Skip to main content

Dylann Roof fatally shot nine people. In a church. He chose to do it. It wasn’t self-defense, it wasn’t by mistake; it was premeditated, cold-blooded murder. It’s hard to get any more evil than that.

But it seems that some people have trouble holding individuals accountable for what they do. One NBC story talked about how nice the killer’s family is, and about how he had been a “sweet kid” when younger. Yes, a lot of other murderers were “sweet kids” at some point, too. So what?

Apparently we’re supposed to wonder what experience or external influence could have magically and unavoidably turned that “sweet kid” into a monster. The unstated implication is that he couldn’t really be to blame for committing mass murder, so someone or something else must be at fault. And sure enough, according to the NBC story, the shooter’s ex-stepmother stated that he had been “looking up bad stuff on his computer,” and that “internet evil” (whatever that is) had drawn him in.

Of course, other people with other agendas will be quick to blame someone or something else. "Guns are to blame! The NRA is to blame! White people are to blame! People who display the confederate flag are to blame! Bullies are to blame! School is to blame! The media are to blame! Government is to blame! Society is to blame!"

Personally, I think the guy who pulled the trigger is to blame.

Yes, all sorts of traumatic experiences and negative influences can contribute to someone choosing to commit evil, but the vast majority of people who live through such experiences or are exposed to such ideas do not go around killing people. To blame “internet evil” in this case, for example, raises the obvious question, how did all those billions of other internet surfers avoid becoming mass murderers?

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

The problem is, it’s a lot easier for friends and relatives of a murderer to think, “he was a good boy corrupted by bad influences,” than it is for them to think, “he was an evil psycho.” But to talk as if a situation made someone commit evil is to pretend that free will does not exist, and that no one is responsible for the choices they make.

Dylann Roof chose to pull the trigger. He chose to commit mass murder. If he were my relative, I would say what I say now: there is nothing in the world that makes that okay, or that makes him not responsible, as an individual, for what he personally chose to do. It is unconscionable, unfixable and unforgivable.

Oddly, far less serious crimes rarely elicit a similar response from the media. If a young black man is caught shop-lifting, does NBC run a story about how he had been a “sweet kid” a decade earlier, or how “internet evil” must have made him do it? Is there some threshold of evil, below which we are perfectly willing to blame the actual perpetrator, but above which we need to make up excuses for him?

The irony, in this case, is that both the media and the killer exhibit the same inability to appropriately assign blame. Every indication is that the shooting was motivated by Roof’s hatred of black people in general. Of course, racism is based entirely upon pack mentality thinking, which often involves blaming an entire demographic category of people for the behavior of certain individuals in that category.

Whatever wrongs that Roof believed had been committed by some black individuals, to deal out “vengeance” against a group of church-goers because they happened to also have dark skin is both evil and insane. Likewise, blaming gun owners, or white people, or southerners, or people who browse the internet, for what Dylann Roof personally did, is just more pack-mentality stupidity—exactly the type of thinking that divides people into groups and factions, suspicious of each other and quick to do battle—with words or with bullets—with whatever other group they see as “the enemy.” This is the basis of all racism, and it is the basis of all war. The only way around it is for people of all races, religions and nationalities to assign blame or credit only to those individuals who have earned blame or credit through their own personal choices and actions.

There is only one “us versus them” that should divide us, and it has nothing to do with race, nationality, or any other accident of birth. The division that people should focus on is the division between those who choose peaceful coexistence, and those who choose to initiate violence against others. Dylan Roof and I are of the same race, the same sex, and the same nationality—all by accident of birth. But he sure as hell is not “my people.” Because of his actions, he is absolutely my enemy. In contrast, the people I view as being on my “side” are those people who—even if they look and sound nothing like me—choose peaceful coexistence over violent aggression. That is the only “club” worth being in, and the only group I would ever be proud to call “my people.”

Larken Rose is an anarchist author best known for challenging the IRS to answer questions about the federal tax liability of citizens, and being put in prison with no questions answered. You can view his work at