The ‘lone wolf’ theory implicates us all

The murder of the nine people in a church in Charleston, SC has of course prompted discussions of why anyone would commit such a terrible act. If the killer had been a Muslim, there would be no debate. He would have been immediately branded a terrorist and his motive would have assumed to be that it was driven by his religious beliefs and was part of the war waged by Muslims against the US and civilization in general and Christians in particular.

But in this case the murderer was white and despite his own words asserting a hatred of black people and his desire to spark a civil war, the idea that he was part of a wider movement by white people to eliminate black people is not even considered and people are looking deep into his background to try and figure out his motive to see from where he got the paranoid idea that blacks are taking over the country.

Some Republican presidential candidates and right wing media and commentators seem to be hesitant to ascribe racial animus on his part despite his own clearly stated words published in an online manifesto. It should be noted that the killer hated Jews as well but in their case the ‘problem’ (in his eyes) was that “Jews look white” and are thus presumably hard to distinguish from ‘good whites’.

White supremacist groups have been quick to distance themselves from him and claim that he was a ‘lone wolf’, acting independently of any organization or group of people. The ‘lone wolf’ theory, that he got his idea entirely on his own and was not directly indoctrinated by his association with hate groups, is a popular one whenever the killer belongs to the dominant group.

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People seem to think that the lone wolf theory absolves everyone else from complicity in his actions, but actually it makes it much worse because people do not get their ideas totally out of nowhere. There must be some seed that that was planted and later germinated. This killer’s thinking and actions were not based on some murderous impulse that can be dismissed as a momentary aberration but cold-blooded and premeditated and based on a fairly concrete set of beliefs. If someone has been part of a group that actively propagates a doctrine of racial hatred, then one can understand where their ideas came from.

But if the killer was not being systematically indoctrinated by a group of people, then from where did he arrive at his conclusion that black men are raping white women and that black people are taking over the country and that white people are in danger of being subjugated? Those ideas had to have been planted in his brain from somewhere and in the absence of an identifiable group of people, this means he arrived at them by a process of osmosis, from it seeping into him from the general culture. That is a very disturbing thing to contemplate because that means these poisonous ideas are present in the general culture and thus are being propagated widely and much more subtly than crude propaganda directly targeting individuals. They are thus likely to infect even more people though one hopes that they will not be manifested in such a terrible way.

Many of the so-called Muslim ‘terrorist plots’ in the US that the authorities with great fanfare claim to have foiled turn out to be those that required a lot of coaxing and bribing by government informants and agents to persuade the alleged perpetrators to even become involved in the planning (see here and here). On occasions when individuals in the US decide seemingly on their own that they want to join ISIS or some such group, it is assumed that they have been influenced by some kind of pervasive ideology that has infected the Muslim world. But when we have a killer who does not fit that mold, we are reluctant to ascribe a similar indirect influence.

The existence of ‘lone wolf’ killers means that they get their ideas from the environment unlike those who were entrapped by the government or those who were systematically targeted and indoctrinated by others. The fact that someone is a lone wolf does not exonerate the community at large from responsibility for his actions. If at all, it makes it worse, because not only does it tell us something disturbing about our culture, its diffuse nature makes it much harder to counteract.


  1. doublereed says

    Well, in this case, he directly called out the Council of Conservative Citizens, a known racist hate group, that led him down the rabbit hole of white nationalism.

  2. dogfightwithdogma says

    I have no doubt there is a cultural component here. It does seem to me that there is a cultural meme (lie), spread by the various hate grouups identified on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center ( and annually in their publication Intelligence Report ( , that white people, (white men in particular) are the true oppressed minority and that their oppressors are the other racial and ethnic minorities in our society.

  3. dogfightwithdogma says

    Want to add that this same meme (lie) I mentioned also includes the notion that white people are the rightful owners of America and that this ownership and control of it is under assault from the various ethnic and racial groups, as well as their white progressive liberal supporters. Now, this meme is no longer expressed as overtly as it once was, but I am convinced that it is still there and still just as pernicious.

  4. dogfightwithdogma says

    You and your readers might be interested in the piece written by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. ( Robinson articulates brilliantly the same theme you wrote about today Mano.

    The gunman who so coldly killed those innocent worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church did not exist in a vacuum. He inhaled deeply of the race hatred that constantly bubbles up like foul gas from a sewer.

    Like hateful jihadists, white supremacists use cyberspace as a bulletin board and a meeting place. Come on in, young Mr. Roof, and let us tell you how those black people and those brown people are responsible for everything that’s going wrong in your life.

    The effects of the lie told by these hate groups:

    …lead some whites to feel powerless, aggrieved and victimized.”

    “Our society will end racism when it stops being racist. Not a minute sooner.

    I have no doubt that he is right.

  5. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    Collective responsibility is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It is the foundation of all bigotry and racism. If it is wrong to blame all Muslims for terrorism, it is equally wrong to blame all white people for the behavior of any white killer, which seems to be what you mean by “community” here.

    As should be obvious to any thinking person, most of the people pointing out the alleged disparity between how quickly Muslims are labeled “terrorists” versus whites are more concerned with demonizing whites than they are with justice for Muslims. They remind me of Rush Limbaugh, who once said that the solution to racial disparity in sentencing is to send more white people up the river. People concerned with justice don’t demand that injustice be repeated for the sake of consistency.

    You are also wrong that no one is calling this guy a terrorist. Fox News anchors including Bill O’ Reilly have labeled this guy a “terrorist” as have many politicians and other media sources. The suspect hasn’t been charged with a hate crime or terrorism because South Carolina has no hate crime or terrorism statutes on its books. The DOJ is considering bringing such charges against him on the federal level.

  6. caseloweraz says

    Sean: Collective responsibility is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It is the foundation of all bigotry and racism. If it is wrong to blame all Muslims for terrorism, it is equally wrong to blame all white people for the behavior of any white killer, which seems to be what you mean by “community” here.

    It looks to me like you’re missing the concept of degrees of responsibility. To take an off-topic example, I am responsible to some degree for global warming, because I use electricity which is generated by burning coal. However, this is not the same degree of responsibility as that of someone who insists burning coal is not a problem. If I call that someone out, am I demonizing everyone who uses electricity? No, I am not.

  7. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    Degree of responsibility is the polar opposite of collective responsibility. Blanket condemnations do not allow for nuanced apportion of blame. Are you trying to claim that all white people are racist and therefore share blame to varying degrees? If not, why talk of degrees of responsibility for people who have zero responsibility for what happened.

  8. caseloweraz says

    Try to think of a middle ground. Of course, not all white people are racists. However, a good many are, to varying degrees. In the aggregate, the latter group form a community which endorses racism — again, to varying degrees. No member of that community is responsible for Dylann Roof’s crime. Very few would even consider murdering blacks. They are nevertheless responsible for condoning a culture which changes the subject when a clearly racist crime such as Roof’s occurs.

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