Charleston shooter faces federal hate crime charges: Is it enough?

Officials say Dylann Roof will be indicted on federal hate crime charges Wednesday.

Randall Hill/Reuters
Dylann Roof (r.), the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, listens to the proceedings with assistant defense attorney William Maguire during a hearing at the Judicial Center in Charleston, S.C., July 16.

Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man charged with killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., last month, will be indicted on federal hate crime charges on Wednesday, according to media reports.

An anonymous official close to the case told the Associated Press that a grand jury will indict Mr. Roof, who already faces state charges including nine counts of murder. He could face the death penalty if found guilty. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch is expected to formally announce the charges at a 3 p.m. press conference.

The indictment has been expected since Roof’s arrest on June 17, when authorities began investigating the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a hate crime. 

A hate crime is defined by Congress as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” 

Roof, a white man, is thought to have authored a racist online manifesto and appeared in several photos with Confederate flags. 

“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,” reads one passage on his website, "The Last Rhodesian." “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.”

There has been little question from the start of the investigation that the attack was racially motivated – hence the hate crime charges. But some argue that the mass killing should be considered an act of terrorism instead. 

“Many maintain that a ‘hate crime’ is an individual act, easily dismissed, while ‘terrorism’ evokes the sense of an ‘other’ who has attacked the national family as a whole,” The Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius wrote two days after the attack. 

If Roof had been black and the victims white, some experts say, he would be considered a terrorist. 

“While white suspects are lone wolfs ... violence by black and Muslim people is systemic, demanding response and action from all who share their race or religion,” wrote Anthea Butler, professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, in an essay in The Washington Post.

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, stressed to the Monitor the importance of using the term “terrorist” rather than “hate crime” to demonstrate to Americans “how severe and dangerous” crimes such as Roof’s are. 

“If we just say it’s mental illness or just a senseless act of violence, then it sends a message to other people that it’s not that close to them, that it’s not as grave of a crime,” Ms. Sarsour said. “Then we end up detracting from a very important conversation about the nature of domestic white male supremacist terrorism.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.