Sus­pect fits ‘clas­sic lone wolf ’ pro­file

Los Angeles Times - - CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING - By Noah Bier­man, Brit­tny Me­jia and Richard A. Ser­rano noah.bier­man@latimes.com brit­tny.me­jia@latimes.com richard.ser­rano@latimes.com Times staff writer Ryan Parker in Los An­ge­les con­trib­uted to this re­port.

LEX­ING­TON, S.C. — Dy­lann Roof seemed to be wan­der­ing through this small sub­urb with a set of racist views and lit­tle else: no school, no friends, no clique with which to as­so­ciate.

Law en­force­ment agents are now try­ing to fig­ure out how and why this 21-year-old man trans­formed his alien­ation into cal­cu­lated rage — an at­tack in which Roof is ac­cused of killing nine African Amer­i­cans at a church Wed­nes­day. Not only did he drive two hours from his home, but he also spent an hour pray­ing with his vic­tims, author­i­ties say.

So far, the por­trait they are draw­ing of Roof is that of a “lone wolf,” some­one dis­con­nected from tra­di­tional hate or ter­ror­ist groups, who looked online for his in­spi­ra­tion and struck with­out de­tec­tion.

An­a­lysts say the rise of lone wolves is one of the big­gest trends in ter­ror­ism. Not only are lone wolves harder to pre­dict, but, with­out a group to hold them ac­count­able, they are also ca­pa­ble of po­ten­tially more un­re­strained vi­o­lence.

A law en­force­ment of­fi­cial on Fri­day called Roof “a per­son drift­ing through life who had ac­cess to a com­puter, a clas­sic lone wolf.”

He said that in­ves­ti­ga­tors will re­view Roof ’s In­ter­net history and other ev­i­dence for more clues to whether he was vis­it­ing white supremacy web­sites. “He linked him­self to this cause, ob­vi­ously,” said the of­fi­cial, speak­ing anony­mously be­cause the case is de­vel­op­ing.

The of­fi­cial said Roof may have cho­sen the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., as the site of his vi­o­lence be­cause it is a prom­i­nent sym­bol among African Amer­i­cans.

But the source em­pha­sized that in­ves­ti­ga­tors so far have not found a “fig­ure or group” that may have col­lab­o­rated with Roof or di­rected him to the church in Charleston.

A lo­cal leader of a group that has been la­beled a neoCon­fed­er­ate hate or­ga­ni­za­tion by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter said he had not spo­ken with any­one who knew Roof.

“I’m pretty well tied in with all the South­ern groups in the area,” said Lourie Sal­ley, a board mem­ber and for­mer South Carolina chair­man of the League of the South, who prac­tices law in Roof ’s home­town of Lex­ing­ton. “As far as I know, he’s never had any con­tact with any of us.”

Sal­ley, who strongly de­nies that his group is white su­prem­a­cist, called the church at­tack a “heinous crime” that would leave Roof in “a spe­cial place in hell.”

A Fe­bru­ary study by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter ex­am­ined more than 60 do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism in­ci­dents be­tween 2009 and 2015 and found al­most three­quar­ters were car­ried out or planned by a sin­gle per­son. Ninety per­cent were the work of no more than two.

Ex­perts say lone-wolf at­tack­ers are of­ten peo­ple with stress and in­sta­bil­ity in their lives, pre­vi­ous crim­i­nal be­hav­ior, few close per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and a ten­dency to let anger fes­ter over per­ceived wounds, in­clud­ing things that did not hap­pen to them per­son­ally.

Though Roof ’s life has not yet been fully sketched out, at least some of that de­scrip­tion ap­pears apt.

Roof moved be­tween schools in Rich­land County and Lex­ing­ton County, ac- cord­ing to school records, none of which showed him ad­vanc­ing be­yond the ninth grade. He had re­cently been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of petty crimes that fol­lowed drug pos­ses­sion, and he told po­lice that he had been un­able to get a job.

“The lone wolf, of­ten­times, is re­ally liv­ing in a world of his own pain and do­ing, and feels that he’s not un­der­stood, and wants power and con­trol,” said Brian Levin, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Hate and Ex­trem­ism at Cal State San Bernardino. “And I think that’s what we saw here.”

An old friend, Joseph Meek Jr., told the As­so­ci­ated Press that Roof had drifted away from him five years ago, only to reemerge in re­cent weeks with strong views about re­cent racial in­ci­dents and a gen­eral belief that black peo­ple were “tak­ing over the world.”

It’s un­clear where Roof may have de­vel­oped his racist views. His fam­ily mem­bers have said lit­tle.

“Ev­ery­one keeps ask­ing, ‘Well, how’d he turn out like this? Why’d he do it?’ ” said Car­son Cowles, his un­cle, in an in­ter­view. “All I can tell you is there wasn’t any­one in my fam­ily that did this, made him this way.”

Ex­perts say iso­la­tion from hate groups can ac­tu­ally in­crease the anger and sense of right­eous­ness among lone wolves.

“If you’re ac­tive in a move­ment, a lot of your energy … can be soaked up by other things. Meet­ings, ral­lies, demon­stra­tions,” said Mark Pitcavage, di­rec­tor of the Anti-Defama­tion League’s Cen­ter on Ex­trem­ism, who re­cently wrote an aca­demic pa­per an­a­lyz­ing about 35 lone killers in the U.S. over the last 20 years. “If you’re just sort of stew­ing in your own juices, things can kind of build up.”

Far-right do­mes­tic groups have also long glo­ri­fied “lead­er­less re­sis­tance,” a con­cept de­fined in an es­say by white su­prem­a­cist Louis Beam that gained trac­tion in the move­ment in the early 1990s.

“We find lone wolves across the en­tire po­lit­i­cal or re­li­gious spec­trum,” said Jeffrey D. Si­mon, vis­it­ing lec­turer in the Depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Science at UCLA and au­thor of “Lone Wolf Ter­ror­ism: Un­der­stand­ing the Grow­ing Threat.”

Si­mon’s par­tial list of re­cent no­ta­bles bears out their di­ver­sity: James von Brunn, an 88-year-old who killed a se­cu­rity guard at Washington’s Holo­caust mu­seum in 2009; An­ders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old right-wing ex­trem­ist who killed 77 peo­ple in Nor­way in 2011; and the Tsar­naev broth­ers, self­styled Mus­lim ex­trem­ists in their 20s who car­ried out the deadly Bos­ton Marathon at­tack in 2013.

DY­LANN ROOF had few friends and no job, author­i­ties say.

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