Charleston: White Supremacy, Black Lives, and Red Blood

I’ve watched and read the public reaction to the slaughter of nine people–nine African American people–by a white supremacist gunman who warrants the description of a terrorist. As I read that commentary, I wonder how people would react if the gunman was a black male and the victims were white.

Make no mistake about it: such a terrorist act is the logical if extreme outcome of white supremacy and intolerance. Apparently, reasons this particular white supremacist gunman, if you can’t own them, exploit them, or remove them, you kill them.

As one might expect, the gunman’s fondness for Confederate heritage has become a focus of discussion. We’ve had people calling for the banning of Confederate flags as symbols of hate while certain defenders of Confederate heritage, sometimes after offering perfunctory statements of regret, rush to disassociate their cause from this mass murder or to offer other explanations for the gunman’s behavior. That’s to be expected, and it is to be regretted. We’ve had far too much discussion of the Confederate flag, both by people who hate it and people who love it, that trivialize the whole matter by turning it into a screaming match between extremes. Thoughtful commentary flounders in such environments, precisely because both sides will assail it.

It’s Sunday. If you haven’t already done so, think about the victims and their families and friends. Pray for those who have suffered. And think before you respond … because if you think that this whole matter can be reduced to whether we should allow the display of the Confederate flag, you really aren’t advancing the discussion very far.

38 thoughts on “Charleston: White Supremacy, Black Lives, and Red Blood

  1. Stefan Jovanovich June 21, 2015 / 4:50 am

    I hope the labels comfort you. They have to be good for something.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 21, 2015 / 6:27 am

      I prize accuracy. Let us call things by their right names. Not to do so might comfort someone at the expense of truth, but to each his own.

      • Stefan Jovanovich June 21, 2015 / 7:31 am

        Categories are not biographies. Your “accuracy” is based on watching TV and reading the instant typing of print journalists under deadline. “The news” will always resort to headlines because events are too particular and contrary to be useful in naming names, especially if one’s goal is to be righteously “factual” in the tradition of the New York times.

        • Brooks D. Simpson June 21, 2015 / 11:19 am

          I’m sure you believe that. The facts are otherwise, but I accept that you see facile analysis because you practice it.

  2. tcgreen June 21, 2015 / 5:25 am

    I live in South Carolina, and I think that is beautifully said.

  3. Patrick Young June 21, 2015 / 9:13 am

    The flag is made the issue because it is visible and can be removed. Its presence or removal may change little, but it can be seen. Changes in the institutions that leave African Americans behind are difficult, and changes in the heart may feel close to impossible to make.

    There are, apart from the symbolism of the flag, the enablers of hatred. I meet them all the time, in the North as well as the South. Politicians and propagandists who insist that whites can only have, if non-whites have–not. Then there are the cultivators of violence. Those who supply a ready-made analysis of the world that focuses despair, disappointment, and pain on Blacks taking over the country or Mexican rapists.

    Dr. Simpson, you ask us to “think about the victims and their families and friends.” This is very appropriate to do, but we should also listen to the families that are burying the victims and the church that was violated by the act of terror and from which the corpses go out for burial. From the church’s pulpit have come calls to remove the flag. Aren’t these the most authentic voices on the subject?

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 21, 2015 / 11:17 am

      I assume that the people you identify are the families and friends of the victims. Nor do I have any problem with the discussion over whether the CBF should be flown on the grounds of the SC state house (I lived in SC when it flew atop the building’s dome). Let that discussion proceed. Let people discuss whether it is ever proper to display that flag. But there’s a heck of a lot more to this atrocity than a discussion about a flag.

      • Patrick Young June 21, 2015 / 1:24 pm

        I don’t think that the CBF is central to this either. I think that because this is a Civil War-related site, a lot of the people who visit are very focused on the flag. In my area, a young man was killed by a group of young men who had no connection to the Confederate flag. In fact, in writing about the killing for two blogs, I never discussed the flag at all:

        The killing of nine people after prayers at an historic African American church in Charleston brings to the fore the problem of the radicalization of vulnerable young white men who carry out white supremacist hate crimes and terrorism. We saw that here on Long Island in 2008 when Marcelo Lucero was killed by Jeff Conroy in Patchogue. Conroy and his confederates believed that they were carrying out the will of the community in attacking Latinos on the streets of central Suffolk County. We saw that Wednesday night when Dylann Roof shot worshipers to prevent a perceived black takeover of America.

        Dylann and Jeff were immediately painted as aberrations after the killings. They were marginal characters, probably mentally ill, it was said. Politicians who regularly pandered to the racism of their constituents denounced the killings.

        Isn’t it odd that when a troubled young white man carries out an act of political violence, his target is frequently a person of color? Or perhaps it is not odd at all. Politicians in South Carolina, and Long Island, have long used code words to raise fears among white voters of the threat from non-whites. Dylann said he was afraid that black men were raping white women. A reality TV star described Mexican immigrants as rapists just a couple of days earlier. Why don’t we think that a young man who hears about the threat to his race’s purity or survival will act on what he hears and expect to be considered a hero.

        We hear experts talk on TV all the time about the process of radicalization of someone who leaves the U.S. to join ISIS. Those young men are often described as troubled people who are searching for meaning and find it on the internet on a terrorist web site. Why don’t we also examine the process of radicalization in which young white men, looking for a purpose for their lives, find it in the words of politicians and U.S.-based organizations and websites that foster anti-black and anti-immigrant terrorism.

        It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to send him out to commit a hate crime.

      • Sherree June 21, 2015 / 7:04 pm

        “It’s Sunday. If you haven’t already done so, think about the victims and their families and friends. Pray for those who have suffered. And think before you respond … because if you think that this whole matter can be reduced to whether we should allow the display of the Confederate flag, you really aren’t advancing the discussion very far.”

        I rode home the other night in the rain. A local radio station played Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful”. The song was dedicated to the nine dead in Charleston.

        Today a family member called and said the sermon at her church was about the massacre in Charleston. It hit home. Hit hard. The pastor who delivered the sermon went to seminary with the pastor in Charleston who was murdered–knew him–had conversation with him, respected him.

        The shooter, Dylann Roof, is of the same denomination as this pastor: a Lutheran.

        Quite a shock. Lutherans–at least in the area in which I grew up–are liberal, open, not the white supremacist type. In fact, just the opposite.

        Keep looking closely at Roof. This is 2015, not 1965. He is closer to jihadi John than he is to Bull Conner. In need of an identity, he cobbled one together from the Internet. Nine people are dead because of it.

        As far as the Confederate flag goes: it is part of that identity that Roof cobbled together. An identity based upon hatred, not heritage. Always was, always will be. Always will be.

        Some of the architects of that identity have actually commented on this blog. I think we all know who they are.

    • Matt McKeon June 22, 2015 / 9:02 am

      said Pat.

  4. T F Smith June 21, 2015 / 10:03 am

    Dr.Simpson – your point is fair, but I suppose the desire to see the images of the rebellion removed from civil society is only natural; combining that – perhaps as a boycott, disinvestment, sanctions movement akin to what was used against apartheid South Africa as the obvious parallel – along with rational national firearms policy and the treatment of firearms and their manufacturers akin to the tobacco companies – is the only rational response.

    Comparing firearms homicides in the U.S. with the other Western nations yields only one possible conclusion; likewise, comparing how Germany has dealt with the legacy of its nationalistic, race-based political movement with the same in U.S. history seems an equally apt comparison.


    • Brooks D. Simpson June 21, 2015 / 11:14 am

      That’s a different issue. Some of the very people who once pressed for the proper display of the CBF “in context” (as in a memorial to Confederates) now have no problem saying “tear it down.” Let’s be very clear about what we want and why. After all, the merits of that debate preceded this awful event.

      I don’t think that when you scratch a Confederate heritage advocate, you uncover a white supremacist terrorist. However, it is also clear that only now are groups such as the Virginia Division of the SCV beginning to comprehend the cost of surrendering the face of Confederate heritage to such groups as Susan Hathaway’s Virginia Flaggers or their bigoted racist webmaster, Connie Chastain. If Confederate heritage advocates don’t want to be tarred with the brush of bigotry, racist, and white supremacy, they need to look at their fellow travelers. I warned Ben Jones, the chief of heritage operations for the SCV, about this. He ignored me.

      That said, let’s not turn a terrorist act committed against fellow Americans into simply just another heritage squabble. It’s a lot more than that, as I’m sure you believe.

      • TF Smith June 21, 2015 / 7:41 pm

        Perhaps, but as an American, I have no patience for “Confederate heritage advocates.” In my opinion, as a U.S. citizen, patriot, and human being, they are advocating the heritage of treason for the sake of preserving slavery. I’ll pass. Museum displays are one thing; anything more is inappropriate for a civil society. My two Lincoln cents.

  5. Lyle Smith June 21, 2015 / 10:12 am

    Amen. Couldn’t agree more.

  6. Mark June 21, 2015 / 10:57 am

    >> such a terrorist act is the logical if extreme outcome of white supremacy and intolerance.

    It’s a despicable terrorist act alright, but logic and rational (even though evil) causes isn’t what came to mind when I heard about it. I though of the Tate-La Bianca murders perpetrated by Charle’s Manson’s followers in Southern California described in the unforgettable book “Helter Skelter”. Starting a race war and the way he sees the Jews lurking everywhere as a cause.

    The difference between then and now is that 50 years ago it would have been seen as extreme to consider those like Manson (and now Roof) as the logical result of anything but evil, or at least irrational–outside the confines of logic altogether. On such a view justifications for murder in the end would be viewed as deceptive and false aside from the clear desire to incite violence and race wars and provide a veneer of rationality to despicable acts. What has changed isn’t the killers, but rather the change is the need of the talking heads to tie the explanation for these events to deeper rational causes that they have an investment in. I’m happy to be agnostic about his motives if we could just convict him of his crimes and hang him as quickly as possible. I really don’t care to hear his absurd reasons for doing such a thing. It doesn’t matter. If anyone copycats him it won’t be because of an “outcome of white supremacy and intolerance” it will be because they want to be famous and he’s showing them the way. I propose 3-day closed trial when there is admission of guilt and witnesses to mass murder.

    So I think it is misguided to say the mass murder of blacks at the church is the “outcome of white supremacy and intolerance”. I think this view merely accepts the pretext of mass murderers wanting to incite violence with some thin veneer of rational justification. I think the best we can say is that Roof wanted to be famous as a modern day Manson spouting the same evil and irrational nonsense, with the only difference that Manson didn’t seek to kill Blacks directly since he thought race war would come about indirectly through his incitement. Everything else looks about the same.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 21, 2015 / 11:04 am

      That someone would actually claim that my post “accepts the pretext of mass murderers wanting to incite violence with some thin veneer of rational justification” stands as evidence of just how bizarre some people looking to make a name for themselves can be. It also proves my point about the distorted extremes of discussion.

      • Mark June 21, 2015 / 5:46 pm

        To accept is not to agree with. Those are two entirely different things. Sheesh man. Who killed Kennedy? You and me, or a lone gunman? I do think you’re taking at face value the words of a terrorist and a criminal, and I don’t think that is wise. Any more than I think it was wise to take at face value Osama Bin Laden’s words as to the 9/11 attacks, which a great many did and do. I think it is disingenuous to call what is so common bizarre. Who killed Kennedy? You and me?

        • Brooks D. Simpson June 22, 2015 / 9:57 am

          So, you don’t believe he’s a white supremacist? Because that is what he said he is. Are you telling us that he’s a misunderstood young man? Maybe you agree with Dr. Connie Chastain Ward, who blames narcotics.

          • Mark June 22, 2015 / 12:51 pm

            Let’s take a breath here. If he says he’s a white supremacist I have no reason to question his profession any more than I would a professing Buddhist, and I haven’t. I’ve simply pointed out the folly of taking the words of murderers at face value. I’m not saying he’s misunderstood, and I don’t care in any case. I’m saying I don’t need to try to understand a murderer any farther than to establish guilt. The prosecutor of Charlie Manson only cared to find out to convince a jury of his guilt. Otherwise, it would have made no difference at all. That is the point. Murderers are either evil or confused, or both. That is a given, or at least it is to me. Therefore taking his words at face value isn’t very wise, and it also assigns to a murderer an importance many of them are seeking.

            What I’ve said is A) that I don’t care what his reasons are for murder and no one should care because I think he should get the maximum penalty of the law ASAP no matter what his reasons are; B) it isn’t true that mass murder is a logical extreme of anything other than the idea the those one wishes to murder should be dead for whatever reason a murderer has.

            Hitler’s “final solution” wasn’t an extreme example of anti-Semitism. It was a plan for the mass murder of Jews for the purpose of their elimination from the earth. Look, accuracy has a point and things are either true or not. You can be obstinate and read such things as defenses of anti-Semites if you like, but that would be simply a failure to see we shouldn’t conflate important things or make sloppy and vague statement on such a serious topic.

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 22, 2015 / 1:20 pm

            I see no reason not to take him at his word. He simply acted out a Pat Hines type of threat discussed here before. I am going to need a little more than Chastain-like speculation to reach a different conclusion, and I think that has been the vague and sloppy road to date that comes close to saying this fellow had no idea what he was doing or why.

    • Andy Hall June 21, 2015 / 12:19 pm

      What has changed isn’t the killers, but rather the change is the need of the talking heads to tie the explanation for these events to deeper rational causes that they have an investment in.

      I would be inclined to agree with you, except that in this case what appears to be the shooter’s “manifesto” is extremely clear about the ideology that motivated him, and the organization whose materials set him on his path — in this case, the Council of Conservative Citizens. Saturday morning, before the manifesto became public, the son-in-law of the CofCC’s founder went so far as to post that, while he deplored and renounced the violence, he shared the gunman’s worldview:

      While I completely disagree with Dylann Roof’s singleminded fanaticism and his excessive lack of empathy and moral restraint in Charleston, which I attribute to character issues, I simultaneously agree with him on the entirely separate question that negro rule is and always has been utterly disastrous to the project of civilization. And let’s not mince words here: Dylann Roof is right that the future of our civilization hangs in the balance in how we answer this question. The stakes could not be higher.

      The gunman in Charleston was driven by a clear and explicit ideology, one that has — in his own words — a recognizable and known origin. It is not speculation. If these folks have wanted a larger platform for their views, now they’ve got it.

      • Joshism June 21, 2015 / 5:19 pm

        “while he deplored and renounced the violence, he shared the gunman’s worldview”

        Which seems to me essentially a contradictory statement. If you hold the view that American is somehow in danger of being ruled by blacks (15% of the population and decreasing, IIRC) and that black rule would be destructive of the USA then why wouldn’t you support violence against blacks? If someone really believes the “future of our civilization hangs in the balance” why wouldn’t they be willing to resort to violence to tip that balance in the favor of their side, if the alternative is losing?

        • Mark June 22, 2015 / 2:57 pm

          Look Joshism, if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. If words were actions (though some in fact are) talk wouldn’t be cheap. This is the most egregious type of slippery slope argument possible. As if dislike always leads to murder. As if one drink naturally leads to alcoholism. You’ll find few people object to your line of reasoning because they’ll feel like they are defending hateful or stupid people. But there is in fact something called demonizing opponents, and most people talk out their ass a good bit of the time. Thank God.

          Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools. –Thomas Hobbes

      • Mark June 21, 2015 / 6:05 pm

        A mass murderer from a few decades ago was asked why he did it, and he said “I don’t like Mondays”. That isn’t very satisfying is it? But it is probably closer to the truth that there was no good reason to do kill those people than that he actually had a reason to want them dead. What motivated the Unibomber? A romantic idealism and longing for the supposed beauty of a past time and wish to destroy that which he say as replacing his romantic dream. That isn’t very satisfying either is it? And I’d say it isn’t fully rational either. What are we to make of this?

        I didn’t say White supremacism doesn’t exist. I assume radical ideologies never fully die. But I don’t see the great difference between those who kill for any reason or no reason, or those who have a manifesto. The Unibomber had a manifesto too but no one really cares, nor should they. This makes my point that people care about some motivations more than others, and this merely makes some mass murders seem more rationally justified than others, and I find this troubling.

        Do you actually think that White supremacy will become more popular because of this? Or is it more likely that others will desire the same fame that Roof is sure to get because of what he did? I’d say the latter. That’s why it worries me that people seem eager to attribute deeper rational causes for that which likely has no deeper rational cause, and even if it did it doesn’t speak well of us that we seem to need to find it in them.

        • Andy Hall June 22, 2015 / 10:11 am

          I don’t see the great difference between those who kill for any reason or no reason, or those who have a manifesto. The Unibomber had a manifesto too but no one really cares, nor should they.

          No one really cares about the Unabomber’s manifesto because it reflected an ideology, a series of beliefs and assumptions, that existed inside the Unabomber’s head, and not really anyplace else. The Charleston gunman, by comparison, embraced an ideology that flourishes today in specific organizations and online. The gunman specifically cited one group, the CofCC, but there are lots of others, many of them loosely affiliated under the common cause of establishishing a southern, white ethnosate. The Charleston gunman’s “manifesto” is not the rambling of someone disconnected from reality; it’s the rationalization of someone who has adopted a real, identifiable set of beliefs that have been churning out there for years.

          • Mark June 22, 2015 / 1:28 pm

            Oh I think you’re mistaken about the ideology not existing outside the Unibomber’s head. I know more anti-technology romantics than you can shake a stick at. I argue against that sort of thing most every day. What it really comes down to is whether they have any intention of acting on it or not. Very few do of course, and merely give the same old tired preaching. We all know that. But is murderous White supremacy have a special cachet and staying power? That is the narrative. I’d say it is in the ashbin of history.

            The dividing line isn’t the type ideology here, but the desire to kill. People kill for any reason, no reason, professed reasons that they know are false, and sometimes for reasons that actually may be true. My point is that it is a dangerous game to pick and choose the false ideologies we think are more dangerous because of the satisfaction they hold for us. Honestly, the first thing that came to mind when I heard this tragic case was Charles Manson and I think it is revealing that people seem to not to want to think them similar. As if to say “Oh Ol Charley was crazy, but this Roof guy has tapped into the logic of White supremacy so look out”. If anything, we’ll see copycats who simply want the fame and the way is paved by the lame-ass quasi expectations that race war is somehow the logical conclusion of anyone other than complete bitter enders looking to make history and tell their story, which they’ll dutifully make fit whatever narrative people expect to hear.

    • Lyle Smith June 22, 2015 / 12:34 pm

      Dylann Roof is a violent white supremacist. That makes him a violent supremacist like any other violent supremacist. He’s not any different than a Kathy Boudin, a Nidal Hasan, or a Wade Michael Page. These are all people who committed violent acts based on their supremacist views. There might have been some other contributing issues like drugs, relationship problems, or plain stupidity, but ultimately they each acted on their hateful, supremacist views.

      • Mark June 22, 2015 / 2:17 pm

        Yes exactly. This is a modest claim based on public evidence. I have no problem with this. Saying more is where it gets pretty dicey and problematic. Saying less would too.

  7. Stefan Jovanovich June 21, 2015 / 11:42 am

    John and others with a better knowledge of the history of judicial procedure may disagree, but my amateur studies came to the conclusion that the American tradition of the thoroughly-publicized outrage crime and show trial finds its origins in the black codes and the prosecutions of the participants in the slave uprisings. John Brown clearly designed his uprising in anticipation of becoming the first white defendant in a broadly-reported celebrity trial.

    The Constitution guarantees a speedy and public trial; the government is not obligated to discuss the identity of the accused or the presumed facts of his crime. On the contrary, any sane interpretation of the 14th Amendment requires that, before trial, the government only provide its evidence to the accused and not to the public. As Mark’s comment implies, it would be very much harder for people to become famous for their crimes if the Constitution’s rules were properly followed,

    If Professor Simpson can shift his focus to the legacy of “white supremacy” laws and judicial procedure, he will find very little disagreement. It remains a grotesque scandal that, in the United States, an accused can have his mug shot instantly broadcast to millions of people and, thereby, find a megaphone for his lunacies.

  8. John Foskett June 21, 2015 / 11:46 am

    Well said. I think the relevant point regarding the flag is that it shouldn’t even be present to intrude on the discussion. It gets in the way and it shouldn’t. It once represented treason against our nation. Later, it came to symbolize vulgar racism. If it were retired to where it should be – museums and re-enactments – it couldn’t serve as a simplistic distraction from addressing the real problems.

  9. rcocean June 21, 2015 / 4:49 pm

    There’s no link between the SC confederate flag and the shootings to say there is stretching the truth. Further, its a matter for the state of SC and its citizens to decide what flag they wish to fly. As for a “South African type boycott” against SC for flying the flag – there already is an on-going boycott. You never hear about it. And 2 weeks from now everyone will go back to not caring.

    I also find the supposed link between the confederate flag and Nazi flag humorous. I keep thinking about Strom Thurmond, George Patton, and any number of Proud Southern segregationists who fought against Nazi Germany. Little did they realize they were JUST LIKE HITLER!!

  10. Joshism June 21, 2015 / 5:10 pm

    “gunman’s fondness for Confederate heritage”

    He also had a fondness for African apartheid heritage.

  11. bob carey June 21, 2015 / 8:39 pm

    I fear that the only result of this heinous act will be to further entrench the white supremacy movement.
    I also think that the root cause of racism in our country is the myth that the culture is somehow base on the anglo-saxon model of the 18th century. If taken as a geographical area the United States were at any given time, 100% Indian 33% Spanish 33% French 25% English. Even the original 13 colonies had their diversity, the Dutch in New York, the Swedes in Deleware for example. This diversity is what makes our country great.Some people just refuse to accept this.

  12. Rosieo June 22, 2015 / 5:16 am

    The talking heads only change their tunes when society does. When (If) society opposes display of Confederate flag, it will go.
    Unless — leaders want to grab this moment when the country is paying attention and say why the flag should go and backup their talk with action.

    The flag should be furled and burned. The Confederate battle flag is a flag of war – always was, always will be a fighting flag. The Confederate battle flag hurts the U.S. Getting rid of it would be a major step in building respect between races.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 22, 2015 / 1:34 pm

      I find Connie Chastain’s ranting on this topic to be most amusing. After all, she runs a hate blog of the sort that would inspire someone to take violent action given her rabid intolerance. She’s even endorsed the threat of violence against anti-Flagger protesters as self-defence, and we all remember how she poo-pooed Pat Hines’s threats of violence. Meanwhile she continues to entertain thoughts of violence against Confederate heritage advocates as a form of literary inspiration. So you can understand the mindset of someone who acts on Chastain’s premises. We’ve already seen the Virginia Flaggers counterattack: they have even complained about people protesting their events. This is the sort of mindset that would lead one to undertake an act of violence on behalf of white supremacy as a pretended defense of Confederate heritage. Remember, their webmaster already excuses kidnapping children as a simple domestic dispute. When will she explain away murder?

      • The Lamp June 22, 2015 / 1:55 pm

        Connie is a “Spin Dr” with a egregious malpractice record.

        BTW, Pat Hines was on CNN today defending slavery. Yeah, he did the “if it weren’t for slavery blacks wouldn’t be here” thing … yep he went there on national television…

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