Does It Matter Whether Charleston Was Terrorism?

The debate is ultimately academic.

Emanual A.M.E. Church Marker

Doug Mataconis’ post “Yes, Dylann Roof Is A Terrorist” has 146 comments and counting, most quite thoughtful. I’m in a distinct minority among the commentariat in disagreeing with the position staked out there.

Over at Lawfare, Jane Chong (“White Hate but Islamic Terror? Thoughts on Charleston, Hate Crimes and Terrorism“) thoughtfully stakes out two reasons why this debate is so passionate. She contrasts the “immediate reactions” of political leaders, including President Obama and Lindsey Graham, to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the killings at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and concludes that they represent “our collective insistence on seeing violence motivated by Islamic extremism as a systemic threat while minimizing right-wing supremacist violence as the work of individual madmen.” Additionally—and more importantly in her judgment— we tend to automatically conclude that mass murder via explosives is “terrorism” while mass murder via firearm is ordinary crime.

There’s something to both of those explanations but they only indirectly address my own reluctance to apply the “terrorist” label to Roof’s crime.

First, it’s not a matter of ideology. In the early days of this site, I was frequently near alone on my side of the aisle in rejecting applying the “terrorist” label to a whole series of shooting sprees and other murders and attempted murders by domestic Muslims. Similarly, I was very late to concede that Nidal Malik Hasan, the perpetrator of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting spree, was a terrorist despite his obvious Islamist leanings, until definitive proof emerged that he was working with al Qaeda. And I still think of Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who shot up a military recruiting station in Little Rock that same year, as just a deranged nut. Conversely, I’ve never had a problem labeling the Ku Klux Klan and similar white supremacist groups as “terrorist.” Certainly, Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist; there was never a debate over that. For that matter, I readily apply the label to the Sons of Liberty, whose cause I greatly admire.

While terrorism requires a political motive—an attempt to shape public reaction and/or change the nature of state governance—that’s not enough. Roof’s ostensible objective—to start a race war—is simply absurd; there’s no plausible expectation of anything like that ensuing from the act. Like the various Muslim perpetrators who shouted “Allah akbar!” before killing random white people a decade ago, the idea that the act was going to have some significant political impact was nonsensical. Without an organized effort beyond the individual perpetrator, or at least a plan for that perpetrator to commit a series of crimes before getting caught, there’s no terrorism.

But even serial murder ostensibly motivated by political aims isn’t automatically “terrorism.” In the comments section of Doug’s posts, I equated Roof’s crime with that of the Manson family. The common tie was an ostensible motivation to generate a race war through murder. I’ve never heard Charles Manson referred to as a terrorist. The rebuttal was that this is simply a function of Mason’s crimes taking place in the late 1960s, when terrorism wasn’t really on our minds. But we don’t think of Manson as a terrorist even in hindsight, while we do apply that label to the KKK’s activities of the same period. We just think of Manson as a sick, evil individual.

Second, it’s not simply a matter of guns being different from explosives. While it’s true that setting off a bomb in a public venue creates an immediate presumption of terrorism (not unreasonably given the potential to kill a massive number of people, completely indiscriminately) we often label politically motivated shooting sprees “terrorism.” The 1972 Munich Olympics massacre was immediately labeled a terrorist attack despite being carried out with guns.  The 2002 Beltway Snipers spree was clearly terroristic even though they used guns—and even when we presumed it was a single individual and before we knew the perpetrators were Muslim. The murders were calculated,  there was a plausible scenario whereby the snipers would continue their spree for some time, and the serial nature of the crimes created real terror that the community was in danger.

Chong rightly identifies why this debate is so emotional:

Terrorism is more than a word; it has displaced the term “hate crime” as the ultimate cipher, one that informs us which atrocities need only be lamented and which atrocities warrant wholesale reconsideration and reconstruction of our social fabric. It is understandable, this fear of ours, that failing to affix the “terror” label to the horrors of Charleston amounts to permitting our grief to be relegated to the bottom of an ever-expanding grief hierarchy, for that hierarchy has real implications for how we as a nation choose to allocate our resources and how valiantly we battle which demons within.

I agree that only by recognizing the systemic nature of the derangement that motivated Roof and others like him can we properly treat root causes and contain future threats. But I also hope for the day when the t-word no longer commands such a monopoly on our willingness to do that.

For me, at least, this is mostly an academic debate. Whether Manson or the Beltway Snipers or Hassan or Roof are “terrorists” or mere “mass murderers” doesn’t change the level of evil associated with their acts. Their mental state matters somewhat, in that those who are truly mentally ill have less moral culpability for their actions, but their political cause is morally irrelevant. Mass murder of noncombatants is evil regardless of the merits of one’s cause.

The only reason it really matters whether an act is terrorism vice ordinary crime is in crafting public policy. One reason I’m loathe to apply the label to lone wolfs is that, one they’re killed or captured, the problem is contained—just as it is with ordinary criminals. Taking out one member—even a key leader—of al Qaeda or the Islamic State or the Ku Klux Klan is but a temporary setback for the cause.

The comedian-pundit Jon Stewart’s emotional response to the Charleston shootings was moving and rightly sparked considerable debate. The crux of his frustration:

I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.

If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries, all to keep Americans safe. We got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.

Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.

I share his frustration with both the fact that these killings are so damn common that they blend into a blur and that we’re ultimately doing, as he puts it, “jack shit” about it. Further, he’s right that our reaction to this circumstance as compared to our response to the much smaller threat of Islamist terrorism is irrational.

The difference is not, however, shocking. While terrorism is merely a “nuisance” in comparison to other risks that we face in our lives, our overreaction to it isn’t surprising. We could save more lives investing much smaller amounts of resources in mosquito nets, child vaccinations, and smoking cessation programs. But those threats aren’t orchestrated. Evil people organized to kill us simply a much more emotionally focusing threat.

Despite sharing his frustration and revulsion that we still have white supremacists who hate blacks enough that they want to murder them while they pray, I’m not sure what it is that Stewart wants to do about it. Open racism, let alone the virulent strain that Roof espoused, has been vilified for half a century. Should we take down the handful of Confederate battle flags that fly over statehouses in the Old South? Absolutely. But the short term impact of that is likely to animate, not eliminate, the worst of the worst, who would see it as a further sign that white culture is under seige.

Further, while Stewart makes a passionate case that blacks in Charleston and elsewhere are terrorized by this latest evidence that there are people out there who want to kill them simply for the color of their skin, that doesn’t make the crime itself an act of terrorism. Indeed, most of us simultaneously found the Shoe Bomber and Underwear Bomber objects of ridicule rather than fear and nonetheless readily called them terrorists.

Presumably, Stewart’s bigger point is that we should take drastic action in curtailing the ability of people like Roof to get their hands on guns.While I absolutely support keeping guns out of the hands of crazies and those with a propensity towards violence—and Roof demonstrated these repeatedly ahead of his spree—it’s unlikely to happen. Aside from our cultural affinity for firearms, which is built into our founding documents, it’s not obvious to me how you’d craft a law at this point short of a blanket ban on firearms possession that would have much impact. We’re awash in guns. Even if Roof had been prohibited from buying a gun from a licensed dealer, he’d have been able to buy, borrow, or steal one from a private citizen.

So, ultimately, “Hey, what are you gonna do?” is our default reaction. We hunted down the perpetrator and will almost certainly lock him away for life, if not execute him. But there will be another Dylan Roof at some point, likely sooner rather than later.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    While terrorism was often a misused word it became even more so after 911. It is a tactic not an ideology. Terrorism was effective against the French in Algeria. Certain elements of anti war protesters during the Vietnam war probably qualify as terrorists. And yes the 911 operatives were terrorists, But the shooter in Charleston was simply a deranged young man not a terrorist..

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Ron Beasley: That’s where I come down as well. Part of the problem is that “terrorist” has come to be synonymous with “evil” and there’s the sense that refusing to classify Roof as a terrorist is to put the mass murder of innocent black people lower on the evil hierarchy.

  3. Davebo says:

    I’d say it may matter a lot to federal prosecutors looking at the case.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    Truly a ‘semantic’ difference in the context of the headlines, I agree. Mr B gives an excellent short version of the ‘no’ argument; it probably would fit Anders Breivik as well as it fit’s Mr Roof.

    I think the difference is somewhat to do with how to keep millions of eyeballs on the appropriate screen and somewhat whose appropriation gets the money that Congress will be more likely to spend when they begin the filleting process in the sub-committee hearings.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I think that labeling him a terrorist or crazy separates him from the rest of us, and allows us to wash our hands of the matter. It allows us to bypass the question of whether he is an inevitable product of our culture, and completely ignore the question of whether it is worth it.

    We allow pockets of hate to fester, and we allow easy access to guns — and with our first and second amendments, that’s just the way it’s going to be. We cannot get rid of racist literature and websites* any more than we can get rid of handguns. And, add a disillusioned, angry young man, and sometimes the result is going to be a bunch of dead people.

    And, as a society, we think that’s a reasonable trade off — but we try to define the shooters as somehow being Other so we don’t have to think about it that way.

    * we don’t know yet where Dylann Roof got his racist ideology, but he was well versed in the racist culture, having picked up things like 1488 and the ideas in his manifesto. He definitely was an avid consumer of hate.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    The white terrorist groups in America were once used only to reify the strength of the de facto white power structure. White grievances have always been about the lack of ability to make other groups suffer. Look at the religious right, which is currently lamenting the fact that after 20 years of telling people what to do and how to marry, they are being victimized because this right has been taken from them.

    The question about Dylann Roof isn’t whether a lone wolf violent racist is closer to a member of a terrorist cell or to Adam Lanza, but what is the relationship between his views and the spectrum of white behavior in this country that is excusable.

    For example, if you take Roof’s manifesto and make it less dumb and code it way the hell up, you would basically have the standard non-liberal explanation for why white flight happened, why we incarcerate so many black men, and why black people, on average, have worse chances than whites. This explanation would basically read like white people were forced to do this because of black x or y. Under no circumstances, it would say, are white people racist. It just happened and it’s all justifiable!

    Look at the Moynihan report. It basically reads: centuries of white oppression created a black matriarchy and a problem with fatherhood in black culture. But for conservatives, the Moynihan report is this golden document that ties all of our racial problems to the intrinsic pathology of the black community. This is the high-end version of Dylann Roof. No one at the AEI, busy scamming their donors out of money on fake scholarship, needs to enter a black church and start firing. But someone with the same mindset, like Dylann Roof, but way different circumstances, does.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    In Doug’s thread I quoted the Wiktionary definition of “terrorist”, which Roof fits.
    Timothy Watson added the FBI definition of “domestic terrorism”. Which Roof fits.

    Webster lists a quick vernacular definition:
    the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal

    and a “full definition”.
    the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion
    The difference, “systematic” is, I think, what you’re trying to get at.

    I’ve long observed that people have trouble with the definition of words. They want words to mean what they “feel” they should mean, not what Webster says they mean. Per Webster’s definitions there is a little ambiguity about Roof being “terrorism. Everybody does it, but I think obsessing about it is a characteristically conservative thing to do. As a good liberal, I’m OK with some ambiguity. I know what Roof did, how you choose to label it is unimportant. But to conservatives it seems important that the act and the word somehow be shoehorned into exact agreement. I think it represents a difficulty in separating the thing from the symbol. There is a whole load of baggage associated with the word “terror” and conservatives are unsure about associating all that baggage with Roof. Which is what Chang was getting at.

    This also means I misstated my own attitude above. I don’t care what James Joyner calls it. I do care what we collectively call it. Liberals want it called terror because that might help us face up to problems we need to deal with. Conservative do not, because it would force us to consider things they don’t wish us to consider.

    And that marker is still for the wrong church.

  8. aFloridian says:

    I think it matters because there’s a perception that, all else being equal, a Muslim committing the same act would have been quickly labeled a terrorist, whether he was part of some larger network or not. Now, James, you say you have refused to apply that label to Muslim lone wolves in the past, so your post here is consistent with that.

    I myself have argued that Roof must be mentally ill (although fairly clearly not insane; I’ve seen nothing to suggest his culpability is any less than complete) by the very definition of these crimes. And by that same token I think someone willing to immolate himself in the name of religion also cannot generally be mentally healthy.

    I think the second problem here is the inability to define terrorism. Sure, plenty of scholars have tried, but I know other academics try to use different terms like “political violence” since terrorism is so loaded and so subjective. And I don’t think this attack qualifies as political violence. The worst definition of terrorism I ever got in school was “change through fear.” If that’s true, then my parents were terrorists!

    James’ definition seems reliant on outside aid, an organized network or group to establish an act as terroristic. I’m not sure I agree. Especially since terrorism is a rather indefinite word, what Roof did was, based on online radicalization, likely mental illness, and a dedication to a supremacist ideology (this sounds not unlike a young American ISIS recruit) used violent means meant to inspire others, sow discord, and create fear. This attack reminds blacks not to feel safe at church, and of course the church is a bedrock of the community in the South generally, but especially amongst blacks. Just because he chose to act on his own rather than seek out the support of fellow supremacists his actions deserve another name?

    Again, I think the subtext of the debate is valid to a great degree that we treat white shooters differently in our focus on whether they were “normal kids” or “quiet” or whatever. There’s probably some truth to that.

  9. Tony W says:

    @Gustopher: I think you’ve nailed it here Gustopher – Terrorism is largely a political label used to inspire military spending and justify stepping outside our legal system for remedy.

    Ultimately it is a criminal act – just like the 911 hijackings were. My concern with the “terrorist” label is that it will breed tolerance for governmental crackdowns meant to “protect” us from those who would do us harm. Conservatives in particular are especially keen to make that trade, despite their purported distrust of the government in other areas.

  10. Tony W says:

    @aFloridian:

    James’ definition seems reliant on outside aid, an organized network or group to establish an act as terroristic.

    Fox News, for example?

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We spend trillions of dollars to stop terrorist attacks before they happen. How much do we spend trying to stop racist hate crimes?

    SQUIRREL!!!

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Presumably, Stewart’s bigger point is that we should take drastic action in curtailing the ability of people like Roof to get their hands on guns.While I absolutely support keeping guns out of the hands of crazies and those with a propensity towards violence—and Roof demonstrated these repeatedly ahead of his spree—it’s unlikely to happen.

    1) The 911 model of terrorism – large group, large target, heavily-planned – may occur again, but it’s on its way out. It’s vulnerable to penetration. The new model is the lone wolf or wolves attack.

    2) The idiocy of the politics behind the terrorism is irrelevant. What did KSM and Osama think they were doing? Pretty clearly it was not ending up in Guantanamo and the Indian Ocean respectively, although anyone with even a passing understanding of Americans would have known that was the likely outcome. So, “Race War” is stupid? Duh. Most terrorist objectives are stupid.

    3) He’s cuh-ray-zeee! is also beside the point. Obviously all mass murderers and all terrorists are beyond the edge of rationality. Sane people don’t blow themselves up. The fact that a crazy person spends a year in some radical madrassah doesn’t somehow make him less crazy when he blows himself up.

    4) This creep had specific, openly-stated political intent: to murder black people and start a race war. That rather presupposes that the terror he induced by his violent acts would yield a political result. Right? He is a terrorist.

    5) It is passive, weak-minded partisan bullshit to pretend we can’t do anything about guns. That’s why Republicans are desperate to avoid the “T” word, because once we decide we’re dealing with terrorists we have to do something. And Republicans want us to go on passively, fatalistically, allowing the gun cult to send profits to gun manufacturers and pay-offs to conservative politicians.

    We could, for example, launch an anti-gun p.r. campaign like the one we’ve successfully used against smoking. But of course that would impinge on the gun cult and the political fortunes of Republicans who will start a war over Muslim terror and do absolutely NOTHING about white racist terror.

    And James, doing absolutely nothing about white racist terror is exactly the point of your piece. The something we could do involves guns, so you sing the siren song of fatalism and helplessness and impotence.

    Bottom line: Black people die so Republicans can harvest the votes of white racists and profit from the gun cult.

    Hey, whaddya gonna do, white folks gotta have guns and ni–ers gotta die, because all that really, really matters to conservatives is keeping profits high and marginal tax rates down. And there is no group of their fellow Americans they won’t sacrifice in pursuit of money.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s an interesting article on Sherman and his march to the Sea, which digs into the Southern white planter mindset.

    Roof is simply bummed out that he wasn’t a Southern Gentleman back in 1840.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    How much do we spend trying to stop racist hate crimes?

    What spending would have been relevant to stopping the Roof shooting? It’s a one-off crime, if regrettably one that has been replicated over and again.

    Conversely, while we’ve vastly overreacted to Muslim terrorism, we’ve spent our money in ways that were specifically targeted at individual groups like al Qaeda. Despite the “war on terrorism” label, we’re not actually fighting terrorism per se but specific groups who commit terrorism.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We could, for example, launch an anti-gun p.r. campaign like the one we’ve successfully used against smoking. But of course that would impinge on the gun cult and the political fortunes of Republicans who will start a war over Muslim terror and do absolutely NOTHING about white racist terror.

    And James, doing absolutely nothing about white racist terror is exactly the point of your piece. The something we could do involves guns, so you sing the siren song of fatalism and helplessness and impotence.

    Bottom line: Black people die so Republicans can harvest the votes of white racists and profit from the gun cult.

    I find this argument nonsensical. “White racist terror” is a tiny subset of the larger problem of violence in America. The gun cult, such as it exists, has almost nothing to do with anti-black racism, despite some demographic overlap; indeed, there’s a pretty strong gun cult in the black community.

    We need to do a better job in our society at dispelling the mythology that propagates anti-black violence. And we need to rid our culture of the notion that violence is the solution to our problems, especially domestically. But these are two essentially distinct problems.

  16. stonetools says:

    For African Americans who experienced decades of state sponsored terrorism at the hands of white southerners, it’s not suprising that conservatives resist using the word “terrorism”-since they want to pretend that the past terrorism either didn’t happen, or wasn’t really terrorism.Conservatives also resist the “terrorist” label, since they want to characterize the mass murder as the unfathomable isolated act of a deranged individual, rather than as connected to hate groups like the Conservative Citizen’s Council , or the constant stream of race-baiting agitprop put out by the right wing propaganda machine, or the racist hate symbol flying over the state capitol or the loose gun laws that made it possible for Roof to buy a gun, no questioned asked, despite facing criminal charges. If it’s a “terrorist act ” then we as a nation could draw those connections and deal with those issues. But if it’s a “lone wolf” mass murder, then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, right? We can utter some prayers for the victim’s families, urge them to “forgive ” Roof, mutter platitudes about the “impossibility” of stopping a “madman,” then move on.

  17. Scott F. says:

    What a profoundly disappointing post from you, James. You’ve delivered a text book version of what Jon Stewart referred to in the piece you excerpted as “the nuanced language of lack of effort for this.”

    Throwing our hands up and just accepting there will be other Dylann Roofs is what you’re doing because to do otherwise would be hard. Numerous, prominent Republicans would need to stand up to the forces within your party that must be confronted on racism and guns. That’s something that you, as a member of your party, need to demand, as Democrats calling for the same won’t do the trick. Yes, removing the Confederate flags would be a relatively small gesture, but they could come down tomorrow if there was a will to stand against the backlash you fear. The country’s “awash with guns,” but it sure as hell doesn’t have to be.

    Change is needed and change will only come when someone from your side of the aisle demands it loudly and relentlessly. You have a platform, so it might as well be you. That is if the status quo bothers you as much as you are claiming here.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    The gun cult, such as it exists, has almost nothing to do with anti-black racism, despite some demographic overlap; indeed, there’s a pretty strong gun cult in the black community.

    That’s just nonsense. The gun cult among whites is very strongly associated historically and demographically with white racism.

    Whites are more than twice as likely to own guns as blacks. The whites who own guns are older and more rural. Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to own guns. Conservatives twice as likely as liberals.

    So, lets just put this together, shall we? Guns in this country are by percentage and by absolute number in the hands of old, rural, white, conservative Republicans, but you don’t see the connection between guns and racism.

    Uh huh.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: We’ve had a gun culture and anti-black racism in America since its earliest days. Slavery predated the Pilgrims. So it’s impossible to disentangle the two. Similarly, it’s hardly surprising that gun ownership is more prevalent in rural America than in the cities or that whites own guns at a higher rate than blacks. It doesn’t follow that the primary—or even a leading—reason that white people own guns is to shoot black people. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of gun owners have in fact never shot a black person.

  20. stonetools says:

    I’m pretty sure that if an Arab guy went into a white church and gunned down nine people, and it came out that he had a website that featured al-Qaeda or ISIS propaganda, we would not be calling it a “lone wolf” act by a “deranged individual”. Calls for a counterstrike would have been immediate, and the drones would have been in the air days ago.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s a one-off crime, if regrettably one that has been replicated over and again.

    My head is spinning just reading that James.

    What spending would have been relevant to stopping the Roof shooting?

    Oh, I don’t know, let’s see…. 100% background checks, making certain types of weapons illegal***, making it illegal for anyone to walk around carrying a gun for no particular reason, etc etc. etc. Would any of those have stopped this attack? I don’t know, what I do know and so does everyone else, is that they would stop some attacks. And that is at least a start.

    ***for example we can and should make expanded round clips illegal. There is absolutely no sane justification for having one (‘fun’ is not a sane justification for having something that makes mass murder easier) In fact I would go so far as to say that anybody who has one needs to have all their guns taken away because they obviously can’t hit what they are shooting at or they are considering mass murder, either way, they are a danger to others.

    I was sitting in a barber shop and 2 guys were talking guns and this exact topic came up. One said to the other, “You know how long it takes me to change a clip?” Before his pal could answer I interjected, “Long enough to stop Jared Loughner.” Neither had another word to say.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Oh cut the crap, James. Many white people don’t shoot black people. Yeah, that’s a brilliant defense. A defense of what, exactly? A defense of guns.

    Guns guns guns guns guns guns guns.

    The NRA and its Republican servants are to white racist terror what Saudi Imams and financiers are to Al Qaeda. Your party supports the narrative of white victimization (motive), your party supports the demonization of blacks and minorities (target), and your party makes sure they get lots and lots and lots of guns (means.)

    That’s your party, James, your party helps to motivate, focus and arm young Dylann and others like him. To which your response is, “Meh, whaddya gonna do?”

  23. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    It doesn’t follow that the primary—or even a leading—reason that white people own guns is to shoot black people. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of gun owners have in fact never shot a black person.

    Blatant logical fallacy, there. The majority of Nazis never killed a Jew, either. Does that mean that it didn’t follow that a primary — or even a leading — motivator behind Nazism was anti-Semitism?

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @stonetools: My google fu is weak right now…. Do you remember the gov’t report on domestic terrorism that so freaked out the right the GOP got it yanked? This was a few years ago and may even have been pre Obama.

  25. Modulo Myself says:

    @stonetools:

    Imagine if the 3rd-ranking member of the House had once given a speech to Hamas. I mean, Steve Scalise may be an CCC-operative for all we know.

  26. Modulo Myself says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I imagine you can find similar responses when Emmett Till was murdered. I doubt that there were that many educated segregationists who did not recoil from the murder or who thought the total cracker jury made the right call. At the same time, what were you going to do? The law is the law, and one can’t really do anything about insane white-on-black violence, right? After all it’s God’s mystery what goes on between a superior race and an inferior one.

  27. anjin-san says:

    Damn James, you are putting a lot of effort into tap dancing around this issue and throwing out deflections. First the nonsense about how “no one called Charles Manson a terrorist” and now this.

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: Eh, I’d fine-tune that a bit: the gun-nuts are the anti-government/rural yahoo types. I grew up in Upstate New York, and most of the gun-owners I ran into were the sensible farmer types. Guns were mainly used for hunting deer and potting rabbits in the garden. This “ah-gotta-have-my-dick-substitute-with-me-at-all-times-so-ah-kin-scare-people” attitude of the gun nuts would have revolted them.

  29. anjin-san says:

    From TPM

    Experts: Attacks Like Charleston Worry Cops More Than Islamic Extremism

    A recent survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that police consider right-wing attacks like last week’s mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina to be a greater threat than Islamic extremism.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/charleston-shooting-right-wing-extremism

  30. pylon says:

    It sure seemed important to label an act as terrorism when Obama had to deal with Benghazi. I think in this case it is important in that it demonstrates that terrorism is not limited to non-white foreigners.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    There are rational gun owners. But of course they’re the ones who don’t have a problem with mandated safety measures, and they aren’t the ones demanding military-style magazines, or military-style weapons. And they wouldn’t object to a national ad campaign that focused on the inherent danger of guns.

  32. michael reynolds says:

    Racists, gun cultists, and racist gun-cultists are important Republican constituencies. If the GOP gave up its reliance on bigots with bullets they might miss out on their next tax break.

    That’s what this debate is really about.

    “Where is Anne Frank?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “If you tell me I’ll cut your taxes by a point.”

    “She’s right up there, top floor, secret staircase.”

  33. anjin-san says:

    Leader of group cited in ‘Dylann Roof manifesto’ donated to top Republicans

    The leader of a rightwing group that Dylann Roof allegedly credits with helping to radicalise him against black people before the Charleston church massacre has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans such as presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum.

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/21/dylann-roof-manifesto-charlston-shootings-republicans?CMP=share_btn_tw

  34. gVOR08 says:

    OK, concrete measures:
    If we did an honest cost/benefit analysis of private gun ownership, we’d outlaw the things next week. But that ain’t gonna happen ’cause NRA and 2nd and FREEDUM(TM).

    So could we for starters just a) end the GD War on Drugs and b) really clamp down on straw man sales. Wouldn’t have kept Roof away from his .45, but it’s a start toward damping down both black violence and the gun culture that insists everybody needs to be armed to the teeth.

    The gun cult, such as it exists, has almost nothing to do with anti-black racism

    Riiight. You know different gun strokers than I do. Paranoia and fantasy drive it. What do you thing the paranoids are fantasizing about?

  35. bookdragon says:

    What can we do?

    Let’s see, Roof had convictions that would have kept him from legally purchasing a weapon, but his father gave him one for his birthday anyway.

    So, as a modest first step, his father should be arrested as an accessory to murder. Maybe if society made it clear that enabling a violent insane person to gun people down would put you in prison too, some people might think twice about handing out guns to people who couldn’t otherwise buy them.

    (And don’t tell me his father wasn’t aware of his problems. His son wore racist symbols, created a racist website and spouted white supremacist tripe. If dad was so uninvolved that he missed all that, he wouldn’t have been close enough to his son to bother buying him a birthday gift)

  36. stonetools says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Here ya go.

    The emphasis of counterterrorism policy in the United States since Al Qaeda’s attacks of
    September 11, 2001 (9/11) has been on jihadist terrorism. However, in the last decade, domestic
    terrorists—people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based
    extremist ideologies and movements—have killed American citizens and damaged property across
    the country. Not all of these criminals have been prosecuted under terrorism statutes. This latter
    point is not meant to imply that domestic terrorists should be taken any less seriously than
    other terrorists.

  37. anjin-san says:

    The survey, conducted last year by Kurzman and David Shanzer of Duke University, in collaboration with the Police Executive Research Forum, found that 74 percent of law enforcement agencies ranked anti-government extremism among the top three terror threats they faced.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/charleston-shooting-right-wing-extremism

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @stonetools: Thanx.

  39. stonetools says:

    @anjin-san:

    I frankly would like to see investigation of links between Republican candidates, grups like the CCC, and right wing donors who funnel money to political groups through 501c4 corporations. In this case, I’d like to find what were Roof’s links to the CCC, who took those pictures of Roof and exactly who sold him or his father the gun. Was Roof really smart enough to know the significance of that church?
    James is convinced he’s a lone wolf, but I’ve got questions.

  40. JohnMcC says:
  41. Davebo says:

    @JohnMcC:

    But a federal judge ruled they were just exercising their right of free speech.

    Much of the evidence against the Hutaree consisted of audio and video recordings made by an undercover agent and a paid informant who infiltrated the group.

    In the recordings, David Stone Sr. described law enforcement as the enemy, discussed killing police officers and argued for the need to go to war against the government.

    Defense attorneys had argued that what the seven did was just talk and were protected by their free speech rights.

    In March, two years after the Hutaree were arrested and several weeks into the trial, Judge Roberts agreed with the defense, rebuked prosecutors for bringing the case and dismissed the most serious charges against the remaining defendants.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/08/08/us-usa-security-hutaree-idUSBRE8770ZQ20120808

  42. Lit3Bolt says:

    It’s a one-off crime, if regrettably one that has been replicated over and again.

    If you said that about 9/11 or any other Islamic terrorist incident…wow.

    And we need to rid our culture of the notion that violence is the solution to our problems, especially domestically.

    Well Bravo, James! What a principled stand. How convenient it pops up in a discussion of a white racist terrorist.

    The semantics seem irrelevant after the crime, but they are important in context of future action. James believes there should be no further action, because mass shootings are simply the price we pay for freedom the gun industry dictating our lives and how to live them. Also, contra your assertion, we are still taking off our shoes in the airport line due to that comical and whimsical terrorist. Is it security theater? Probably. But something was done rather than declaring C4 shoes the price we pay for freedom.

    But the short term impact of that is likely to animate, not eliminate, the worst of the worst, who would see it as a further sign that white culture is under seige.

    Then good. If your “white culture” supports a racist traitor flag and domestic terrorism, it should come under siege. Repeatedly. White supremacy has largely had its way post-Civil War. It’s time for it to be buried with the rest of the murderers, traitors, and terrorists who fought in defense of the indefensible. If Germany can get over Nazism and Japan over racial Imperialism, then America can get over the Confederacy and all it stands for.

    As a slight aside, the focus on guns in most comments brings up the other point, which US gun culture refuses to acknowledge. In America, people with guns are terrorizing people without guns. Deliberately and purposefully. That’s why they don’t go and shoot up NRA meetings…because those are their friends and allies. They’re after “wicked permissive liberals” in churches, schools, colleges. And the Right and their allies tacitly supports this domestic terrorism with calls for non-action, “no rush to judgement,” principled stands over semantics, and victim-blaming (“why didn’t the church victims throw their Bibles at Dylan Roof?”).

    And the brutal truth is this James…

    A young white idiot with a too-easily-acquired gun used it on nine defenseless people, including a Democratic State Representative, and your response is to shrug your shoulders and argue semantics and advocate the status quo. It does NOT paint you in a flattering light.

    WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?!

  43. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san and @Lit3Bolt: : As noted in the post, I’ve been very consistent on being reluctant to label nutjob lone wolfs, regardless of race, religion, or ideology, as “terrorists” for reasons I outline in the post. Additionally, I make clear in the post that root is likely both a nutjob and evil, in that I don’t think he’s mentally incompetent to understand his actions. I’m less sure of the latter in the Gabby Giffords case; the action was undeniably evil but the shooter may just have been a pathetic slob.

    I’m for all manner of reasonable restrictions on firearms ownership. I’ve never opposed registration and background checks and am amenable to even biometric trigger locks and the like. I’m not persuaded that it would do much to stop spree violence or racially animated violence.

  44. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The NRA and its Republican servants are to white racist terror what Saudi Imams and financiers are to Al Qaeda. Your party supports the narrative of white victimization (motive), your party supports the demonization of blacks and minorities (target), and your party makes sure they get lots and lots and lots of guns (means.) That’s your party, James, your party helps to motivate, focus and arm young Dylann and others like him.

    While I get that this is hyperbole, it’s not persuasive as argument outside the peanut gallery who already hates the GOP. There has historically been quite a bit of violence from both extremes of our political spectrum. Lately, I agree that it’s been concentrated on the right for the simple reason that that’s the side that’s been losing the culture wars. But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior, let alone that they ought be mowed down while praying.

    To which your response is, “Meh, whaddya gonna do?”

    No, I advocate several measures, all of which I’ve advocated before this incident. I’m just not persuaded that there’s anything that’s plausible that would have much impact on the worst of these cases. The sort of “sensible restrictions” that you and I would support would help at the margins—and that’s something—but they won’t stop the sort of person who’s motivated to murder a half dozen or more innocents to prove some twisted point. So, we’re left with a complete ban on firearms by ordinary citizens, and that’s a complete nonstarter.

  45. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior, let alone that they ought be mowed down while praying.

    Are there any mainstream Republicans arguing that police brutality directed at black folks is a real problem and it needs to end now? That the incarcarceration rate of black males is a national disgrace?

    What we do have is lots of mainstream Republicans engaging in not so subtle racial dog whistles, and playing ball with the right wing media, which IS part of the problem.

  46. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    No, it is not hyperbole.

    No, no mainstream Republican is speaking out in favor of murdering blacks. They’re just feeding a narrative of self-pity, victimization and racial resentment to white people. They’re just denying the very citizenship of the first black president. They’re just spreading paranoid visions of brown and black people gaining advantage over whites.

    They’re just planting the seeds. So, hey, can’t blame them if the seeds turn into weeds, right? What the hell do you think happens when a political party preaches that the majority is somehow being victimized?

    Roof himself makes it unmistakably clear that he was heavily influenced by a hate group with a history of supporting Republicans and being supported by them in return.

    So, we’re left with a complete ban on firearms by ordinary citizens, and that’s a complete nonstarter.

    How many years have passed since you would have said gay marriage was a complete non-starter?

    What I suggested and have suggested in the past is that we begin to deal with guns as the public health threat that they are and begin educating people about the facts. Would your party support teaching the facts about guns in the US? Just the facts? No. Of course not.

    So let’s drop the phony framing, the all-or-nothing-overnight dodge. There’s plenty we can do. Plenty. And your party opposes 100% of it, because, again: your party relies on the votes of racists and gun-cultists to win. That’s not hyperbole, that’s math.

  47. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior

    Duh. They don’t have to argue that; it’s been established as the default position. The burden of proof has been shifted to anyone who would claim otherwise.

    You don’t see the power (and the pathos) of that, do you?

  48. Lit3Bolt says:

    But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior

    It’s late, and I’m tired, and I don’t want to do all the research necessary to prove you wrong.

    I’m just going to chalk this up as a blindspot of yours as a native white Mississippian. It’s unfortunate that you are a prisoner of your culture and privilege.

    I’ll just make a note that it’s gosh darned convenient that gun/racial terrorists (and I include police in this as well) are emptying their clips at Democrats, more often than not. Funny that. Just the price we pay for freedom, huh. Too many guns, nothing we can do. Hem-haw.

    But of course, the Weathermen set off a bomb that killed someone 50 years ago, so that evens out everything. Both sides do it.

  49. MarkedMan says:

    James, the idea that there are no mainstream Republicans arguing that blacks are inferior, well, it’s just ludicrous. The Republican mainstream, including leaders, are constantly talking about “inner city” pathology, about the 47%, about those who “refuse to work”, those who “invade our borders” (hint, they are not talking about my Irish cousins working here illegally). Do they say “black”? Do they day hispanic? Not usually. But their constituents know exactly who they mean. They are targeting blacks and hispanics. I don’t except lawyer-word nonsense from my kids (but Dad, when I said I would clean up my room right after the TV show, I didn’t say which TV show!) and it is equally ridiculous to let the Republican party leaders off the hook on similar grounds.

    I realize these are your guys, but James, your guys aren’t who you wish they were. It doesn’t matter how hard you believe they are, or how many times you click your heels together and say “Dwight Eisenhower” those guys are gone and show no sign of coming back to your party.

  50. gVOR08 says:

    Eisenhower was an aberration in the Republican Party.

  51. gVOR08 says:

    But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior, let alone that they ought be mowed down while praying.

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “N****er, n****er, n****er.” By 1968 you can’t say “n****er” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. – Lee Atwater 1981. But not so abstract the dogs don’t hear the whistle when you say things like “47%”.

    Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n****er in public – B. Obama 2015

  52. Barry says:

    James: “Open racism, let alone the virulent strain that Roof espoused, has been vilified for half a century. Should we take down the handful of Confederate battle flags that fly over statehouses in the Old South? Absolutely. But the short term impact of that is likely to animate, not eliminate, the worst of the worst, who would see it as a further sign that white culture is under seige.”

    People keep saying this, but they don’t back it up. For example, the Civil Rights movement during the 1950’s – early 70’s got a massive amount done by ‘naming and shaming’.

    And notice that the racist/’Christian’ right has no problem wrapping itself in the bloody flag of ‘I’m oppressed!’, even when the blood is the blood of other which they themselves shed.

  53. Barry says:

    “But there’s no mainstream Republican out there arguing that blacks are inferior, let alone that they ought be mowed down while praying.”

    There are mainstream Republicans who will justify the shooting of *any* black man, no matter what. This incident is extremely unusual in that they didn’t start slandering the victims yet. See just about everything that Fox News airs.

    Do you watch Fox News?

    There are mainstream Republicans who do their best to suppress black votes, to the point where the whitewash is so thin that it’s transparent. See just about everything that Fox News airs.

    There are mainstream Republicans who again and again and again discuss ‘Heartland Americans’, and talk about various Democratic politicians winning due to black votes – that’s saying that black votes are not legitimate. See just about everything that Fox News airs.