Skip to main content

Weekend Read: Dylann Roof murdered nine people because of a lie about 'black-on-white crime'

It’s been three years since Dylann Roof massacred nine black parishioners in a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.

As he methodically shot his victims at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church with a Glock pistol, court testimony reveals that Roof said, “Y’all are raping our white women. Y’all are taking over the world.”

How did Roof become so immersed in white supremacist propaganda about black violence that he would be driven to murder?

“The answer lies, at least in part,” narrated our Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich in an SPLC video last year, “in the way that fragile minds can be shaped by the algorithm that powers Google Search.”

As Roof wrote in an online manifesto, his radicalization began when he typed the words “black on White crime” into Google. He came across the website of a crudely racist group called the Council of Conservative Citizens. There, he found what he described as “pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders.”

“I was in disbelief,” he wrote. “How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”

Since we exposed the problems with Google’s algorithm, the search engine has cleaned up its results. But Roof is not the only one to fall for lies about black criminality. And the Council of Conservative Citizens isn’t the only one to disseminate them.

In November 2015, candidate Donald Trump tweeted an image that originated from a neo-Nazi account, asserting that while 16 percent of white people were killed by white people, 81 percent were killed by black people.

It was a blatant lie.

As Jon Greenberg reported for Politifact at the time, “The exact opposite is true.” FBI data shows that just 15 percent of whites were killed by black people; 82 percent were killed by other whites.

In a new report released this week, we’ve traced the history of “this idea that black people are wantonly attacking white people,” propaganda that from the mid-1800s to the present day has proven itself “a bogus narrative with a very long American history.”

As our Hatewatch staff writes:

White Americans’ unsubstantiated views about the potential of violence from black people was the number one excuse they used to justify slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and various forms of mass incarceration. ... Without the ability to claim oppression of black people as a form of self-defense, racial segregation and white supremacy would be seen for what they are: rank oppression of other people for financial or other benefit.

It was this lie about so-called “black-on-white crime” that helped turn a young Roof into a mass murderer.

It is this lie that continues to percolate through our society, fueling hate and fear, as it’s perpetuated by white supremacist propagandists and their enablers.

And on the anniversary of the Charleston massacre, it is this lie that we have to dismantle once and for all.

The Editors.

P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:

SPLC’s Weekend Read is a weekly summary of the most important news reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequality, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive the Weekend Read every Saturday morning.