Ignorance is Bliss: The Charleston Shooting

BY: ANAND TAYAL, CONTRIBUTOR

Nine people were killed in a shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 18th 2015.  The church members were participating in their weekly bible study when Dylan Roof  began shooting at an unarmed congregation.  

The nation, regardless of race or political affiliation, initially went into a period of mourning for the victims and their families.  Unfortunately, that mourning soon devolved into political warfare over whether or not the shooting was racially motivated.  This is particularly mind-blowing considering the evidence gathered by the police into Roof’s past.

Roof’s sparse Facebook page, now taken down, showed an image of Roof apparently flaunting his belief in white supremacy by wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which fought a bitter civil war against black majority rule.  Another Facebook photo of Roof sitting on the roof of his car showed an ornamental license plate with a Confederate flag on it. 

Joseph Meek Jr. told the Associated Press that he and Roof were best friends in middle school, then reconnected a few weeks ago when Roof reached out to Meek on Facebook. Meek says Roof had begun ranting about the murders of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray.

“He said blacks were taking over the world. Someone needed to do something about it for the white race,” Meek said. “He said he wanted segregation between whites and blacks. I said, ‘That’s not the way it should be.’ But he kept talking about it.”

Roommate Dalton Tyler told ABC News that Roof was “planning something like that for six months.” “He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

He made racist jokes, wore patches with flags of racist states and is alleged to have killed 9 black people and yet influential and prominent conservatives just can’t understand the shooter’s motive.

“I don’t know what was on the mind of the Charleston shooter” was Jeb Bush’s stance in an interview with the Huffington Post.  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum offered a similar rationale and even tried to spin the killing as an attack on religious freedom. Santorum claimed on New York’s AM 970 that, “It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be?” Santorum said. “You talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.”  While it’s disheartening to see men who want to lead our country clearly avoiding evidence in order to push their political agendas, Fox News has most consistently casted doubt on the motive of Dylan Roof.

Analysts on Fox News floated the theory on Thursday that the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night was motivated by religious animosity toward Christians, rather than by racism.

Host Steve Doocy suggested on “Fox & Friends” that religion was the likely motivation for the terrorist attack. 

“Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime,” Doocy said in an interview with a pastor Thursday morning. “And some look at it as, well, it’s because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church. But you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility toward Christians, and it was in a church, so maybe that’s what it was about.”

Doocy’s co-host, Brian Kilmeade, also tried to cast doubt on the idea that the gunman, whom authorities believe to be 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was motivated by race, asking a guest, “Is it a church that has white congregants as well as black?”

Early Thursday morning, Fox News host Heather Childers acknowledged that officials are treating the shooting as a hate crime, but wondered, “Could the shooter have been motivated by pure hatred for religion?”  Fox News may find solace in the fact that they share the same stance as the Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.  It makes sense for white nationalist organizations to fear the killer being one of their own but why Fox News and important politicians?  

I don’t believe its because Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, and Fox News are all racists, but rather because acknowledging violent racism reveres its long and shameful history in the United States.  Instead, the Republican party in particular promotes and flaunts American exceptionalism, which is the idea that America is inherently better than everyone else.  

 Yet exceptionalism ignores that the United States engaged in the transatlantic slave trade, utilized slavery to build this country, and passed discriminatory measures to create a system that historically has kept black people from progressing. Tragedies like the Charleston shooting link the present to past racial atrocities.

A violent attack on a peaceful black church in 2015 is a scary reminder of the bombing of the 16th Street Church in 1963 by the Ku Klux Klan.  The police brutality in the cases of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray terrifyingly resemble that of the Selma marches.  Ignoring or skirting around the deep racial divide that exists within our country, only allows for the gap to grow.

Another issue brought about by the Charleston shooting that the United States has been ignoring for decades is right wing terrorism.  Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.

In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012. 

Additionally, a separate report done by the FBI revealed that,  only a small percentage of terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by Muslims.”

So why have we spent trillions of dollars and waged two international wars against Muslim countries and ignored right wing terrorism?  It’s because we’ve tried to single out our enemies, whether it be the Japanese during World War II, the Russians during the Cold War, or Muslims and blacks throughout the last decade.  

This allows the United States to focus its efforts on a singular group of people, country, or ideology.  However, this becomes problematic when someone like “a young white male” from South Carolina massacres a church. Dylan Roof is then not classified with words we use to describe the enemy like “terrorist” or “thug”, but rather as mentally ill. 

 The United States’ ignorance toward right wing terrorism and the racial divide in within its borders allows tragedies like the killing of Michael Brown, the murder of Freddie Gray, and the Charleston shooting to occur.