In the biggest surprise of recent memory, the young man arrested for massacring nine black people in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was a person with “strong conservative beliefs,” a commitment to his heritage and tradition who only tried to take his country back. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old bowl-cut whelp, has been captured, and with 50 percent of major American political parties telling people like him to fetishize arms and rebellion just as the truth of their America is absolute and under attack, it’s amazing that we don’t meet a new version of him every week.
Mercifully, even some mainstream outlets seem willing to use the term “domestic terrorist.” Five years ago we might not have been so lucky. Back then, Newsweek absurdly convened an in-house discussion to decide who is a “terrorist” and emerged with “people in caves,” while whites were accorded terms like “separatist.” This, despite the fact that the event that inspired the discussion was a white man flying a plane into a building he hated, which you’d think would be a slam-dunk post-9/11 definition of the term.
No, this time, we can know it was race terrorism. The act echoes America’s greatest historical terror organization, the KKK, which murdered blacks who sought to change the existing white order. It echoes whites burning the AME Church to punish blacks for plotting against the existing white order. It echoes white revanchists burning and bombing churches in the Civil Rights era. It echoes an act of terror committed by a white supremacist against a minority church just three years ago.
This time we can know it was terrorism because there’s not a lot of wiggle room left in the terror debate when the killer reloaded five times, said, “You’re taking over our country, and you have to go,” and told one woman, “I’m going to let you go because I want you to be able to tell them what happened.” We can know because even Fox News‘ morning zoo crew of Doocy, Kilmeade and Hasselbeck (imagine Strom Thurmond sired the Three Stooges) were forced to kick the football away from race and toward the massacre as an “attack on faith.” It makes about as much sense as declaring 9/11 an act of architectural critique, but GOP presidential candidates picked up and ran with a theme that depicts white conservatives as targets just as much as the people dead on the church floor.
Thankfully, we can now move on to performative lamentations about politicizing the event, forgetting that terrorism, like war, is the advancement or retrenchment of a politics by other means. Here’s Mona Charen writing in the famously pro-segregationist, terrorism-pardoning, MLK-dismissing National Review, already shaking her head about how groups might have a political response to an act that is by definition political. Fighting violent politics with rhetorical politics is just opportunistic, dirty pool. What’s next? The Green Bay Packers formulate a football response to the Chicago Bears scoring on them?