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Photos of Dylann Storm Roof, 21, the suspect named by the FBI in the deaths of nine people in a shooting Wednesday at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, show him displaying symbols commonly associated with anti-black racism and white supremacy.
In one picture from his Facebook account, Roof is wearing a jacket decorated with patches of the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe. Both governments enforced a rigid system of racial separation that ensured the dominance of a white minority population. The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate groups, said on its website that since the end of apartheid in 1994, “white supremacists around the world, including in the United States, have adopted the 1928 flag as a symbol of white supremacy.”
In another picture, shared on social media by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights group based in Alabama that also monitors U.S.-based hate groups, Roof is sitting on the hood of car featuring a front plate commemorating the Confederate States of America.
An eyewitness said the shooter justified his rampage because of fears that black people were “taking over our country.” NBC News spoke with Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church, who was killed in the shooting. She said a shooting survivor told her that the shooter said, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
The SPLC documents 19 active right-wing extremist groups operating in South Carolina. It is currently unclear whether Roof had any direct connection to any of those groups.
“Since 2000, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hate groups in our country — groups that vilify others on the basis of characteristics such as race or ethnicity,” said Richard Cohen, the president of the SPLC in a statement released on Thursday. “Though the numbers have gone down somewhat in the last two years, they are still at historically high levels.”