I’ve been thinking about this interview with a “friend” of Dylann Roof’s. (Not sure how close they were.)
“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”
But now, “the things he said were kind of not joking,” [his friend] added.
Children and teens, even college-aged people, have more power than adults to make their peers. Every decision and interaction has the power to nudge a person in a particular way, to set them on a path.
One benefit of age is seeing how those moments in the past helped shape you; seemingly tiny things that changed your trajectory. Certainly those moments include racist and sexist jokes, off-hand remarks that you can either react to or ignore.
In all honesty my own history is a mixed one: I’ve laughed at those jokes, I’ve let them slide, I’ve even made them. Other times I do react: hey, bruh, that ain’t cool. And I can recall times when the gentle admonishment of friends has changed me, or where the acceptance (even encouragement) of hateful remarks has nudged me the other way. Peer pressure is powerful.
Maybe Dylann could not have been nudged off his deadly path, but I feel like we are made of these moments of action or inaction, and I wonder if the friend is brooding now about what might be different if he had only responded differently. “Man, you sound really hateful.” “Are you sure you’re all right?” “Come one, don’t be a jerk.”
Later in the same story, another friend gives even more unsettling backstory.
Roommate Dalton Tyler told ABC News that Roof was “planning something like that for six months.”
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
What did the roommate do? Recoil in horror? Warn people? Call the police, even? How did he end up in a place where someone could unfold their homicidal fantasies and he shrugged it off? Is that where you nudge yourself by letting racist jokes slide, then crazy rants and fringe conspiracy theories, to where you gently accommodate terroristic plots?
One reason for “lone wolf” and “extremist” labeling of killers like these is that they distance them from ourselves, rather than accept responsibility for our silent consent.