CHARLESTON, South Carolina — A website featuring a racist manifesto mentions Charleston as the “historic” target of an attack and displays images of Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who shot nine people to death at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The writer said he was “not raised in a racist environment.” But the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin — the black Florida teen whose shooting death at the hands of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder, provoked huge protests — prompted him to research online what he called “black on white crime.”
“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case,” the text says. “I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up.”
An Internet ownership search shows the website was registered to Roof, who is also listed as the administrator. It listed not only Roof’s name, but his South Carolina address, his email, and his phone.
The website appears to have launched in February but surfaced on Twitter and other social media Saturday.
Near the end of the 2,000-word screed, under a section titled “An Explanation,” the writer hints at why Charleston was targeted.
“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
Investigators are poring over his communications and Internet sites Roof visited, a law enforcement official said. Roof spent a lot of time online reading racist material but nothing has emerged indicating the attack was directed by a white supremacist group, the official said.
In the text, the writer described the Martin shooting as a turning point.
“It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right,” the text says, adding that the writer was transformed by the “pages upon pages of … brutal black on White murders” chronicled online.
“I have never been the same since that day,” the writer said.
“I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”
In a statement, Benjamin Crump, lead attorney for Martin’s family, said “it is not uncommon for those who commit unspeakable acts of violence to blame their heinous behavior on the actions of others.”
“Regardless of how this demented, racist individual attempts to shift the focus of his murderous actions, we will remain steadfast in our defense of the voiceless around this country,” the statement said. “They need it now more than ever.”
The website is called “The Last Rhodesian.” In an image tweeted by South Carolina authorities this week, Roof is seen wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that a white minority ruled until it became independent in 1980 and its name was changed to Zimbabwe.
Images on the website include a .45-caliber Glock pistol; a man who appears to be Roof taking aim with the gun; the same man posing in front of a sign that says, “Sacred burial site. Our African ancestors” as well as outside South Carolina’s Museum and Library of Confederate History; and the man standing on and burning an American flag.
A section titled “Patriotism” referred to the term itself as “an absolute joke” because there can be no patriotism “while White people are being murdered daily in the streets.” In racist rants, Hispanics are referred to as enemies, “Negroes” as violent and “very slick,” and Jews as an “enigma.”
“Living in the South, almost every White person has a small amount of racial awareness, simply beause (sic) of the numbers of negroes in this part of the country,” the text says. “But it is a superficial awareness. Growing up, in school, the White and black kids would make racial jokes toward each other, but all they were were jokes.”
It continues, “Me and White friends would sometimes … watch things that would make us think that ‘blacks were the real racists’ and other elementary thoughts like this, but there was no real understanding behind it.”
Loved ones of some victims offer forgiveness
On Saturday, Roof sat in his jail cell under suicide watch after hearing words of forgiveness from some of his victims’ loved ones the day before.
Wearing a striped inmate jumpsuit, the 21-year-old appeared Friday afternoon by video feed at a bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina. He stood motionless, a blank expression on his face, as he listened to the anguished words of relatives of the nine people he gunned down Wednesday night at a Bible study class at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of victim Ethel Lance said. “And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
Felecia Sanders — mother of victim Tywanza Sanders and a survivor of the church shooting — said that “every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same.”
“As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you,” she said of Roof. “But may God have mercy on you.”
The families’ words prompted a reaction from President Barack Obama.
“In the midst of darkest tragedy, the decency and goodness of the American people shines through in these families,” Obama said on Twitter.
On Saturday, Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the church, said Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer, told her that she left the Bible study meeting minutes before shots rang out. Jennifer Pinckney said she hid with her young daughter under a desk in an office and called 911, according to Johnson.
While the nation rallies behind Charleston, an insight into Roof’s state of mind came Saturday from Charleston County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Eric Watson.
Roof, he said, “is in protective custody. He is currently sitting on his bed being monitored by two detention officers. He is on suicide watch.”
The Emanuel AME Church is no longer a crime scene, according to Charleston Police Lt. Peter Farrell.
Services will resume Sunday, according to Joe Campbell, a member of the church council.
Roof’s family speaks for first time
Roof’s relatives spoke out for the first time in a statement Friday, extending their “deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims.”
“Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers sympathy for all of those impacted by these events,” the statement says. It asks for privacy for the Roof family.
Roof barely spoke at the hearing, answering the judge’s questions about his unemployment with a “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”
In the video feed, Roof could hear, but not see, people in the courtroom. People in the courtroom could see and hear Roof.
Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr. set bail at $1 million on a weapons possession charge. A circuit judge will hold a bond hearing later on the nine murder charges, but it’s unlikely Roof will be allowed to leave jail.
The suspect is being held in the North Charleston jail. Authorities didn’t want him to appear at the bond hearing in person for security reasons.
Roof may be prosecuted by federal authorities if it’s determined he committed a hate crime. The Justice Department said “it is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism.”
Roof admits he did it, sources say
Roof admits he shot and killed the people he’d sat with for Bible study at the historically black church, two law enforcement officials said.
He told investigators he did it to start a race war, according to one of the officials.
A friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan “to do something crazy” in order “to start a race war.” And the Berkeley County, South Carolina, government tweeted a picture of Roof in a jacket with flags from apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that was ruled by a white minority until it became independent in 1980 and is now known as Zimbabwe.
By telling authorities his aim, Roof admitted he attacked unarmed civilians for political purposes in an act of terror.
He faces a long legal road ahead, one that could end in his execution if prosecutors seek a death sentence, according to South Carolina law. Gov. Nikki Haley has indicated that’s what she wants.