Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old accused of shooting and killing nine black South Carolina churchgoers last month, was indicted on dozens of federal charges, including hate crime charges, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Wednesday. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference that Roof’s crime was racially motivated and intended to obstruct the free practice of religion.
“To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African Americans because of their race,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference. “An essential element, however, of his plan was to find his victims in a church.”
Some of the 33 charges carry the possibility of the death penalty, but Lynch said her department hadn’t decided whether to pursue such a punishment. DOJ will decide after consulting with other families making other considerations, said Lynch. Roof has already been charged with nine counts of murder at the state level and could face the death penalty on those charge as well.
The federal indictment did not come as surprise. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a hate crime investigation shortly after the shooting, and officials previously suggested that the massacre would meet standards for a hate crime. Roof appears to have maintained a website with an anti-black manifesto. He was seen in several photos holding the Confederate flag and other symbols associated with hate groups.
Asked whether DOJ had considered domestic terrorism charges, Lynch said called hate crimes “the original domestic terrorism.” In the wake of the shooting, many said that Roof’s crime should be called an act of terrorism.
Roof, a white South Carolina native, opened fire on a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston on June 17.