The synchronicity was disturbing. My research for an upcoming article had me immersed in hate crime statistics, when a friend from South Carolina told me the news. A 21-year-old Southern white male had just opened fire on a prayer group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This story hit something deep that data points and bar graphs cannot reach.
The Charleston shooting shook my South Carolinian friend to his core. Nine black Christians had welcomed an angry white kid into their prayer circle, and he gunned them down on a mission to “protect the White race.” My guts stirred with a sick feeling of recognition. It was as if the shooting had been a dreaded inevitability. Or was it that we’ve been here before?
If you think Dylann Storm Roof fits the typical hate crime profile, you are only half-correct. I wish prevention could be that easy. If the Devil were instantly recognizable, we could just wave our crosses whenever his horns appear. But this killer is one pale stone in a multiracial mosaic of hate.
According to Dylann Roof’s online manifesto:
“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. … [T]his prompted me to type in the words ‘black on White crime’ into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. … There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. …
“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 psychotic kid intended to start a race war. So he murdered the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and eight others, telling his innocent victims, “You are raping our women and taking over our country.”
This tragedy fits into a broad pattern which goes far beyond white identity.
I was immediately reminded of the 2008 shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville—my home town. The perpetrator was a bitter Vietnam vet who apparently read books by Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. According to his hand-written manifesto, this unemployed, socially isolated redneck believed a “vast left-wing conspiracy” was working “to turn this country into a communist state.” He wrote:
“The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. … Liberals are evil, they embrace the tenets of Karl Marx. … They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike, but if they find out your [sic] a conservative, they absolutly [sic] Hate you. …
“I wanted to kill…every Democrat in the Senate and House [and] everyone in the Mainstream Media. But I knew these people were inaccesible [sic] to me…so I went after the foot soldiers. …”
The gunman carried a 12 gauge street-sweeper into TVUU’s sanctuary during a youth performance and opened fire on the congregation. He killed 2 and wounded 7 others before being restrained. Longtime usher Greg McKendry reportedly sacrificed his own life by putting himself between the shooter and the children.
That event touched a raw nerve in my heart. TVUU had been my church for two years. My first love and her family were still members at the time. Thankfully, she was not present and no one I know was killed. Nevertheless, the congregation’s anguish lingers as a tangible reality that might otherwise dissolve in the news cycle.
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The pre-massacre manifesto has emerged as a literary genre in the Internet Age. As usual, multiple media outlets have published Dylann Roof’s magnum opus. In it, the killer asks: “How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”
Although Roof does not mention it specifically, he surely knew about the Michael Brown shooting. He probably heard about Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, too, both of whom were killed by police officers’ illegal actions. These stories have dominated mainstream media for a year now. So it would be surprising if Roof missed the subsequent national outcry against police brutality and sweeping accusations that America is indifferent to black bodies.
Although less likely, it’s plausible that Roof saw the news story about a white Bosnian in St. Louis, Zemir Begic, who was randomly beaten to death by hammer-wielding teenagers—three black, one Hispanic—while protesters gathered in Ferguson.
Perhaps Roof heard about the vicious attack on Rick Fletcher in a Baltimore suburb—just days after that city’s riots—during which a large group of black teenagers beat the white man to the point of disfigurement.
Most people are unable to consider multiple perspectives simultaneously, and Dylann Roof was no exception. His writing exhibits a curious skepticism toward the well-established record of racialized violence that whites have committed against blacks. The history of African slavery and the capricious lynching of black Americans only provoke his bitter resentment toward the narrative, rather than sympathy or a sense of injustice. Anyone familiar with the typical focus of white advocacy groups should recognize the unsettling parallels.
“I bet you I can tell you where he got his news. I looked at [The Daily Caller] the last week, it was a lot of stories about black people. Same with Matt Drudge. … I wouldn’t say we should be droning Fox News, but we did drone Anwar al-Awlaki because he inspired people.”
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the nightmarish A.M.E. shooting follows two other widely publicized incidents in the Carolinas:
On April 4, the nation was outraged by a viral video showing a white Charleston police officer gun down a fleeing black man. The officer then appears to calmly plant evidence on the body.
Two months earlier, in Chapel Hill, NC, three Muslim university students were executed in their home by a militant atheist neighbor. The victims’ families insist it was a hate crime. Various posts on the killer’s Facebook page promoted Anti-Theism, specifically targeting Islam and Christianity:
“My respect for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th … people of mutually incompatible faiths united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place: religion.”
* * *
The selective finger-pointing that follows each rampage killing is surreal. If the perpetrator’s motives resemble the good side’s talking points, he is an “individual” committing “random acts of violence.” If the killer talks like the bad guys, he is driven by an insidious “culture of hate.” The thing is, whether such cognitive limitations are myopic or opportunistic, an argument’s partisan bias does not make it untrue. Both sides have a point.
In every case, the responsibility for murder falls squarely on the perpetrator’s shoulders. But no rampage killer is an island unto himself. Collective hostility underlies too many of these crimes to ignore the cultural currents propelling them. When examined side by side, the ideas behind mass murder in America reflect our tumultuous diversity:
April 16, 2007 – Blacksburg, VA. A quiet Korean student goes on a Columbine-inspired shooting spree across campus. His multimedia manifesto, mailed to NBC, sounds like a critical theory scholar having a bad trip at a frat house. Highlights include:
“Oh the happiness I could have had…being counted as one of you … you Christian Nazis … sadistic snobs … American Al-Qaeda … violators of human rights … committing emotional sodomy on me. …
“Your two million dollar house wasn’t enough? … Your inheritances weren’t enough? … It’s dandy for you to rape us, but we’re not allowed to even speak, only be raped? …
“Thanks to you, I die, like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the Weak and Defenseless people—my Brothers, Sisters, and Children—that you fuck.”
The Virginia Tech shooter left 32 dead and 17 wounded before shooting himself.
May 4, 2009 – Pittsburgh, PA. A white, mustachioed, and fairly handsome systems analyst walks into an aerobics class at his local LA Fitness club, turns off the lights, and fires fifty-two shots. He then shoots himself.
“Many of the young girls here look so beautiful as to not be human, very edible. … No sex since July 1990 either (I was 29). No shit! … Instead of TV I can Google for hours to relax. …
“[R]eligion is a waste. … I have been in barrooms and church groups. The worst people by far are the religious types. Especially a right-wing, stiff-faced fundie…condescending, demeaning, passive-aggressive. …
“Women just don’t like me. … Not one of them finds me attractive. …
The massacre left 3 women dead—including a pregnant aerobics instructor—and 9 wounded.
January 8, 2011 – Tuscon, AZ. A young white man—whose mugshot is the spitting image of Sloth from The Goonies—opens fire on a local political gathering. The primary target is US Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), whom the gunman believes to be “fake.”
The perpetrator’s frequent posts at AboveTopSecret.com reveal a credulous, yet belligerent commenter who drank the Kool-Aid on government mind control, NASA hoaxes, the 9/11 Truther Movement, and the conspiracy theory classic, Zeitgeist: The Movie. In one of his hyper-syllabic haikus, the shooter argues:
If Christianity philosophy is non-fiction writing then there’s a [sic] author for the literature.
There’s no author for the literature.
Therefore, Christianity philosophy is not non-fiction writing.
Crap on anyone who is believing Christianity without evidence of a writer!
His rampage left 6 people dead and 13 others wounded.
December 14, 2012 – Newtown, CT. A pampered suburban white kid is allowed to hole up in his bedroom, where he cultivates an unhealthy obsession with the culture of mass murder—particularly the anti-multiculturalist of Oslo, the Amish-targeting child-molester of Lancaster County, and of course, the Nietzsche-inspired Columbine killers.
One morning this post-teen sperg-o-tron dons the customary black uniform and shoots his mother in bed. He then drives to Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeds to gun down 26 other people (20 of whom were small children) and wound 2 others. Observing mass shooter tradition, the wild-eyed kid turns the gun on himself.
Rather than type out a traditional manifesto, he simply left behind a 7′ x 4′ spreadsheet of over 500 mass murders—his “score sheet”—which noted various facts and figures, including each killer’s choice of weapons.
February 3, 2013 – Los Angeles, CA. A black LAPD officer goes on a shooting spree in retaliation for his dismissal from the department. The gunman insisted that he was fired due to a complaint he filed against a female officer for using excessive force.
The killer’s Facebook manifesto chronicles his physical assaults on various people who used the word “nigger”—going all the way back to elementary school—and includes the racial profiles of “high value targets” for assassination:
“Those Caucasian officers who join South Bureau divisions…with the sole intent to victimize minorities. …
“Those Hispanic officers who victimize their own ethnicity [and] call them wetbacks to their face. …
“Those lesbian officers in supervising positions…attempting to prove your misandrist authority (not feminism) to degrade male officers. …
“Those Asian officers who stand by and observe everything I previously mentioned…but you say nothing, you stand for nothing. …
“You are a high value target. … Your significant other will be left alone, but they will find someone else to fill your void. … Your children, if you have them, will call someone else mommy or daddy. …”
Turning to gun control issues, the shooter writes:
“Why does anyone need an AR15 rifle? … No more Virginia Tech, Columbine HS, Wisconsin temple, Aurora theatre, Portland malls, Tucson rally, Newtown Sandy Hook.
“Mia Farrow said it best. ‘Gun control is no longer debatable, it’s not a conversation, it’s a moral mandate.’”
The manifesto concludes with numerous celebrity shout-outs, including George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Charlie Sheen, and Bill Cosby.
Despite his best efforts, the ex-cop only killed 4 people (including his former captain’s daughter and her fiancée) and wounded 3 more. Most victims were random police officers—none were directly involved with the shooter getting fired. The coroner report states that the perpetrator, whose body had been completely burned during a prolonged standoff, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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You never know where an idea might land in an open society. In the absence of clear hegemony, confusion and social fragmentation arise. Citizens who are intelligent and emotionally mature enough to engage this restless diversity will either tolerate differences or wage soft culture wars through art and rational discourse. But collective animosity trickles down the civilizational ladder, getting louder and nastier along the way. It is bound to coalesce in the mind of some psychotic or another. And so we find mass murderers professing agendas of all sorts: the Luddite Unabomber, the anti-Fed Oklahoma City Bomber, the Muslim Boston Bombers, on and on.
There is no universal profile.
The most consistent patterns have little to do with ideology. Most physical violence is commited by men, and mass murder is no different. These killers tend to be alienated from the larger society, whether by personal choice or neurological aberration. Their sense of empathy and social responsibility—if it was ever there to begin with—has either dissipated or been directed toward some idealized abstraction, such as “the fate of the human race,” “the Weak and Defenseless,” “Muslims [who] are one body,” or more recently in Charleston: “White people.” They tend to demonize their perceived enemies to a similar extent.
Potential mass murderers are probably lurking around every corner. In many developed countries, unhinged malcontents are supported by material surplus, surrounded by mass media, and have access to a profusion of pharmaceutical drugs and sophisticated weaponry. With chilling regularity, a few will reach critical mass, gather up their arms, and start playing God.
If multiple killers approach their breaking points simultaneously, “the copycat effect” may emerge. Each brutal media sensation triggers the next one until society runs out of psychos. Over time the momentum of discontent builds up again. And so the cycle continues. Nothing short of a totalitarian police state will stop it.
Mass shootings may be statistically insignificant, but the emotional effects are immeasurable. While grieving families bury their dead, we hear a chorus of confirmation bias from one side or the other, demanding that the government eradicate this or that “culture of hate.” Call it the 9/12 Syndrome. This is an understandable response. Just not a rational one.
It would be hysterical to impose overarching legislation for sake of the lunatic fringe, whether the policy regards gun control or freedom of speech. If we ever achieve genuine social harmony, it will not be because we suppressed uncomfortable ideas or forced all-embracing conformity. As we gaze through the media’s arthropod eye, the aggregation of violence and degeneracy make it clear that our mass culture is in the throes of psychosis. That’s the cost of cultivating diversity in a free society. For many of us, it is worth the price.
Either we learn to swim in the turbulent currents of freedom, or we will be tossed by waves of tribalism and sink under the weight of tyranny. I suggest bringing a life jacket.
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Perhaps the most shocking news to come out of Charleston was the response of the victims’ families. One grieving daughter sent this message to the man who killed her mother: “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The sister of another A.M.E. casualty spoke candidly: “I acknowledge that I am very angry. [But my sister] taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached :
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Would that we all possessed such grace, because I fear that the future holds many more opportunities for forgiveness.
© Joseph Allen
Daily interjections: @EvoPsychosis