Many clues to the motives of Dylann Storm Roof, the suspect in last week’s mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have emerged. First, we saw the patches he wore on his jacket in a Facebook photo: the flags of regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia that brutally enforced white minority rule.
Then, a further cache of photos of Roof – seen in several bearing a Confederate flag – was discovered on a website, Last Rhodesian, registered in his name, together with a manifesto, a hodgepodge of white supremacist ideas. The author (most likely Roof) calls on whites to take “drastic action” to regain dominance in America and Europe.
These themes, popular among white supremacists in the United States, are also signs of the growing globalization of white nationalism. When we think of the Islamist terrorism of groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State, we recognize their international dimension. When it comes to far-right domestic terrorism, we don’t.
Americans tend to view attacks like the mass murder in Charleston as isolated hate crimes, the work of a deranged racist or a group of zealots lashing out in anger, unconnected to a broader movement. This view we can no longer afford to indulge.
When, according to survivors, Roof told the victims at the prayer meeting that black people were “taking over the country,” he was expressing sentiments that unite white nationalists from the United States and Canada to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Unlike those of the civil rights era, whose main goal was to maintain Jim Crow in the American South, today’s white supremacists don’t see borders; they see a white tribe under attack by people of color across the globe.
The end of white rule in Rhodesia
(now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, they believe, foreshadowed an apocalyptic future for all white people: a “white genocide” that must be stopped before it’s too late. To support this view, they cite the murders of white farmers in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
In recent years, extremists have distilled the notion of white genocide to “the mantra,” parts of which show up on billboards throughout the South, as well as in Internet chat rooms. It proclaims “Diversity White Genocide” and “Diversity Means Chasing Down the Last White Person,” blaming multiculturalism for undermining the “white race.” The white nationalist American Freedom Party has made the mantra’s author, a segregationist from South Carolina named Robert Whitaker, its vice presidential candidate in 2016.
White supremacists across the country, some displaying the apartheid South African flag, have participated in “White Man Marches” to raise awareness of the so-called white genocide. A neo-Confederate group, the League of the South, also uses the white genocide argument to call for laws against interracial marriage.
White nationalist leaders are traveling abroad to strengthen their international networks.
At the Southern Poverty Law Center, we have documented more than 30 instances in the past two years. In 2013, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, a group that publishes pseudo-academic articles purporting to show the inferiority of black people, addressed groups of white nationalists in Britain and France on their common cause. “The fight in Europe is exactly the same as ours,” he said.
The movement is bound to produce more violence, not necessarily from organized groups but from lone wolves like Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed more than 70 people in his country in 2011 because he wanted “to save Europe from Islam.” Breivik had ties to U.S. white nationalists as a registered user of Stormfront, a Web forum founded by a former Ku Klux Klan leader that has more than 300,000 members (about two-thirds are American).
Europe has also seen the rise of a powerful, far-right political movement that rejects multiculturalism. The anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn in Greece are prime examples. In Germany, there has been a series of murders by neo-Nazis. Britain, too, is experiencing an upswing of nationalist, anti-immigrant politics.
This month, SPLC staffers will join activists from the United States and Europe at a conference in Budapest about this transnational white supremacism that is emerging as the world grows more connected by technology. The message of white genocide is spreading. White nationalists look beyond borders for confirmation that their race is under attack, and they share their ideas in the echo chamber of racist websites.
The days of thinking of domestic terrorism as the work of a few Klansmen or belligerent skinheads are over. We know Islamic terrorists are thinking globally, and we confront that threat. We’ve been too slow to realize that white supremacists are doing the same.
The New York Times
Morris Dees is the founder, and J. Richard Cohen the president, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.