The Right-Wing Fingerprints on The Charleston Massacre

Terrance Heath

Days after 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the discovery of his online manifesto shed more light on his motives. It also reveals the right-wing fingerprints on the Charleston shooting. The rhetoric that formed the gunman’s ideology and informed his actions is so embedded in the conservative mainstream that politicians and candidates have a hard time condemning it.

The website’s contents began circulating around the Internet this weekend. It features 60 photographs of Roof brandishing weapons, desecrating an American flag, displaying a confederate flag, and visiting various civil war battlefields. A 2,444-word statement written by Roof reveals the roots of his racist ideology, and his reasons for choosing Charleston Emanuel AME Church.

Roof writes, “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case.” Roof believed it was “obvious” that “Zimmerman was in the right. Roof’s internet search on Martin’s case coincided with the right-wing media’s smear against Martin, making false accusations against Martin, and posting fake photographs intended to paint Martin as a criminal and a thug who got what he deserved.

Roof’s searching took him to the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens, and he was radicalized by its extensive list of “black on white crimes.” The organization, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils,” formed in to oppose desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s. On its website, the organization declares: “God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. … Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God.”

On Monday, CCC president Ernest Holt III attempted to shield his organization from blame, with words that only underscored its complicity. “Our site educated him. Our site told him the truth about interracial crime. What he then decided to do with that truth is absolutely not our responsibility,” Holt said, adding that he “categorically condemns” the killings. That’s only slightly better than CCC’s statement shortly after Roof’s manifesto went public. “ [W]e utterly condemn Roof’s despicable killings, but they do not detract in the slightest from the legitimacy of some of the positions he has expressed. Ignoring legitimate grievances is dangerous.”

CCC spokesman Jared Taylor offered an even more vile justification of Roof’s actions:

In a phone interview, CCC spokesman Jared Taylor elaborated on this legitimacy. “Let’s say Dylann Roof has a talent for programming. If he goes out to Silicon Valley, he will find that Apple and Intel have set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to hire people who look like anybody but him,” he says. Another “legitimate grievance,” Taylor says, is the “overwhelming amount of black-on-white rather than white-on-black violence,” particularly rape.

CCC Webmaster Kyle Roger, the man responsible for the website that radicalized Roof, told the Charleston Post in 2012 that “slaves who were taken to the United States hit the slave lottery.” Roger also runs an online store that sells white supremacist flags, including the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, similar to the patches Roof wore on his jacket, in a picture posted to his Facebook profile.

Despite its reputation as a white nationalist organization, CCC boasts an impressive roster of Republican friends, including several current and former presidential candidates. President Earl Holt III has given $65,000 to Republican candidates since 2010.

  • Holt has contributed $8,500 to Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) presidential campaign since 2012.
  • Holt has given $1,750 to Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) campaign, and he have $2,000 to Mitt Romney in 2012.
  • Holt also contributed $1,500 to former Sen. Rick Santorum.
  • Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), the first black female Republican elected to Congress, received $1,000 from Holt.
  • Texas governor Greg Abbot received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Holt.

Republicans have begun returning Holt’s contributions, or donating them to charity, following the revelation of Roof’s manifesto, and CCC’s influence on his beliefs. This marks one of the few times Republicans have renounced ties to CCC, or rejected its support. However, the relationship between CCC and the GOP goes much deeper.

  • In 1992, former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott addressed the CCC at its convention in Greenwood, Mississippi, saying, “The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy. Lott later distance himself from CCC, but refused to sign a measure condemning the organization for spreading ’”racism and bigotry.” (Lott, who spoke at CCC events at least five times, resigned as Senate majority leader after making controversial remarks praising Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist campaign for the presidency. )
  • North Carolina state representative Harold Brubaker, who would become the speaker of the state legislature, addressed a CCC meeting in Winston-Salem.
  • In 1996, current Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt resigned as Pat Buchanan’s campaign manager, following controversy over his links to white supremacist groups, including CCC.
  • A “smiling Rep. Bob Barr,” (R-Ga.) was the keynote speaker at a CCC conference in Charleston, South Carolina. Barr was a member of the House Judiciary Committee at the time.
  • In 1999, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson issued a statement urging Republicans to sever ties to CCC, because “it appears that this group does hold racist views.”
  • According to the SPLC, 38 elected officials appeared at CCC events between 2000 and 2004 alone, including Mississippi state Sen. Roger Wicker and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.
  • In 2013, CCC board member and professed “Confederate Cuban” Roan Garcia-Quintana resigned from South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s campaign steering committee after his CCC ties were revealed.

It’s no wonder that conservative politicians and right-wing media refused to acknowledge the Charleston shooting as a racist act of terror. Republicans failed to sever ties to organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens, and renounce those organization’s racist views, precisely because to do so would cost them the support of older white Americans, particularly in the South. How ironically fitting that a “millennial race terrorist,” as Charles M. Blow described Dylann Roof, should use the very language and rhetoric of right-wing media and conservative politicians to expose their complicity in his acts of violence.

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