By Henry Rollins
Suddenly, several mornings ago, there were photos of Dylann Roof, a miserable-looking South Carolina man with a bowl haircut, on almost every news site. You already know what he has been accused of doing and reached your conclusions about it with great speed.
Leading politicians were asked for opinions on what had happened. Ex-governor of Texas and 2016 presidential hopeful Rick Perry, in an interview with Newsmax TV, characterized the alleged deeds of Mr. Roof as an accident. An aide later said that Mr. Perry meant to say “incident.” I’ll take the aide at his word, but either term is a strange way to categorize what happened.
Before more was known about the now-infamous Dylann Roof, there was a noticeably halting manner in the statements from politicians and in the reportage by media outlets. Some of them seemed unwilling to bring up the idea that this attack on a Bible study class at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a single white male, which left nine African-Americans dead, had a racial element.
One of the first things known about the event, besides the number of casualties, came from a witness who heard Roof say, “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go.” That sounds pretty racially pointed to me.
I wondered if it was a case of all concerned trying to come up with a way to package and roll this out to America and the world. I wondered if they were playing for time as they strategized the best way to “sell” it.
As we learned more about Roof, it became all but impossible to argue that he didn’t have a strong racial bias. Within a day, several photos emerged of Roof holding a Confederate flag, burning an American flag and, most interesting to me, posing in a sports jersey with the number 88 on it. H is the eighth letter of the alphabet and 88 is used by white supremacists as shorthand for “Heil Hitler.”
Within several hours of the killings, South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley came under scrutiny for flying the Confederate flag on the state capitol grounds. Growing up in America, you have seen the “stars and bars” flag, patch, sticker, etc., more than once. It means different things to different people. For some, it’s a symbol of slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws and a horrific past. For others, it speaks to heritage and identity.
South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged that the flag is symbolically a “part of who we are” but also said it was time to take the flag down. He said, “The problems we’re having in South Carolina and around the world aren’t because of a symbol but because of what’s in people’s hearts,” which I think was spot on. He went on to say, “I hope that, by removing the flag, we can take another step towards healing and recognition — and a sign that South Carolina is moving forward.”
I read people’s posts underneath articles online. I believe them. People log on with relative anonymity, so I think they actually say what’s on their minds. From the hundreds of posts I have read, everyone got blamed for what happened. The NRA, the president, the GOP, liberals, gun owners, those who favor more gun control — all of them were set upon.
I think the problem is much bigger than an offensive flag, or the number of guns in America. If Gov. Haley can get her request past the state’s politicians and get the flag removed, sales of the flag in all forms will increase. If you were to magically remove 50 percent of all the guns in America and make it impossible for more to be manufactured, there would still be enough for anyone to acquire one easily.
I couldn’t stop looking at the photographs of Dylann Roof. The disconnected gaze and the dead-end misery in his face was as big an indicator as any flag he was holding, or anything in the “manifesto” that recently surfaced, said to be written by him.
As is true with anyone, there is more to Roof’s story. Maybe he couldn’t meet girls. Maybe he was interested in something else and was unable to handle it. His roommate claimed that Roof was talking about doing harm to people six months ago, yet it seems the roommate didn’t tell anyone. As far as all the disturbing pictures, who took them? Unless you agree with Roof’s purported point of view, wouldn’t you want to have a word with someone so obviously disturbed?
Could it be that Roof took all of his pain and confusion and assigned it to racial hatred? Is it possible that if Roof had stayed in school, a sharp teacher could have seen his distress and done something? In a country so full of people, why was Roof so alone?
It’s not guns, flags and revisionist coatings of the past that are the biggest dangers. It’s the low-hanging fruit of racism. It comes so logically to some in America. It is such an easily accessible ignorance, so well bolstered by ridiculous theories on the Internet, which Roof’s “manifesto” was such a perfect example of.
When you remove the education of the citizens of your country as a top-tier priority, claim “racism is over” and just blame others when things go so tragically wrong, you get a Dylann Roof. He is made in America. He’s not from Mars. He’s one of ours.
Chances are that Dylann Roof will be found guilty and die in prison, one way or another. He’s as good as dead already. He was dead before he entered that church.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.
Friday, July 3, 2015
from my old friend, via the L.A. Weekly