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On White Supremacy and Dylann Roof

by Irene Brogdon

On June 17, 2015, a white supremacist named Dylann Roof entered an African-American church in Charleston with the goal of starting a race war. Before gunning down nine people attending a Bible Study at the church, Roof explained, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Roof was arrested the next day following a police manhunt, and quickly admitted to the murders.

As law enforcement looked into the shooting, they found a website and manifesto Roof had created, detailing his belief that increasing diversity in the United States would lead to the “extinction” of whites and violent actions were necessary to stop this from happening. If there had been any doubt before, it quickly became clear to investigators that the shooting was a racially motivated hate crime.

Unfortunately, Roof is not alone in his racist ideologies. Rather, he is the product of the United States’ long history of white supremacy. White supremacy began in the early 1800s as a reaction to the newly begun abolitionist movement. Since then, the ideology has evolved into many subgroups with different sets of beliefs, but the core principles are the same: that white people are culturally and genetically superior to other races, that whites thus deserve to be separated from other groups, and that whites should have command over other groups. Although self-aware, violent racism–the type that motivated Roof to murder nine people–is much rarer today than it was fifty years ago, white supremacists still have a remarkably strong presence in some parts of the country. In the United States there are about 892 active hate groups, and experts say that there are many more white supremacists unaffiliated with any group.[1]

The good news is this: as the number of new recruits shrinks and leaders age, many hate groups are falling apart. Even the election of President Barack Obama, the first African-American president, did not lead to a spike in the number of white supremacist groups or new members.[2] And meanwhile, activists nationwide continue to combat racism in the United States and fight for racial equality.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

It can be almost impossible to comprehend how sane people can espouse an ideology like white supremacy (aka white nationalism, aka alt-right) in 2018. Rage, fear and fierce opposition can feel like the only reasonable responses. It is easy to dismiss Dylann Roof as a seriously misguided and mentally compromised young man, who believed he was a soldier in a righteous war. But against all logic, these extremist groups persist. Here’s a challenge: Can you imagine what a sane white supremacist might be afraid of? What might they be experiencing that could explain (not excuse) some of the rhetoric they use? Do you think listening and attempting to understand them help to bridge the divide? How do we solve this persistent problem?