IN Charleston, South Carolina, last Wednesday, Dylann Roof spent an hour in a Bible study class with a dozen or so parishioners before declaring, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”
He took out his gun and murdered nine people, reportedly reloading his weapon five times. When he asked one of the women whether she had been shot and she responded in the negative, he said that was good because he needed someone to relate what had occurred. Roof was taken into custody in the wake of what was inevitably branded a hate crime, but the reluctance to describe it as an act of terrorism has sparked a debate in the United States. Many commentators have designated it as such, decrying attempts to pass Roof off as merely a lunatic.
A twisted mentality is not in doubt, though. But then again, that surely applies in all cases where individuals, whatever their motivation, snuff out multiple lives on a whim. It makes little sense to call it terrorism only if the perpetrator’s skin is brown. Mass killings more obviously qualify as terrorism if ideology plays a role, and in the case of Roof it obviously did. He had let it be known that he wanted to spark a race war. The basis of his antipathy to a particular race was apparently reinforced by ‘information’ gleaned from a website operated by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), whose president, Earl Holt, a generous contributor to Republican presidential campaigns, has said he wasn’t surprised by this as the CofCC reports race relations “accurately and honestly”. America’s atrocious gun laws are only part of the problem.
Perhaps no one directly conspired with Roof in the run-up to the massacre he committed, but that’s hardly sufficient to designate him a lone wolf. After all, the mentality that led him to take innocent lives is not exactly a marginal phenomenon – especially in the deep south. It is manifested, inter alia, in the fact that the South Carolina state house proudly flies the Confederate flag, which represents the separatists, defeated in battle 150 years ago, who sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives in their quest to preserve slavery. South Carolina, in fact, was the very state where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, and many of its streets are named after Confederate soldiers.
In most other countries with a disputed past where the defeated side is believed to represent forces that would be deemed unacceptable in the present day, it is inconceivable that comparable insignia could officially be demonstrated with impunity. Could any state legislature in Germany, for example, even consider raising the Nazi flag?