By Charles M. Blow
New York Times
"You don't have to do this," Tywanza Sanders said to the young man who suddenly rose and drew a gun, and according to witnesses, said he was there "to shoot black people."
He had been sitting in the Bible study session at Charleston, South Carolina's, historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour, next to the pastor, debating scripture.
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Dylann Storm Roof, the unassuming, boyish-looking man with the bowl-cut hair, replied: "Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country."
Then he "took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87." This according to Sanders' cousin, Kristen Washington, as reported in The New York Times.
Roof opened fire, killing nine; Jackson was the eldest slain, and her nephew, Sanders, the youngest at 26. Four of the dead were reverends - one of whom was the church's pastor, a South Carolina state senator, Clementa Pinckney.
This was a savage act of barbarism by a young man baptized in a theology of race hate.
There are so many threads to pull on this story that one hardly knows where to begin, but let's begin here: Roof was only 21 years old. He is a millennial race terrorist. Roof was born in 1994, 30 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.
He had a white power flag fetish. He was once pictured wearing a jacket emblazoned with an apartheid-era South African flag and another flag of "Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule," according to The Times. Apartheid ended the year Roof was born, and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe long before that.
Who radicalized Roof? Who passed along the poison? We must never be lulled into a false belief that racism is dying off with older people. As I've written in this space before, Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, has found that "younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans."
Racism is to social progress what cockroaches are to nuclear fallout — extraordinarily resilient.
Furthermore, there is a widely published photo of Roof sitting on his car with an ornamental license plate with Confederate battle flags on it. That is the same Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol. What signal is South Carolina sending?
There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity. Roof is only this trope's latest instrument.
Then there is the question of whether to call this terrorism. Terrorism, as commonly defined, suggests that the act must have some political motivation. (By defining it this way, we conveniently exclude that long legacy of racial terrorism as a political tool of intimidation and control in this country.) And yet, this case may even reach that bar.
Reuters reported Friday that the case "is being investigated by the Justice Department as a possible case of domestic terrorism." But whether it reaches the legal definition of domestic terrorism (it has already passed the common sense definition), some conservatives have even been reticent to call it a hate crime, which it surely is, rather preferring to twist this massacre into their quixotic crusade to establish evidence of a war on Christianity in this country.
On Fox News' "Fox and Friends," one host called the killings "a horrifying attack on faith."
Another anchor on the show chimed in, responding to the comments of a guest: "Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime. Uh, and some look at it as, 'Well, it's because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church,' but you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility towards Christians. And it was a church! So, maybe that's what they're talking about. They haven't explained it to us."
Oh Fox, there is so much that needs explaining to you. First, Roof was a member of a Lutheran church in Columbia, South Carolina. As the Rev. Tony Metze of St. Paul's Lutheran Church confirmed to the Huffington Post, "He was on the roll of our congregation." Lutheranism is one of the branches of Protestant Christianity.
Beyond that, according to CNN, "a friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan 'to do something crazy' in order 'to start a race war.'"
CNN also reported that Roof confessed his intention to cause a race war to investigators. This wasn't a war on Christianity, but a war on black people.
Roof was a young man radicalized to race hatred who reportedly wanted to start a race war and who killed nine innocent people as his opening salvo. If that's not terrorism, we need to redefine the term.