A young man has once again unleashed murderous rage upon unsuspecting victims, this time in the hallowed halls of Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And once again, a nation is trying to make sense of the crime.
Given the online manifesto left behind by accused 21-year-old shooter Dylann Roof, it’s clear that his strong racial prejudices played a primary role in motivating the atrocities he plotted for months before committing. But what influences fed the young man’s animus? As news and information about Roof’s motivation continues to emerge, it seems increasingly likely that the Internet was perhaps one of the conduits informing and reinforcing his hate.
“He was always a loner and quiet and very smart—too smart,” Paige Mann, Roof’s stepmother, told the New York Daily News. “He was bored in advanced classes. … He’s not a bad kid. Something happened.” Regarding what that might have been, she added, “He was locked in his room looking up bad stuff on the computer. Something on the computer drew him in—this is Internet evil.”
But no one in the family apparently had any idea how radically Roof had turned until it was too late. “Nobody knew this was coming,” she added. “We just thought he was a lazy, this-generation kind of kid.”
The whys are impossible to sort out completely, of course. There remains much impenetrable mystery in such an evil act.
That said, the backstory details behind Roof’s murderous violence are hardly shocking anymore. And one constant in almost every case like this one, I’d argue, is that the media plays a role in these shooters’ lives. We rarely have to wait very long in these horrific stories before we learn about a killer’s entertainment choices, paired with speculation regarding how those habits might have played a role in influencing such unspeakable acts.
The point here is not that the Internet or video games or violent movies solely cause already unstable folks to go out and commit such atrocities. That said, I think we’d be equally foolish to ignore the reality that such things do play a role—and sometimes a significant one—in shaping the mind and heart of someone who ultimately carries out such a shocking crime.