Rudnik > Dylann Roof: The Perfectly Human Monster

| June 24, 2015

Roof has been described a number of ways.  Except perhaps the most important of all.

Roof

Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Dylann Roof is a monster. He is an incarnation of unadulterated evil. Scan the dictionary for the word beast, and you’ll likely find his picture beside it. He committed the greatest crime of man against man—nine times. Roof is a self-proclaimed “Last Rhodesian,” an apparent ode to the twentieth century apartheid (i.e., segregationist) policies in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Following the Trayvon Martin controversy, Roof purported that he had “no choice” but rise up violently against African Americans.

To assuage his odious proclivities, he took a gun to a historically black church, Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and opened fire. He murdered nine people, including the church’s pastor and South Carolina state senator, Clementa C. Pinckney. The tale of racist violence has been plastered all over the television news, newspapers, and the web since the incident last Wednesday.

And much of the media and its normally-discordant editorialists have described Roof in the terms above: a monster, a depraved individual, a racist hell-bent on destruction. But these are merely words we use to rationalize Wednesday’s events as best we can. At the same time, they desensitize us from truly understanding the “evil” we are grappling with. They summarily dehumanize Dylan Roof. They give him an “out.” If he’s a demonic figure, he is then unlike us. Words like “monster” only put distance between us and the Dylann Roof-archetype of hate. A word I’ve yet to see describe Roof is perhaps the most apt: human.

Despite Roof’s horrendous crimes, what’s lost in the endless debate and discussion over Roof’s underpinning motivations is his humanity. That is perhaps the most chilling of all labels we can vest on Roof. Human. No different from you or I. Even when one commits an unspeakable act against another, or many others as Roof has, by saying they’re a monster, we place them in a category all their own. In this way, we can marginalize Roof, as he marginalized the nine black church parishioners he gunned down like animals.

But that’s far too easy, too convenient. Man has long described evil in terms of externalities. But by placing Roof in a group reserved for the worst among us, we simultaneously forget that Roof and those like him are, indeed, among us. Thomas Merton, a twentieth century American Catholic priest, monk, and mystic, posits that the greatest evil perpetuated in the world is not born from the maladjusted, the insane, or the deranged, but from the most sane, the most rational among us—in other words, the most “human.”

Merton uses the Holocaust to support his argument. In the Holocaust, it was the most rational men who perpetuated the greatest evil. The Nazis responsible for the Holocaust were 100 percent human. They used modern, twentieth century science, mechanization, and industrialization to murder on an incomprehensible scale. They were so enveloped in the methods and underpinning ideologies of their crimes against humanity, they never questioned the basic premises of their cause. They merely followed orders and executed them with unflinching precision. It was their sane rationality, their human nature itself, which deeply troubled Merton.

That can be deeply difficult to grapple with. Though, in the world, no single person is truly subhuman. If we label Roof in those terms, we’re no better than him. Roof subscribed to racism—a deeply flawed, failed ideology. The racist worldview is reinforced by the flawed premise that certain groups of men are naturally superior to others. In this way, the racist stratifies mankind on arbitrary premises. Because they believe they are superior to the subordinate group, they then dehumanize the inferior group. As Roof has proven, it makes it easier to kill them when the subordinate group is not seen as fully human.

But there is without a doubt another way. A better way. In his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. passionately notes that, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

When we look at the oppressed or the oppressor in subhuman terms, the daybreak of peace seems still too far from our grasp. Dylann Roof will go to jail, perhaps even be executed for his crimes. But the question is how do we stop the next Dylann Roof? And then the next after him? And further, the one after that? Until we recognize the humanity of both the extremist and his victim, we will never truly address the requisite causes that bring men to exact violence against another based solely on a faulty worldview. To simply say Roof is a monster is one thing, to ask why is quite another.

Indeed, Dylann Roof is a monster. He is without a doubt a perfectly human monster. And until we recognize that, we’ll never see the sliver of light on the horizon that is the bright daybreak of brotherhood forever vanquishing the starless midnight of racism.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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