If only Dylann Storm Roof had stayed in school and had less of an ego chronically stoked on pills and Internet hate sites, he might have scored a gun and a badge and a uniform in order to perpetrate his race war. With just a little more training and a little more discipline, he could have learned to be a slightly more circumspect executioner of dark-hued people.
He could have blended into the official American system of allowable oppression of minorities. He might have developed the patience to wait for socially acceptable, state-sanctioned opportunities to take aim and fire. From his professional peers, he would have learned the fine art of stalking Black fathers with broken taillights. He would have developed the sense to keep his racism professional and nonverbal as he snapped the spine of a Black youth who had the nerve to make eye contact with him on a Baltimore city street. He could have joined a posse of uniforms to shoot bullet after bullet after bullet into the bodies of an unarmed Cleveland couple trapped in their car. And then he would have gotten off, because forensics couldn't discern which cops had actually fired the fatal shots.
Roof didn't blend in. He was a lone wolf. He took his inspiration from George Zimmerman instead of from Darren Wilson, the Ferguson cop who shot Michael Brown in "self defense." He's certainly making life awkward for dog-whistling politicians, gun culture apologists and the Confederate flag-waving crowd this week. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was so confused that he called the mass slaughter in Mother Emanuel Church "an accident." (Maybe he's still trying to kick his own alleged pill habit.)
It is perfectly fitting that Roof and Michael Slager, the cop who gunned down Walter Scott, are sharing the same cell block as they await their trials for murder. I wonder if they've bonded yet. They are two sides of the same coin. The cop had all the circumspect qualities down pat; he just hadn't banked on a passerby with a cellphone to memorialize his one-man extermination squad.
Roof is a fringe-dwelling end-product of the same cop/gun culture, violent entertainment industry and Southern racist politics that are alive and well and flying as high and demented as the confederate flag and the militarized police state and the privatized gulag of systemic Black incarceration. Like many an adolescent in the Age of Facebook his privacy is not that important to him. Besides prescription drugs, he also has an apparent addiction to white supremacist Internet sites, inspiring him to create his own virtual domain. But unlike most other cyber-racists, he didn't hide behind the safety of anonymity. Eventually, virtual reality just wasn't real enough for him, and he acted upon his impulses. Also unlike other lone wolf terrorists, he didn't feel the need to kill himself in a blaze of glory after his mass slaughter of nine innocent people. Maybe it's the power of the Nazi-ish middle name
In a must-read piece in Counterpunch, Henry Giroux quotes a study (titled, appropriately enough, Operation Ghetto Storm) showing that one Black person is extra-judicially executed by a state security officer or a vigilante every single day. More Black people are incarcerated in the US than were enslaved ten years before the Civil War. Yet it's the non-state sanctioned violence of a Dylann Storm Roof or an Adam Lanza that gets most of the attention. And forget about the state-sanctioned violence of American forever-wars. Foreign drone victims are neither named nor cared about -- and that is by official decree as well as through media complicity and public apathy. As Henry Giroux writes, 1984 and Brave New World perfectly complement one another:
In Orwell’s world, individual freedom and privacy were under attack from outside forces. For Huxley, in contrast, freedom and privacy were willingly given up as part of the seductions of a soft authoritarianism, with its vast machinery of manufactured needs, desires, and identities. This new mode of persuasion seduced people into chasing commodities, and infantilized them through the mass production of easily digestible entertainment, disposable goods, and new scientific advances in which any viable sense of agency was undermined. The conditions for critical thought dissolved into the limited pleasures instant gratification wrought through the use of technologies and consuming practices that dampened, if not obliterated, the very possibility of thinking itself. Orwell’s dark image is the stuff of government oppression whereas Huxley’s is the stuff of distractions, diversions, and the transformation of privacy into a cheap and sensational performance for public display.So, will FBI Director James Comey continue to claim that Roof's crime is neither political nor terroristic? With his web-page now on full public display, with his manifesto claiming inspiration from a group whose membership has included elected officials, it's going to be mighty hard to blame the latest massacre solely on lax gun laws and mental illness. He's a product of the instant gratification culture of violence -- topped with a huge dollop of pervasive cyber-racism -- that Giroux describes. Roof apparently spent hours holed up in his lonely room when he wasn't taking grotesque gun-pointing selfies along with his burning of the flag near Civil War memorials.
Where was Homeland Security? Where was the NSA? We know where the FBI has been: tracking Muslim youths on the Internet as they "aspire" to join ISIS.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which does track various right-wing extremist hate groups, has some interesting information on the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the group which Roof says inspired him. Anti-immigrant and anti-gay as well as anti-Black, it can trace its lineage back to the Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision. It uses a warped interpretation of the Bible and Christianity to opine that "God" is not pleased with the mixing of the races. So the fact that Roof chose to gun down his victims in a Black Christian church probably made perfect sense to him.
Unlike the overt and anonymous racism of KKK members, the CCC has been historically comprised of "respectable" businessmen, journalists, judges, bankers... and politicians. (Senator Trent Lott had a close association with the group.) But since the advent of the Internet, the CCC's rhetoric has grown increasingly blatant and crude, according to the SPLC. Even so, elected officials (mostly state and local) continue to claim membership, while others give speeches at its various gatherings.
Dylann Storm Roof had the implicit permission of the de facto racist establishment to do what he did. No wonder the judge at his bail hearing urged people to have sympathy for his family.
Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long or somebody warned that when fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross. Whether it's the Stars and Stripes or whether it's the Confederate version makes not a lick of difference. Fascism is here, and it has been here for a very long time.
|(New York Times, Sept. 12, 1938)|
*Update, 6/22. According to various published reports, Roof tried to shoot himself in the church but had run out of ammo.
In case you thought that my post, linking civilian white racist terrorists with certain white racist terrorist cops, was hyperbolic and/or unfair, check out this website/chat room for the NYPD. You might think you'd clicked on Stormfront or the CCC by mistake. Same subject matter, same level of hate. (And no, I am not providing links to those other two.)
The New York Times has more on the global white supremacist movement here, as well as a piece by Eric Lichtblau tying presidential candidates to the CCC, or at least to the CCC's money. These politicians always follow the same script: when they're caught being associated with terrorist hate groups, they plead ignorance and promptly return the money. If anything good is going to come out of this latest episode of all-American violence, it's that the dog-whistling racist pols are being outed in all their moral ugliness.
Here are a couple of my own Times comments in today's paper. First, in response to Charles Blow's op-ed calling for official acknowledgment that there is such a thing as race terrorism:
Either the FBI calls Roof a terrorist, or it doesn't get to call anybody a terrorist. It's about time that the so-called Justice Dept. takes a break from arresting Muslim youths who merely "aspire" to join ISIS on the Internet, and start investigating some very real homegrown terrorists here. The horrific church massacre has also got to result in something more meaningful and lasting than just tearing down the Confederate flag (although that would be a nice symbolic start.)Next, my response to Paul Krugman's rather Panglossian ( racism exists, but is waning, it could always be worse, and things are bound to get better... eventually!) Slavery's Long Shadow:
As a disaffected late-adolescent in a time of record wealth inequality and record youth joblessless, Roof was a bomb ready to go off, living as he did on pills, hormones gone wild, and hate. He got his inspiration from white supremacist websites, in particular one run by a well-known group called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). While its cosmetically "respectable" members (bankers, editors, executives, and yes, politicians and elected officials) broadcast their racism the usual coded dog-whistle way, the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that its Internet arm has become downright blatant in its call for a war on Blacks, gays and Latino immigrants. A whole new generation of cyber racists is being bred, both on the white supremacist sites and in "mainstream" comment sections. Australia has already made online racist hate speech illegal.
Cyber racists thrive on cowardice and anonymity -- until, like Roof, they don't. Racism is like a drug. Some addicts always need a bigger fix.
We may have more anti-racist laws on the books, and surveys might show that white attitudes have changed, but Jim Crow is alive and well in the land of the free (defined in GOP-speak as freedom to slash the social safety net to shreds and along with it, millions of "disposable people.")** When Roof was arrested, police records indicated a middle name of "Storm." However, as a reader points out, there seems to be no proof on a birth certificate or other document that the moniker is official. It seems likely that the neo-Nazi sounding appellation was self-bestowed. Therefore, I crossed out that part of my post about the parents giving him that name. There's still so much that we don't know about his upbringing, etc.
Black people have taken the brunt of the economic pain since the great 2008 meltdown. They are at least three times as likely to be poor, they earn at least 40% less than whites and their average net worth is about an eighth that of whites. This is true in all the states. In Blue New York, for example, Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites, and Black infant mortality rates are more than double those of whites.
There are currently more Blacks imprisoned in America than there were enslaved in the decade before the civil war. A study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement reveals that one Black person is killed by a security officer or a vigilante every single day in this country. A less racist nation?
If anything, "we" are a more racist nation. I hope that the "tear down this Confederate flag" community spirit catches fire. I hope that revelations that the same white supremacist hate group which inspired Dylann Roof also funds certain GOP candidates result in more than the usual "national conversation."
Lectures by well-meaning experts to be patient, that things will improve "over time" are wearing pretty thin. The time for change is now. It's getting desperate out there.