There has been much discourse on the state of race relations in the U.S. following the Charleston massacre that claimed the life of nine black Americans just over a week ago. Both sides on the political spectrum have accused the other of trying to use the massacre as a catalyst to push their own agendas and create their own narrative of the abhorrent, racially-motivated murders. By claiming the attack was race-related, I have already put myself on one end of the spectrum and opened myself up to criticism and libelous slander from the other side. This is through no choice of my own, but rather a reflection of U.S. politics and the “black and white” partisan divide where little to no agreement or cooperation is found, especially on the matter of social issues. Despite this, I must call the massacre what it was: a racially motivated terror attack on a minority population with the intent to threaten national security by inciting a race war. To claim otherwise is to demonstrate oneself as profoundly ignorant. Attempting to claim the massacre was “an attack on Christianity” is as ludicrous and childish as stating the Boston Bombing was “an attack on marathons and public fitness” or that the 9-11 attacks were “attacks on skyscraper architecture”. It shouldn’t be difficult to disassociate setting/location from ideological goals and motives, but many within the U.S. political sphere find themselves bereft of logic to do so.
If only Dylann Roof could have seen how shortsighted his ideologies were, because despite the lack of a congressional declaration, America’s Race War has begun long ago and has never been resolved. Its major strategic battles, such as the institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation, have been hard-fought, but ultimately ended in defeat for the aggressors. Yet despite setbacks, there are strong resistance efforts, guerrilla tactics, and not so clandestine operations being waged still. And currently, I see no peace treaties being readily offered, so we must do away with the notion that we can make peace with the war criminals of America’s Race War.
For me, these attacks were unsurprising. The ideologies of Dylann Roof are something that I have been exposed to numerous times. One only needs to visit the correct subreddits, 4Chan’s “/pol/” board, or Stormfront to see that such ideologies are freely discussed. Racial pseudo-science is justified, slurs are used excessively for dehumanization, the 3rd Reich and Hitler’s Nazi party are glamorized to point of numerous historical inaccuracies, and violence is incited towards blacks but also towards Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ members, and women. Although many may never commit such acts and keep their opinions and beliefs separate from their public life, they still diffuse the ideologies and provide evidence to try and create compelling arguments. In my previous piece, I called for us to contextualize free speech and asked a number of questions relating to how we exercise and defend it. Again, I reiterate that I do not make a case for any limitations on free speech. But maybe we should ask ourselves why cyber-intelligence groups are very active in trying to shut down and suppress ISIS Twitter accounts, blogs, or YouTube videos, while conversely there are many active forums or sites that openly practice discrimination of minorities, advocate terrorism, genocide, and ethnic cleansing, as well as sporadic use of violence and rape under white supremacist and WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) ideologies.
There have been many calls to label the Charleston Massacre as an attack of terrorism and equally many calls against it. In the U.S., where we have formally declared “War on Terror”, we have unique methods in defining and reacting to terrorism. We have two definitions of “terrorism”: a denotative and a connotative definition. While bearing some similarities, they are incongruent and therefore create societal discord and debate. I will address the denotative definition first and then the connotative. Of course there are many definitions of terrorism within academia and the field of political science and it is the subject of heated debates between scholars and policymakers. But I will use one that is concise and clearly outlines the existence of goals and means: “terrorism is thus violence–or, equally important, the threat of violence–used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim”. Here you will find other approaches including the FBI’s definitions of “International Terrorism” and “Domestic Terrorism”. I think it is safe to label Dylann Roof’s attack as an attack of terror within accordance to the provided definitions, but if we consider the connotative definition, we can see the root causes of the dissonance and disagreement. There is no official connotative definition agreed on by all members of U.S. society, but by using media representation and popular opinion, I constructed one: violence carried out by Muslims perceived to target Western civilization or U.S. hegemony. This connotative definition, divulging from the denotative, muddies our perceptions and hinders our ability to accurately identify and label attacks that would so otherwise be considered terrorism.
Domestic terrorism is hardly new to the United States, and if we start examining our own history we can find numerous examples. John Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry can definitely be considered an act of terrorism, as can the numerous atrocities carried out by the early KKK post-civil war. In fact, the Reconstruction-Era KKK functioned in a very similar way to modern terrorist organizations; smaller bands or chapters operating independently without a centralized structure, but under the same ideologies and principles and using the same methods to achieve their goals. The Enforcement Acts of 1870 and ‘71 were a response to the uninhibited violence
perpetrated by the KKK, who specifically targeted black political leaders as well as whites to undermine the current government and to re-establish white supremacy. Under these laws, over 5,000 indictments were made resulting in 1,250 convictions in just South Carolina, where martial law was in effect as President Grant suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Many of the KKK members were ex-Confederate soldiers and viewed their role as carrying on the Confederacy. It is then troubling that we actually have debates on the display of a flag that is directly linked to domestic terrorism, mass murder, and intimidation. Attempting to rebrand the flag with such words as “pride” or “heritage” should be repulsing to any intelligent person who can contextualize such a flag and recognize the symbolism. Yes, America has declared “War on Terror”, but only in line with our connotative definition, ignoring the numerous terrorists within our own borders who would seek to destroy us from within.
It is evident that it is necessary for the U.S. media and society to re-address their approach to terrorism and our understanding of it. The extreme misconceptions that we carry as well as about Muslims is erroneous on a fundamental level. In fact, look at how Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is portrayed, creating disbelief about his goals of terrorism notwithstanding his Muslim identity, “He was not perceived as foreign, spoke English well, easily fit in socially, and was described by peers as “not ‘them’”. These assumptions placed up him display to what extent we have a preconceived notion of terrorists. We, the West, have even taken it upon ourselves to expect Muslims to be “apologetics”, immediately condemn any terrorists, prove their worth of human beings deserving equal rights, and then subsequently applaud them for it. In accordance with these societal norms, I will take it upon myself to apologize to the black community on behalf of all white people everywhere. I viciously condemn white terrorism in all forms, I disown its adherents, and I will demonstrate through my actions that it is possible to be a good, white Christian. I consider it my cross to bear, and therefore I am Christ-like. We are not all terrorists. We are not all racists. We do not all have the desire to murder members of the black community to try to incite war. Many of us are good white people who just want to live, work, and enjoy time with our loved ones. We are not all Dylann Roof.