As I look at the picture of Dylann Storm Roof, I realise something horrible. I can't help but feel like I’ve met this guy before.
Dylann is the young man who is being charged for opening fire in a Church and murdering nine people who were attending Bible study. One of them was an 87 year-old woman. He murdered them because they were black.
Why do I feel I know him? Because if there’s something special about the social media age, it’s the fact that we can interact with people from other countries in revolutionary new ways.
The other day on Twitter, I met a very angry American who was absolutely convinced that "white genocide" is happening in South Africa, (I’ve met more than a few Americans who buy into this myth lately) and who seemed very upset with me for being a white South African who wasn't currently being "genocided".
A look over this person’s timeline, and certain images and themes stood out. The old South African flag. Mentions of "Rhodesia". A firm belief that "white genocide" is also happening in America.
This person was utterly convinced that in South Africa, white people are living the sort of lifestyle you'd expect in concentration camps, held hostage by terrible and terrifying black overlords.
I explained that I was a white South African and that he had been misinformed, but this man who had never left America, never mind visited South Africa, was so sold on this image of a country of oppressed whites that he wasn’t going to allow little things like “facts” and “information” get in the way of this view.
At first he adopted a patronising, almost kindly tone, and tried to explain that obviously I was a victim of government propaganda hiding the truth, but when I continued to deny that there’s a wide-spread white genocide in South Africa, he became almost frighteningly angry.
I was warned that I would be brutally raped and murdered soon. (I find it amusing that the only people who have threatened me with violence from black people have been white people.) This person also (hilariously) hinted that very soon I would be put on an actual trial by some international governing body and punished for, essentially, the crime of being a white traitor.
A lot of caps lock and extra punctuation was involved while this message was being related to me.
And this is what I realize as I look at this picture of Dylann Roof, a young man who was convinced that black people are a threat to white people.
He’s American, but he wears the old South African flag and the Rhodesian flag on his chest: He could be the same person who was yelling at me on Twitter just days ago.
That’s the most striking thing about Dylann Roof. This isn't some lone madman. I know this guy. Maybe not this particular guy, but I've met enough people who seem to share his exact worldview, (and have seen enough people defend him and scramble to find excuses for him since the shooting happened) to feel genuinely alarmed.
There was no taking to this person on Twitter. I tried linking him to Africa Check, who examined and refuted the claims that “whites are being killed like flies”, but he had links to conspiracy websites with graphic gore pictures and claims that white genocide is definitely happening here.
Africa Check goes to great lengths fact-checking its findings, but the conspiracy websites made claims that the angry, shouting racist wanted to believe, so those are the sources he believed.
They say a lie can run around the world before the truth has had got its boots on. Well, the lies of racist South Africans have run all the way to America, and now it looks like they’re killing people.
To some, the Internet is a game of "Choose your own reality."
I can’t claim to understand why anyone would choose the most hateful things to believe. Why they would choose to believe that they need to, for the good of the world, or America, or white people, or who knows what, murder defenceless people.
All I can say is this, with the deepest sincerity:
Edit: Since this column went live, I've been sent a version of the image of Dylann Roof, only with a logo rather than the old South African and Rhodesian flags on his jacket. The sender claimed that this image was the original that "wasn't photoshopped". It is, of course, the exact opposite: a badly photoshopped edit that only the gullible on Twitter are falling for. This attitude towards the truth, where little things like facts are never allowed to get in the way of personal biases and prejudices, is exactly what I mean when I talk about "choose your own reality".