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Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder. South Carolina has no hate crimes statute, and so it will be not be part of the state’s prosecution. But the US Department of Justice has opened up a separate investigation, and Dylann Roof was charged with federal hate crimes in connection with the June 2015 shooting at the Emanuel AME Church. Prosecutors have alleged he carefully planned the attack, which was motivated by his animosity toward African Americans.

In the shooting’s aftermath, authorities said they found a racist manifesto Roof had posted on his website and modified just hours before the attack. The site was filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people as well as photos of Roof holding a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a Confederate flag.

A potential sentence for a hate crime assault would be higher than an assault with no hate crime enhancement.

a-photograph-posted-to-a-website-with-a-racist-manifesto-shows-dylann-roof-the-21-year-old-man-charged-with-murdering-nine-people-at-emanuel-ame-church-in-charleston-south-carolinaThree days after the shooting, a website titled The Last Rhodesian was discovered and later confirmed by officials to be owned by Roof. The website contained photos of Roo
f posing with symbols of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, along with a manifesto in which he outlined his views towards blacks, among other peoples.

From BBC: Terrorism v hate crime: How US courts decide

What is the legal difference between hate crimes and terrorism in the US?

Hate crimes are not separate charges, but an “enhancement” to an existing charge, like assault or murder. Prosecutors use this option to increase the severity of the punishment for those crimes – a potential sentence for a hate crime assault would be higher than an assault with no hate crime enhancement.

In the US, a hate crime is generally defined as “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation”.
Many – but not all – US states have their own hate crime statutes that apply to charges prosecuted under state laws.

Terrorism charges are discrete offences, including charges like material support for terrorist groups and use of weapons of mass destruction.

The US defines “domestic terrorism” as activities that meet three criteria – “dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law”, are intended to intimidate or coerce civilians or governments, and occurs primarily within the US.

But “different parts of the US government tend to have different definitions”, says Gary LaFree, director of National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (Start).

The FBI and the Bureau of Prisons cannot even agree on the number of prisoners currently incarcerated on terrorism charges, he adds.

What gets charged as terrorism in the US?

The decision to bring terrorism-related charges or add a hate crimes charge rests with the prosecutor.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, says if prosecutors feel evidence against a suspect is already solid then adding hate crime charges may be an unnecessary complication to the case. The incentive is especially strong in capital murder cases, where there is no higher penalty to give.

Many of the most successful US terrorism prosecutions have been against suspects prosecuted for support or actions for overseas groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Domestic organisations and individuals, especially neo-Nazi and white supremacists, tend to be charged with conspiracy, organised crime and weapons violations, Beirich says.

Is Dylann Roof a terrorist?

From FBI website: Definitions of Terrorism in U.S. Code

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  1. Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  2. Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  3. Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

18 U.S.C. § 2332b defines the term “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that:

  1. Is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and
  2. Is a violation of one of several listed statutes, including § 930(c) (relating to killing or attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon); and § 1114 (relating to killing or attempted killing of officers and employees of the U.S.).

It seems like Dylann Roof is a terrorist but not charge as one because it makes it more difficult to prove so for the prosecution. Feel free to comment.

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