Within hours of the deadly August 26 on-air shooting of television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia, the on-line white supremacist world erupted in hateful rhetoric and discussions of violence.
The shooter, Vester Flanagan (also known as Bryce Williams), was someone whom white supremacists could easily exploit to generate anger. His victims were white; Flanagan was a black, gay man with a history of filing discrimination complaints against former employers, including the television station where the slain journalists worked.
Flanagan killed himself as police caught up to him, but not before he faxed to ABC News a lengthy suicide note/manifesto, detailing a litany of grievances and perceived mistreatment because of his race and sexual orientation. Moreover, in his note he directly referenced the June 2015 Charleston shootings, in which white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof killed nine African-American churchgoers. Flanagan tried to explain his murders—seemingly committed for personal reasons—as a retaliation for Roof’s own killings. Referring to Roof’s hope that a race war would result from his shootings, Flanagan wrote “You want a race war…THEN BRING IT.”
Reactions from the racist right were swift and involved well-worn anti-black and anti-Semitic tropes. Among them: that black people shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, because they have “no impulse control,” and that the victims, as members of the “Jewish media,” deserved to die. And above all, an echo of Roof’s call for race war: The hope that the shootings would spark a “revolution” of whites rising up against their ostensible oppressors (blacks and Jews) and striking back.
The New Order, a small Wisconsin-based neo-Nazi group, presented a typical anti-black response, issuing a statement headlined “White Lives Matter” that described the shootings as a crime committed by “a deranged anti-White Negro” and claimed that “The murder, rape and assault of White people by racist Black criminals is a daily event in the United States.”
Anti-Semitism shaped the responses of many white supremacists. On Stormfront, the large white supremacist discussion forum, poster RedBaron claimed that reporter Parker “was part of the Jew controlled media. The propaganda she helped to put on the air came back to haunt her (to death).” The “Jewish plot” trope was repeated by another Stormfronter: “I don't think the Jew power structure wants a fully awake white public right now. They've been doing everything to drug us into a stupor as they incite blacks to murder us.”
At the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, poster GuiMaster also had little sympathy for Parker: “But how do we know that this woman was ‘noble?’ She was working for the anti-White media. How aware was she that her job involves spreading communist anti-White hate propaganda?” On Facebook, another white supremacist labeled Parker’s father, who had appeared on Fox News to plead for more gun control measures, a “Zio-Marxist” pushing a “Jewish” agenda.
For many white supremacists, though, it was Flanagan’s reference to “race war” that most exercised them. For them, the sole bright spot in the killings was that they might speed the start of an anticipated racial conflict. At the Daily Stormer, for example, one commenter wrote: “When the ‘race war’ comes, it's gonna be us killing them in short order.”
On Stormfront, longtime Arkansas white supremacist Billy Roper hoped the killings would “awaken more of our people to see it as the reprisal act it was in a war which is just beginning, in fits and starts, as they so often do.” Meanwhile, on the Facebook page of “American White History Month,” Jon Winslow wrote: “White people! Start rioting now!”
Others seemed interested in actions more serious that rioting. Stormfront poster 14words_of_truth wrote: “People keep asking me ‘when is the race war going to start?’ It started a long time ago; it is not going to start, it is going to change. The change will be that the White Man will start fighting back.”
To which Stormfront editor JackBoot replied, “Well said. So far we can't escalate from the war of words on our side, and that escalation is long past due. They've been spilling our blood for years, and I'm not talking only about the Jews' proxies. We got a lotta catch-up to play.”