By Johan Galtung
We have been revisited, not only Charleston SC, not only the USA; the whole world by the shocking massacre in the iconic Emanuel Church. It hit this aging Norwegian male deep in the heart; once a young man, sociology professor at Columbia University, NY, as American as any with that passport, deeply involved in the desegregation conflict in Charlottesville, VA. Like millions others now trying to come to grips with this enormity of history moving backward to comprehend, searching for “how could it have been avoided”; any solution anywhere?
Using an old tested method, “what does this remind me of”, Anders Behring Breivik, a fellow Norwegian, came up. On 22 July 2011, first a bomb at a government building killing seven, then a massacre of young laborites at an island, killing 69 more. Having researched the case, I see him located in a triangle with his pure, blond and blue-eyed Norway of believers in true Christianity in one corner, threatened by Muslim invasion; the traitors to that society–the Labor government, the laborites in the second, and in the third corner those who stand up, do something against the Muslim menace: Israel, the hard Zionists.
Obsessed, it worked in and on him till the calling comes, only I have understood this, it falls upon me to do the unspeakable, to unleash history from its shackles by forcing people to see the Truth, starting with the enemy in our own camp, not Muslims, the traitors.
The psycho-pathology driving him was not childhood traumas but conflict polarization, extreme white-black painting of the world, with the enemy in our own camp dominating.
Inspired by an American deeply touched by the Waco incident, hitting federal USA in Oklahoma, he chose the first target and copied the bomb. Inspired by a history of victory over Muslims and traitors in the Christian camp (the English) he chose the date. Or, at least, this is one angle on what happened.
Translation to Dylan Roof, not so eloquent, intelligent or well read as Breivik, looking like a teenager, kind of catatonic, but also with a manifesto.
In him there is the pure white South (I would not be surprised if “truly Christian” comes up), threatened by blacks, “you rape our women”. So why not focus on black men for a massacre? No, like Breivik he wanted to hit deeper, hit the whole subversion in his view of his ideal society, the iconic church, with underground railroad resistance.
And women, as innocent and defenseless as Breivik’s young laborite victims, unmistakably on the wrong side, the most dangerous of enemies. He had ample time in church to let all of this loose in his mind, twisted by deep polarization, till the calling was enacted, in cold blood, calculating. The rest we know.
Like Breivik, but unlike many mass murderers, he did not commit suicide, and his escape was none, in the same clothes, in his own car. He probably wants his day in court to let words follow deeds, wanting to stimulate a race war, probably hoping for black men machine-gunning in a white church, unleashing history from its shackles. So far not.
The third corner, those who stood up and did something serious about it is, of course, the Confederacy–South Carolina being the first state to secede from the Union (20-12-1860); for “states rights” on top of which was slavery, hating abolition. Hence the confederate emblems and he celebrating that flag, burning the Union flag.
Like Breivik he has his dream, his traitors, and his heroes.
Watching the prosecutor managing the court session a daylight nightmare came to me: an all-white jury acquitting Roof on the ground that he acted in self-defense. Like all these cases with police officers killing black youngsters on flimsy pretexts.
I know this will not happen; but what will come in its place?
Psychiatrization. Everything will be done to paint him abnormal, starting right away with “hate crime”; meaning emotions gone wild.
The prosecutor, once reprimanded for a racist slur, skillfully steered the proceedings away from the suspect to the victims, inviting statements from the bereaved families. Planned or not, one invited Roof to repent, but the general theme was “we forgive you”. True, reacting to a presumed hate crime with hate speech might play into Roofs’ hands. But forgiveness, taken from the Lord’s Prayer as befits a bible class, is not the way to travel.
Better would have been “why, Why, WHY did this happen, we have to come to the roots of this atrocity to uproot it”. Repent and forgive are moral terms, the road to them passes through understanding the causes to be removed. But nothing of that kind seems to have been on the prosecutor’s mind, or in his game plan, rather.
We have been treated to a shadow debate of “hate crime” vs “domestic, racial terrorism”, one psychologizing, one politicizing. “Murder” will do, legally. But another shadow debate came up, about a flag on full mast on top of the key public building in South Carolina. One may wonder why somebody did not discretely remove it; nobody did, till presidential candidates feared it could hurt their campaigns.
For my inner eye is the hatred and fear in a white segregationist saying they hate us, want to kill us all, are communists, and ugly. And the blacks with beautiful American dreams, of a house in a garden, children in college–the road to the dream passing through integrated schools. Took years, I played some role of which I am proud and landed on the first page of Washington Post (29-05-1960).
There are many more steps on the road to “together and equal”; they should be, and will be, taken. Nevertheless, that does not solve the Dylan Roof problem. The only way is to expose the whole insane construction in his mind, showing its absurdity–maybe even to himself.
Whether that can happen in a court in South Carolina is another matter. However, maybe at the federal level? In the interest of us all.