Oystein Aarseth—better known as Euronymous, a guitarist in the Norwegian black-metal band Mayhem—perished on Aug. 10, 1993, from 23 stab wounds to his back and neck. Police quickly arrested Varg Qisling Larsson Vikernes, who performed under the name Count Crishnackh in the rival black-metal band Burzum. The high-profile murder, along with a spate of church burnings in Norway, helped bolster record sales by both bands and launched the so-called black-metal scene on its path to international infamy.
It's also possible the grisly and highly-publicized murder in Norway inspired a pair of black-metal devotees to fire a gun into Teen Challenge, a Christian drug rehabilitation center in downtown Santa Ana (see "A Case of Morder," March 28). In connection with the Jan. 19 shooting, Raymond Earl Shipley and Benito Ricardo Contreras, both 22, face charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder with hate-crime enhancements that could result in life sentences.
According to Scott Ciment, Shipley's Newport Beach-based lawyer, the DA filed hate-crime charges against his client because of Shipley's status as a vocalist who performed under the stage name Lord Morder in the Riverside black-metal band Sol Evil and, in an online interview, called for the "murder of ALL Christians." But friends of the suspects and the alleged victim say all three were friends and band mates before the shooting occurred and that Shipley and Contreras intended to vandalize the dorm building, not kill anyone.
Sacbe Meling, who runs the Fullerton-based black-metal label Quadrivium (which released Sol Evil's first album, Dawn of Infinite Obscurity), said Sol Evil was inspired by Mayhem. "Mayhem is the band that started the whole black-metal scene in Norway," Meling said. "There was no such thing as black metal until they came in and did it."
Cynthia Fausto, Shipley's girlfriend, said Mayhem was Shipley's "favorite band." She described the shooting as a misguided attempt by Shipley to generate publicity for Sol Evil, whose website boasted that, unlike other bands, "Sol Evil practices what they preach."
A former Sol Evil bass player named Dark Knyght described Shipley as a "Satanist" and said the shooting at Teen Challenge was "a stupid thing to do. . . . It goes back into the old days when they tried to light churches on fire in Norway. The whole scene is like that."
If Shipley and Contreras are formally charged with attempted murder at their April 24 pretrial hearing, it will mark the first case in Orange County in which defendants stand accused of trying to kill someone for being Christian. In fact, anti-Christian hate crimes are almost unheard of in the United States.
According to the Orange County Human Relations Commission (HRC), roughly one anti-Christian hate crime has occurred locally each year since the group began tracking such incidents several years ago. Rusty Kennedy, HRC's executive director, said those cases typically involved victims who were also targeted because they were ethnic minorities.
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Meanwhile, neither the California Department of Justice nor the FBI maintains any statistics on anti-Christian hate crimes, apparently because there aren't enough of them to bother counting. A database search of newspaper articles revealed that almost all anti-Christian hate crimes on record involve acts of vandalism against churches as opposed to crimes such as attempted murder. On March 28, for example, a Vietnamese American in Baton Rouge began smashing objects in a local church, telling the rector he was following orders from Satan to "kill Catholics." Police charged him with vandalism and committing a hate crime.
Mark Potok, who edits the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, a quarterly investigative report put out by the Alabama-based civil rights organization, said anti-Christian hate crimes are the least frequent type reported in the U.S. "We see less than a dozen of these cases in a year," he said. "Typically, they involve a pentagram scratched on the side of a church."
However, Potok said such cases were much more prevalent in Europe—particularly Norway, the country that spawned black metal and Mayhem. "In the late 1990s, there were a series of notorious church burnings in Norway," he said. "They were associated very closely with neo-Nazis. Among neo-fascists, there is quite an embrace of neo-paganism, which is the worship of the pre-Christian pagan god. In Norway, this movement burned a series of wooden stave-churches after Varg Vikernes murdered a competing musician in Norway."
"The basic thread that runs through [black metal] is really racial," Potok continued. "What they are saying is we up here in Scandinavian countries had this robust tribal society and then the Christians came with this religion that was not indigenous and unnaturally twisted the character of white people. Christianity is pictured as this stomach-turning religion of cowards foisted on right-thinking white people, essentially by Jews."