The FBI Ignored Dylann Roof’s Hate Group

The feds say they didn’t investigate the group that helped inspire the killer, but even hate speech is free speech—until it promotes violence.

01.08.16 5:01 AM ET

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it did not investigate the hate group that inspired Dylann Roof to kill nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina last year.

FBI spokeswoman Jillian Stickels told The Daily Beast that there is no record of an investigation into the Council of Conservative Citizens. This comes after The Daily Beast requested FBI files on the group through the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI did not respond to requests for files on the CCC’s most prominent leaders.

The FOIA request also covered one week following the June 17, 2015 attack, indicating that the FBI wasn’t looking into the group even after it was revealed that Roof cited the CCC in his manifesto.

Roof wrote that he Googled “black on White crime” and found them.

“The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders,” Roof said, adding that more research led him to “fight” a race war.

After the Charleston shooting, the CCC’s webmaster first said the FBI was looking into suspected ties between him and Roof, and then later denied being part of any investigation.

The Council of Conservative Citizens was founded in 1985. It was meant to be a successor to the White Citizens Councils formed to oppose desegregation following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education. (Justice Thurgood Marshall called the councils the “uptown Klan.”) The FBI maintained extensive records on the earlier Citizens’ Councils, particularly in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

But the practice apparently did not continue, despite inflammatory statements from the new CCC. In the 1980s, the CCC called blacks “genetically inferior.” In 2001, the CCC website said, “God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God.”

Racist statements don’t automatically trigger an FBI investigation, of course. What’s usually needed is a link to a threat of violence or criminal activity. Recent prosecutions of ISIS members show that the government may investigate and prosecute people for as little as re-blogging an image that calls for violence.

Other hate groups have been investigated by the FBI, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, including the Aryan Nations, the National Alliance, and several neo-Nazi groups.

The director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project speculated the CCC was not extreme enough to worry the FBI.

“It may be that they considered the Council to be too mainstream to investigate,” Heidi Beirich said. “After all, several GOP lawmakers including Trent Lott were very close to the group in the 1990s.”

The CCC was co-founded by two Democrats, former Georgia governor Lester Maddox and former Louisiana congressman John Rarick. Republican senator Trent Lott spoke to the CCC at least five times, as did Republican congressman Bob Barr in 1998. Mike Huckabee, another Republican, delivered a videotaped speech to the group in 1993 when he ran for governor of Arkansas.

Even as recently as 2013, South Carolina’s Republican governor Nikki Haley appointed a CCC leader to her before he resigned when the public found out he was with the hate group.