The Myth of the Lone Wolf

On June 17th, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, sat with a bible study group at a church in Charleston, SC, called Mother Emmanuel, before standing up and shooting down nine of the people gathered there.

On June 26th, Saifeddine Rezgui, 23, concealed a Kalashnikov assault rifle in a beach parasol and opened fire at the Imperial Marhaba resort hotel beach in Sousse, Tunisia. At present, the death toll is 39.

So far, the Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attack in Tunisia; no white supremacist group has taken responsibility for the attack in Charleston. And yet, the one is just as responsible as the other for the desperate search for relevance of these two young men, these two "lone wolves."

They were both provided with a narrative that played on a sense of alienation, of dispossession, of loss. Neither one is an actual "lone wolf." Both of them had their frustrations explained, fed, and promoted by a community that feeds on a sense of entitlement denied and whose only answer to that humbled state is vengeance.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay, What This Cruel War Was Over, in the June 22nd issue of The Atlantic, quotes Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown speaking 150 years ago on the eve of secession:

Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense of the term his equal. He feels and knows this. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men. He black no masters boots, and bows the knee to no one save God alone. He receives higher wages for his labor than does the laborer of any other portion of the world, and he raises up his children with the knowledge, that they belong to no inferior cast, but that the highest members of the society in which he lives, will, if their conduct is good, respect and treat them as equals.

Just as this same white underclass today wants to return to the halcyon days when they "belonged to the only true aristocracy," so do the dispossessed of the Muslim world long to return to the storied days of yesteryear, when the Caliphate ruled a goodly portion of the world and dreamed of ruling even more. Both of these dreams belong in the same museum as the Confederate battle flag; both of them need to be replaced with new, better dreams - of education, of culture, of belonging to the world.

Unfortunately, it is the lot of too many young men to be impatient, to fall victim to dreams of glory in place of achievement. I understand some of this. What I don't understand is how they convince themselves that a gun against unarmed, virtually helpless people constitutes a brave stand of any kind.

I don't think they can. I think they are convinced by those higher in the food chain, by those who think they still belong "to the only true aristocracy," to the only true faith. These two young men were not lone wolves. They were sacrificial lambs.