When incendiary rhetoric provokes deadly actions

The Guardian newspaper had a detailed report on the horrific murder on Wednesday night of nine black people in a Charleston, SC church by a 21-year old white man who, unbelievably, spent an hour praying with his victims before opening fire on them.

What is incredible is the effort by some people to suggest that since the killer shot his victims in a church, that this may be part of the persecution of Christians in America, an idea that is comparable in its level of delusion with the killer’s reported statement to the son of one of the survivors that “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” With that statement, Facebook photographs showing him proudly wearing a vest with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and his car carrying Confederate flag license plates, how could people like Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, Rudy Giuliani and others on Fox News, and yet more people suggest that the motives were anti-religion or anything other than racist ones?

The killer had made other statements confirming his racist intent.

The 21-year-old accused of killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, had been “planning something like that for six months”, his roommate has revealed, as friends recalled Dylann Roof’s tirades against African Americans “taking over the world” and his desire to ignite “a civil war”.

Joseph Meek Jr, a childhood friend who saw Roof the morning of the shooting, said the pair had never discussed race growing up. But when they recently reconnected, Roof told him “blacks were taking over the world [and] someone needed to do something about it for the white race”, he told the Associated Press.

“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.”

A roommate, Dalton Tyler, said Roof had been “planning something like that for six months”.

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

A high school contemporary, John Mullins, told the Daily Beast: “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.” But now, he said, it seemed that “the things he said were kind of not joking”.

Let’s be brutally frank. What this act reveals is merely an extreme form of the paranoia that has been deliberately fueled by the incendiary rhetoric of the Republican party and Fox News that white Christian people in the US are besieged and under serious threat of subjugation by a black president, black people who are leeching off white people, invading hordes of Hispanics from across the border, and Muslims both here and abroad. The killer has the same views as the teacher who made an impassioned rant to Rick Santorum to save her from tyranny, except that he decided to do something about it rather than just talk.

Another incredible fact was that the killer’s father had given his son a Colt 45 revolver for his 21st birthday in April. This is not a hunting rifle, it is a powerful handgun. Why would you give such a present like that to someone who, as far as we know, was facing no conceivable threat to his own safety? Feeding people’s paranoia and combining it with easy access to deadly weapons is a recipe for producing this kind of tragedy.

One would hope that these murders would result in people who indulge in this kind of delusional fear mongering realize what a dangerous climate they are creating and ceasing to do so voluntarily or being strongly criticized if they continue. But unfortunately, we have enough enablers of such people in high places.

The event was so devastating that Jon Stewart just could not bring himself to write and deliver jokes for his show. Instead he spent his opening monologue reflecting on what happened, what it says about race relations in this country, and giving his dismal prediction that this will not spur any significant introspection and reform but that there will be no shortage of empty rhetoric trying to minimize the meaning of this abhorrent act and implying that this was just another isolated attack, nothing to see here, move along. I am afraid that he may be right.

This could well be one of his best monologues and I urge you to watch it in full.

(This clip aired on June 18, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I wonder — is there any conceivable statute by which the father could also be tried? If he had ever heard his son make threats or express violent threats towards strangers, then he would seem equally culpable.

  2. raym says

    I found this excellent comment by NY Times reader “Bystander”:

    ” … we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,’ the governor said.”

    Indulge me as I throw out a couple hypotheticals:

    • Hysterical, paranoid gun culture enabled by states trying to outdo each other with permissiveness

    • Hysterical, hate-mongering right-wing TV “news,” talk show hosts, web sites

    • Foaming-at-the-mouth incitements to racism

    • Continued un- and underemployment

    Most of these could be addressed by people of intelligence and good will. I wonder where we could find some.

  3. Pen says

    I think that since a small number of people with a massive lack of intelligence and good will can do a massive amount of damage, it may be necessary to consider hate speech laws. And gun control. And regulated capitalism. Unfortunately, I also think getting those in place is going to require more than intelligence and good will.

  4. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
    Sounds very much like the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who was afraid of Muslims. It will be interesting to hear if they visited the same internet sites.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    Pen @3:

    …Unfortunately, I also think getting those in place is going to require more than intelligence and good will.

    Much, much more. Guns and ‘free speech’ have become fetishized in the US, and capital owns the government and the election process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *