Charleston Suspect Wore Apartheid-Era South African and Rhodesian Flags
The suspect in the Charleston shooting wore the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, both white supremacist states.
Police in North Carolina just arrested Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old South Carolina man accused of gunning down nine black congregants at a historic African-American church in Charleston. A picture of the suspect showed he supported one of the most oppressive governments in modern history -- as well as an equally savage regime running an unrecognized white supremacist state.
Police in North Carolina just arrested Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old South Carolina man accused of gunning down nine black congregants at a historic African-American church in Charleston. A picture of the suspect showed he supported one of the most oppressive governments in modern history — as well as an equally savage regime running an unrecognized white supremacist state.
An undated picture making the rounds on the Internet and cable news shows Roof in a black jacket with two flags affixed. We’ve blown up a picture of them below.
The flag on top is that of apartheid-era South Africa, a country whose government used all means of violence including mass murder, torture, and mass imprisonment to oppress its black majority. The banner was abandoned in 1994 after decades of struggle, when the black majority was more fully integrated into society and government there.
The second is the flag of the Republic of Rhodesia, an unrecognized state in southern Africa that existed from 1965 to 1979. And even though the existence of the country was never acknowledged by the international community, it had a nasty history.
Located in the region now known as Zimbabwe, the country was formed by a predominantly white government representing a majority black population in 1965. In declaring independence, Ian Smith, who would serve as prime minister of the country for the entirely of its existence, said, “The mantle of the pioneers has fallen on our shoulders to sustain civilization in a primitive country.”
It spent the next 14 years violently snuffing out insurgencies within the country with brutal tactics, including the use of anthrax on its own black population. At the same time, it fought bush wars with guerrilla forces from surrounding countries like Zambia and Mozambique.
The photo below is one of the most infamous from the period; it shows a Rhodesian soldier interrogating villagers. Atrocities like murder and torture were commonplace under Rhodesia’s regime.
By the late-1970s, the white minority government in South Africa abandoned Rhodesia, and the Rhodesian military, starved by years of international sanctions, no longer had the resources to continue to fight. Elections in 1979 gave control of the government to the black majority. A year later, the country’s name was changed to Zimbabwe.
Still, Rhodesia holds a sacred place within the modern white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements. Vice recently uncovered a post by a user “Kommandant” on the Internet forum 8chan, a refuge for those whose comments are too vile for 4chan. The user wrote:
“I just want to start by saying that no feat is too great, no task too arduous when done for the love of ones clan and ones blood. I have a hope for this future to prevail. And I know you can all see it too. It’s an ember, but with just the right amount of breath it can become a raging fire. And all of Africa will see its beautiful glow in the night sky. Call it south West Africa, call it Rhodesia, Call [sic] it whatever you want.”
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, a visibly upset President Barack Obama mourned the victims and called on the nation to do more to stop gun violence. It was the 14th time Obama has discussed the topic since he became president.
“At some point, we as a country have to recognize this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said. “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.”
It remains unclear whether Roof had any formal affiliation with white supremacist movements. But his choice of jacket insignias makes clear he was, at the very least, sympathetic to their cause.
Photo credit: Facebook
David Francis was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2014-2017.
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