The Charleston church massacre: Of course it’s terrorism


Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who allegedly murdered nine African Americans at a historic black church in South Carolina, wanted to “start a race war.”  He dressed for the massacre in a jacket adorned with an apartheid-era South African flag, and one from white-ruled Rhodesia. He allowed a woman inside the Emanuel A.M.E. Church to live so that she could tell the story later, presumably to spread his message of hate. On his virulently racist website, he said:

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

This is terrorism: premeditated violence against civilians by non-state actors with the intent to provoke fear and political unrest in service of an extremist ideology. One of the victims, in fact, was an elected state legislator.

Our reluctance to call this incident terrorism has little to do with it meeting the definition (it does, easily) and everything to do with who we are accustomed to labeling as terrorists. Had a Muslim walked into a church, synagogue, statehouse, subway or anywhere else and started shooting, we’d call him a terrorist immediately. As Glenn Greenwald wrote:

“It was very hard — and still is — to escape the conclusion that the term “terrorism,” at least as it’s predominantly used in the post-9/11 West, is about the identity of those committing the violence and the identity of the targets. It manifestly has nothing to do with some neutral, objective assessment of the acts being labelled.”

Musician Sean “Diddy” Combs is accused of swinging a kettlebell at his son’s football coach and angrily yelling at him. No one was hurt, thank goodness. Less than 24 hours after the incident, he’s now accused of making terroristic threats.

One week after the Charleston massacre, despite his own words making his intent crystal clear, Dylann Roof has not been charged with terrorism.

America, 2015.

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