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Terrorism or a Hate Crime? The Case of Dylann Storm Roof Essay

Updated August 8, 2022

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Terrorism or a Hate Crime? The Case of Dylann Storm Roof Essay essay

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Dylann Storm Roof, born in Columbia, South Carolina, is described as “quiet” and “zoned out” by former co-workers, classmates, and teachers. His parents, like many other married couples, divorced before he was even born. He is a high school dropout, and his former friend, Caleb Brown, recalls him as being “dull” and not all there at times. (Ghansah 2017). There is no record of Dylann Roof being bullied by peers of different races, or any reason at all really that psychologists, criminal investigators, or other professionals can identify as what pushed Roof to develop this way of thinking and adopt the ideologies that he did. Roof was not bashful about his hatred for others, even attracting the attention of retired psychologist Dr. Thomas Hiers after posting on Craigslist that he [Roof] was seeking for someone to accompany him for a tour of Charleston with only a few requirements- no Jews, gays, or African Americans.

Hiers, with no success, attempted to get through to Roof and help him. Maybe if he had- this tragedy would have been prevented. (Ghansah 2017). Though many other young adults have gone through similar struggles and upbringings, it is rare for them to act out in the extreme fashion that Roof did. Dylann Roof made a name for himself and changed the lives of many in just one evening.

On April 11, he went to Shooter’s Choice, a gun store located in South Carolina. There, he chose his weapon of choice- a .45-caliber pistol. He lied about his criminal record on the application, and on April 16, became the brand new owner of a fire arm. This is where another opportunity to prevent this tragedy from happening was missed. The FBI failed to complete a background check and deny Roof’s application within the three days that they are given before the fire arms dealer is able to go ahead and finish the sale themselves. (Ghansah 2017). This is only one of the areas that needs to be reevaluated after Dylann Roof showed us what can happen when guns get into the wrong hands.

Roof, who was twenty-one at the time, walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located in Charleston, South Carolina (Boyce & Brayda). It was night time around 9:00 pm on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 (Norris 2017). He sat with them, participated in their Bible study, and was welcomed by them. Even though it was considered a predominantly black church, they ignored the fact that he was white and let him join them in their worship. Then, after about forty-five minutes, he stood up and pulled the .45 caliber handgun he purchased only a few months prior from the backpack he brought with him (Inwood & Alderman 2016). He began shooting the very same people who welcomed him into their church and had shown him nothing but kindness and acceptance not even an hour before.

Dylann Roof murdered Reverend Clementa Pinckney first, who was not only a preacher but also a state senator. He then moved on to shoot veteran Daniel Simmons, eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson, Tywanza Sanders, mothers Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Depayne Middleton-Doctor, leader Myra Thompson, librarian Cynthia Hurd, and the mother of a child with special needs, Ethel Lance. Polly Sheppard, the only one who Dylann Roof intentionally allowed to live, was a 72-year-old retired nurse. He left her alive as a witness, someone who could tell the story of what he had done. (Ghansah 2017). Every single one of these victims were important to somebody, they were family and friends, coworkers and neighbors; but to Dylann Roof, they were just black.

Roof spent a lot of time on the internet searching for people and groups who thought like him, shared the same hate he had, and justifying the terrible views he created about others. He made statements on his website, “The Last Rhodesian,” implying that the United States was being taken over by non-whites. The whites were losing their well-deserved spot at the top of the totem pole and were becoming “outnumbered”. Dylann Roof is quoted as saying to Tywanza Sanders in the midst of the massacre, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Roof saw himself as a protector of white women, saving them from the sins of interracial relationships. (Boyce & Brayda). He, along with many other white supremacists, fear the “extinction” of the white race. Whites should have children with whites to keep the dominant race alive. Dylann Roof was attempting to begin a race war, where the whites would reclaim their dominance and power (Boyce & Brayda). Roof’s father, Bennett Roof, said that he did not know what happened to Dylann, but that he was not raised to act or think that way (Ghansah 2017).

Though many White Supremacist groups do not take responsibility for encouraging Roof’s actions or openly support what he has done, they share a lot of the same ideologies as him. He credits the Council of Conservative Citizens for his “racial awakening”. (Brown 2017). Even alt-right member Richard Spencer acknowledged that Roof was able to think critically and was not necessarily crazy. Both Spencer and Jared Taylor, another alt-right member, admitted that Roof’s stated concerns and grievances in his manifesto were “legitimate”. (Brown 2017). This in itself is concerning- there are people who justify Roof’s racism and agree with the way he views non-whites. If there are more people out there who feel as strongly as he did towards African Americans and other racial groups, then there are more people out there who are capable of committing violent acts like this.

Terrorism or a hate crime? Some controversy and conflicting arguments surfaced after FBI Director James Comey stated that he did not believe the church shooting qualified as an act of terrorism. Roof was charged with and ultimately sentenced to die for his hate crimes, which are defined in Jesse Norris’s article “Why Dylann Roof is a Terrorist Under Federal Law, and Why It Matters” as “attacks that are unplanned and unconnected to broader ideological objectives.” The fact that he brought the gun with him to the church meant there was at least a minor amount of planning that occurred leading up to it- so does it honestly fall under the given definition of a hate crime? The twenty-one-year-old White Supremacist earned the awful, but to him probably somewhat rewarding, title of the first person to receive a death sentence for a federal hate crime in the entirety of the United States’ history (Ghansah 2017).

The Charleston church tragedy sparked debate across the country about whether to keep or take down Confederate symbols from the Civil War. Honorary statues of soldiers, Confederate flags, and other tokens displayed from the war that determined the status of slavery are a sad reminder to those who would rather not glorify this nation’s racist history. To those like Dylann Roof, Confederate symbols are a reminder of the time when this country was at its best. The whites were in their rightful place at the top. To those who are not fueled by hatred, Confederate symbols are a reminder of the time when this country was run on racism. And to others, it’s simply just a display of history like any other statue. Due to conflicting views on what these symbols represent, some statues such as one in New Orleans depicting General Robert E. Lee have since been removed, while others remain. (Weeden 2017).

In a way, Roof stirred up debates and created an opportunity for people to ask long overdue questions regarding what our nation stands for. It is a sad time when it takes tragedy to listen to those who have been speaking out for years. Many of those who support the Confederate flag claim that they support other aspects of the Civil War and what it represents, not necessarily the White Supremacy or slavery part (Weeden 2017). For Dylann Roof, seen posing in a picture released by The New York Times with the Confederate flag in one hand and a gun in the other, possibly the exact same one he used to take the lives of nine African American churchgoers, the latter is what the flag means to him.

After the racially motivated mass shooting, Karen Till encouraged people to remember these events. Even though it can be uncomfortable to talk about racism and violence, it is important not to forget and allow to happen again. Many people hope that this tragedy will encourage the start of improvement and change, and that the removal of Confederate symbols is a step forward. (Inwood & Alderman 2016). Though taking down the statues and the flag is a relief to some, it is still important that the country is not allowed to just “erase” and ignore its violent past. It is important to recognize fault and avoid similar patterns.

These things are happening and going unnoticed regularly. Dylann Roof’s friends have even said that he [Roof] had mentioned “shooting up a college,” used derogatory terms to refer to individuals and groups of a different race, and even talked about killing people- but that nobody took what he was saying seriously (Ghansah 2017). Roof is quoted as saying “…no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well, someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me” (Meloy 2016). This needs to be an eye-opener. Pay attention to what is going on around you, the threats that people are making, the way people talk about other people. There were plenty of warning signs and opportunities for this to have been prevented. Use this tragedy as a learning experience, a way to identify potential threats, and an incentive to help stop this from happening again. Too many people are experiencing hatred and unacceptance solely due to the way that they look and how they identify.

Risk factors to look for as listed in the article, “Identifying Warning Behaviors of the Individual Terrorist,” include researching, planning, and preparation of an attack, getting involved with weapons and relating to known attackers, acting out violently, having a sudden energy burst, telling others about their plans, display desperation and distress, and sending an outright threat as a warning to the target or law enforcement. (Meloy 2016). Roof demonstrated almost every single one of these warning signs. He bought a gun, researched the perfect target, displayed his association with White Supremacist groups, was suddenly traveling and touring Charleston rather than isolating himself in his room, made brief mention to his friends about his murderous thoughts, and then acted out in violence (Ghansah 2017).

Dylann Roof and the actions he took on June 17, 2015 sparked conversations all over the country about gun control, Confederate symbols, the trials and tribulations experienced by African Americans still today, and the racism in this country that continues to surface and cause pain and suffering.

Terrorism or a Hate Crime? The Case of Dylann Storm Roof Essay essay

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