Who “Owns” The Charleston Murders?

Is it not enough that nine people, nine human beings, are dead?  Is it not enough that they were murdered in a church, apparently by a twisted young man who sat there for an hour with his soon-to-be victims, and then executed them?  Is that not enough tragedy to satisfy whatever lust burns within us?

Oh no. War of another sort has broken out, where wild-eyed madmen fight to see who gets to own this nightmare to use it for their own agenda, whether that’s political or clickbait.  It’s not about what happened in Charleston, though some have already condemned the accused killer, Dylann Roof, to the deepest region of hell for being pure evil, even though he might just be a deeply flawed human.

But what happened in Charleston.  Was it terrorism?  Was it racism?  Was it the work of a madman? Was it a “mere” crime?  What?  Without putting it in a pigeonhole, how can it possibly make sense and be used to push a larger agenda?

At Fault lines, I took the Daily Kos’ Shaun King to task for his rush to characterization.

Dylann Roof, who is now the primary suspect in the Charleston, South Carolina massacre of 9 women and men in the historic Emmanuel AME Church is a terrorist. Call it domestic terrorism if you must, but this man is a terrorist and what he did, pure and simple, was terrorism.

Why must we “call it” anything?  And by what stretch of language or ideas does writing “plain and simple” make a difference to anyone anyway?

You see, these nine human beings who were brutally murdered are just as dead, whether killed by a racist, a terrorist, a madman or anyone else. They are dead. Their deaths are a tragedy, no matter what tail you choose to pin on this donkey.

So old school an idea, to not use a tragedy for one’s own ends, and not impose one’s politics onto the deaths of others (you can, of course, do it for your own, but that’s a lot harder to accomplish).  Can we not mourn a tragedy without having to seize it for our own purposes?

Well, if King was bad, he was nothing compared to Max Fisher at Vox.

What “counts” as an act of terrorism? It’s a question that is both easy and impossible to answer, and one that many Americans are now debating with regards to the mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina.

That this question has grown so urgent should tell you there is much more at stake here than a matter of terminology.

It tells me that Fisher couldn’t give a damn about the actual human beings murdered, because he’s got a cause to promote, and no dead bodies are going to get in his way.

Defining this as terrorism is a way of asking that Americans recognize the severity of the effect and intent of this attack, and that we take this as seriously as we would other forms of terrorism. It asks that we see this as part of a long and painful history of politically motivated white violence against black communities.

Is there someone, somewhere, who doesn’t take these murders seriously?  But that’s not really his issue, as it’s not just a matter of taking this seriously, but co-opting the word “terrorism” to violence against black communities.

It’s also a way of calling attention to the fact that Americans are willing, even eager, to use the word “terrorist” for some kinds of people, but not for others. It demands us to ask why that is, and what it says about our attitudes toward race and violence.

Like a three year old crying, but what about my issue. Isn’t my issue terrorism? I want my issue to be terrorism too!!!  But the coup de grace is hidden in parsing the definition of terrorism, the government’s and political scientists’ efforts to define it, all of which Fisher dismisses in favor of his own:

Today in this country, when we call something “terrorism” we are making a moral judgment about the odious wrongness of the perpetrator but also about the right of the targeted group to feel that they are under threat and thus to be protected.

That makes the debate over whether white supremacist violence against African Americans counts as “terrorism” both a very important one and a very uncomfortable one.

Begging Fisher’s pardon (as he begs the question), but he’s neither Funk nor Wagnells, and doesn’t get to strip the word “terrorism” of all meaning by reducing it to a “moral judgment about the odious wrongness” of anything.  Neither does he get to sit in moral judgment for anyone but himself.

But most importantly, he trivializes a problem that is very real, though not coming to where he lives anytime soon, by trying to seize it for his own agenda. Yes, white supremacist violence against blacks is a very important problem.  No, whether it’s called terrorism or racism or anything else is absolutely meaningless and utterly inconsequential.  If you can it “spaghetti,” it’s every bit as serious a problem that there are white people who want to kill black people because of their race.  It’s neither more nor less serious because of how you pigeonhole it.

When you understand that, the debate over whether to call it terrorism begins to make a lot more sense.

The title of Fisher’s post is, Yes, Charleston was terrorism. Denying that isn’t just wrong, it’s offensive. To disagree with Fisher is to offend someone.  Certainly not those who died in Charleston, because they’re dead.  Apparently, the person we should be concerned about not offending is Fisher, because don’t we stay awake at night worrying about whether something we say offends Fisher?

Murdering people is offensive. Murdering people because of their race is offensive. What you call it is irrelevant. When you understand that, the debate over whether to call it terrorism begins to look a lot more ridiculous, narcissistic and offensive.

No matter what characterization floats your boat, there will still be nine dead human beings in Charleston, and none of them will be you. They don’t give a damn what you call it. They’re dead, though that detail doesn’t seem to filter through to anyone in this debate.


37 thoughts on “Who “Owns” The Charleston Murders?

  1. Lorin Duckman

    Filters through me. I see the bodies and the blood. Sadly, I see it as a killing to promote a vile idea, one held by many, too many. Not a crazy loner, like the kids in Colorado or the one in CT. A vile and despicable subhuman who will be given justice which he doesn’t deserve.

    1. SHG Post author

      The acts were vile and despicable. Whether he is “subhuman” has yet to be known. Whether it was a “vile idea,” or he was a “crazy loner” has yet to be seen. What purpose is served by leaping to such conclusions in the absence of information? Isn’t it enough to mourn the dead and the horror of this tragedy?

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        And to also not let the horror or the sorrow change us or cause us to abandon our ideals?

        I don’t care how horrible a person the shooter was, he still deserves due process. To suggest otherwise (as Lorin does) is to give the shooter even more power.

        We should be stronger, more resolute in our convictions. Dylan Roof doesn’t deserve to have the power to change what we aspire to be, or at least he shouldn’t.

      2. The Real Peterman

        No, he was a full-fledged human. Sorry Lorin, but human beings are, in fact, capable of acts like this. I will even go so far as to say that attempting to negate people’s humanity is what caused these murders in the first place, and not a good habit to get into.

  2. Dan

    “Is there someone, somewhere, who doesn’t take these murders seriously?”

    Well, not exactly, but there are people who think racism in this country is over- we have a black president, a white lady pretending to be black because its obviously so great. Meanwhile, there’s a racially motivated mass murder.

    Terrorism is what gets all the resources, the hackles raised, the good equipment. We sacrifice our civil liberties, privacy etc., all in the name of preventing terrorism. Not violent crime, not racist mass murder, not disturbed loners, but terrorism, whatever that may be. The FBI entraps or near entraps faux terrorists and announces their success at foiling terrorism, while this kid’s getting a .45 from dad for his birthday. But maybe if he were on some sort of terrorist watch list, it wouldn’t be quite so easy.

    Yes, at the end of the day, the labels don’t matter, but they sort of do.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yeah, nobody is getting arrest, no black man is being killed, no constitutional right is violated or ignore, except this and now. And the hysteria over radical Islamic terrorism would make America really, really great if we could just be more hysterical about racism.

      That will solve everything, because stupid here is just as effective as stupid everywhere else.

  3. bmaz


    Because, Scott, if we can all just call this “terrorism”, and agree that it is a “hate crime”, then surely this kind of behavior will be eradicated. Moar criminal laws are needed! Capital homicide has never been sufficient deterrence, if we can also investigate this federally as proper terrorism and hate crime, then, finally, society’s ills will be vanquished.

    Please think of the feelings out there Scott, and get with the program. It is simply what we must do!

  4. Scott Morrell

    Good ole semantics. Not sure why we are ‘parsing’ the English language. My theory, like yours Scott, is to drive a political agenda. But isn’t that what this country does all the time? It’s so easy these days.

    We are more divided as ever recently no thanks to news outlets like Fox News and MSNBC which tried to truncate their viewers in political classes to re enforce their own preconceived ideology.

    Sorry to go off an a tangent from your main point, but the media has a lot of blame.

    1. SHG Post author

      Let’s not go there. There is plenty of blame to spread around, but this isn’t about the medias’ role.

        1. SHG Post author

          There was ABC, CBS, NBC and they all had different commercials. The news was entirely different on each network.

          1. Scott Morrell

            Correct. The advent of the proliferation of “niche media” whereby people choose the platform that re-enforces their ideology has put the country’s biases in the forefront. It has given them an outlet to spew their biases and have the networks amplify them for pure profit.

            This is an example that unbridled capitalism driven strictly by profit motive has severe consequences.

            There is not a better system in the world. But not let’s full ourselves that our system is pristine. We need to find a way, without losing the freedom of speech, to marginalized these media outlets that ferment hatred and division.

            The problem is that I wish I knew the answer. But let’s not fool ourselves in thinking the Fox News mantra of ‘fair and balanced.’ At least be honest with the American people that it is an agenda driven news channel. At least MSNBC doesn’t pretend to be moderate. For Christ sakes, their tag line is “moving forward.”

            1. SHG Post author

              There is not a better system in the world.

              Why say this? It’s empty and meaningless. Save that for the lean in meetings.

              We need to find a way, without losing the freedom of speech, to marginalized these media outlets that ferment hatred and division.

              No “we” don’t. They are us, for better or worse, which is what freedom of speech and press means. If they’re ugly, nasty and brutish, it’s because we are. And it’s not a problem with a marketing slogan (fair and balanced is brilliant), but with the fact that so many people want confirmation of their own views, and they get it.

              It’s us, brother. We have met the enemy, and it’s us.

            2. DaveL

              For Christ sakes, their tag line is “moving forward.”

              Oh, thank goodness. For a while there, it was “Lean Forward”, which makes it sound like they started with “Bend Over” but decided to tone it down after the focus groups.

  5. Not Jim Ardis

    Is there someone, somewhere, who doesn’t take these murders seriously?

    Of course. You quoted several. Anyone trying to further their own political agenda on the backs of the dead fails to take it seriously at all.

    The dead are merely props to such people.

    1. Dan

      That’s kind of ridiculous. Some people have serious political agendas. Some people have a political agenda that includes not wanting to see this sort of thing happen again.

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        So which positions being pushed do you disagree with that you think aren’t abusing the dead here?

        Or is there little to no difference between the list of “positions being put forward right now that I agree with” and “serious political agendas that are not using the dead as props?”

        1. Dan

          The dead cannot be abused. They are, after all, dead. And it does absolutely nothing to them, good or bad, for someone to point out that its too bad that this rotten turd’s father bought him a gun as a gift and its too bad there wasn’t some kind of mechanism that might deter him from doing that.

          Your concern for the feelings of the dead are noted though. The rest of us will think about the living.

          Do tell, is war a good time to think about how to bring about peace? Or is that disrespectful to the war dead?

          1. Not Jim Ardis

            So this shooting is just further proof that gun-free zones don’t work, and that conceal-carry should be allowed everywhere?

            I’m glad we agree.

  6. Ross

    There are over 300 million people in this country. Some of them are not right in the head. It only takes one of them going over the top to commit this sort of act. I am more shocked when we go an extended period of time without an incident like this than when one occurs.

    As for “what can we do”? Perhaps nothing. There isn’t always a viable solution for a problem. That annoys those who think we always have to “do something”, but that’s their problem.

    1. SHG Post author

      In my FL post, I respond to an argument by Shaun King that just blew me away:

      Don’t call this the act of a madman. It is an insult to those battling mental illness…

      People with mental illness are disabled people, and they must be respected. Since Roof is evil and cannot be respected, he cannot suffer from mental illness. Labels rule.

  7. Fubar

    No matter what characterization floats your boat, there will still be nine dead human beings in Charleston, and none of them will be you. They don’t give a damn what you call it. They’re dead, though that detail doesn’t seem to filter through to anyone in this debate.

    [ Amen. Mourning honors those whose lives were tragically ended. Debating what to call things is mental chatter, not mourning. To pretend otherwise is at best self-deception. There is ample time for debates after mourning. ]

  8. st

    It’s called blood dancing. There are many blood dancers among politicians, activists, and SJWs who see these tragedies as opportunity. They need the dead children and the puddles of blood in order to win support.

    It’s revolting, but it is often effective.

  9. David Falkner

    Excellent piece. I’ve had the same thought, less eloquently expressed. The media seems to create so much controversy regarding this shooting, but why should this incident elicit any controversy whatsoever? Does anyone out there like this guy who allegedly did the shooting? Is anyone arguing for his behalf? No, and no. Does everyone agree that this case is horrible? Pretty much, it seems.

  10. mirriam

    Killing in the name of . . .

    9 here, 10 there, 37 in a country across the sea. What difference does it make. (See, there isn’t even a question mark there.)

    You are right though, we’ve met the enemy, and it’s us. It always has been. As my mother used to say “when you point a finger at someone else, three point back at you.”

  11. david

    Yet another mass shooting in The Worlds Best Country (TM).
    Even though HRH ‘Bammy is about as much use as tits on a bull, he has voiced what every rational person is thinking; and by rational, I mean non American.
    Gun culture = dead people.
    I’m not even going to bother repeating the stats, go look ’em up for yourself.
    I’m from Australia, by the way.

    1. SHG Post author

      Another interest group in the mix. But this is a perennial favorite whenever a gun is used to kill. It goes without saying.

  12. John Neff

    If our local politicians are an indication the politicians own the Charleston murders.

  13. Bucke Fugler

    Excellent post. I am a resident of SC, very close to Charleston, so this is very much my community. It was a shocking occurrence, and the way my community came together to overcome this was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever set my own eyes upon. There was no mincing of words, no attributing the horror to anything other than an act of extreme and unnecessary violence again innocent people. In enduring their pain and batting back hatred, they opted to forgive him. In any other instance, it would be typical religious southerners. This time, it was an affected community looking for healing and finding it in their believed maker and each other.

    That was soiled pretty quickly as the week moved on, unfortunately. Long blogposts and thinkpieces had erupted, platforms about the obvious need for gun control rose up and I started to see the same inspirational community begin to splinter into disagreement with one another. “Yes, Charleston was bad, but stay away from my guns!” “What happened in Charleston was a tragedy, but this state fosters racism!” These fractures are caused by the intrusion of cultural commentators and policy makers who are viewing this horror as a means to an end, and it’s disgusting.

    The south is one of the most impoverished areas of the nation, were it not for the fact that churches exist every 50 feet (particularly where I live this is no exaggeration), I am positive it would be a region full of anarchists. There is something deeply concerning about the fact that, of all the voices that have spoken about South Carolina, none of them are actually from here. Precious few of them are even from the south at all. It’s a region that suffers from mechanisms in place like NAFTA to keep industry from propping up in the south, with Reps blocking legislation to regulate abusive farm distributors that impoverish southern farmers. This state itself is home to burgeoning acres of farmland where nothing grows, stretches of roads that act as museums for abandoned factories.

    The culture that the south, particularly South Carolina, exists in is so far removed from all the commentary being offered about it that all these attempts to prop up platforms around what the issue in Charleston *really* is come across simply as politicians hawking for votes and a commentariat eager to ineffectually posture themselves properly to influence people who also have no relationship to the south. They have unfortunately begun to succeed in turning this into an issue that puts citizens against each others’ throats. I should’ve known by now not to be so optimistic when the target of 24 hour news cycles happens in your backyard.

    Apologies for the ramble-y nature of this post, I usually just lurk without ever posting. Probably going to continue doing that, but I hate seeing a politicizing of my community with no one from my community in a position to get their voices heard the way Jon Stewart or Vox can.

    1. SHG Post author

      Politics can’t stand wasting a perfectly good tragedy. From all I’m seeing, Charleston is handling this with far more grace than anywhere else.

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