Charleston shooting

What's the Point of Charging Dylann Roof With Hate Crimes?

A federal prosecution would condemn his racism as well as his violence-one reason it's a bad idea.



Citing unnamed "federal law enforcement officials," The New York Times reports that the Justice Department probably will file federal hate crime charges against Dylann Roof in connection with last week's massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Since Roof already faces nine murder charges in state court, where he will be subject to the death penalty if convicted, an additional federal prosecution seems gratuitous. It does not even offer the prospect of a more severe punishment. To the contrary, the maximum penalty Roof would face under federal law is life in prison, while there is a distinct possibility that South Carolina will execute him.

The Times concedes that a conviction in state court "would make federal action largely symbolic." Still, federal prosecutors are eager to pursue the case, because what's the point of having a federal hate crime law if you don't use it to prosecute someone like Dylann Roof? "This directly fits the hate crime statute," one of those unidentified law enforcement officials tells the Times. "This is exactly what it was created for."

Was the hate crime statute really created to allow redundant, "largely symbolic" prosecutions of people who have already been sentenced to life in prison or death? Not quite. It has more practical functions as well. For instance, it allows the Justice Department to prosecute someone after he is acquitted in state court. Under the Supreme Court's "dual sovereignty" doctrine, that does not count as double jeopardy. The hate crime law also allows the Justice Department to prosecute someone who has been convicted in state court, meaning he can be punished twice for the same crime. And even if there are no state charges because the feds swoop in and take over the case, the defendant is apt to face a heavier penalty than he would under state law—with the notable exception of murder cases, because you can't lock someone up longer than the rest of his life or kill him more than once.

In short, the hate crime statute is a handy tool for grandstanding prosecutors, letting them federalize any violent crime they claim was motivated by bigotry—even when the bigotry pits members of the same religious sect against each other. Officially the law does not punish people for their beliefs, which obviously would be a grave violation of the First Amendment. Rather it punishes people for choosing their victims "because of" their actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But in practice, the law punishes people for their beliefs (by authorizing heavier penalties and serial prosecutions), because the opinions defendants have expressed about certain groups count as evidence that they deliberately selected members of those groups as victims. In this case, the Times reports, "analysts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have concluded 'with a high degree of certainty' that Mr. Roof posted a racist manifesto online, which could be crucial to a hate crime prosecution."

Now imagine that instead of murdering nine people, Roof had merely assaulted them, so that prosecuting him under federal law instead of (or in addition to!) state law would lengthen his prison sentence. Let us also imagine that he made no racist comments while committing his crimes (although those comments in themselves also are protected by the First Amendment). In those circumstances, if Roof had never posted that "crucial" racist manifesto, he might never have been charged with a hate crime, let alone convicted, which means his punishment would be lighter. That looks an awful lot like punishing someone for the opinions he expresses, although the Supreme Court does not see it that way.

Returning to the actual facts of the case, what is the "symbolic" value of a federal prosecution on top of a state prosecution? "South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law," says the Times, "and federal investigators believe that a murder case alone would leave the racial component of the crime unaddressed." It's not enough, in other words, for the government to say Dylann Roof was wrong to murder nine innocent people—so wrong that his own life may be forfeit. The government also must say he was wrong to believe the things he did about black people. So if you think ideological policing is a proper role for government, you should welcome a federal prosecution of Roof. But if you think the criminal law should deal with defendants' right-violating actions rather than their reprehensible beliefs, you should be satisfied with the justice Roof gets in South Carolina's courts.

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  1. “This is exactly what it was created for.”

    Pointless prosecutor feeding frenzy? I don’t think so. Everyone knows that thought crimes are the very worst crimes there are because we’re all a victim.

    1. Where there’s a victim, there’s a hustler, where there’s a hustler, there’s money, where there’s money there’s legislation…

      1. And thank God we have plenty of money, because we still have not sufficiently criminalized some of the more repugnant aspects of American life. As a case in point, why not enact a federal stirring up controversy statute to discourage some of them there Internet trolls from disseminating inappropriately deceitful emails like the ones sent out by a “satirist” in New York? See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

    2. I’m still traumatized from your non-consensual thought touching.

      1. Show us on the plastic, model brain where Fist touched you…

        1. He touched my mental nipples!

  2. What’s the Point of Charging Dylann Roof With Hate Crimes?


    1. It’s about feels. If you’re not signaling that you’re against hate, then you’re signaling that you’re OK with hate.

      Why do you support hatemongers, Woodchipper?

  3. Wait, there is actually a Federal hate crime statute? Who voted for this shit and when?

    1. Looks like 1969 to me.

  4. It’s not “symbolic” it is furthering the legitimacy of thoughtcrime charges. We all know the intentions behind the killings, but the act was far worse.
    What’s to stop an overzealous “precrime” unit from stopping you based on thought?

    1. You mean subpoenaing the site where you posted the comment?

      1. They’re stopping microaggressions before they turn into augers and katana aggressions.
        Those are words you can never take back, don’t you know…

    2. Nothing, in time. I don’t sincerely expect our government to set limits upon itself, and our fickle electorate certainly won’t.

      1. Silly rabbit, it’s a limiting government not limited government.

        1. Shut your mouth, serf. Your use of the word “silly” has caused great psychoemotional pain to numerous complainants, and you are hereby ordered to repent your sins, or suffer the wrath of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (PBUH).

  5. Harshening an individual’s judicial punishment for expressing sociopolitical views is not permissible morally. One’s actions are all that may be subject to prosecution. What he thought, his racism, his bigotry generally, or anything else he may have believed, regardless of grievances they may cause for easily offended snowflakes, is nobody’s concern.

    If he intentionally killed nine people, it matters not whether the cause was some vile imperative to initiate a racial conflict, or that a Satanic voice manifested within his mind and ordered him to do so under pain of eternal torment. He’s guilty of premeditated murder, and sentences shouldn’t vary on the basis of convictions held.

    1. But FEEELZ!11!!

      1. It’s as if committing capital murder isn’t bad enough. To feed their demented outrage, the pinkos need this man’s thoughts punished also. Fuck off, slavers.

    2. Exactly. Trying to PARSE someone’s motivations for an atrocity is particularly, obnoxiously irrelevant when the plain crime itself is so horrific.
      This is why hate-crime legislation is so absurd… but people never seem to get that.

      1. Authoritarian moral crusades are a necessary part of any good slaver’s diet. Federal prosecutors know their trade.

    3. “Harshening an individual’s judicial punishment for expressing sociopolitical views is not permissible morally. One’s actions are all that may be subject to prosecution”


      The entire concept is absurd. The only thing that counts is the physical damage done to the victim or victims – not why the perpetrator did it.

      Killing someone for racist reasons is not one iota different or worse in any way than killing someone over a drug deal gone bad or because the perpetrator was mad at the victim for “stealing” his girlfriend or any other motivation.

      The victim is just as dead regardless of why the perpetrator killed him.

      1. Don’t tell the grievance-mongers. How else will they spend their weekends (or weekdays, since they’re probably welfare parasites without employment) if not with shit-stirring antics?

        1. Welfare? Oh, sugar. They’re probably employed by non-profits, funded by lots of government grant wonga and donations. Or bureaucrats being paid tax dollars.

          It’s an entire industry, with lots of busy little people making tidy livings ensuring no one ever forgets that your bad thoughts must be controlled.

    4. No way, dude. Those 9 people are way more deader because he hated at them.

  6. So if you think ideological policing is a proper role for government, you should welcome a federal prosecution of Roof.

    Way outside of the federal government’s constitutionally enumerated powers.

    1. Um – “because fuck you, that’s why” clause. HELLO.

  7. This was more political than anything. Don’t be fool again. A senator died that day. This was a hit. A random church from a guy who lived 110 miles away? A senator who advocated for police body cameras, a thorn in the cities side? Hmmm, Stop.

    1. I heartily agree! Say, could you pass the foil…my hat is getting a bit worn.

      *pats foil homburg*

  8. Still, federal prosecutors are eager to pursue the case, because what’s the point of having a federal hate crime law if you don’t use it to prosecute someone like Dylann Roof?

    Hey, look! News cameras!

    1. The point of hate crime laws? Social signaling + prosecutorial resume padding = increased probability of career advancement comes to mind.

  9. “Pshaw, capital charges of 1st degree murder…but even if he’s convicted, how will we know it’s a *hate* crime as opposed to one of them love-murders?”

  10. “Hated it.”

    Seriously, “hate crime” is bullshit.

  11. It’s also a fucking waste of money, done purely for symbolic purposes. Roof was caught on tape murdering nine people, left a manifesto, and left witnesses. He will be convicted, and he will fry unless they eliminate the death penalty before he gets there.

    1. Not if he gets the right lawyer.

      ” I remember Massingbird’s most famous case: the Case of the Bloody Knife. A man was found next to a murdered body. He had the knife in his hand. 13 witnesses had seen him stab the victim. And when the police arrived, he said “I’m glad I killed the bastard.” Massingbird not only got him off; he got him knighted in the New Year’s Honours List. And the relatives of the victim had to pay to wash the blood out of his jacket!”

  12. Thoughtcrime is death.

  13. I wish people would stop publishing pictures of that crazy little fuck. Just the sight of him turns my stomach.

  14. Perhaps Roof should be executed by Public Hating.

    1. Perhaps an execution method rhyming with “Flipper”?

      1. The Boot? No…wait…

        1. Well, Flipper sometimes swims alongside the boats.

  15. Well, obviously his hate-filled thoughts are criminal. “Hate-crime” legislation is surely consistent with the first amendment…

  16. “In short, the hate crime statute is a handy tool for grandstanding prosecutors”

    Grandstanding prosecutors – is there any other kind?

    1. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I *beseech* you! Look deep into your hearts, and realize there is *no* other kind!”

  17. “In short, the hate crime statute is a handy tool for grandstanding prosecutors, letting them federalize any violent crime they claim was motivated by bigotry”

    Handy for the politicians who signed it, too. What politician who knows his dimwitted constituency well is going to rail against a measure that punishes hate?

    Voters are rationally ignorant, and thus all of politics falls prey to vague impressions and tribal grandstanding. It takes us multiple paragraphs to explain why hate crimes are a bad idea, but a single slogan is all it takes to rally voters up onto the moral high ground, where the votes are the sweetest.

  18. What Roof did was terrible, but what he was thinking is worse.

    1. *** ponders “Dream Crime” ***

  19. I would think all murders are “hate crimes,” i.e. motivated by some sort of extreme prejudice towards the victim and whatever the victim represents to the murder.

    1. Some psychos dont feel much at all, other people arent real to them . So they dont hate them they just remove them as obstacles . Sometimes you can sort of see it in their dead eyes, there isnt anyone there.

  20. I am resolutely opposed to trying someone for his/her thoughts. To me, it is antithetical to the Founding Fathers vision of America, a vision I share with them.

  21. Narrative. The answer to your question is Narrative.

  22. So, basically the best thing that can be said about the hatecrimes statute is that it provides the government with a loophole to violate 5th amendment rights.


  23. How to determine if the crime was a hate crime or not:

    Was the perpetrator white and the victim black? It’s a hate crime.
    Was the perpetrator black and the victim white? It’s not a hate crime.

    It’s that simple! It doesn’t matter if the white perpetrator shot the black man beating his skull in self defense. Still a hate crime. It doesn’t matter if the black perpetrator was screaming “kill whitey” or “justice 4 X.” It’s still a hate crime.

    1. +

      That’s exactly my problem with both hate crime legislation, and the way the media responds to these atrocities. White on black violence is a hate crime and will generate a gazillion stories in the MSM. Black on white violence is never a hate crime, and is swept under the rug by the MSM. Google “Knoxville Horror” and tell me why this received such little to no media attention, no calls for hate crime prosecution, etc.

  24. If Dylann Roof is charged with a hate crime, then the next racist loser with a gun will think twice before committing a horrific, senseless mass murder. Duh.

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  26. Committing mass murder with Racism? and a Rhodesian flag patch is worse than committing it pure of heart I guess.

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