Charleston Terrorism May Have Been Preventable
By Al Carroll
The mass murder of nine Blacks (including pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney) by white racist terrorist Dylann Roof brought equal parts reflection and sorrow in most of America. But we also saw equal parts denial and deliberate lying in the insulated right wing media bubble, trying to pretend the terrorist is not part of them, their intended audience, and their core supporters, and indeed that he is not even a terrorist or racist.
Fox News failed in their effort to trot out a series of minority tokens to try to deflect the avowedly racist nature of the terror attack, as they have done on anything related to racism. Others like the President focused on gun control as a way to prevent these tragedies. Instead we should focus on white racist terrorists. This terrorism had little in common with school shootings. Spree killers are typically mentally ill and indiscriminate. This terrorist had an obvious goal, and carefully selected his targets. To depict his savage hatred as mental illness is inaccurate and hides the willful deliberate nature of his and indeed all white racism, the justifying of white privilege and institutional racism.
This horror is part of a long pattern of right wing and white racist terrorism. White racist terrorist (as we should and must always call him) Dylann Roof targeted a historic Black church with a long history as a refuge for the Black community, and his most prominent victim was its pastor and elected official. He ranted about his intended racist purpose, “start a civil war” and his motive, a belief that Blacks were “rapists.” Dylan Roof’s online manifesto shows a deep knowledge of white nationalist and white supremacist doctrine. Roof posed with symbols of racism, the apartheid era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia, and the Confederate battle flag. He called himself “The Last Rhodesian,” posed on a plantation, littered his writing with the N-word, and ranted his hatred of Blacks, Jews, Latinos, and Asians.
He also had an obsession with right wing talking points on race. Above all, Dylann Roof pointedly defended George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin in a manner showing he imbibed much of his hatred directly from Fox News. He was the son of O’Reilly and other Fox commentators’ racist rage, His words could have come directly from frequent guest racists on Fox like Ann Coulter or Ted Nugent.
Those on the right wing share in the blame for this act of terrorism in another way. This attack may have been preventable if not for their actions. Fox News, talk radio, and especially commentators Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin have long worked to deny there is any right wing terrorism. Back in 2009, they successfully pressured the federal government to end monitoring and investigating right wing terrorists. A Homeland Security team of analysts was shut down thanks to them, and its head fired. They pushed for the shutdown to avoid the truth, that many of these terrorists take their message directly from them. (This is no less true of Malkin, who is that most bizarre creature, a Filipina white supremacist with open self hatred of her Asian background.)
Some right wing commentators and politicians also deliberately create an atmosphere of intimidation promoting violence for almost a decade. O’Reilly used the racist slur “wetback,” denies white privilege exists, and has a long history of race baiting Blacks. Ann Coulter is currently pushing a book of anti immigrant and anti Latino hatred, arguing in line with racist terrorist Dann’s argument that whites should “get used to seeing your little girls raped.” So does Donald Trump. In his announcement of his run for president, he called Mexicans “rapists” and drug dealers, and paid for his flaming hatred with the loss of hundreds of millions in business deals. Trump’s racism goes back much farther, to half a decade as one of the leaders in the racist birther movement, and an even longer history of race baiting American Indians, just because tribes proved to be far better at the casino business than Trump.
We as a society and nation should focus on is targeting racist right wing and other extremist terrorists in the US, and condemn those on the right who coddle and help to breed them. Such extremists have only thrived when the authorities and public fail to stand up to them, and withered when opposed. I made a similar argument in a previous article on militia extremist Cliven Bundy and the Oath Keepers, and in my book Presidents’ Body Counts.
Right wing terrorists have a long dangerous history in the US, and Dylan Dann is part of that. Militias, white racists, and Christian extremists carried out at least 288 murders and wounded 588 from 60 plots from 1995 to 2012. 33 of these 60 terrorist plots were successful. Terrorism by Christian extremists includes 8 murders, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, and 619 bomb threats.
These plots included attempted assassinations of Presidents Clinton, GW Bush, Obama, and other federal officials. Right wing terrorism has more often been foiled by their own incompetence rather than prevented by government or public vigilance.
To date there has not been one single death in the US by Al Qaeda terrorists since September 11. By contrast, there have been over 60 successful attacks by right wing terrorists, from assassinations at a Jewish Center and the Holocaust Museum to train derailings to a shooting spree in Pittsburgh, and this obvious racist terrorism in Charleston.
After Charleston, while some called for renewed efforts to limit firearms, the American public wisely decided against getting pulled into the gun control debate yet again. This was clearly a terrorism issue and a racism issue, and will only be prevented and resolved by focusing our energies there. Congress and President Obama should instead bring back the task force investigating right wing terrorism that O’Reilly, Malkin, and others sabotaged.
We as a nation must be honest and quit using falsehoods to hide the truth. We must call white racist terrorists and terrorism what they are. For the first time since Reconstruction, most of the American public recognizes the Confederate battle flag as the symbol of racism, slavery, and treason that it is. White supremacist traitors from Jefferson Davis to Dylan Roof claim it as their symbol. Those who deny it has always been a racist symbol are ignorant of history. It cannot be remade as a southern pride symbol anymore than the swastika could become only a Hindu symbol again.
Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of Presidents’ Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions.