Part 1—Letting the glory out: Should Dylann Roof be described as a “terrorist?”
In less than a week, it has become conventional wisdom, within our blue tribe, that he should be so described.
For ourselves, we’re disinclined to agree. But then, we keep puzzling about the best way to “let the glory out.”
The fuller phrase comes from Edwin Markham. In the fuller phrase, we’re seeking the best way to “shake the soul and let the glory out.”
We’ll discuss the line as the week proceeds. As we start, let’s consider the level of reasoning we liberals are now willing to accept as we seek to move our great vision forward.
Should Roof be described as a terrorist? Without attempting to judge that question, consider a piece which appeared on the front page of the Outlook section in Sunday’s Washington Post.
The piece was written by Professor Butler, an associate professor at Penn. A slightly different version of the piece had appeared on line several days earlier, in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night’s murders in Charleston.
To what standards should liberals and progressives hold journalists, news orgs and professors? We’ll start by stating a value judgment—we should hold these opinion leaders to standards which are high.
Alas! Increasingly, the liberal world seems eager to accept the academic and journalistic standards long associated with people like Rush and Sean. Apparently, the same is true of the Washington Post.
In Sunday’s hard-copy Outlook section, the professor’s piece started like this. Hard-copy headline included:
BUTLER (6/21/15): Is an accused killer called a terrorist? Not if he’s white.Tell the truth! As of Sunday morning, had you seen a lot of people trying to “humanize” Roof?
Police are investigating the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., as a hate crime committed by a white man. Unfortunately, it’s not a unique event in American history. Black churches have long been targets of white supremacists who burned and bombed them in an effort to terrorize the black communities those churches anchored. One of the most egregious terrorist acts in U.S. history was committed against a black church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. Four girls were killed when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, a tragedy that ignited the civil rights movement.
But listen to major media outlets, and you won’t hear the word “terrorism” used in coverage of Wednesday’s shooting. You haven’t heard the white, male suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, described as “a possible terrorist” by mainstream news organizations (though some, including The Washington Post, have covered the growing debate about this discrepancy). And if coverage of other recent shootings by white men is any indication, he never will be. Instead, the go-to explanation for his alleged actions will be mental illness. He will be humanized and called sick, a victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources.
That narrative has formed quickly for Roof. Soon after his arrest Thursday, former FBI special agent Jonathan Gilliam appeared on CNN, saying that Roof probably “has some mental issues” and didn’t know he had done anything wrong. That is the power of whiteness in America.
For ourselves, we had not. That said, questions will almost surely arise about possible mental illness with Roof. In part, that will happen because it’s obviously possible that Roof may be mentally ill.
For ourselves, we haven’t seen a lot of attempts to “humanize” Roof. That said, we’re so old that we can remember when “mass murderer” was a term of disapprobation, with the notion that the killer had conducted a “hate crime” adding to the criticism.
That said, many liberals are saying that Roof should also be described as a “terrorist.” When Professor Butler voiced her complaint about the way he’s being described, she specifically noted that statement by Jonathan Gilliam, which she said reflected “the power of whiteness in America.”
We doubted that CNN had been working real hard to “humanize” Roof. We decided to take the traditional look at the record.
Jonathan Gilliam did say the words Professor Butler has quoted. He said them in the 2 PM hour on Thursday, June 18, the day after Roof committed his murders.
It isn’t entirely clear what Gilliam meant by his comment, which we’ll show you below. That said, we can’t say that the power of whiteness was performing any great favors for Roof this day, at least not on CNN.
Roof had been apprehended roughly three hours earlier. Gilliam was brought on midway through the hour to discuss the interrogation which was likely occurring.
Very little was known about Roof at this juncture. Was CNN trying to humanize Roof?
Not exactly. At the start of the hour, Martin Savidge and host John Berman engaged in this exchange:
BERMAN (6/18/15): And to be clear, what authorities tell us is that this suspect went into this church, he said he wanted to kill black people. That is what we were being told. He apparently also kept someone alive, we are told, because he wanted that witness to tell the world what had happened. It gives you a sense of just how diabolical they believe this suspect is.According to Berman, Roof was believed to be “diabolical.” According to Savidge, Roof’s actions had been so “cold and calculating” that he “literally felt a sense of chill” when he heard them described.
SAVIDGE: That is—I mean that's—
When I read that, you, you literally do feel a sense of chill, of someone that would be cold and calculating and would make that kind of a statement and do that kind of an act. Which also, again, leads to why the authorities were so concerned what he might do next.
After speaking with Savidge, Berman introduced the Reverend Thomas Dixon, a Charleston minister. Even as the names of the victims began to emerge, Dixon described the killings by Roof as an “atrocity.”
He and Berman ended on this note:
DIXON: Was he alone in this? Do you think that there might have been another ulterior motive involved in this? That’s one of the prominent questions that’s being raised right now for myself. And all last night, it was the question of the hate crime.To diabolical, cold and calculating, we could now add “just evil.”
I really—I couldn’t, I couldn’t address that issue until I had more facts. Now the facts that have come out today about his motives clearly says that this was all about hate of black people.
BERMAN: Reverend Thomas Dixon, thanks so much for being with us. Sometimes, you know, there’s no answer. Sometimes there’s just evil.
DIXON: Exactly. Thank you.
BERMAN: Reverend, appreciate it.
DIXON: Really appreciate you.
In his next segment, Berman introduced Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. King and CEO of the King Center. She sent her condolences “to all of the families that have been impacted by this horrific act.” She further said, “I really think this is a time that we have to begin to do serious examination in this nation to look at, you know, the issues of racism and hate and violence and what we may have—what we may be doing to create a culture of violence in this nation.”
Watching this program, Professor Butler somehow got it into her head that Roof was being “humanized” thanks to “the power of whiteness.” Or maybe she just decided to say that because it fit a script.
None of this speaks to the question with which we began, of course.
Should Dylann Roof be described as a “terrorist?” We wouldn’t be inclined to describe him that way, although there’s a lot of information about his influences which ought to be shared with the public, preferably in ways which will encourage people to listen.
For ourselves, we wouldn’t be inclined to describe him that way. But then, we’re actively looking for the best way to let the glory out.
We’ve seen some things in the past few days that we’ve very much liked. Yesterday, we saw so-called black and white (and brown) together—but we also saw red and blue together, which strikes us as a potentially glorious sight.
Here’s the question we’ll ask this week—what’s the best route to progress? Adopting the intellectual standards of Rush and Sean strikes us as a bad idea.
By the way, just so you’ll know, Roof had been “humanized” earlier that day on CNN, during the 10 AM hour.
Roof’s name had just been released. Carol Costello spoke with Michaela Angela Davis, who repeatedly characterized him as a terrorist:
COSTELLO (6/18/15): I want to bring in writer and cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis. Thanks so much for being with me. You know, we always try to make sense of these things but this one just—Davis went on at length, as was perfectly reasonable. She continued to humanize Roof by describing his “gruesome” acts.
DAVIS: Carol, really, unfortunately, we’ve seen this historically. This isn’t something that we cannot fathom. You know, if people who follow American history can fathom it—we don't like to, but there is a trajectory of historic, domestic terrorism. He’s a terrorist, taking photos, putting himself up with the Rhodesian flag which to South Africans is the same as, you know, the Confederate flag to us. It triggers—
COSTELLO: And you can see those pictures of him that are on Twitter right now. CNN has not confirmed that but he does apparently have these patches of these flags.
DAVIS: Yes. And it’s not a selfie. It is a portrait that was on Facebook that clearly show some symbolism that also signifies that he's connected with supremist ideology.
COSTELLO: So he goes into this church. People are praying.
DAVIS: He prays with them.
COSTELLO: He prays with them. He’s there for an hour, and then he stands up and says "I want to shoot black people?" It’s just—
DAVIS: You know, unfortunately, this helps to legitimize when people are saying—this is a civil rights moment. We are being under attack. We have not healed as a country. We have not resolved our brutal history. This is it. This is what this looks like. This is what real hate crimes are. This is what real terrorism is.
This is what our parents— I talked to my mother this morning, she was speechless. They listen to (INAUDIBLE). This is it. This is the life. This is the life that many Americans, black and white, live. It's terrorism. And he is a terrorist. And this is a massacre.
COSTELLO: So police are still looking for him now. They came out, the mayor of Charleston also came out and expressed his disgust for this individual and said they were going to hunt him down and, you know, charge him with the most serious offenses and do everything they can. Are the authorities handling this properly?
DAVIS: You know, the optics are very different. You know, this terrorist killed more people than the Boston bombing, right? We know what those streets looked like. We knew what the streets of Ferguson looked like with tanks and people in riot gear. And so this is not lost to, you know, folks that are following this, the difference and the optics.
I don’t want to see tanks on anybody’s streets but are we clear that it’s on lockdown? Are we clear that our children are being protected? Are we clear that there’s a terrorist on the loose?
This kind of languaging and framing of what is happening here can look different than how, say, again Boston, which we all know was terrorist and a massacre was framed. So there’s a lot of optics, a lot of history, there’s a lot of triggers, particularly this church and particularly this leader.
Was it an assassination? Because it seems very strategic, very calculated, very clear goals from this terrorist.
By Sunday morning, a Penn professor and the Washington Post were telling you that this conversation didn’t occur. That CNN had actually been trying to humanize poor little Roof.
Our best guess? This probably isn’t a winning way to let the glory out.
This is how Sean and Rush have worked. Do we want to follow them there?
Tomorrow: What James Clyburn said
Gilliam’s fuller statement: During CNN’s 2 o’clock hour, Roof was described as “diabolical.” He was so “cold and calculating” that he literally gave Savidge a chill.
Roof was “just evil,” Berman said. The Reverend Dixon agreed.
Roof had been humanized in these ways before Gilliam was interviewed by CNN’s Ana Cabrera. This is the Q-and-A from which Professor Butler cherry-picked the “evidence” which drove her masterful scholarly theme:
CABRERA (6/18/15): Joining me now to discuss this investigation moving forward...former FBI special agent Jonathan Gilliam.The professor cherry-picked that “evidence” to pimp her script along.
Jonathan, I want to start with you, because we just heard the police chief talk about what’s going to be an interrogation process that’s about to play out. Walk us through what that might be like.
GILLIAM: So it’s important to understand what interrogation is versus interviewing. When I interview you, I’m trying to collect some information. I’m not changing the environment that you’re in at all. When we take you in and we interrogate you, we are putting you in a sterile environment and we’re trying to create an environment that we can handle and we can manipulate.
And so what’s going on with this individual now is that you have multiple officers in and around him coming in and out of the room or talking to him and handling him and trying to, you know, really, you’d be very surprised, put him at ease so that he feels comfortable to talk to you. It’s not like in the movies, necessarily, where you have the good cop/bad cop. This is something really where you have to build a trust between you and this individual who has done a heinous thing, but you have to build a trust, if possible, so that you can get the information that you need. And you also need to make them aware of what they’ve done, especially somebody who probably, in this case, has some mental issues, if you can, convince them of what they’ve done wrong so that they’ll—the guilt side will eventually come out and they’ll confess.
The Washington Post chose to publish her piece in a high-profile spot. We’ve seen Rush and Sean perform that same way for a good many years.
Just for the record, Gilliam had described Roof in yet another way during CNN’s 10 A.M. hour. Even before Davis came on, he described him as a specific type of “terrorist.”
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