We stand and mourn with the community of the AME Church in Charleston, SC, where another heinous and senseless act of violence took 9 lives yesterday. I see on facebook, in the articles, in the comments, that there is widespread sentiment that it is important to call this violence against a black community by a white person a racial hate crime and to call the crime terrorism to boot. Sarcastic comments suggest it will probably be called an act by a “mentally deranged lone gunman” because the man was white and (presumably) Christian.
I agree with calling it both of the former (terrorist hate crime), no matter what the specific background of this one man who has by now been identified. The hate crime and terrorism are inherent in the act he perpetrated, an act that by its very nature has the effect to strike terror, no matter what his intent. No matter what the individual gunman has/had/will have in his head, if he still has one at the moment you read this, that is its effect. We are not talking about one man walking up to his enemy and shooting, or another shooting someone in the heat of an argument. We’re not even talking about a serial killer stalking his multiple victims. We don’t know much about him and we know precious little exactly what happened in that church, so we can only look at what we do know happened to understand it.
In order to do so, I would like to focus on this man as a “mentally deranged lone gunman (white),” and to consider what that means. It seems clear that, whatever else this man was, he was at the very least that. Sort of by definition: you have to be mentally deranged to do this deed. You also need to be organized, but then most mentally deranged lone gunmen seem to be capable of executing a plan, in the same way a “terrorist” executes a plan.
We are talking about someone who used South Carolina concealed carry laws and the welcoming nature of the community in this church, a community that apparently did not reject him, to spend more than an hour at service, and then pull out a gun and shoot at least 9 people. He did so, moreover, in a historically black church that was co-founded by Denmark Vesey, organizer of a planned uprising among enslaved Africans in 1822; that was burned down by white supremacists in response; that participated in the civil movements of the 1960’s in conflict with local and state authorities; and that was led by a prominent African –American politician and longtime member of the state legislature who was also one of the shooting victims.
We none of us write on a blank slate with our deeds, not when we say hi to our neighbor, and not when we shoot up a church. By tapping into this history and the history of the civil rights movement and doing an act against this church, pretty much no matter what the motivation, the gunman perpetrated a hate crime and an act of terrorism against the black community in South Carolina and across the nation. If he still has his head, I hope he sits in jail for 80 years to think on what he might have had.
The news machine is busily embedding this deed among many like it, among the many incidences of violence that have happened and are happening against people of African descent in this country for the past 400 years or so, and specifically the past 100, when the killing quotient has been high due to the perceived need to strike terror in the hearts of formerly enslaved people of African descent. African-Americans are by far the most likely to suffer a racially motivated hate crime, reports the Washington Post, for instance.
I think doing that research and reporting is extremely important and necessary. But it isn’t enough. For in addition to lots of racial and other kinds of hatred aimed at this group and that, we have an epidemic of “mentally deranged lone gunmen” (I will call them wgwg, white-guy-with-gun), most of them though not all quite young, who have killed groups of people at schools, cinemas, political rallies, you name it.
The question I want to ask is: we know that the lone deranged wgwg is capable of putting a plan into action, but who hatched it? This, we frequently seem to think, is what separates the wgwg from the terrorist. In the case of the terrorist, including a white supremacist one, we have a philosophy, a method, a group to hatch a plan; the terrorist himself (most often but not always a young man) being the tool. Wgwg, we seem to feel, hatches his own plan, and that’s the mentally deranged part. We look for a philosophy, but when we can’t find one we recognize or are able to categorize, we call it deranged.
As things develop, it looks like in this case there may be a more clear philosophy than with your average wgwg who shoots up a school. But we should not use that to categorize him as either a terrorists or a lone deranged wgwg, rather to understand where plans come from even when there isn’t a philosophy with a specific “other” group to kill at the end.
Because if there is one philosophy they all have in common, it’s the belief that they can and should further their goals with violence, by blowing up a group of people by strapping on a vest, or buying guns and planning executions. Their work is planned for them, perhaps indirectly but no less so, by those who foment such action, who use the ideologies of the gullible to spread mayhem and terror. Who want us all to be hyper-alert, police and civilians, armed and ready to kill for what we think is right or needs to be defended against. They are inciting a large-scale riot of the gwg (guy-with-gun) against everything he’s not in agreement with. But who are “they?”
Under United States federal law, a riot is defined as:
A public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual.18 U.S.C. § 2102. (I lifted that straight from Wikipedia)
It is the “assemblage of three or more persons” we are after here, the assemblage that may not be all that assembled, but that includes white supremacist groups, Muslim terrorist groups and everything ideologically violent in between. It is time we start classifying them by what they foment in action, rather than what they pretend to stand for, which is simply buying into their deception. In other words, by the very violence they advocate, they define themselves as terrorist groups and are thus not subject to freedom of speech, thought, religion, and so forth. But there’s more, among them are also people selling or fetishizing guns for “self defense” on a massive scale as well as police departments and officers who shoot at people running away and politicians who vote to wage war rather than try to heal rifts for what they see as the alternative is more scary than the violence they do. They are all terrorists because they want to take dominance by any means necessary to strike fear.
These, to my mind, are the real terrorists, not just the man strapped with explosives or the man wielding the firearm(s). They are guilty of inciting a riot of massive proportions, not just one group in one town against another, or lone deranged gwg, white or otherwise, against his schoolmates or other people he hates, but a riot by the violent and stupid that has us all huddling for cover in our own tiny philosophies.