Unfortunately, Dylann Roof wasn’t an outlier — there are hundreds more like him.
The FBI has arrested about an equal number of foreign and domestic suspected terrorists this year, and Director Christopher Wray said last week that a “majority of the domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”
Like the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting in 2012.
Or the 2014 Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting in Kansas.
And the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston.
Hate and violence is on the rise, and politicians and people on social media need to stop encouraging it. Because it’s clearly having an effect.
In May, The Washington Post reported that the FBI’s counterterrorism division is investigating 850 cases of suspected domestic terrorism. Forty percent of those cases involved “racially motivated violent extremists” — most of them white supremacists.
As Charleston knows all too well, racism is nothing new. There always has been, and will be, people who can only make themselves feel good by believing they are better than someone else.
The trouble is, these days the internet allows these misguided souls to share their hatred, conspiracy theories and loony ideas with others of the same ilk more efficiently than ever.
And in some cases, such as Roof’s, it’s part of what drives them to kill people.
On Sunday, there was a mass shooting at a California festival. A man not old enough to buy beer was nevertheless allowed to purchase a semi-automatic rifle — which he used to kill three people and wound 12 others before police stopped him.
Early reports say that, just before the shooting, the now-deceased suspect posted some recommended reading on social media: a 19th century book that promoted racial prejudice.
If it turns out the shooter was driven by the same misguided motivations as Roof, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Wray reported this alarming trend on a very public stage: Lindsey Graham’s Senate Judiciary Committee. But that news was drowned out by politicians calling each other racists.
At exactly the moment everyone needs to more carefully choose what they say.
This certainly isn’t the first time in our history that politicians have employed racism for gain; it’s just now amplified by the echo chambers of cable news and social media. These days, it’s hard to browse Facebook or Twitter without seeing ill-informed — and usually illiterate — hate speech masquerading as political discourse. That’s dangerous, because it only emboldens people of ill intent.
There aren’t two sides here. Criticizing racism isn’t racist, no matter how much some politicians try to deflect and project. Just like the men marching through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” weren’t good people; they were just ignorant.
Even Roof had a brief recognition that his worldview was askew. He told investigators that the folks in the Emanuel Bible study were so nice to him he almost didn’t go through with his plans for mass murder. Almost.
That’s because people aren’t born racist; it’s a learned behavior. And now, it’s shared on social media.
That is the real threat to freedom these days. It is now impossible to go anywhere in this country — a church, a park, a store — without the chance that you’ll run into someone consumed with a lethal mix of hate, anger and a gun fetish.
It’s time that politicians, and everyone else, stop encouraging these aspiring terrorists with their hateful rhetoric and bile.
One Dylann Roof was one too many.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.