the movement behind the massacre

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

Frederick Douglass on the Charleston 9

Days after the church massacre that killed nine African American worshipers at the historic Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama finally acknowledged the existence of racism. He is to be commended. It was important that this public acknowledgement come from our nation’s first (and last) black President. The question remains however as to what took him so long. It’s unfortunate that it took the murder of nine innocent and blameless black church goers by 21-year-old avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof to prompt Mr. Obama’s belated acknowledgement. (Click here to read “Obama’s Refusal”) The fact that one of the murdered victims was South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, no doubt raised the profile of this horrific slaughter, making the implications far more difficult to ignore.

If there were ever an emphatic exclamation point to the proliferation of far right white supremacist organizations and their sympathizers who advocate death and destruction to African Americans, this was it. Ironically, it appears that Roof’s diabolical and sinister actions come in response, and as a retort to the Black Lives Matter campaign which protested the rash of killings of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers. The brazen and cowardly massacre at the historic Emmanuel A.M.E. Church was a thunderbolt which gave the truest indication of the smoldering undercurrent of anti-African American sentiment present in this country.

The words “hate crime” don’t begin to adequately describe the heinous act of terrorism committed at “Mother Emmanuel,” so called because of its historical significance as the first independent black denomination in the nation. Founded in 1816 by the Reverend Morris Brown and Denmark Vessey (the architect of “The Rising,” a major slave revolt in Charleston in 1822), Emmanuel’s significance in the African American struggle for equality is undeniable. Although Vessey was quickly judged guilty and hanged along with five other slaves deemed central to the planned revolt, the courage and fortitude demonstrated in their fight for freedom is forever tied to Emmanuel. It is indeed ironic that almost 200 years later, Emmanuel again takes center stage in the African American struggle for freedom and equality.

This most recent church massacre is eerily reminiscent of the black church bombing that took place at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the act as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetuated against humanity,” as the explosion at the church killed four girls and injured 22 others. Although an FBI investigation in 1965 concluded the church bombing had been committed by four known Ku Klux Klansmen and segregationists, no prosecutions ensued until more than 22 years later.

Just as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the African American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, this most recent terrorist act by white supremacist Dylann Roof must signal a turning point. A point in which American society turns and pivots away from the false and self-serving propaganda suggesting a color blind society where race no longer matters. A bigger lie has never been told, yet the forces of the empire and its operatives continue to deceive the populace as to the continuing governmental and societal oppression of African Americans.

Roof’s chilling words, “I came to shoot black people,” gives unambiguous validation to the New America Foundation’s (NAF) recent findings that, “White Americans are a bigger terror threat than Islamic extremists.” (NAF is a nonprofit, non-partisan public policy institute and think tank.) A new study by the Foundation confirms that white Americans have killed more people in attacks than Muslims or any other group in the last 14 years. The Foundation’s research found that of the 26 attacks on U.S. soil defined as acts of terror since September 11, 2001, 19 of those were committed by non-Muslims. This study further concluded that radical Islamists were indicted more frequently than non-Muslim extremists and served longer sentences. Likewise, the hunt for foreign terrorists in Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East, is given the highest military and law enforcement priority, while homegrown, white supremacists and extremists get essentially a governmental “pass” to indoctrinate, infiltrate, and perpetuate acts of extreme violence and hatred against blacks living here in this country.

Furthermore, the proliferation of white hate groups is not just a national movement; it’s an international one that coincides with the anti-immigration push by Western nations such as Great Britain, France and Germany. The influx of Africans, Middle Easterners and other dark skinned peoples onto European shores fleeing conflict in their native land has helped galvanize the message of white genocide feeding the growth of white nationalism world-wide. It is dangerously naive to conclude that Roof is some deranged psychopath, alone in his perverted view that blacks are somehow taking over the country and need to be stopped by the threat of violence and murder. Quite to the contrary, 21-year-old Dylann Roofs’ thought processes and dangerous ideology were learned and cultivated through a network of white supremacist websites that promote the re-establishment of complete white control of the United States. Here again history is only repeating itself. This same message was widely circulated and well received by both Northerners and Southerners during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. In fact, the view was so widely held that it precipitated the premature end of Reconstruction and the ushering in of the Jim Crow era. While these seemingly dormant voices of white supremacy are not new, they have continued to gain traction since the election of Barak Obama as President.

Now is the time for a new interpretation of existing federal legislation which will classify right wing white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads, Arian Nation, Council of Conservative Citizens, and others as terrorist organizations subject to arrest and prosecution for advocating violence or encouraging others to join their ranks. The time is now because these homegrown terrorist and other subversive groups are as a big a threat to the peace and security of America than ISIS ever could be, half a world away. I’m calling on the President and Congress to expand the USA PATRIOT Act—(Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001)—to include homegrown, right wing, white supremacist groups that continue to plot and plan for the death and destruction of African Americans. The PATRIOT Sunsets Extensions Act of 2011, a four-year extension of three key provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act that provides for roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves” (i.e., individuals suspected of terrorist related activities not linked to terrorist groups), should equally apply to white supremacist groups who advocate for the subversion of the rule of law in the name of white primacy. If the U.S. government is truly serious about its “War on Terror,” the fight must also be waged here at home against white supremacists and their organizations that sow seeds of hate, violence and governmental overthrow.

Enough with the double standard. A terrorist is a terrorist, whether they wear a thobe (long robe worn by Muslims) or the white robe of the KKK. The resulting death and and horror is the same, so the risk and the threat to African Americans should be taken just as seriously by federal authorities. We must demand that the President and Congress act immediately to end the hypocrisy and double standard regarding terrorism, whether it’s committed by Islamic Jihadists or white supremacists. If the President and Congress are really serious about the war on terror, then the battle against it must be waged right here at home.

Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.

#racism #history


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