(By Deutsche Welle) The massacre of nine African-Americans at a church has forced the US to re-examine a lingering history of racism and its symbols. The Charleston tragedy is the latest in a string of white supremacist shooting sprees.
South Carolina fired the first shots of the American Civil War in 1861.
In 2015, the battle flag of the Confederacy still flies high in the southern state’s capital, Columbia. It can be seen from the statehouse, home to South Carolina’s legislature and the governor’s office.
The flag keeps watch over a monument dedicated to those who died fighting to preserve a way of life that rested on the enslavement of millions of Africans, who were brought against their will to toil in the cotton fields of the American South.
It’s a stubborn flag, one that cannot be taken down without a vote by two-thirds of the state legislature.
The battle flag of the Confederacy is secured to its pole by a padlock, according to the Huffington Post.
While the US and the South Carolina state flags were lowered to half mast in memory of the nine victims of the shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the battle flag of the Old South remained at full mast.
Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first Indian-American governor, called on Monday for the flag to be taken down. It was a reversal of opinion. Previously, the conservative Republican had resisted calls for its removal from the statehouse grounds.
“The Confederate flag is a certainly a powerful symbol of white supremacy in the United States, but also across Europe,” Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, told DW.
“There are many German neo-Nazis and Swedish white supremacists and others who get Confederate flag tattoos,” Pitcavage said.
‘You’re taking over our country’
Dylann Roof is a native of South Carolina. In photos posted to a website called the Last Rhodesian, Roof burned the stars and stripes and proudly displayed the stars and bars. The license plate on Roof’s car also featured the Confederate flag.
The 21-year-old white man was kindly welcomed into Charleston’s oldest black church last Wednesday, founded by the freedman Denmark Vesey, who was hanged in 1822 after plotting an uprising against slave owners.
The black congregation was so kind to Roof that he reportedly had second thoughts about carrying out the massacre. But Roof went through with his plans.
According to witness accounts in the Washington Post, he drew his semi-automatic pistol and told his victims: “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
‘Racism, we are not cured of it’
White men like Roof are still fighting a lost battle to the restore the Old South and roll back the advancement of the African-American community from slavery to freedom, from the cotton fields to the Oval Office.
Right-wing extremism has grown rapidly since Barack Hussein Obama was elected to the nation’s highest office in 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Though Obama decisively won two presidential elections, some Americans have refused to accept his legitimacy as the nation’s democratically elected leader. They have questioned his citizenship and demanded presentation of his birth certificate.
In the words of the first African-American president in United States history: “Racism, we are not cured of it.”
Wave of racist lone-wolf violence
White supremacists have not been able to grow their numbers, according to Pitcavage. Anti-government radicals, who don’t necessarily adhere to an ideology of racial superiority, have been primarily responsible for the growth in right-wing extremism since 2009.
There have been 42 major terrorist acts, plots or conspiracies related to right-wing extremists over the past six years, according to Pitcavage. Though white supremacists have stagnated or even declined in number, they are the most violent movement in the radical right. White supremacist violence is usually perpetrated by lone wolves acting independent of any organization.
The day after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Keith Luke went on a raping and shooting spree in the Boston area that targeted West African immigrants. The 28-year-old planned to attack a synagogue, but was stopped by police.
Richard Andrew Poplawski, a white supremacist, ambushed and killed three police officers in Pittsburgh in April of 2009. The ambush was the single deadliest attack against law enforcement by a domestic extremist since Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
In June of 2009, James von Brunn opened fire inside the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, killing a security guard. Other officers shot and wounded the 80-year-old neo-Nazi, preventing a rampage.
In 2012, Wade Michael Page opened fire at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six people. The skinhead killed himself after being shot in the stomach by a police officer.
Last year, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. opened fire outside of a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, killing three people. The 73-year-old neo-Nazi was arrested after the shooting.
“This Charleston shooting is just the latest in a long string of these sorts of incidents,” Pitcavage said.
Little national media coverage
White supremacists have been responsible for 85 percent of the murders carried out by domestic extremists in the US over the past decade, according to Pitcavage.
That far outweighs violence by domestic Islamist extremists, which receives more media attention. Though the tragedy in Charleston has been extensively covered, many other incidents of white supremacist violence are covered only briefly by the national media, if at all.
“Editors are making decisions about whether to take something national and too many times some of these things are not covered,” Pitcavage said.
“One of the results of that is the average American doesn’t know how much right-wing violence is going on in the United States, because unless it happens in their backyard, they’re not very likely to have heard of it,” he said.