19 June 2015

Some early observations on the Charleston terrorist attack

I generally prefer not to write about events like this so soon after they happen, because the early reports usually turn out later to have contained significant errors or omissions, but in this case the picture is clear enough to make a couple of observations.

One is well represented by this tweet (found via Daily Kos):

The evidence is overwhelming that the murderer, Dylann Roof, was an unapologetic racist and that his murders were motivated by racism.  Apparently the authorities, who have had him in custody since yesterday, now say the attack "was motivated by racial hatred" (though that report gives little detail).  He posted a photo of himself online wearing a jacket displaying the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia.  People who know him say he had white-supremacist leanings and made racist jokes, that he ranted about black people "taking over the world" and the need to defend "the white race".  His declaration to his victims, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country -- and you have to go" encapsulates standard racist paranoid obsessions.  Come on, how much more obvious could it be what was going on in this guy's head?

Yet there's a curious reticence to say so explicitly, not just in the media but among political leaders.  See these comments by Presidential candidates.  Perhaps it's not surprising that Republicans shy away from mentioning racism -- perhaps it hits a little too close to home -- but even Hillary Clinton, in a four-minute statement, only once mentioned "race", not racism, and as something that we "need to face hard truths about", not specifically as the motive for the murders.  Only Bernie Sanders bluntly put the real issue front and center:

Well, that's not quite true.  Actual racists seem pretty blunt about the real issue as well, as seen in Fox News comments and the racist internet.

Some right-wingers are already trying to change the subject to their own fixations.  Some religious nut on Fox has already linked the murders to abortion.  Rick Santorum framed the murders as an attack on religion because they happened in a church, observing that "we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before", a formulation that merits some analysis.  For some time now the Christian Right has been using the term "religious liberty" as code for their right to denounce and discriminate against gays, and defining any advance of gay rights as an "assault on" said "religious liberty".  Santorum's statement seems like a clumsy attempt to tie the murders to the recent social progress of gays, ignoring Roof's clear racist motives.  Even his choice of a black church as a target was likely motivated by the fact that it would be an obvious place to find a large number of unarmed black people to attack, not by the fact that it was a religious site.

On the left, too, I'm already seeing a few of the usual efforts to shift the discussion toward guns -- because obviously stricter gun laws would have prevented Roof from getting the guns and ammunition to commit these murders, just like Prohibition meant nobody in the US could get alcohol, and today's drug laws prevent anyone from getting hold of marijuana.

I'm not one of those people who tries to make everything about race even when it obviously isn't.  But this obviously is.  This was not about guns, gays, religion, abortion, or violence in the abstract.  This was a racially-motivated terrorist attack, and Roof was a racist acting very much in the tradition of our country's biggest and deadliest home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan.  It's absurd to pretend otherwise.


Blogger Ahab said...

I'm working on a post about the Charleston shooting, and I was saddened when Alveda King, Rick Santorum, and others tried to deflect attention from the racism of the shooting. It was a racist hate crime, full stop.

It's a tragic situation. Nine innocent people are dead because of a white supremacist's delusions.

19 June, 2015 04:46  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

The Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacy. As long as people in the south continue to embrace it and honor it, w e will see more Dylann Storm Roofs and their twisted, racist, murderous actions.

19 June, 2015 06:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: The guy made it clear as can be that this was all about race. Even someone as stupid as Santorum can't possibly honestly not realize that. They're afraid of their constituents.

Shaw: That flag has always disgusted me. Everybody, including the people who display it, knows damn well what it represents. It's long past time it was removed from any kind of official display. About 150 years past time, in fact.

20 June, 2015 14:46  

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