Dylann Roof profile: A writing style for the future, and warning to Ohioans

Long-form writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah profiled racist killer Dylann Roof for GQ with some of the finest research and writing I have ever seen.

As the Your Voice Ohio project encourages transparency in our work — explaining our reasons,  perspectives and processes — Ghansah does so with brilliance.

In what ought to be an alarm to Ohioans, she explains her attempts to interview an Ohio State graduate who operated a web site for the Council of Conservative Citizens and lived not far from Roof in South Carolina.

Kyle Rogers, she said, “is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Top 30 watch list of ‘new activists heading up the radical right’, and a “prolific white-supremacist writer on black-on-white crime.”

I’ve heard arguments against journalistic transparency, that people don’t care, or that we sound as if we’re whining.  However, Ghansah weaves her experiences in a way that bring the reader into the story. After describing Rogers’ businesses, she offered this powerful exchange that shows clearly the dangers reporters face in doing their work. Rogers’ home, she said, had several chipped-clay statues of black boys.

I know this because after Kyle Rogers refused to take my call, I went there one day and knocked on his door. His neighbor, a heavyset white guy with a buzz cut, had just pulled up in his pickup truck. After he got out, he lingered in his driveway and, with lots of theater, grimaced at me. To make conversation, I asked him if I was at the correct house—I was looking for someone with the last name of Rogers. The neighbor was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt. His arms were sunburnt even though it was December. I think that he was drinking a beer, but he might have just looked like someone who should have been drinking a beer.

He bucked his head toward the house and smirked.

“Him? I don’t know his last name.”

“Okay, well do you know if someone named Kyle lives here?”

That was when he stopped smirking, and I started to suspect I was being had and that we both understood what the deal was. It began to dawn on me that chances were he knew Rogers, he probably liked Rogers, and he probably did not want anyone, especially someone who looked like me, to bother his neighbor.

“My guess is if he was in there, he’d answer,” he said, so I walked back to the door, aware that my back was turned, and knocked again.

A quick flutter of the blinds led me to believe that Kyle Rogers was in there, but that he would not come to the door, so I left him a note with my name and number. On my way back to my car, I looked back to see if he had answered, but there was no sign of him, and no sign that he even lived there except for the decal on his golden brown truck, an image of Trump, raising a beer, enthusiastically mouthing these words: “We did it.”

More importantly, though, this narrative explores reasons for Roof’s actions and arrives at another Ohio-related topic: Hillbilly Elegy. Racial hatred has always been there, she says, but it has been empowered by an economy that robbed young white men of something their parents had: Jobs, income, homes and hope.

This, Ghansah said, is what Roof wrote in jail:

“How can people blame white young people for having no ambition, when they have been given nothing, and have nothing to look forward to? Even your most brain dead white person can see that there is nothing to look forward to? Even your most brain dead white person can see that there is nothing good on the horizon?”

Today, the Akron Beacon Journal has a story that the KKK is actively recruiting in Ohio.