A Most American Terrorist
August 21, 2017 12:58 PM   Subscribe

[Dylan] Roof was safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers, it is never twisted out for meaning, we never identify its “handlers,” and we could not force him to do a thing. He remained inscrutable. He remained in control, just the way he wanted to be.
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah on what created Dylann Roof.
posted by AceRock (28 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
Benn Roof never showed up at his son's trial. (Contacted later, Benn Roof declined to participate in this story further, describing it as “fake news.”)

Of course he fucking did.

"This makes me uncomfortable, I'm going to deny it's existence." Mr. Roof, those folks are still dead by your son's hand, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:07 PM on August 21, 2017 [35 favorites]


This piece is fantastic. Wrenching and heartbreaking and terrifying but so clear sighted. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah has done an incredible job with the research and the writing.
posted by harujion at 1:14 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Well wrought, and so fucking sad, especially the very last sentence.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


One of the most accurate things on the internet. Thank you.
posted by Melismata at 2:00 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Nothing in his fucked-up study of black history had ever hipped him to this: The long life of a people can use their fugitivity, their grief, their history for good. This isn't magic, this is how it was, and how it will always be. This is how we keep our doors open.
Amen, amen, and amen.
posted by Sequence at 2:32 PM on August 21, 2017 [15 favorites]


Excellent piece. Thank you, AceRock.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2017


Thank you. This was some really incredible writing.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 3:15 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is extremely well-written. I really can't get over how surreal it feels to read about Pepe being casually referred to as a white supremacist symbol in a mainstream publication when I was around to watch its initial spread and evolution. It made me remember one type of /r9k/ denizen four or five years ago. They sounded exactly like what this article describes.
posted by goner at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


"Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church on June 17, 2015, armed with a Glock handgun and 88 bullets."
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:38 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


. . . . . . . . .

Thanks for sharing, this was very well written and powerful.
posted by sockermom at 3:40 PM on August 21, 2017


Thanks for sharing. Beautifully written with the strongest emotional undercurrent possible.
posted by lilies.lilies at 4:31 PM on August 21, 2017


This writing was really great.
posted by value of information at 4:41 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


"In Charleston, I learned about what happens when whiteness goes antic and is removed from a sense of history. It creates tragedies where black grandchildren who have done everything right have to testify in court to the goodness of the character of their slain 87-year-old grandmother because some unfettered man has taken her life. But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. "
posted by storybored at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


It's like he spent so much of his life turning people into things (first in his imagination then literally) that he became a thing himself.

Not to fall into "history is tragic, too" trap, because he had all the agency, and killed those people for the weakest and worst of reasons, but destroying both others and yourself for aimless hate...
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:47 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


My God, what extraordinary writing. Thank you for the link. I hope she does a book tour so I can meet her.
posted by jasper411 at 7:18 PM on August 21, 2017


I don't know, it sounds like the guy has at least three serious mental illnesses, which were likely exaggerated by the culture of hate he was stepping himself in. He has enough agency to be punished, but he also deserves to be helped, like any human being. Instead, he will be denied any sort of treatment until he finally gets his legal injection. It's a goddamned tragedy from unnecessary beginning to stomach churning end.
posted by wierdo at 8:16 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


The guy was from a very messed up family and thus has some very significant mental problems. I feel like this writer's trying too hard to pack too much into this lunatic.
posted by resurrexit at 8:26 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Wow.
posted by ramix at 9:34 PM on August 21, 2017


This was very good, thank you. I thought she did a good job of talking about the social and familial stresses that helped make Roof what he became, partly through describing her own journey through South Carolina. For those of us outside the US it remains a shock when we read about the naked brutality of slavery's legacy in the south and helps to explain the scenes we saw from Charlotteville last week. Most of us are never really in direct contact with that side of America and it remains an abstraction until we read articles like this.
posted by tavegyl at 12:21 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


“I'm going to leave you here to tell the story.”

Sounds like a dramatic line from a cheap novel.
posted by pracowity at 1:36 AM on August 22, 2017


y'know, as a person with autism and various other mental health issues, I gotta say-- fuck this dude entirely. I feel like there's more I wanna say to that, but I'm not articulate enough to do so.

this was some fantastic writing. thank you for posting.
posted by dogheart at 2:36 AM on August 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


He has enough agency to be punished, but he also deserves to be helped, like any human being. Instead, he will be denied any sort of treatment until he finally gets his legal injection. It's a goddamned tragedy from unnecessary beginning to stomach churning end.

It is. But given how many black men and boys are imprisoned every day, often on false pretense, held for unconstitutionally high bail, beaten by guards, driven insane, and forgotten by people like us... I'm gonna reserve my care for those men. Not for a young man whose brutal acts will never be used by the men who guard him as an excuse to beat him. Sorry. Can't do it.
posted by palomar at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2017 [12 favorites]


The most troubling part about Roof is how much of a howling void his inner world seems to be. His psyche is not so much a blank slate as it is a hole. There doesn't seem to be any depth to the white supremacy he espoused. It was just a convenient wad of material to temporarily fill the hole. In his environment, it was what was at hand, easy to pick up and put on. Like how firearms are so easily available in the US, and that ease leads to murder after murder, so is the philosophical equivalent, white hate, always at hand in this country.

The article was a great read, full of a passionately angry need to try and understand.
posted by picea at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


That Roof's crime was a metastasization of socially acceptable racism into something more rugged and violent was what for most southerners signaled his outsiderness. He'd killed because he was trash, they said. But in Columbia, during the trial, the gossip about what some said was the real reason had blown around the city like an ugly, chilly storm wind. And it was how some of those who knew the Roof family made sense of the crime.
They said that a rape had occurred of someone close to Dylann Roof at the hands of a group of black men, and while it had been kept a secret, there was a possibility that Roof had found out and decided to seek payback on the most cowardly terms. This was why he kept saying things like “I had to do it,” and why he told the nine victims, who were predominantly women, that “they were raping our women.”

Folks said, one after another, that they felt compelled to tell me about it because they wanted to rip the cloak of silence away from Dylann. They felt like those families in Charleston needed to know the truth. If the story was true—that someone in Roof's life was sexually assaulted and, because of that, he went into a church and rendered such complete destruction on nine innocent bodies—it was such an old, foundational excuse. It was a kind of twisted mythology birthed long ago in this nation, one that had been leaned on to absolve guilty white men of their crimes on the innocent for centuries.

As they saw it, this story of a fraudulent “revenge” placed Roof in his proper lineage. He had joined the long line of white men who thought the letting loose of black blood, the finding and maiming of random black lives, could somehow reprieve and rescue a white woman's honor while securing a white man's position. These men, like Roof, weren’t victims, they weren’t knights in an honorable war, they were murderers and mercenaries who were searching for their Tara, and someone to blame and punish for their decline and all of their worldly grievances.
Watch Whiteness work.
posted by AceRock at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2017 [11 favorites]


But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished.

I'm sorry but this is some ripe fucking bullshit. I have great respect for the resilience some people are able to show in the face of wickedness, but being able to eternally absorb terrible anguish is NOT the way out of bondange and black Americans' grace cannot be our ability to continually absorb bullshit.
posted by dame at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


I find myself really disappointed with how the author treats mental illness in the article. Which on the whole was great, which is why I read so far to get to the points that bugged me.

On the one hand, I'm glad to move outside the "he's crazy, his actions don't count". But her refusal to acknowledge the reality of his mental health leads us astray at two points:

1. She conflates his depression with laziness, and laziness with worthiness. He had done nothing with his life, and these black Christians were so important and needed in their lives. It's a gross stereotype and cheap metaphor that obscures more than it exposes. Depression isn't laziness. And there was nothing lazy about his obsessive planning.

We can still say that because of his choices, he lived a life that was worthless. But those choices were falling down a white supremacist rabbit hole and shooting up a black church. Not going home and staring at the wall in a depressive stupor.

2. She does it again with the quote from the Southern Poverty Law Center expert. Roof is different from many radicalized white supremacists by refusing to really socialize and collaborate with other white supremacists. This isn't too surprising given both depression and autism. It doesn't explain his radicalization, but rather why his radicalization looks different from neurotypical white supremacists.

This is where she could drive home the fact that white supremacy is not the result of mental illness, but a rational ideology that is baked into the American fabric. Instead she dismisses the expert, and paints up a specter of a new type of white supremacist. It undermines the Southern Poverty Law Center, and makes them seem like they're out of touch without any evidence to that effect. It's strange how much it mimics the terrible crime reporting responsible for stoking fears of black super predators to bolster more extreme Law and Order policies.
posted by politikitty at 5:11 PM on August 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Wow I'm kinda drunk but it seems like people in this thread seem super unwilling to reckon with the central message of the piece, which is how Dylann Roof is of a continuous line with a Southern American legacy of anti-Black terrorism regardless of his possible non-neurotypicality, but you guys do you I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by en forme de poire at 8:16 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Like sorry if I said that unelegantly but I think people who are trying to make this story about mental health are drastically missing the fucking point
posted by en forme de poire at 8:18 PM on August 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


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