Terrorism & Hate Crimes

James Comey, the director of the FBI, says the murder of nine African-American churchgoers at a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, is not terrorism. His reasoning?

Terrorism is act of violence done or threatens to in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry so it’s more of a political act and again based on what I know so more I don’t see it as a political act.

Ahem. Didn’t the killer tell investigators he wanted to start a race war? Is that not an attempt to influence the public? Is that not a political act?

When it comes to Al Qaeda, haven’t we been told, over and over, that the political purpose behind their terrorism is to provoke the West into a religious war where the ultimate winner would be Islam?

My guess as to what the Charleston killer meant when he said he wanted to start a race war was that by killing those black churchgoers he hoped to provoke African-Americans into arming and defending themselves, perhaps even to seek vengeance against racist whites, thereby creating an armed conflict between blacks and whites, a race war which ultimately would be won by whites.

How is that different from Al Qaeda? How is that not political?

I would have expected the FBI director to say something more along the lines of “Well, the killer acted alone and wasn’t part of any terrorist group; therefore what he did was a hate crime, not terrorism.”

Yeah, but … if an ISIS- or Al Qaeda-inspired “lone wolf” shot some of our countrymen dead, we’d absolutely call it terrorism. The killer might not be a card-carrying member of a terrorist group, might never have had contact with members of a terrorist group; nevertheless, we’d say he’d been radicalized by that terrorist group and had carried out the attack in their name.

The Charleston killer, we’re now hearing, was radicalized by white racist groups with clear political objectives, in particular the Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor to the White Citizens Councils that fought integration across the South during the civil rights battles of the 1960s. The CCC is dead-ass racist and segregationist, and many deep-South politicians are members or supporters. It’s not a stretch to say the CCC is the KKK minus the robes and burning crosses.

I’m left with the inescapable conclusion that, as far as conservative political leaders and even the “liberal” media are concerned, it’s not terrorism if a white American does it.

This would be a good place to insert Martin Luther King’s remark about the arc of the moral universe. You know, to counter these dark thoughts about the intractable nature of racism in the USA. Instead, I’m going to insert some remarks from President’s Obama’s speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery freedom marches:

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Yes, things are better. A lot better. But the CCC and KKK are still with us, and there are plenty of radicalized young white supremacists … potential terrorists all … out there. So yeah, celebrate the two steps forward, but don’t gloss over the inevitable one step back.

© 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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