His Motive Is Known

[Content Note: Terrorism; racism; death; white supremacy.]

Throughout the day yesterday, the nine women and men who were killed by Dylann Roof were identified and their names, pictures, and brief biographies released to the public. These are the people who were killed:

collection of images of the six women and three men who were killed

Top left: Ethel Lance, 70, a sexton at the church who worked as a custodian at the Charleston's Gaillard Municipal Auditorium for more than 30 years before retiring in 2002. Top center: Tywanza Sanders, 26, a graduate of Allen University who earned a degree in business administration last year. Top right: Cynthia Hurd, 54, manager of the St. Andrews Regional Library who had worked for the Charleston County Public Library for 31 years. Middle left: Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, a church singer and former Charleston County community development block grant employee who retired in 2005. Middle center: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a pastor at Emanuel AME and South Carolina State Senator. Middle right: Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime church member who was a member of the choir and served on the usher board. Bottom left: Myra Thompson, 59, an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who was married to the Rev. Anthony Thompson, a vicar at Holy Trinity REC in Charleston. Bottom center: Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a member of the church's ministerial staff. Bottom right: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a speech therapist and girls' track and field coach at Goose Creek High School in suburban Charleston.

Dylann Roof walked into their church, what should have been a sanctuary from violence, and killed these people because he is a violent white supremacist who believed them to be his inferior, exclusively because of the color of their skin, and his. A pissant ninth-grade dropout with nothing going for him believed that his life was worth more than nine people who were each successful, dedicated, contributing members of their community.

That is resentful, vengeful hatred on a level I can barely comprehend.

Roof reportedly spared a woman who witnessed his massacre so she could recount what happened. It was Rev. Pinckney's cousin, Sylvia Johnson, who spoke to this survivor and repeated Roof's words to her: "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go."

Roof wanted the world to know why he had committed this heinous act of eliminationist violence. He had accomplished nothing yet in his life, was probably angry that he hadn't been handed the great life that white supremacy and patriarchy had promised him and to which he felt entitled, didn't want to work for it, scapegoated people of color for ruining the country, and decided to substitute instant infamy for the hard work of building a life for himself, like people without his privilege (and people with it) do all the fucking time.

He wanted the world to know that he was killing black people because he hated and resented them. He let a woman survive specifically so she could deliver that message.

And now the media is full of headlines suggesting that his motive is "unknown."

His motive is not unknown. He made it known.

And even had he not apparently let a woman survive just to tell his gruesome tale, he was active in white supremacist groups. He wore white supremacist gear, had a Confederate license plate on his car, told racist jokes, spent six months detailing to his roommate his plan to execute black people. (And how is that guy not under arrest for criminal conspiracy?)

Dylann Roof made his motive abundantly clear. It is not a mystery. To pretend otherwise is to be complicit in concealing white supremacy.

We know his motive. This is cultural gaslighting.

And many news outlets who are at least willing to concede that maybe we knew what was motivating this active white supremacist are nonetheless spinning tales about how he was a "loner" and soft-spoken and quiet and all the same narratives we hear about white male mass murderers every single time. Even when the facts don't really seem to fit that narrative.

The Washington Post, for instance, headlines their biographical spelunking mission by describing Roof as someone whose life had "quietly drifted off track"—only for the story to document how Roof has been harassing mall employees so insistently that the police finally got involved. Was that a "quiet drift off-track" for the people he was harassing like a fucking creep?

He was a loner, but had a roommate in whom he confided for half a year about his murder plans. He was quiet, but he harassed people enough to get himself arrested. He had slipped away from his family, but his dad bought him a gun for his birthday.

Human lives are complicated. Someone can be both quiet and a creep, can both be distant from and remain in contact with their families. My point is just that we are exhorted to see Roof as troubled, as an outsider, as someone who didn't fit in, because that's a more appealing narrative for lots of white people than the one which correctly centers him within a normalized white supremacist culture, which he merely took to the extreme.

His motive for his deliberate, carefully planned act of terrorism is known. He made no bones about it, and neither should we.

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