Former white supremacist reflects on US shooting

Calling Dylann Roof a terrorist or a racist or as mentally ill is all wrong, says someone who was once just like him.

    Is 21-year-old Dylann Roof the new face of white supremacy in America?

    A murder suspect held responsible for the killing of nine African Americans in a Charleston church, his hate-filled manifesto and photos paint a picture of a man bent on murder and retribution.

    Former white supremacist Arno Michaelis told Al Jazeera he was once just like him.

    "I was very angry," he says.

    "I had myself convinced that there was a conspiracy against the white race perpetrated by Jewish people that had been going on for thousands of years."

    Anguish and debate as US remembers church shooting victims

    Michaelis says that when people try to describe Roof as a terrorist or a racist or as mentally ill, they are getting it all wrong.

    He says it's all three.

    "I think it’s racism, it's terrorism, it's a hate crime and it's absolutely mental illness," he explains.

    "People are talking about those things like they're mutually exclusive."

    In 2012, when 40-year-old Wade Michael Page opened fire in a Wisconsin Sikh temple, killing six and injuring four, Michaelis said he had to do something to stop the violence.

    "If I didn't change my ways, death or prison was likely to take me from my daughter," he says.

    Looking back, he explains that he feels a great sense of responsibility, having once been part of the hate movement.

    The former skinhead drove 20 hours cross-country to console those in South Carolina following the June 17 mass shooting.

    Describing the trip, he says he travelled to Charleston to bear witness to the suffering that was going on.

    "Person after person came up to me, primarily black people, and they said 'It’s alright brother,' and they gave me hugs and they held me. It was really powerful," Michaelis says.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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