Horrible events, like the shooting in Charleston this week, produce understandable and necessary expressions of emotion, which we’re seeing now. They also bring the inevitable expressions of hideous stupidity. You could probably time it with a stop watch—how long does it take the NRA to tell us that guns are totally not a problem yet again—can you even count how many times you’ve heard the NRA excuse mass killing?
And sometimes a horrible event provokes unexpectedly thoughtful discussions. In an editorial in the Washington Post, Anthea Butler from the University of Pennsylvania writes about the different ways we talk about these killers, depending on their race and cultural background. In the news reports you’ve seen about this event, how many times have you seen the word “terrorist”? If the killer’s family had come here from Sudan and his name was Muhammad, how many times would that would that word have been used already? How we talk about things matters.
So let’s take Butler’s idea and go into a very imaginary world, to listen to this conversation between a news host and reporter on Fox News. Across the bottom of the screen, a line of text runs saying “Terrorist suspect caught in Shelby, North Carolina”.
Host: “And in the latest terror incident to hit the U.S., Dylann Roof is believed to have been the shooter who committed the atrocity inside an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. We’re joined by our reporter Walter Green, who is in Charleston. Walter, are the police saying why they believe this shooting occurred?”
Reporter: “They’re not saying too much yet, but we think the shooter clearly had a religious motive. He went into the oldest AME church in the south, where people were engaged in religious study, and he stayed there for a while before he began shooting. It seems pretty clear that religion was a factor in this terrorist attack.”
Host: “Do we have any additional information about motives?”
Reporter: “Yes, there’s also strong evidence that Roof had a racial motivation. In addition to comments he made before he began killing his victims, we’re seeing on his Facebook page an image of him wearing a jacket that has flags from the former white supremacist governments of South Africa and Rhodesia.”
Host: “Do we know if Roof ever actually visited one of those countries? Is it possible he left the United States for terrorist training, or did he even go to school in those places? Could he have picked up his radical ideas over there?”
Reporter: “We don’t know that yet, but it’s definitely possible. The police have not yet told us that they’re ruling anything out.”
Host: “From conversations you’re having with people there in Charleston, are people concerned about how a young man from the community could have become so radicalized? I think I was hearing earlier today that he was once a quiet young man, and now he turns up as an apparent radical terrorist.”
Reporter: “There’s a lot of concern. Yes. People are wondering how this kind of thing could happen. But there’s also a disturbing underground of radicalization here that most people in the United States probably don’t know about. For example the Confederate flag, a known symbol of racial intolerance, currently flies permanently next to the state house in Columbia, the capital of Charleston, and we know that Roof lived not far from Columbia. There’s no doubt he would have seen that flag. It’s hard not to think that would have been an influence in his radicalization.”
Host: “So is it possible that the shooter wasn’t just a terrorist lone wolf, but that he’s part of a larger network?”
Reporter: “I’d say it’s possible. He didn’t radicalize himself, so Roof may not be a loner in that regard. He at least seems to be part of a larger ideological network.”
Host: “Are you saying there’s active support for terrorism there?”
Reporter: “We can’t quite say that, but when you see their flag flying openly, and clearly with the support of some important people, you’re not sure what to think.”
Host: “That is shocking. And how are people in Charleston reacting to such a brazen act of terrorism in their midst by one of their own.”
Reporter: “They’re just stunned. That’s all I can say, and they really don’t understand how this young man could have become filled with these kinds of ideas.”
Host: “Thank you, Walter. That was Walter Green in Charleston, South Carolina. In other news, ironically, today the Supreme Court issued a ruling that the state of Texas can legally remove the same Confederate flag from its license plates. Perhaps this is one step toward fighting against the radicalization of these young people. And we’ll be back after this.”