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Profile: Jim David Adkisson
Jim David Adkisson was a participant or observer in the following events:
Jim Adkisson as he is escorted from the church under heavy police escort. [Source: Knoxville News Sentinel]Jim David Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee, enters the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) in Knoxville, Tennessee, during the morning performance of a children’s play, Annie Jr., and opens fire. Two people die from gunshot wounds; seven others are injured. No children are injured by Adkisson’s shooting spree. Greg McKendry, an usher, is shot while trying to protect members of the congregation and dies immediately. Linda Kraeger is shot in the face and dies shortly thereafter. Betty Barnhart, Joe Barnhart, Jack Barnhart, Linda Chavez, Allison Lee, Tammy Sommers, and John Worth Jr., are injured, three critically. [UUWorld, 7/28/2008]
Shooting - Adkisson enters the church quietly and removes a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun from a guitar case. He gets off three shots before being wrestled to the ground by church members. [NBC News, 7/18/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008] (Early news reports claim Adkisson fires up to 13 shots, a contention that is later proven erroneous.) [Agence France-Presse, 7/27/2008] According to eyewitness Sheila Bowen, the music director sees the shooting and yells, “Get the hell out of here, everybody!” [New York Times, 7/28/2008] “We heard the first shot,” says eyewitness Marty Murphy. “It sounded like a bomb went off. We thought it was part of the program at first. The second shot is when everyone started calling 911 and telling everyone to get down.” [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/28/2008] During the shooting, Adkisson shouts “hateful things,” according to witness Barbara Kemper, who minutes later attempts to comfort a young boy whose mother is wounded in the head by Adkisson’s shots. Kemper will not give details of what Adkisson shouts. [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008] Adkisson has a large cache of ammunition in his possession, but is unable to reload his weapon before being restrained; one of the congregants who tackles Adkisson, Jamie Parkey, later says that he and his fellow members “dog piled” Adkisson to the floor. “He had the gun leveled in our direction,” Parkey later tells a reporter. “That’s when I pushed my mother and daughter to the floor and got under the pew. When I saw the men rushing him was when I got up to join them.” Another eyewitness, Marty Murphy, later recalls: “There were shotgun shells all over the place, so he must have thought he was going to get more shots in. He had those shells everywhere.” Parkey’s 16-year-old daughter is in the play; his six-year-old daughter is in the sanctuary with Parkey. Neither are injured, though the younger daughter is extremely upset and covered in a victim’s blood. Police respond to the shooting within minutes and arrest Adkisson. Members Mark and Becky Harmon witness the shootings; Becky Harmon later tells a reporter: “Within seconds people were tackling him. The hardest part was there were so many children there and they all had to see this. It was just devastating.” [NBC News, 7/18/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008] Bowen says one of the men to wrestle Adkisson to the ground, history professor John Bohstedt, thought for a time that Adkisson had a bomb with him. She says of Bohstedt: “He moved very quickly and he assessed the situation very quickly. He’s sitting on this guy. He had a package with him, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and John was afraid that that might be a bomb, so John was screaming at everyone to get out.” The package turns out to be a prop for the play. [New York Times, 7/28/2008] Two witnesses call the first victim, McKendry, a hero for attempting to protect other congregants. “Greg McKendry stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us,” says Kemper. Taylor Bessette, McKendry’s foster son, adds, “Make sure everyone knows that Greg McKendry was a hero, a total hero.” McKendry acted as a human shield to protect the children on stage. “He stood in front of the bullets and… actually took the bullets to save the child,” Bessette says. [Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/27/2008] Amira Parkey, a teenaged friend of Bissette’s, says of Adkisson: “This guy does not realize how many lives he totally destroyed. People who do this, they think they’ve got problems, but they destroy so many other people’s lives.” [New York Times, 7/28/2008]
Reactions from Congregation, Others - Parkey later says: “For the situation, everyone responded phenomenally. [Two TVUUC members] mobilized and got the kids out the back.” The play’s director, Vicki Masters, calls for the children to evacuate the building, and another woman ushers the children to a nearby Presbyterian church after Adkisson is subdued. “Everybody did exactly what they needed to do,” says Parkey’s wife Amy Broyles. “There was very little panic, very little screaming or hysteria. It’s a remarkable congregation of people. I’ve never seen such a loving response to such an overwhelming tragedy.” TVUUC member Mark Harmon says: “This is a very courageous congregation. Not just the three or four people who tackled the gunman, but also the religious education director who got the children out of the way, and the people afterward who consoled each other.” Unitarian Universalist Association president William G. Sinkford says after the shooting: “A tragedy such as this makes us acutely conscious of the beauty and fragility of our lives and those of our loved ones. I am especially saddened by this intrusion of violence into a worship service involving children and youth. I know that many people, both in Knoxville and around the country, are struggling with shock and grief right now. I pray that those so affected will find strength and comfort.” Parkey and Broyles are at the church to visit, but after the day’s events, they decide to join the church. Broyles later tells a reporter, “Now that this has happened, having experienced that with them today, we definitely want to be part of this congregation.” [NBC News, 7/18/2008; UUWorld, 7/28/2008]
Personal, Racial, Political Motives for Shooting - Adkisson apparantly has both personal and political motives for the shooting. His ex-wife, Liza Anderson, had been a member of the church years before, which may have been a personal reason for him selecting the church as the target of his violence. Additionally, Adkisson seems to have been triggered by a virulent hatred of liberals, blacks, gays, and Jews. Police find a four-page statement written by him in his car. According to Knoxville Police Department Chief Sterling Owen IV, Adkisson’s shooting was motivated by his “hatred of the liberal movement.… Liberals in general, as well as gays.” Owen also says that Adkisson blames liberals for his failure to get a job (see July 27, 2008 and After). TVUUC, like many UU churches, is active on behalf of the gay community. [UUWorld, 7/28/2008; Associated Press, 7/28/2008] “It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Owen says. And a longtime acquaintance, Carol Smallwood, tells a reporter that Adkisson is a loner who hates “blacks, gays, and anyone different from him.” In 2000, Adkisson’s ex-wife, Alexander, took out an order of protection against Adkisson, telling police that Adkisson often drank heavily and had threatened “to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out.” She told a judge that she was “in fear for my life and what he might do.” [Chancery Court of Anderson County, Tennessee, 3/1/2000 ; Associated Press, 7/28/2008; CNN, 7/28/2008]
Guilty Plea - Several months later, Adkisson will plead guilty to the shootings, and will release the document to the press (see February 9, 2009).
Entity Tags: William G. Sinkford, Carol Smallwood, Vicki Masters, Taylor Bessette, Tammy Sommers, Allison Lee, Amy Broyles, Betty Barnhart, Becky Harmon, Barbara Kemper, Amira Parkey, Sterling Owen IV, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Marty Murphy, Jim David Adkisson, Joe Barnhart, Sheila Bowen, Greg McKendry, Jack Barnhart, John Bohstedt, Jamie Parkey, Linda Chavez (TVUUC), Mark Harmon, Liza Anderson, Linda Kraeger, John Worth, Jr
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A selection from Adkisson’s ‘manifesto’ explaining his desire to kill liberals. [Source: Jim David Adkisson / Crooks and Liars] (click image to enlarge)Jim David Adkisson, a former Army mechanic held on first degree murder charges in lieu of a $1 million bail after killing two people and wounding seven at a Knoxville, Tennessee, church (see July 27, 2008) [NBC News, 7/18/2008; Associated Press, 7/28/2008; CNN, 7/28/2008] , apparently chose to kill members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) because the church is considered a liberal organization. This conclusion is drawn from statements to the police and a rambling four-page document found in his car. In those statements and the document, Adkisson expresses his intense hatred of liberals, blacks, and homosexuals. He tells police that he opened fire in the church because he “wanted to kill liberals,” and the TVUUC has a reputation as one of Knoxville’s gathering places for liberals. “That church had received some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things,” says Knoxville police chief Sterling Owen, “and that is at least one of the issues we believe caused that church to be targeted.” Adkisson will express no remorse whatsoever for his crimes [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; Guardian, 7/28/2008; New York Times, 7/29/2008; ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009] , later saying that if given the chance, he would do the same thing again (see February 9, 2009), and characterizes his motives as rooted in patriotism. [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009] He writes that he expected to be in the church until police arrived, and ultimately to be slain by police. [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009] Police later add that evidence shows Adkisson planned the shooting for a week, but as Owen notes, “I’m sure this is something that’s been building a long time.” [Guardian, 7/28/2008] Friends and neighbors tell of an angry, embittered man who hates extravagantly and blames others for his misfortunes, though some describe him as “friendly” and recall him spending a lot of time on his motorcycle. [Fox News, 7/28/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/28/2008] “Adkisson was a loner who hates blacks, gays, and anyone different from him,” says longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood. [Raw Story, 7/28/2008]
Hate Crime - Police are determining whether to charge Adkisson with the commission of a hate crime. [CNN, 7/28/2008] Knox County commissioner Mark Harmon, a member of the church, says that knowing of Adkisson’s feelings towards liberals and gays “does clarify just what type of hate crime this was. Regardless of motivations, when someone comes into your house of worship and shoots a shotgun indiscriminately it’s an earth-shattering act of hatred.” [New York Times, 7/29/2008]
Frustration at Unemployment - The document found in Adkisson’s car is divided into four parts. The first gives some details about Adkisson’s frustration at being unable to find a job, a situation for which he blames unnamed “liberals.” Adkisson writes that he is a former soldier and accomplished husband who cannot find work as a mechanic, and whose wife left him. “Over the years, I’ve had some good jobs, but I always got layed [sic] off,” he wrote. “Now I’m 58 years old and I can’t get a decent job. I’m told I’m ‘over qualified,’ which is a code word for ‘too damned old,’ like I’m expected to age gracefully in poverty. No thanks! I’m done.” [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009] Police later report that Adkisson was on the verge of losing his government-subsidized food stamps when he went on his shooting spree. [Raw Story, 7/28/2008]
Hatred of Liberals - The document quickly turns to Adkisson’s deep hatred of liberals. “[Democrats] are all a bunch of traitors,” Adkisson writes. “Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great.” He continues: “I’ve always wondered why I was put on the earth.… [L]ately I’ve been feeling helpless in our war on terrorism. But I realized I could engage the terrorists’ allies here in America. The best allies they’ve got.” He slams the “liberal Supreme Court Justices” and Washington Democrats, and spends some vitriol on President Obama, whom he calls “Osama Hussein Obama,” a “radical leftist” who “looks like Curious George.” A police affidavit reads in part: “He felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets. Because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement… he would then target those that had voted them into office.” As a generalization, Adkisson writes, “Liberals are a pest like termites, millions of them… the only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets, kill them where they gather.” [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; CNN, 7/28/2008; ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009]
Hatred of TVUUC - Adkisson then turns to his hatred of the TVUUC, which he calls a “cult” that “worships the God of Secularism” and a “den of un-American vipers.” He accuses the church of elitism and hypocrisy, saying it accepts “perverts” but hates conservatives, and asks, “[H]ow is a white woman having a niger [sic] baby progress?” He calls the church members “ultra liberals” who are “foot soldiers” for liberals in government. “Don’t let the word church mislead you,” he writes. “This isn’t a church, it’s a cult. They don’t even believe in God. They worship the God of secularism.… The UU church is the fountainhead, the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations.” Adkisson’s motivation to attack this specific church may have a personal element; he writes of the church: “They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike, but if they find out your [sic] a conservative, they absolutely hate you. I know. I experienced it.” [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009] A former neighbor of Adkisson’s, Karen Massey, says that Adkisson may hate the idea of religion altogether. She recalls a conversation she had with him centering on the news that her daughter had just graduated from a nearby Bible college. After she explained that she was a Christian, Massey recalls: “He almost turned angry. He seemed to get angry at that. He said that everything in the Bible contradicts itself if you read it.” Massey recalls Adkisson frequently complaining about his parents, who apparently “made him go to church all his life.… He acted like he was forced to do that.” [Fox News, 7/28/2008]
'Hate Crime' - Adkisson writes flatly, “This was a hate Crime [and] a Political Protest.” He continues: “This was a Symbolic Killing.… I wanted to kill every Democrat in the Senate” and other such places, as well as “everyone in the Mainstream Media,” but since “I couldn’t get to the generals and high ranking officers… I went after the foot soldiers, the chickensh_t liberals that vote in these traitorous people.” He concludes his document by explaining: “No one gets out of this world alive so I’ve chosen to skip the bad years of poverty.… The future looks bleak. I’m absolutely fed up! So I thought I’d do something good for this country—kill Democrats ‘til (sic) the cops kill me.… Liberals are a pest like termites… the only way we can rid ourselves of this evil is kill them in the streets.… I’d like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done. If life ain’t worth living anymore, don’t just kill yourself… kill liberals. Tell the cop that killed me that I said, ‘Thanks, I needed that.’” [Adkisson, 7/27/2008 ; ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009]
Police: Apartment Contains Right-Wing Books - A police search reveals that Adkisson’s home contains brass knuckles, empty boxes of shotgun shells, a handgun, and an array of right-wing political books. Before the search, Adkisson tells police that he left the door unlocked for them because, he says, “he expected to be killed during the assault.” Among the books found by the police: Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor, by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly. [Raw Story, 7/28/2008; Knoxville News Sentinel, 7/28/2008]
Reactions - Mark Hulsether of ReligionDispatches (.org) writes that Americans need to look at Adkisson’s document “squarely and soberly—both the pain and despair (and apparently sincere patriotism) underlying the manifesto, as well as its sensationally hateful, twisted, and violent ideas. It is time for people from across the political spectrum—not only liberals but also sincere people on the right, as well as people in the mainstream media who too-often enable the far right—to use today’s news as a wake-up call. Discourses that demonize ‘liberalism’ and/or treat such demonizing as a harmless joke (as when Ann Coulter called for terrorists to bomb the New York Times building) seem even less funny today than they did yesterday.” [ReligionDispatches (.org), 2/10/2009] After learning of some of Adkisson’s beliefs and statements, Amy Broyles, who was at the church the day of the shooting, will tell a reporter that Adkisson “was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way. He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation.” [Associated Press, 7/28/2008]
An unrepentant Jim Adkisson, right, shares a laugh with his lawyer Mark Stephens during Adkisson’s court proceedings. [Source: Lisa Hudson / AP]Jim David Adkisson, charged with killing two and wounding seven in his attack on a Tennessee church congregation (see July 27, 2008), pleads guilty to all charges in a Knoxville, Tennessee, courthouse. Adkisson has accepted a sentence of life in prison. District Attorney General Randall Nichols tells the court that Adkisson “knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victims murdered,” and that the murders “were committed in the course of an act of terrorism.” In his explanation for his actions, given in a four-page document found in his car in the minutes after the shooting (see July 27, 2008 and After), Adkisson said his motives were rooted in patriotism and a desire to kill political liberals. The same day he pleads guilty, Adkisson releases the document to the press, though the local sheriff denies him access to reporters who may wish to interview him. Adkisson’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he advised Adkisson to go to trial using an insanity defense, but Adkisson refused, saying the plea deal is “the honorable thing to do.” Stephens adds: “He pled guilty to everything he was charged with. He accepted his responsibility. I’m sorry for those folks that went through that ordeal.” One of the congregation members who wrestled Adkisson to the ground during the shooting spree, John Bohstedt, responds to Stephens’s contention by saying: “There’s no insanity defense that I can see, unbalance, yes, bitter, yes, evil, yes.… I’m sickened that he shows no signs of remorse.” Tammy Sommers, who is recuperating from shotgun wounds inflicted by Adkisson, says, “He needs to stay in prison, which is what’s happening.” A convict who spent time in jail with Adkisson, Matthew David Chamberlain, says Adkisson told him that the motive behind the attack was purely ideological. “He said if he got out [of prison], he’d do it again,” Chamberlain says. Local citizen Brian Griffith believes Chamberlain is correct, and echoes the sentiments of many local residents by saying he was offended by Adkisson’s demeanor in court. “Today, he just sat there and sneered and seemed proud of it,” Griffith says. Church choir leader Vicki Masters, a witness to the shootings, agrees. “When he first came out into the courtroom, he had a look of sheer evil, he really did—evil as well as arrogance,” she says. “And he sat down after he looked around, and then he used his third finger to scratch the back of his head, with an air of arrogance and just pure evil. Those are the only words I can use to describe what I saw.” However, many church members say they are glad Adkisson chose to accept a plea, thus avoiding the necessity of the children who witnessed the shooting having to relive it in court. The Reverend William Sinkford, president of the Universalist Unitarian Society, says, “I am glad that the perpetrator is able to acknowledge publicly in the legal process what he did, and I am also glad that this community and church are not subjected to public trial.” [CNN, 2/9/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009; WATE, 2/10/2009]
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