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  1. The answers are probably as varied as the perpetrators’ life stories, but from my experience there are three different types of cemetery vandals: common vandals who don’t discriminate what they damage (the most common), racist or anti-semitic vandals who target specific cemeteries (less common), and grave-robbers (very rare).

    The common vandals are usually just looking for something to destroy – they’re trying to express their hatred/contempt/pain for society, and want to break something that society finds meaningful. Since people put a lot of sentiment and emotion into burying their loved ones, and since many burial rites are heavily tied to religion, vandalizing a cemetery is sure to upset some people greatly. Most people I’ve encountered who do this are not thinking about the personal effect this has on the deceased’s loved ones – they’re thinking “This will show them!” (with “them” being society at large or some specific authority figure).

    The hateful vandals are trying to trigger an emotional response – fear – in their target audience, by tapping into those same emotional reactions. Violating a Jewish or Muslim or black cemetery is their way of anonymously trying to scare or hurt whatever group they are angry at/scared of. Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was murdered 20 years ago, did not have his ashes laid to rest until this year, because his parents knew that homophobes like the ones who killed him would seek out his grave and desecrate it. Whatever your feeling about “hate crimes,” I think “hate vandalism” is one type of crime we can all agree deserves extra punishment. Ironically, crimes like this often have a reverse effect on the target community, as the people targeted do not go away, or hide, but often become stronger, more resolved, and receive support from across the various churches and ethnic groups.

    The final (extremely rare) type of vandalism is one that often captures the public imagination, as many people are fascinated/frightened by the idea of witches and satanists digging up bodies for evil rituals. (There are very few graves that are robbed for financial gain, unless you count the pyramids of Egypt and other ancient burial sites – the financial rewards for digging through six feet of earth are simply not worth it). Usually these “ritualistic” grave robbers are condemned by true Wiccans and Satanists, because they are dilettantes who are just looking for a thrill rather than true believers – most Wiccans and Satanists would not dream of disrespecting the dead in this manner.

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