Let’s not mince words about the suspect in the massacre at Emanuel AME Church. He is a terrorist of the worst kind - the domestic variety that this nation knows so well.
Nine people were gunned down Wednesday night at a Bible study inside the historic church in Charleston, S.C. The attack ignites again the uniquely American debates about guns, violence and racism.
But this attack at this church in this day and age does so much more than that. At least it should. (Full disclosure: The African Methodist Episcopal Church is dear to my family. My grandfather was a presiding elder in the AME Ohio conference. All three of his sons, including my father, were ordained ministers. At least one cousin in my generation carries on the Dokes tradition.)
The suspect, identified as Dylann Storm Roof, 21, took a page from the 19th century American domestic terrorist handbook – ruthlessly attack people in the places where they find strength and comfort, where they have the opportunity to grow and prosper. Destroy their homes, their schools, their churches. Cause spectacular harm to individuals – lynch them, burn them, bomb them, gun them down – for the greater negative impact on an entire community.
This has been the worst kind of terrorism on U.S. soil. It has caused so much more harm than foreign extremists.
These are fellow Americans whose freedom to hate manifests in violent assaults, usually on a particular religious or ethnic community. Some of them are still fighting the Civil War of their ancestors. Their ideas of a glorious American past don’t jibe with a future of significant cultural change. Some of them cling to a notion of supremacy that can only be achieved through domination or annihilation of another race or culture.
Worried about sleeper cells in the U.S.? Worry more about the seething anger and hatred in plain view that fuels the actions of suspects like young Dylann Storm Roof. That’s the greater threat to peace and tranquility. It always has been.
But, as history has shown, the reaction to the evils of domestic terrorism also will be spectacular. There’s a well-worn playbook for that, too. We see it already in the prayers and voices lifted in song today. It’s a step on a path to healing.
In the days ahead, watch, again, the great tradition of releasing the incredible sorrow these assaults bring. Watch, again, a proud community restore the sanctity shattered by violent hatred. Watch, again, the inspirational resolve for peace rise up.
Watch, America. And learn.
Until the next time.