Internet Trail

06.20.15 6:15 PM ET

How Twitter Sleuths Found Dylann Roof’s Manifesto

Meet the intrepid writers who unearthed the alleged Charleston shooter’s racist manifesto and disturbing photos—a discovery that could blow apart any insanity plea.

It took two independent writers working together on Twitter and $49 to make what could be one of the biggest discoveries yet in the case of Dylann Roof. In a South Carolina courtroom on Friday, Roof was charged with nine counts of murder for the killing of nine black parishioners who invited him into their Bible study group. A webpage registered under Roof’s name contains a trove of photos of the suspected killer, and a white nationalist political manifesto.

Emma Quangel, the nom de guerre of writer and Twitter user @EMQuangel, discovered the website that appears to contain Roof’s manifesto. After I congratulated her for her investigative work, Quangel told me that she saw it as her duty. “As a communist,” Quangel said, “it is my duty and obligation to spend at least $49 to help ruin this guy’s insanity plea.”

Roof hasn’t entered any plea yet but speculation about his motives and mental state started before he was apprehended Thursday. Some of the speculation, including from politicians and presidential candidates, has downplayed the evidence that Roof was inspired by racial animus. Equivocation about Roof’s motives happened despite reports that he told his victims, “you rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Roof’s writing, if it’s conclusively authenticated, won’t stop all debate about his motives, especially among his defenders online. But it will make it harder for public figures to suggest that a racist political ideology wasn’t the primary inspiration for his crime.

The search for Roof’s last testament online started at 8:03 Saturday morning when Twitter user @HenryKrinkle, the pen name of a political blogger, pointed his followers to records of a website registered under Roof’s name.

Krinkle had arrived at the site, he told me, in the course of “researching this guy’s Internet trail on a number of places.”

As one of Krinkle’s Twitter followers, Quangel followed up on the lead. She paid the $49 needed to see what lay behind the web domain. “Holy shit” she wrote in response to what she found—a website registered to Roof called “lastrhodesian.com,” a reference to Rhodesia, part of what is now the country Zimbabwe in southern Africa, where white former colonists fought a war to establish a white separatist state lasting from 1965 to 1979. Photos of Roof, which surfaced just after the shooting, showed him wearing a Rhodesian flag, a common symbol of white supremacists, on his jacket.

In addition to what look to be dozens of recent photos taken of Roof, the website contains a manifesto in which Roof documents the process of his own radicalization, and details his thoughts about various racial groups with a focus on his belief in the inferiority of black people and the danger they pose to whites.

Under the heading “an explanation” it reads:

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

The last lines of the treatise, which appears to have been written in February of this year when the site was registered, suggest a sense of urgency and hint at the violence done last week.

“Unfortunately at the time of writing I am in a great hurry and some of my best thoughts, actually many of them have been to be left out.”

Update: This story will be updated as more information becomes available. It has been changed to clarify that Rhodesia was in southern Africa, not in the country South Africa.