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Episode 54: Dylann Roof FBI Interview

This is an abbreviated version of Dylann Storm Roof’s two-hour FBI interview in which he confesses to killing nine people at a South Carolina church Bible study in June 2015. The interview was recorded the day after the shooting.

Roof appears child-like and baby faced, unsure of himself, both uncannily relaxed and, at the same time, intimidated by the FBI.  He is obviously anxious, and struggles to conceal his confusion about what he’s done. He laughs nervously a few times, and has trouble explaining why he committed the massacre, other than that he has become “racially aware” after reading about black-on-white crime on the internet. One woman in the church reported that Roof told her he wasn’t going to kill her because he wanted to leave at least one person alive to tell his story. When an FBI officer asks him if this was true, he says, “Yeah, but there isn’t really a story to tell.”

He says he originally considered shooting drug dealers, but realized they might shoot back, he said. Instead, he picked the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because the black people there wouldn’t fight back. “I knew that would be a place to get a small amount of black people in one area,” Roof says, later adding, “They’re in church. They weren’t criminals or anything.”

Roof’s confession shows the 21-year-old to be less inscrutable than simply naive and immature. Online, he called himself “The Last Rhodesian,” but seems ignorant of African history and racial politics general. Nevertheless, he meticulously prepared for the shootings. He carried eight magazines that could each hold 13 rounds, but loaded only 11 each so that he could shoot 88 times. He explains that 88 stands for “Heil Hitler” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

At one point, an FBI agent asked if Roof had thought about killing more blacks. “Oh, no. I was worn out,” says Roof. He says he left bullets in a magazine so that he could kill himself after the slayings, but changed his mind when he didn’t immediately see any police. He believed he’d killed maybe one or two people. About 45 minutes into his interview with the FBI, an agent decided to tell him that nine people were dead. “Are you lying to me?” asks Roof, incredulously. “There wasn’t even that many people in there!”

At trial, Roof’s defense attorney offered a plea of guilt if the state took the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors refused, and in January 2017, Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by lethal injection. In April 2017, now aged 23, he was transferred to death row at Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana.

Listen to the interview here.