The four reasons people commit hate crimes

Updated 1:33 PM ET, Mon 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 But that term is outdated and inaccurate, experts say.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."
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