From Rhodesia to Charleston: Looking for Who is Responsible for ‘Lone Wolf’ Racial Terrorism

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The twenty-four hour news cycle often produces strong flashes when it transcribes hot news stories, coming in brief moments before the full picture has been painted.  A shooting at the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Nine people declared official casualties of the church.  Reports say that the shooter began as a parishioner joined in Bible study before picking up heavy artillery and opening fire.

At first this came as a big surprise, and certainly a break from the recent barrage of police murders that have marked the last months of coverage.  This stood out as a return to a type of interpersonal violence that is easy to condemn and classify across the political spectrum. Confusion erupted and we saw that commentators were slow to cite race as the cause and to classify the deaths as an act of racial terrorism.  The shooting in Charleston, which appears to many people on first glance as a completely random act of violence, is one that fits perfectly in an American tradition that has seen incidents like these without any evidence of slowing.  It was not until eyewitness reports come in did the rhetoric begin to change, that its racial connection was solidified.  One survivor reported that when confronted the shooter said,” I have to do it.  You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.  You have to go.”  Now that his self-described “Manifesto” is in hand it is incredibly clear what this was: an act of racial warfare.

The document he produced can easily be dismissed as the rantings of a deranged young man, which, in some ways, it is, yet that misses one of the key insights that comes across in his work.  The thought process and ideas he cites were not original to him and were instead adopted directly from publications and organizations that have constructed narratives about black populations in the United States.  No substantive analysis is being done on the text, which is a common occurrence in American law enforcement as it brings out our desire to avoid adding reason and logic to events that seem to defy explanation.  The first part of this is the immediate assumption of mental illness, which then relieves them of having to search for any logically sound reasoning.  Mental illness is commonly used to completely reject normal engagement, which is partially why so many media outlets have denied this as an act of terrorism.  Simply put: crazy people do crazy things, but terrorism, on the other hand is ideological.  The second primary reason is that in it he takes a positive view towards racism, saying essentially that racist ideas are “correct.”  This comes directly up against the understood notion in the liberal establishment that racism as a conscious concept has been completely overcome and that any example of racist ideas no longer need to be engaged because they are self-refuting.  This is something that the radical left often shares as movements have long dispelled and challenged racist myths, yet this does not mean that a substantial population are not still promoting conscious racism in influential ways.

Racism as a public ideology has gained pariah status while racial inequity has seeped into the very fabric of the American state and economic system.  White privilege has been the target of movements seeking to abolish the racial caste system that was fermented to protect Chattel slavery and kept us through eras of Jim Crow and mass incarceration.  As this racial hierarchy is challenged there remains a vanguardist minority that seeks to re-establish White Supremacy as a formal system.  Today, a certain subset of the organized racist-right maintains a pseudo-academic and pseudo-scientific veneer that hides open bigotry as a motivating factor and has created a series of ideas and philosophical foundations to argue their racialized points.  These ideas remain on the fringe, but can seep into the culture in a number of ways.  While the radical White Nationalist community does not maintain a popular public face, they have been influential in crossover political topics like immigration.  They have been successful in influencing the debates in favor of discussions around America’s racial heritage in ways that other contemporary “hot button” issues just would not.  The fringes of the right, from paleoconservatives to Constitutionalists, tax resisters to militia men, all have had historic connections to the vanguardist racist-right, and we see these ideas represented in flash moments in crossover points like the Ron Paul campaign or the battle in Nevada over ranching property rights. The strongest example of their influence, however, is with how they radicalize people in more profound and individualized ways.

Dylann Roof’s Manifesto, published on his website The Last Rhodesian, is both incoherent and lacking in deep thought, but shows moments where his thought process strays from his own delusions. The vast majority of the bumbling document discusses things like the Trayvon Martin murder, the ANC election during the 1990s in South Africa, and support for segregation. He discusses, at length, what is phrased as “black on white crime,” a rhetorical favorite for racialist groups who are attempting to create a narrative about a supposed plague of racialized violence against whites. This is still a surface idea that derives from his most central concept: that blacks are a genetically inferior subspecies.

“Anyone who thinks that White and black people look as different as we do on the outside, but are somehow magically the same on the inside, is delusional. How could our faces, skin, hair, and body structure all be different, but our brains be exactly the same? This is the nonsense we are led to believe. Negroes have lower IQs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in generals. These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior. If a scientist publishes a paper on the differences between the races in Western Europe or Americans, he can expect to lose his job. There are personality traits within human families, and within different breeds of cats or dogs, so why not within the races?”

The behavior he rants about is seen as only a consequence of intelligence. Criminality, sexual control, the ability towards delayed gratification, the ability to maintain families and careers are all a subset of what he sees as the mental inferiority of black people as an ethnic category. This is taken straight out of the artificial debate over race and IQ, a concept that has been suggested since the earliest days of slavery when the white plantation class manipulated new scientific understandings to give a social excuse for their cruelty. This played out as “racial hygiene” and Eugenics, the idea that we can affect genetic outcomes by limiting the breeding of supposed “inferiors,” all of which is central to the institutional violence seen in places like the early American south. This debate was relaunched with right-wing money in post-WWII American scientific climate, where the language and aesthetics shifted after Nazism was so roundly associated with mechanistic genocide. The Pioneer Fund was created to support research that would designate blacks as genetically inferior to whites. The Pioneer Fund provided funding to studies on twins and adopted racially mixed siblings in an effort to first determine that intelligence and other dominant mental faculties were predominately genetic and, second, to prove that in the same social conditions, black s and whites will perform with different effectiveness. With this we have seen controversial and questionable studies that, though the scientific community almost roundly rejects their conclusions, continue to be retread by those looking to justify their racial anger. Arthur Jensen did this famously for decades, and in recent years people like J. Phillip Rushton and Richard Lynn used their positions as tenured faculty to push a version of evolutionary psychology that sees population groups as being more or less intelligence based on their geographic region. As marginal as we think these ideas are, they have occasional breaches into the mainstream. In 1994, Charles Murray, a generally popular conservative now with the American Enterprise Institute, co-authored The Bell Curve, which, among other things, determined that intelligence is largely genetic and will dictate socio-economic positioning. Within this racial differences in intelligence is given real credibility, so much so that it has been the foundation of racist publications from that point forward. More recently, Nicholas Waid’s book A Troublesome Inheritance does its best to determine that race is not a social construct and instead dictates things like personality types, familial structures, and social progress. And, of course, for these white authors, black people remain stunted at the bottom of their evolutionary ladder.

Some of the dominant institutions on the right maintaining the genetically inspired racial myths come with American Renaissance and, as we have seen in the news recently, the Council of Conservative Citizens. American Renaissance has been having their regular conferences since 1990 where they bring on fringe academics to talk about topics like race and IQ, all tinged with value-laden language and dog-whistle epithets. In recent years the dialogue has shifted someone to a more philosophical tone where calls for a “white homeland” are commonplace. This is the definition of the “suit and tie” racist crowd where open racial slurs are almost non-existent, where Nazi and Klan symbolism is disallowed, and innocuous names and subject titles make it appear as a boring academic conference rather than a call for racial holy war. American Renaissance has been paramount in propagating a term coined by conservative columnist Steve Sailer, Human Biological Diversity (HBD). This harmless sounding euphemism is a code word for the idea that certain population groups, namely racial groups, simply have biological difference between them. What difference is discussed more than all others? Intelligence.

This has led to a pseudo-academic blogosphere discussing these alleged racial differences in language that often disassociates itself from criticism. As Holocaust Denial did in the 1980s-90s, HBD has the ability to cross over into subcultures simply because it uses academic-sounding language that people rarely have the tools to refute. When you combine that with a growing sense of distrust in our dominant scientific and health institutions with a general decline in education and of left ideological explanations for our current social catastrophe, it is easy to see why a dissident movement is forming around ideas that most previously would have seen as insane. As we move further towards economic and ecological collapse, more extreme versions of these dissident movements begin to pop up. With Neo-Reactionaries and the Dark Enlightenment we are witnessing a desire to return to a world that knows no democracy and equality, that sees tradition, authority, stratification, and top-down control as natural and preferred. These may seem like ideas best left to the dark side of Internet message board, but in counter-cultural, big-tech, and new intellectual movements, these far-right ideas are seeing resurgence. Race and intelligence are seen as one of the most central components of their arguments, proving that democracy is a failure because not all people are simply capable of running society.

One of the key elements that separate these groups from racists of the past is their use of slight variants in the theory; in this instance it is the “Asian hypothesis.” This essentially notes that East Asians, on average, score higher on IQ tests even then whites, which has led to many Asian bloggers to support HBD claims. This allows HBD fanatics to buck the “white supremacist” claim while still closely allying whites as the upper-levels of the stratification with Sub-Saharan Africans and Australian Aborigines rounding out the bottom. This logic is, again, one that has to be learned and is not present in unaffiliated racists, except those whose ideas where shaped by this community. This is why, when Roof addresses the Asian community in his writing, it takes on a special significance.

“I have great respent(sic) for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.”

The organization that Roof has specifically linked to, the Council of Conservative Citizens, was formed in the 1980s by Gordon Baum on the mailing lists of the “white citizen’s councils” that fought segregation. They held onto Republican rhetoric, associating themselves with the edges of the GOP while openly touting White Nationalist ideas rooted in HBD. In recent years the association with Republican party leaders has gone public as major politics were seen to speak as their conference Between 2000 and 2004 38 major elected officials have spoken at CofCC at conferences, including people like Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and Trent Lot. In recent years the fallout has pushed CofCC further to the right, now banned from participating in conferences like CPAC. Alongside these featured politicians were talks on Jewish banking control, the beauty of Chattel slavery, and the “white genocide” that is happening through immigration and miscegenation.

The romantization that Roof had with the racist right was not only with the mainstreaming CofCC but also with more ingrained racist institutions like the seminal white nationalist forum Stormfront. Created by former Klan leader Don Black, it has existed as a sort of hub for the more radical elements of the far right movement. According to the SPLC, almost 100 murders from the last six years can be traced back to Stormfront. As they try to update their image by banning images of the Third Reich and open racial slurs, the truth remains that the discourse that remains there is still tied to vulgar violence.

The issue of this as a “lone wolf” attack has led a lot of people confused. The term in this context comes from an essay from White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger as an option for violent action outside of an organizational structure. This has become incredibly important as we are seeing militant racist organizations like skinhead gangs or variants of the KKK decline sharply, yet we see violent actions remain constant. In the SPLC’s study of domestic right-wing terrorism over the last six years, they concluded that a full 74% of attacks where from a single person, and 90% either alone or in pairs. While the organized violent actors may be on the decline, the side that has only been increasing is the growing undercurrent of publications and blogs promoting the scientific racism of the future.

What happens is that incidents like these can blind us to whom the real actors are. Is there an active Klan group orchestrating these attacks? Was it a skinhead faction bent on making a name for themselves? Roof himself notes that neither one of these are at play any longer, so he needs to take the reigns. The voice of the future of these movements is one that never would publicly advocate violence of this kind, and may even honestly believe it to be the antithesis of successful racial organizing. Yet in the hands of an increasingly disaffected population it is like a grenade waiting to find a target. Roof was raised on the intellectual racially oriented movement work that created a theory of social-biology, not the open violence of something like Aryan Nations. Our work in the anti-fascist/anti-racist movement has, traditionally, been focused towards open Neo-Nazis in the north and the KKK in the south, but as these become the players of the past we have yet to adapt to the new face of hate. In the future, it will be discourse that logically leads to acts of “lone wolf” violence, yet it is the rhetoric itself that creates an ideological underpinning and support where the only logical response is murder. If we are to create anti-fascist movements that can actually confront the real threat of openly racist violence then it has to look at the seemingly disconnected source that builds the logic and justification for the trigger pulled later.

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