In Charleston, a racist shot black people in a church. Now the country is fighting over whether it was terrorism or “only” a racist crime.
It is not splitting hairs when America thinks about whether to call Dylann Storm Roof’s mass murder in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church a crime or a terrorist attack. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the police in Charleston at first classified the act as a “hate crime,” or a racist crime. Many Americans demand, in contrast, that the act be designated an act of terrorism. It is about the self-reassurance of a country that has declared war on terror.
The definition is clear. Both in the emergency laws of the Patriot Act as well as in the guidelines of the security bureau, the Department of Homeland Security, every act of violence that is designed to force a country to change its politics or laws through fear counts as terrorism.
This is also true of Dylann Storm Roof.
He repeatedly talked about wanting to ignite a “race war.” This is no obsession of a lonely madman, but the ideological leitmotif of U.S. right-wing extremists. The key text for this agitation is the novel “The Turner Diaries,” which was published by the founder of the right-wing extremist organization National Alliance, William L. Pierce, in 1978 under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. The book has been sold a half million times in the USA. Its plot: A programmer named Earl Turner, along with the organization The Order, instigates a race war. In his 1989 sequel, “Hunter,” Pierce propagated the tactic of “leaderless resistance,” of independently operating cells and individual actors.
Attacks on Black People Are Counted as Normal Crimes
Pierce’s motifs are echoed in many texts of the U.S. right wing, which the murderous Charleston shooter devoured on websites. The outcome is similar to that of Islamic terrorism, which has for a long time understood itself as an overarching idea. Every lunatic with a gun or a suitcase full of explosives thus becomes a part of the movement. This is what makes inflammatory writing so dangerous. At the beginning of the ’80s there was a group of right-wing terrorists in the American Northwest that named itself The Order, like the group in the book. A chapter of “The Turner Diaries” served Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a government building in Oklahoma City in 1994 and killed 168 people, as a template. Both cases were considered “domestic” or “home grown terrorism.”
Politics and the media in the USA always had a hard time with these terms, because the political consequences were grave. If one classifies right-wing extremist violence as terrorism, then one must name the extreme right-wing [groups] as terrorist organizations and pursue them accordingly. Right-wing extremism is, however, protected by the constitution as freedom of expression. Besides, right-wing extremists barely play a role politically and socially. When inflammatory speeches and writing do not discharge into violent acts, which seldom occurs, they remain exotic outsider phenomena.
Black and Muslim Americans, however, experience it as a double standard when attacks against black people and Muslims only count as crimes. “Hate crimes” are matters for the local police and civil rights activists. Against terrorism, the USA fights a war that has already cost $1.7 billion. This fury is strengthened because the attack in Charleston took place at a time after deadly police shootings against black people in Ferguson and Baltimore culminated in riots. Because of this, it would be a start to putting America’s egalitarian ideals into practice if one would also name right-wing terrorism as terrorism and fight it appropriately. Regardless of how a court later decides Roof’s sentence.