‘Lone wolf’ attackers off radar, tough to stop, experts say

Kyle Rogers lives in a nondescript ranch house in a diverse Summerville neighborhood filled with American flags.

A young white man accused in the June 17 killings of nine black worshippers during a Bible study looks like what hate-watchers call a “lone wolf,” an increasingly common form of homegrown terrorist whose violence is virtually impossible for law enforcement to prevent.

Leaderless killers, often fueled by writings on hate-related websites, have taken an increasingly dominant role in anti-government, separatist and white-supremacist violence and killings across the country over the past quarter-century. They are acutely difficult to track and predict.

Maj. Roger Owens, head of the State Law Enforcement Division’s intelligence operation, told The Post and Courier that his agents had no reports or information that Dylann Storm Roof, the Eastover man arrested in the Emanuel AME Church shooting, might be planning or prone to any violent act.

“He was not on our radar,” Owens said.

“Age of the Wolf,” a recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center of radical violence in the United States, characterized lone wolves as “the very hardest kind of terrorist to stop.”

“In an age of instant communications and ever more tightly knit societies, the lone wolf style of attack is vastly more likely to be successful than the kind that was once literally planned in rooms full of men, sometimes by major group leaders,” the law center study says.

The study counted 63 incidents of hate attacks or planned attacks between April 2009 and February of this year. Of those, 46 — almost three out of four — were the work of lone wolves with no known assistance from others. Just six involved three or more people and just one was planned by a named organization.

Authorities believe Roof acted alone after growing increasingly violent from reading hate-based, racist literature.

In an online, 2,500-word manifesto purported to be Roof’s, he credits writings on the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website for awakening him to black-on-white crime and white separatism.

The site’s webmaster is Kyle Rogers, 38, a Summerville computer engineer and white-rights advocate.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has named Rogers among the radical right’s “30 to watch.” It placed him among a new crop of activist leaders bent on distorting democracy and fomenting racial, ethnic and religious strife. Rogers also serves as an official in the Dorchester County Republican Party.

He operates from a nondescript brown, brick-front ranch in a diverse suburban Summerville neighborhood rife with American flags, where basketball hoops sit in driveways amid a mix of well-kept homes and more run-down ones. A small Palmetto State flag flutters beside the front door.

From there, Rogers said it’s wrong to associate him with Roof’s alleged rampage.

“It’s totally heinous. It’s outrageous. It’s libelous,” said Rogers.

Although the alleged killer credited the Council of Conservative Citizens’ Web writings with inspiring him, Rogers insisted he’s never met Roof and condemned the bloodshed.

“I don’t know Dylann. I have no connection to him at all,” Rogers insisted. “He never ordered any merchandise from me. The only thing in any of his pictures that I actually sell is the American flag that he’s stepping on. I don’t sell those patches. I don’t sell stick flags.”

However, the Web store Rogers operates, patriotic-flags.com, does advertise for sale various types of Confederate flags, starting at $9, and offers the flags of the former white supremacist, apartheid governments of Rhodesia and South Africa, also beginning at $9.

Online photos of Roof show him with a Confederate flag and wearing a jacket with patches of the former Rhodesian and South African flags.

What does Rogers believe is the biggest lie to surface about Roof? “That I inspired him,” Rogers said. He said his writing had nothing to do with Roof’s actions.

Roof is being held on nine counts of murder. In the online manifesto attributed to him, he indicates he was driven to do what he did because no white supremacist organization seemed to be doing anything about black-on-white crime, except for talking about it on the Internet.

“Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world,” the manifesto says, “and I guess that has to be me.”

Owens said SLED operates hate-group intelligence and information gathering as part of its “Fusion Center,” one of many such centers across the country created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack.

The failure of law enforcement to share information was one of the major criticisms of the intelligence and law enforcement communities after 9/11. South Carolina’s Fusion Center was set up to help connect dots between local, state and federal agencies.

Monitoring hate groups and individuals is among its functions. But authorities are limited by federal civil rights laws in just how much they can pry.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also maps hate groups across the United States, listing 784 active groups, including 19 in South Carolina. Among the 19 are the Council of Conservative Citizens, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nation of Islam.

Klan members were linked to the torching of two black churches in Clarendon County in 1996 during a wave of church burnings across the South.

Racist attacks on black churches are not new. In the late 1990s, SLED actively tracked church burnings as hate crimes in cooperation with federal authorities.

SLED has monitored Klan activity and rallies for decades and continues to do so because “they have a long history” of violent behavior, Owens said. But the Klan has been in decline in the state since the late 1990s. Today, however, most hate activity in the state involves individuals or “two to three guys,” Owens said.

He declined to say exactly how SLED monitors hate activity but said the agency investigates crimes, threats and reports of potential criminal activity. South Carolina is one of only five states with no hate crime law.

Besides, until the June 17 killing of nine parishioners at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church, the state hasn’t seen much hate activity in recent years, Owen added.

Indeed, the manifesto attributed to Roof complains about a lack of organized white supremacist groups, a void that online writings are filling. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet,” its writer laments.

Heidi Beirich, the poverty law center’s Intelligence Project director, said the center has been warning for years that law enforcement, and federal law enforcement agencies in particular, have not focused enough since 9/11 on racist, anti-government homegrown violence.

On Monday, the center called on the homeland security committees of the U.S. House and Senate to conduct hearings on the threat of domestic terrorism in the wake of the Charleston church massacre

Lone wolves, such as the Emanuel killer, can go virtually unnoticed because their hate is fueled in the privacy of their homes surfing hate websites, Beirich said. “People who are on hate sites for hours can end up doing this type of thing. Law enforcement must be fully aware.”

For instance, three Pittsburgh police officers responded to a domestic dispute in 2009 only to be gunned down by a highly armed man wearing a bullet-proof vest. The gunman was linked to white supremacist websites and voiced anti-Semitic and anti-government views.

Between 9/11 and 2013, 51 people have been killed across the nation in acts of domestic terrorism, according to figures from National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

Those deaths include six killed in 2012 at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. An Army veteran, who played in a far-right punk band and reportedly had white separatist ties, was shot to death by responding police officers.

“We need to take domestic terrorism seriously, just as seriously as jihadists,” Beirich said.

After all, the online writings that might have inspired Roof to unfathomable violence in Charleston remain online and widely available to fuel potential future lone wolves.

From his Summerville home, Rogers said that since the Emanuel AME shooting, not only media outlets have bombarded him. Regular citizens also have reached out to him — with “mostly support.”

Reach Doug Pardue at 937-5558 and Jennifer Berry Hawes at 937-5563.

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