In what is purported to be Dylann Roof’s “manifesto,” he writes that this is where it all began:
The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Reading that reminded me of how Ta-Nehisi Coates meticulously laid out the process by which the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman became “racialized political fodder” for right wing media.
The reaction to the tragedy was, at first, trans-partisan. Conservatives either said nothing or offered tepid support for a full investigation—and in fact it was the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who appointed the special prosecutor who ultimately charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder. As civil-rights activists descended on Florida, National Review, a magazine that once opposed integration, ran a column proclaiming “Al Sharpton Is Right.” The belief that a young man should be able to go to the store for Skittles and an iced tea and not be killed by a neighborhood watch patroller seemed uncontroversial…
The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled. Rush Limbaugh denounced Obama’s claim of empathy. The Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, broadcast all of Martin’s tweets, the most loutish of which revealed him to have committed the unpardonable sin of speaking like a 17-year-old boy. A white supremacist site called Stormfront produced a photo of Martin with pants sagging, flipping the bird. Business Insider posted the photograph and took it down without apology when it was revealed to be a fake.
Newt Gingrich pounced on Obama’s comments: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn’t look like him?” Reverting to form, National Review decided the real problem was that we were interested in the deaths of black youths only when nonblacks pulled the trigger. John Derbyshire, writing for Taki’s Magazine, an iconoclastic libertarian publication, composed a racist advice column for his children inspired by the Martin affair. (Among Derbyshire’s tips: never help black people in any kind of distress; avoid large gatherings of black people; cultivate black friends to shield yourself from charges of racism.)
The notion that Zimmerman might be the real victim began seeping out into the country, aided by PR efforts by his family and legal team…In April, when Zimmerman set up a Web site to collect donations for his defense, he raised more than $200,000 in two weeks, before his lawyer asked that he close the site and launched a new, independently managed legal-defense fund…
…Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles… Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.
There you have it, folks. Because President Obama simply said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” the right wing media in this country went into a frenzy. That’s when they got Roof’s attention. The rest was up to the white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Dylann Storm Roof is certainly responsible for his own horrific actions this past week. But we can’t ignore the way the right wing media has consistently stirred up racial animus amongst their viewers/listeners at every turn over the last seven years.