In a weekend packed with racially motivated mass shootings in America, one has caught the attention of many across the Pacific here in Taiwan. A shooting at a church in Irvine, California is now being investigated as a hate crime.

The shooter a man surnamed Chou allegedly carried out the attack on Taiwanese parishioners due to their identity as Taiwanese. What might be perplexing to some is that Chou is also being described both as Taiwanese and Chinese in the media.

According to multiple local Taiwanese media sites, including LTN and UDN, Chou was a second generation waishengren ( 外省人). This term may not be familiar to some readers. Simply put waishengren is a person who moved from China to Taiwan, especially referring to those that came around the end of World War II, when the KMT fled to Taiwan. This is as opposed to a benshengren (本省人) which would be someone who came to Taiwan prior to Chiang and the KMT. (Keep in mind this is a very complicated issue that can’t be summed up in a few sentences). Chou reportedly was born in Taiwan, but moved to America around the age of 1. 

Such reporting from multiple sources that lean to either side of the mainstream political ideology in Taiwan gives some credence to these claims, but it should be remembered that these are initial reports and additional details are likely to emerge over the coming hours and days.

It has also been reported by outlets like the LA Times, that Chou had left notes in his vehicle that stated his opposition to Taiwan independence. The Orange County Sherriff’s Department said that it believed Chou had directly targeted the Taiwanese community because of these views. The FBI has also begun a federal hate crimes investigation.

Besides the clear targeting of a group of Taiwanese people, the decision by the murderer to target a Presbyterian Church could also been seen as a violent lashing out at Taiwanese identity and the Taiwanese Independence Movement.

The Presbyterian Church has long been a supporter of Taiwanese independence and Taiwanese Identity. There has been numerous instances of scholarship into this topic, there have also been multiple article written about the history of the Presbyterian Church officially backing Taiwanese independence since 1977.

At least one Presbyterian minister, Reverend Daniel Beeby, was kicked out of Taiwan by the Chinese Nationalist KMT, due to his support for Taiwanese independence. Here are some more references for those interested in the relationship between the two (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), though these are just a start.

Just as people here in Taiwan were not simply victims of the violence by Chinese nationalists, but fighters that rebelled against the yolk of oppressions to bring democracy to Taiwan, the Taiwanese members of the church, were also heroes. Multiple people in the congregation tackled the shooter, after he was struck with a chair by the church’s minister while reloading one of his guns.

Then, 52 year-old father of two, Dr. John Cheng, jumped into action, he tackled the gunman. Others assisted him and eventually they were able to tie him up, reportedly with an extension cord. Unfortunately, in his amazing bravery, Dr. Cheng was mortally wounded. He was simply there taking his mother to church.

Five others were also wounded, an 86 year-old woman, and four men aged 66, 75, 82, and 92. The ages of these people somehow make the story even more tragic. They were a community of elderly people, coming together to break bread that were chained inside a church with a vicious murderer, ostensibly there because he had been propagandized into believe the country they came from shouldn’t have autonomy.

It should be mentioned though that not all the churchgoers were Taiwanese, reportedly at least one of the victims was from the Philippines, but according to the San Diego Tribune he also spoke Taiwanese.

As more evidence comes out about the shooter it does seem that he was indeed a Chinese ultranationalist. Photos are now circulating of him with other Chinese nationalists with United Front propaganda.

In one of the pictures (above) he is pointing at a sign that bears the phrase “Swiftly and violently exterminate the independence demons.” The independence the poster references is of course Taiwanese independence. On the bottom of the banner is support for former Chinese Nationalist presidential candidate in Taiwan in 2020, Han Kuo-yu.

The picture in the above tweet is from a meeting of the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification (NACPU), which the US State Department labeled as a foreign mission of the PRC in 2020. It has also been reported that Chou was a member.

The NACPU is a part of China’s United Front which is a vast nexus of figures and groups that answer to the CCP and work to advance its interests all over the world. Some are more covert than others, but they all work towards furthering the CCP’s ends in various fields.

This situation is heartbreaking and emblematic of much of the violence happening in America, and around the world. From the racist mass killing of 10 Black Americans, and three other individuals that were injured, that just happened in Buffalo. To the nationalist inspired invasion of Ukraine by a Russian dictator. We are seeing how easily fervent nationalism and racism can lead to senseless and deadly violence.

My heart goes out to those at the Laguna Woods Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, my thoughts and prayers do little if anything to bring an end to this horror that so many face every day. We must fight racism, violent nationalism and all forms of hate wherever we find them. We must not stop until the final specs are driven from the earth.

We also need to force our politicians to put in place the necessary reforms like, at the very least, simple background checks for guns in the US, of which even the vast majority of NRA members are in favor of. We must protect our communities and our friends of all backgrounds. The suffering must end, but it won’t end on its own, we have to force its hand.