Dylann Roof was not silent about his homicidal intentions. Before massacring nine people who welcomed him into their church, Roof shared with several acquaintances his violent commitment to racial cleansing:
At first Mr. Meek said he did not take Mr. Roof seriously. But he became worried enough that several weeks ago he took away and hid Mr. Roof’s .45-caliber handgun, which Mr. Roof had bought with money given to him by his parents for his 21st birthday. But at the urging of his girlfriend, Mr. Meek returned the weapon because he was on probation and did not want to get into trouble.
Now Mr. Meek and his girlfriend, Lindsey Fry, both of whom are white, say they feel guilt about the shooting. “I feel we could have done something and prevented this whole thing,” Ms. Fry said.
Asked why Mr. Roof picked that particular church, Mr. Meek replied, “Because it was a black church.”
Another friend, Dalton Tyler, said that Mr. Roof had begun talking about wanting “to start a civil war.” But like Mr. Meek, he did not always take Mr. Roof seriously.
Mr. Tyler said on another occasion, the two were driving to a strip club by the zoo when Mr. Roof saw a black woman, used a racist word and said, “I’ll shoot your ass.”
“I was just like, ‘You’re stupid,'” Mr. Tyler said. “He was a racist; but I don’t judge people.”
The last statement is reprehensible. To completely abstain from judging others would be morally deranged and intellectually dishonest.
Most of us have heard the public service announcement “If you see something, say something.” But short of someone brandishing a weapon, it is not entirely clear what to watch for. Joe Navarro is a former FBI agent who worked for years on counterintelligence and behavioral analysis. Navarro has argued that several traits are common to most mass murderers.
Political fanatics who resort to mass murder tend to view themselves as part of a vanguard, with a special authority to act without having to answer to anyone else. They speak in hateful terms, but what they express is an all-pervasive fear. They imagine the world as a conspiracy, where they are persecuted by some malignant and mysterious force. In their minds, they are engaged in a relentless battle against some existential threat. This fear and loathing, Navarro said, “can give purpose to an otherwise unfulfilled life.” It can also be taken as a license to kill.
A common practice for such fanatics is the collection of wounds. According to Navarro:
These are individuals who collect social or historical slights, procedural wrongs, injustices real or imagined, mistakes, faux pas, on and on for a purpose. That purpose is to validate their hatred and paranoia and justify just how correct they are. And they don’t just collect wounds they nurture them so they don’t die out. They take them out, dust them off, tell and retell them, think about them, and garnish them, so that they become almost mythically powerful through repetitive admiration (story telling, ideation, writing, rituals, etc.). Thus, wound collection is essential, it provides the justification for acting out.
Most of these whinging fanatics do little more than bellyache. Distinguishing the few audacious enough to act from the sedentary blowhards is no easy task. However, Navarro said there are some crucial indicators: when they seek out weapons or the means to kill, and when they engage in magical thinking about righteous violence. Though before they act, they are likely to withdraw, first psychologically and then physically:
By self-isolating the individual assures that he is not listening to outside factors (extrinsic) that would derail his [or her] thinking or ideation. Coupled with physical isolation, the individual insures no outside distractions, and they can focus on their ideology, collected wounds, and the magical solution to solve the issue. In physical isolation, they can further focus their hatred, refine their magical solution, plan how to execute their action, come to terms with their decision and how the violence will be carried out.
Early clues are not difficult to find, though they are easy to dismiss. We leak what we desire, Navarro said, “but we broadcast what we hate.” After a terrorist attack, there is often concern about possible failures of intelligence or law enforcement agencies. More disturbing to me are the failures of community and civil society.