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Sen. Hawley calls for Nashville shooting to be investigated as a hate crime

Hawley, the only senator to oppose a bill in 2021 to expedite the review of hate crimes amid a rise in anti-Asian incidents, asked law enforcement officials to investigate The Covenant School shooting as a religiously motivated hate crime.
Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attends a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee markup in Dirksen Building on March 15, 2023.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee markup on March 15. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on Tuesday called on federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the shooting at The Covenant School as a religious hate crime.

On Monday, a shooter opened fire at the Covenant School in Nashville, killing six people, including three children. The school was founded in 2001 as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, which shares the same address. Hawley cited law enforcement reports that the shooting was "targeted" against the Christian school, which police believe the shooter attended.

“It is commonplace to call such horrors ‘senseless violence,’” Hawley wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “But properly speaking, that is false. Police report that the attack here was ‘targeted’ — targeted, that is, against Christians.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland was also pressed about on the shooting's designation when he testified Tuesday afternoon before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee as part of a budget hearing.

Asked by Sen. John Kennedy R-La., whether he planned to open a hate crime investigation "for the targeting of Christians," Garland said a motive was still pending in the case.

"As of now, motive hasn’t been identified," Garland said, noting that the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were working with the local police.

"We are certainly working full time with them to determine what the motive is and of course motive is what determines whether it’s a hate crime or not," Garland added.

In 2021, Hawley was the only senator to vote against an anti-Asian hate crime bill that directed the Justice Department to expedite the review of such crimes. The measure, which was passed on a 94-1 vote, also tasked the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services with issuing best-practices guidance on how to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Hawley referred NBC News to the senator's tweet about the bill. At the time, Hawley cautioned it would turn the "federal government into the speech police." He added that the bill gave "government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it."

On Tuesday, Hawley also introduced a Senate resolution to condemn the shooting as a hate crime.

In his letter to law enforcement officials, Hawley wrote that "hate that leads to violence must be condemned. And hate crimes must be prosecuted."

Nashville Police Chief John Drake told NBC News that police believe "resentment" over having to attend The Covenant School may have played a role in the shooting. Drake added that police had recovered "writings" and a detailed map of the school and how the shooter would carry out the attack, which they are investigating for a motive.