Roof isn’t a ‘terrorist,’ but #BlackLivesMatter may be

00_brucedixonThere’s a lot of noise asking why government officials from the Charleston Police Department to the FBI to President Obama refuse to call Charleston shooter Dylan Roof a “terrorist.”

As FBI Director James Comey explained, the term “terrorist” has a very specific legal meaning. Legally, a terrorist is somebody aiming to influence or change government or corporate policies by breaking the law.

By that definition, Dylan Roof – who simply wanted to kill as many Black people as he could – is NOT a terrorist.

No change
The willingness to kill a lot of Black people is NOT a change in corporate or governmental policy. Killing lots of Black folks has been business as usual ever since Europeans landed in the New World 500 years ago.

The Charleston shooter is a deranged kook though, because unlike the Koch Brothers, or R.J. Reynolds, or Aetna Insurance, or Bank of America, United Fruit, US Steel or the Massachusetts Bay Company – all of whom filled cemeteries and raked in billions – Dylan Roof killed a group of Black people for free.

However, if you take a picture of or write a description for publication about what goes on in a food, agricultural or animal processing facility; if you’ve been protesting the leaky oil pipelines and “bomb trains” that wind through thousands of communities – the FBI and federally-funded “fusion centers” have no trouble designating you an actual or potential “terrorist” or “eco-terrorist.”

Fit the definition
The#BlackLivesMatter folks who break the law blocking traffic fit the definition of terrorism quite neatly. Chelsea Manning is doing 35 years in federal prison for espionage – “aiding and abetting terrorism” – by releasing video of US soldiers murdering Iraqi civilians, and handing over cable traffic showing everything from US State Department intervention to keep Haitian wages low, to secret US bombing campaigns, to US torture, to mercenary companies trafficking in children, and more, to Wikileaks – which distributed them around the world.

The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” have never been our words. Our oppressors have always deployed them.

The first time I recall hearing about “terrorists” was in the 1970s. The White colonial regimes of Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia called Black Africans “terrorists when they took up arms and fought for their people’s freedom. The regimes then declared they were on the front lines of a global war on terror.

Charleston shooter Dylan Roof wore their flag – a Rhodesian flag – on his jacket.

Never decided
The poor and oppressed have never had the privilege of deciding who was a terrorist, because the terrorist has always been a handy construction of the rich and powerful.

That construction justifies Homeland Security departments, militarized policing, and a country with 5 percent of the world’s population spending half the world’s military budget on its so-called “global war on terror.” Our government needs terrorism and terrorists to justify itself so badly that FBI and other police agencies constantly manufacture “terrorist plots” in which they ensnare the ignorant and unwary.

Let’s get real
If breaking the law to change government or corporate policy makes you a terrorist, then Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, anti-pipeline activists, and #BlackLivesMatter protestors blocking roads and streets all pass the test.

Dylan Roof – who wants things pretty much the way they already are, only more so – does not.

Bruce Dixon is managing editor of


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