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Stop Using Autism as an Excuse for White Supremacy and Violence

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Among the people who were arrested for the riots on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was a man named Jacob Chansley, also known as the “QAnon Shaman.” The defense his lawyer Albert Watkins has come up with? Autism. Watkins claims that because his client has Asperger’s syndrome, he shouldn’t be found guilty of committing a crime.

To quote him directly:

“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all f—— short-bus people,” Watkins told Talking Points Memo. “These are people with brain damage, they’re f—— retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”

First off, let’s address the language Watkins uses. Disrespectful doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every word is filled with hate and bigotry. Autism means that our brains are wired differently, not that our brains are damaged.

Second, blaming someone’s autism for any kind of violent crime is ridiculous. If anything, autistic people often have a far more innate knowledge of right and wrong because of our black and white thinking. It’s the unwritten social rules we struggle with. I may not know how to start or join in a conversation with someone, but I know that rape and murder are wrong.

This hasn’t been the only time people have used autism as a defense. Incidents like the Sandy Hook school shooting falsely associated autism with violence. Both lawyers and autistics themselves in situations like these see autism as an easy card to play.

Doing so creates such a stigma for our community. Autism is already seen in a negative light. Adding on the false perception that being autistic leads to criminal activity doesn’t help in the slightest. Humans are complicated beings. There are so many factors we need to consider when we look at people who have done bad things. Having autism doesn’t excuse you from being a bad person, and being a bad person doesn’t mean you have autism.

Image via YouTube.

Originally published: May 24, 2021
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