AFRICANGLOBE – In the days since Dylann Roof murdered nine people, all African-American, in a church in South Carolina, the national conversation has largely concentrated on how the young killer’s actions fell neatly into a long pattern of American history. And that’s been a good thing; the history is long, bloody, shameful and too often ignored.
However, as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s J. Richard Cohen and Morris Dees wrote in a Monday Op-Ed for the New York Times, there’s another element of Dylann Roof’s story that we must not ignore. Because just as much as Roof is a product of America’s past, he is also the result of distinctively modern forces. Namely, the large, multinational and influential “white nationalist” movement that is bringing together white supremacists from all over the world — and which is not going away any time soon.
Recently, we spoke over the phone with Cohen to discuss his Op-Ed, Roof’s white nationalist leanings, and why there’s reason to believe that white supremacist violence may be a bigger threat in the future than many of us assume. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
First of all, let’s define our terms. What is “white nationalism”?
White nationalism is the idea that a unit of organization in society ought to be based on race, rather than country. It’s where people’s pride and people’s identity is wound up with their race, and not with traditional geographic bounds. The Charleston shooter — who said in his manifesto, “I hate America” — sees himself as having something in common with his white brethren in Europe. That’s a very common thing today, and that’s typically what’s meant by the term “white nationalism.”
When you were looking through Roof’s writings, how could you tell he was a pretty well-informed ideologue rather than being simply deranged?
The first thing you can say is that although the Charleston shooter is a high school dropout, he is a student of white nationalism. He knows the symbols, he knows the talk, and he actually has somewhat of a nuanced view of certain issues.
In his manifesto, for example, he talks about common problems that the United States has with Europe — and that’s a sure sign of white nationalism. We recently discovered [his postings] on a website called the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, where he was talking about Golden Dawn, which is the fascist party in Greece. So it’s clear that he sees himself as part of a worldwide movement, and not simply an indigenous movement in this country.
When you’re talking to people who don’t know much about the white supremacist subculture Roof lived in, what are some of the more common misconceptions you encounter?
First of all, it’s scope. We know that the Ku Klux Klan is dying, and for so long they were the symbol of white supremacy in this country. But the fact that the Klan is dead doesn’t mean that other forms of white nationalism, which are much more prominent nowadays, aren’t a problem in our country.
Second, people don’t understand some of the levers that are moving the white nationalist movement. The major one that we’ve seen in the last 15 years has been the changing demographics in our nation. We [figured] that, after the civil rights movement, all the white nationalist activity would subside. But the truth of the matter is that, in the last 15 years, we’ve seen a big uptick.
By: Elias Isquith
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