The church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday serves as a chilling testament to the racism and hatred that still exists in America. Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof allegedly went into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, attended a bible study for as long as an hour, and subsequently opened fire in a vicious shooting spree that left nine dead. It was widely reported that he said he was there "to shoot black people."
Roof never did time in prison despite having been previously arrested, and nothing so far has tied him to any white supremacist groups. But the quote being attributed to him in the final moments before the shooting—"You are raping our women and taking over the country"—is loud and clear. While it's appalling to think the type of hate it takes to murder nine people in cold blood exists today, it does. And that kind of resentment is probably strongest in America's prisons, where white supremacist inmates are celebrating the crime.
"Dylann will be my next tattoo," a skinhead doing time in the feds for a gun charge told VICE after watching the news of the church shootings.
In prison, a convict's skin color often defines him. It is his flag or calling card, and thanks to the disproportionate jailing of people of color, whites often find themselves as part of the minority inside, a position they are unaccustomed to. Thus the rise of white supremacists in prison, the people who deem racial integration and diversity a threat to their culture, just as Roof allegedly found black men a threat to his.
"Whites made America great," an Aryan Nations member we'll call "Big" said. A 36-year-old white male of Dutch, German, and French ancestry, Big hails from upstate New York. He's doing a 120-month sentence for conspiring to distribute cocaine.
"We are descendants of white Europeans. We stand out and shine as a race. The white race is genetically superior. We're smarter. We invented everything," Big added.
Unlike more traditional prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia, or Black Guerrilla Family, gangs like the Aryan Nations allow members to come and go without retribution. There is no blood-in/blood-out credo, as the group was put together by men who were fed up with other organizations that claimed to be for the white race but were in reality just criminal cliques, based in prison, that preyed on whoever was vulnerable.
The Aryan Nations was inspired by the tenets of Nazi Germany. They have a violent streak aligned with Nazism's anti-Semitic and racist ideology; one of their followers, Buford Furrow, received two life sentences plus 110 years for an August 1999 shooting spree at a Jewish community center in LA. Other Aryan Nations members have been involved in bank robberies, shoot-outs with authorities, and the murders of blacks and others. To men like these, Dylann Roof could quickly become a sort of folk hero—even if there are a few white supremacists in prison determined to keep their distance.
"The guy was just some lame who wasn't affiliated with the movement in any way," one member of the Aryan Circle, another white supremacist prison gang, told VICE. "What he did was senseless and only gives the media more reason to portray blacks as victims. Before anyone even knew who the dude was, CNN had a response from the Southern Poverty Law Center saying that white hate groups are on the rise, and everyone assumed that the dude was tipped up. The kid was just some mentally ill drug addict who probably got sick and tired of the media always trashing whites, so it pushed him over the edge."
Public officials like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley are already calling for Roof to be executed, so there's a good chance he'll never see the inside of a regular prison. If he does end up incarcerated and in the general population, he'd probably feel compelled to join a racist gang.
"That kid better clique up quick," the Aryan Circle member added. "He couldn't join us. We don't accept lames, but one of these gangs will accept it. They will treat him like a celebrity, but he will have problems with the blacks. He will probably have to do his first few years in PC [protective custody] before the media scrutiny wears down and they can release him to general population."
White supremacists generally want to isolate themselves from other races. They want their own schools. They want white women to marry white men and produce white babies.
When asked, Big tried to explain why he ended up like this.
"The way I grew up in a small town where the race was only white, I heard my grandparents talking about niggers and spics and wetbacks and how they were different from the white race," he said. "When I grew older, I saw opposite races with my own race, and it didn't look right to me."
By talking about ideals like loyalty, dedication, solidarity, and kinship, white supremacist gangs can easily sell themselves to prospective members, even if they also require a lot from them. "I can't associate with homos, chomps [child molesters], or snitches. You can only affiliate with opposite races if you're gaining something from them. You can't eat with the opposite race or fraternize with them or cell with them. You have to keep it right, so keep it white," Big said. "We are running the prison for whites. We are brothers, comrades-in-arms. We go to war together. We represent the white race. We are the soldiers at the front of the war."
Big's prison time is almost up, but he'll take his views into the outside with him.
"Hopefully with the information that I've learned, I can take it to my race and educate them," Big said. "The five Northwest states are where the Aryan Nations want to consolidate their power base: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. We will have compounds with communal living for all the brothers and their families. We will live natural and grow all our own foods and have our own guns and protect our land and families."
Photo via Flickr user Kate Ter Haar
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