June 20, 2015; Los Angeles Times
Last week, we wondered how a young man like Dylann Roof could come to harbor the ugly, horrific attitudes that prompted him to massacre nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in an act of unbridled racial terrorism. Now that more information has emerged about the 21-year-old killer, the nonprofit organizations that spew the sort of racial animus that attracted Roof are coming to the fore.
Several outlets are reporting on an unsigned manifesto of racial hatred posted on a website called LastRhodesian.com, apparently registered to Roof. According to Richard Cohen—no relation—who heads the Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks hate groups, the language in the manifesto was lifted from materials of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the “modern incarnation” of the old network of White Citizens Council organizations that organized to oppose integration in cities throughout the South—and beyond.
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Although the CCC received renewed attention and web hits after the killings of unarmed black men Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, it seems to be laying low after the Charleston massacre. According to several news reports, the entire website of the Council was taken down after the Emanuel AME Church killings. Apparently, Roof said that one of the events that prompted him along his murderous trail was George Zimmerman’s killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in purported self-defense, a popular subject that drew much attention to the CCC in 2012 as it focused on the issue of black-on-white crime.
Even if he did lift language from the CCC for his racial manifesto, one cannot infer that no other hate groups influenced him on his path. For example, the Washington Post interviewed Pat Hines, the South Carolina chairman of the League of the South, an organization that calls for a white-led society, who said that the League couldn’t have been responsible because neither Roof nor his parents were on the League’s “rolls or directories,” though he was somehow able to also assert that Roof didn’t appear to be a member of any white supremacist organization.
Hines’s comment suggests that hate groups may not be isolated entities operating alone. Rather, they have enough interconnections to create a web of Internet-accessible hatred through their multiple offerings to susceptible people like Roof. The Southern Poverty Law Center counts 784 active hate groups across the nation, 19 in South Carolina. One of those is Patriotic Flags, the web store run by the Council of Conservative Citizens’ webmaster/spokesperson Kyle Rogers, which sells Rhodesian flags like the one whose image was sewn into Roof’s jacket in the now well-publicized Facebook photo.
Plenty of groups out there are taking their own tacks toward attracting Dylann Roof–types and inculcating into them the vicious racism that Roof acted on, even if they take pains, like Hines did, to suggest that they would not encourage or condone killings like the Emanuel church massacre. The presence of so many groups on the SPLC list should be a reminder of how pervasive the ideology of racist hate groups is in this country, and how much work has to be done to undo the racial hatred they sell to Roof and others.—Rick Cohen