious extremist terrorist groups." Hardly the stuff of hegemonic power.
Brad's main point is to compare the New Atheists to the NeoPagans' shameful participation in the prosecution of alleged "Satanic ritual abuse" in the 1980s and 90s. Again, this comparison seems entirely unfounded. In what sense at all are any New Atheists whatsoever endorsing the legal persecution of innocent people for public relations gain? Has a single even moderately prominent New Atheist said, for example, that we should not challenge the illegal imprisonment of innocent Muslims in Guantanamo Bay just because they are Muslims, because we want to curry favor with the authoritarian
Brad's main point, however, is not his worst point. His worst point is a paragraph literally libelous hate speech:
Not all atheists are bigoted anti-Arab, ant-Islam wannabe hate killers, but yes all Muslims have to fear New Atheists. After the New Atheist communities’ most prominent authors have spent the last half dozen years or so beating this drum, I don’t see how anybody can call the New Atheists anything but an anti-Muslim hate group. These are people who can’t be distracted from their message of anti-Muslim hate by oppression or violence from any other religious community, whether it’s the veto on public policy the Ultra Orthodox hold in Israel or the anti-gay secessionist rhetoric of Alabama’s fundamentalist Chief Justice or terrorist acts by Christian Identity groups or anti-abortion groups or anti-Islam terrorism by Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Nope. Try to bring any of that up, and they change the subject back to, “the Muslims are coming to kill us all!”First, if public criticism of a group is "hate speech," then this paragraph is prima facie hate speech: whether or not his criticism is warranted, Brad is being publicly critical of New Atheists. Could some nutjob read Brad's criticism and that conclude that some New Atheists, whom all Muslims should fear, need killin'? The only alternative to public criticism is that everyone suck everyone else's dick 24/7.
But, more importantly, I know what hate speech is: it is saying literally that people are inhuman and deserve death. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." So... Sam Harris perhaps crossed the line when he said that Islam might, if they acquired long-range nuclear weapons, require a preemptive nuclear strike. Harris has defended this postion as entirely hypothetical, but I still don't like it one bit; it looks way too much like the "ticking time bomb" hypothetical to justify torture. And, of course the late Christopher Hitchens was notably in favor of a global war on Islam. And fine, if Brad wants to criticize Harris and Hitchens, he would have my support, but to generalize this criticism to all New Atheists is a blatant lie. Some New Atheists are also pro-imperialism, some, such as Jerry Coyne, are pro-Israel. — there's a considerable range of opinion in our "community" — but my sense (without a rigorous statistical sampling) is that pro-imperialists are a minority among New Atheists.
Brad asserts that New Atheists talk only about Islam, and refuse to discuss any other religious oppression. This is a flat out lie. We can't discuss everything, but New Atheists talk about a lot of stuff. Just look at the front page, for example, of Planet Atheism. There is a range of opinion and topics. Notably, the front page includes a story critical of the lack of the media coverage and the weak government response to a Christian terrorist intending to blow up mosques in Jerusalem. There's a lot of stuff critical of Christianity there too (duh). New Atheists have written about Irish blasphemy laws, Christian anti-evolutionism, Christian theodicy, etc. We also talk about race relations, anti-vaccination stupidity, and feminism.
All this from a cursory investigation of Planet Atheism and a few prominent New Atheist blogs. PZ Myers, has even written two thoughtful pieces on the responsibility that New Atheists really do have in Hicks' crimes: Own it ("I do not think that atheism compelled [Hicks] to kill Muslims, just as I don’t think Islam compels one to become a suicide bomber, or Christianity compels one to bomb abortion clinics. But I do think that the ideology must accept some responsibility for failing to teach people not to do those things.") and Beliefs have consequences ("I don’t think there’s a significant component of atheism that preaches for violence against believers, but there are a large number of atheists who seriously try to argue that atheism should include no moral component at all."). The New Atheist discourse is a lot richer than Brad would have his readers believe.
The only thing Muslims have to fear from New Atheists are our words: we will criticize Islamic misogyny, authoritarianism, superstition, and, yes, its scriptural and ideological support for political and personal violence, which goes far beyond any violence justified in resisting Western imperialism. The only reason Muslims have to fear imperialism from New Atheists is that, sadly, many New Atheists are embedded in an imperialist capitalist system that we did not create, a system bent on a conquest of the (oil-bearing) Muslim lands we did not begin: the proper criticism should be directed against imperialism, not New Atheism. And the only reason Muslims have to fear personal, individual violence from New Atheists is because writers like Brad and Luke Savage (see also my response) spread bigotry and vicious lies about us. That's hate speech.