Editor’s Note: Author of Blood Done Sign My Name, historian, and one of the leaders of the Moral Monday movement, Timothy B. Tyson, posted this on his facebook page. We are printing it here with his permission.
A young man wears Rhodesian and apartheid-era flags on his jacket. Both countries never existed during his lifetime. Both flags are commonly worn as in-group insignia among politically organized white supremacists. “You have to be carefully taught,” as the old song from “South Pacific” puts it. He slaughtered nine African Americans in a church.
Dylann Roof told his victims that he came to kill black people because they are “raping our women and taking over our country.” Both claims date back to the white supremacy campaigns of the 1890s, one of which overthrew the government of North Carolina, by the way. These ideas did not just percolate up inside of his mind; this is not ordinary “bias” or suspicion of people different from him; someone had to teach him these elaborated historical traditions. (Watered down versions of them are ordinary enough in mainstream politics.) He gunned down nine people at a historic black church, historic enough that he might well have selected it intentionally; Emanuel AME has been at the center of the civil rights struggle since the early 19th century. The Denmark Vesey slave rebellion of 1822 was organized out of this church, and the slave revolt that it was designed to launch was planned to occur on June 16–the anniversary of Dylann Roof’s massacre; of course, there is no evidence that he knew this history, but no evidence that he didn’t, either.
Roof said he wanted to start a race war; this is a common theme among white supremacists and depicted in their favorite book, The Turner Diaries, which also helped inspire Timothy McVeigh to commit the Oklahoma City bombings. He is part of something, and something dangerous. America in general and South Carolina in particular are generously sprinkled with white supremacist groups. (In Shelby, where he was caught, the White Patriot Party committed a mass murder some years back; the man who ordered that murder committed mass murder at a synagogue in Kansas City only a few years ago. The road Dylann Roof was captured on, Thomas Dixon Blvd, was named after perhaps the most illustrious white supremacist in the history of the world, apart from Hitler, though there is no evidence he knew this, of course, nor that he didn’t.) Roof’s probable mental frailty most likely made him susceptible such influences. It’s almost certainly both/and with respect to mental illness and white supremacy, but there is at least as much evidence for the latter as for the former.
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