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FBI director says Charleston shooting isn’t terrorism because it’s not political

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The clip above is an excerpt from "The FBI's War on Black America," by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller. Click here to buy a DVD of the film and here to find info on their latest project.

FBI director James Comey has said his agency is investigating last week's shooting of nine black parishioners at a historic Charleston, South Carolina black church as a hate crime. He explicitly disagreed with many in the country who are calling the incident a white supremacist terrorist attack.

"Terrorism is act of violence done or threatens to in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry so it’s more of a political act and again based on what I know so more I don’t see [the Charleston shooting] as a political act," Comey said.

For the FBI, domestic terrorism is:

The unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

According to his roommate, Dylann Roof frequently talked about his hatred for black people and desire to ignite a race war. He posted a manifesto on the internet in which he laid out his white supremacist philosophy and then explicitly stated:

I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.

The FBI isn't going to investigate the incident as a terrorist attack, Jim Comey says, because it's not a political act. To understand how this could be possible, we've got to look to history. Take an hour or two and watch the documentaries COINTELPRO: The FBI's War on Black America (embedded above) and COINTELPRO 101, featuring interviews from black power and Puerto Rican independence activists. The information contained in that history is critical for every American to internalize, especially at moments like this one. The history of the FBI's war on black America may provide the beginnings of an understanding for how the FBI director could so callously deny his own agency's definition of terrorism and the accepted facts about this case.

Then again, this could explain it, too.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.