Craig Hicks of Chapel Hill murdered his three victims “execution-style” according to reports—with decisive shots to the back of the head.

Immediately following the murders, the internet buzzed with speculation that the victims—Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha—had been targeted because they were Muslims. Early assumptions were that Hicks must have been a right-winger and a Christian, presumably because he’s white and from the “Bible Belt.” (Anyone who thinks Chapel Hill is part of the Bible Belt obviously hasn’t been there lately.)

Slowly the truth came out—Hicks, as it turns out, is on the political Left and a self-described “anti-theist” to boot. Whatever his beef with Islam may be, this acolyte of Richard Dawkins also harbors animus against all religions. His Facebook page sums up his attitude toward people of faith: “Of course I want religion to go away. I don’t deny you your right to believe whatever you’d like; but I have the right to point out that it’s ignorant and dangerous as long as your baseless superstitions keep killing people.” [Emphasis original.]

Craig Hicks’s wife, Karen Hicks, claimed that the victims’ religion was incidental to the crime, which she says actually arose from a long-standing parking dispute, something that I initially found far-fetched. Was I supposed to believe that this guy, who really, really despises religion in all of its forms, just happened to pop off three obviously observant Muslims…coincidentally? It sounded as if Mrs. Hicks was desperately trying to obfuscate her husband’s true motive in order to shield him from accusations of bigotry, or worse, from federal hate crimes charges.

Yet other residents of the same apartment complex where the shooting took place confirm Karen Hicks’s version of events, saying that Mr. Hicks was absolutely obsessed with residents parking in their assigned spaces. A local towing company said that Hicks’s requests to tow unknown cars got to be so repetitive that they eventually refused to respond to his calls. He also had a reputation for being loud and aggressive. Residents reportedly held a meeting to discuss what to do about this troublesome man.

The victims’ friends and family are incredulous. Barakat’s sister, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, said that she finds the parking space explanation to be “insensitive and outrageous.” Yousef Abu-Salha, brother of the two female victims, says that the tension between Hicks and his Muslim neighbors increased after his sister, who wore a headscarf, married Barakat and moved into the apartment complex, suggesting that the feud stemmed from Hicks’s attitude toward Muslims.

These two issues—religion and parking—are of course not necessarily mutually exclusive. Hicks may have been angry with anyone who transgressed his boundaries but was moved to commit bloody murder when the offenders turned out to be recognizably religious. Neighbors say that he had spats with plenty of residents, which is supposed to indicate that Hicks’s ire was unrelated to the victims’ religion. While this may be true, he didn’t kill everyone he had a parking dispute with; only the Muslims.

Trying to unravel this whole mess is difficult. The only person who really knows why Craig Hicks killed three people is Hicks himself, and he has an incentive to lie. My attitude is that I don’t know what motivated Hicks and I don’t care either. His crime was an atrocity, and no less so if it turns out to have been the result of a silly argument concerning who parks where. To quote Hillary Clinton, “What difference does it make, at this point” why he committed a vicious triple homicide?

Unfortunately, under federal law, the killer’s motive makes all the difference in the world. We have a thing in this country called “hate crimes,” you see, which is an utterly insipid category that really shouldn’t exist. If Craig Hicks murdered three people because they were Muslims then he will face federal charges and, theoretically at least, a stiffer sentence. If he murdered them for some other reason, he won’t.

A harsher sentence may not even be possible in this case, as Hicks stands a chance of being sentenced to death. How do you top that? Yet hate crimes charges may still be filed because it’s not enough to demonstrate that Craig Hicks killed these people; the court still has to determine if he hated them while he was doing it. Such is the stupidity of hate crimes laws.

One argument against hate crimes laws is that they privilege certain classes of victims over others. Not so, say proponents. Hate crimes laws supposedly protect everyone. Yet former Attorney General Eric Holder essentially admitted at a 2009 congressional hearing that they don’t. Holder was asked if a homosexual would be charged with a hate crime if he killed a minister because of his Biblical aversion to homosexuality and the attorney general replied in the negative. “We’re talking about crimes that have a historic basis,” said Holder. “Groups that have been targeted for violence as a result of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation. That is what this statute tends, is designed to cover.”

In other words, no equal protection under the law, as the Fourteenth Amendment requires. Hate crimes statutes protect blacks but not whites, “gays” but not “straights”, Muslims but not Christians. Those other groups—whites, “straights,” Christians—don’t have the same historical claim to victimhood so they will just have to settle for lesser justice dispensed under the regular statutes. Sorry.

If Eric Holder weren’t such an ignoramus he would know that whites are frequently targeted because of their skin color. A few examples: the black mob that brutally attacked a white man in the parking lot of a Memphis supermarket last September, the 1992 beating of Reginald Denny, and incidents of racially-inspired violence at the Iowa and Wisconsin state fairs. Shouldn’t those victims be protected as well?

Of course they should be; and they already are. Nowhere in America is assault legal unless the victim happens to be unborn, though that’s another column entirely. It doesn’t matter if that person is black or white, a man or a woman, a libertarian, Unitarian, vegetarian, or Rotarian. Such laws don’t distinguish between people based on their race or their bedroom behavior. Nor should they.

But hate crimes laws do. They require jurors to peer into the mind of the assailant and determine if he was motivated by “hate.” Hating someone for parking in the wrong space doesn’t count. If he wasn’t motivated by “hate,” or if his hate was directed against groups that don’t appear on Eric Holder’s list of recognized victims, then the perp receives a lesser sentence and the feds don’t get involved.

That’s not justice.