Skepticism on Dylann Roof's "manifesto" and website
I saw the story of Dylann Roof's website break on my Twitter feed this morning, and in a just a few hours it's in the New York Times. The site contains images of Roof, as well as a manifesto in text. Here's the text (icky). Here's an image (icky):
I've taught college undergraduates. If there are no misspellings in this text -- and on a quick scan, I found none -- then Roof, a high-school dropout, didn't write it.
The manifesto is also very well-written, for what it is; I'd want to see a writing sample from Roof, possibly from his high school English teacher, before I concluded Roof wrote it.
So I wonder then, if not Roof, who? Could he simply have appropriate some other racist's work? Well, I Google for phrases from the Manifesto, and I don't find any hits other than this. So who wrote it?
The Times is right to be skeptical:
It is not clear who wrote the words and who took the pictures, but the manifesto appears to trace the evolution of the author’s racist worldview and concludes with a section labeled “An Explanation.
If there's one thing we've learned over the past few years, it's that "Internet evidence is not evidence," because it's too easy to alter or even manufacture it. Provenance is key. So while the site may be authentic, and the pictures may be authentic, there's one big piece of the site that doesn't look authentic at all.
NOTE We might also ask if Roof (high school dropout) had site-building skills. A view source shows the site was built with "Parallels Presence Builder 12.0.7":
Parallells Presence Builder, say the Release Notes is a "software suite for hosting providers." In other words, it's not software that Roof would buy shrink-wrapped from Amazon. However, the hosting provider might make it available to its clients, so let's go find out who hosts Roof's site.
CAVEAT: Again, Internet evidence is not evidence. The data I am about to go looking for could be spoofed, could have been changed between this morning and this afternoon, or between the time the domain was purchased and today, or it could be disguised in some way, perhaps even by Roof's previous provider, to avoid stress on their own serves. Who knows? That said:
We ping "Last Rhodesians" and get the IP address:
Having the IP address, we get the host through a reverse IP lookup:
Having the host, wpl6.hosting.reg.ru, we go there. (After all, it could be in English; I use Yandex, a Russian site, and it has an English version.)
You can look for yourself, but if there's an English version of this site, I missed the link to it. Finally, just for grins, we look to where Roof's nameservers are (https://www.reg.ru/) which we have from the whois above:
Russian again, with no English version.
Now, see again the Caveat above. I don't think this little excursion proves much, except for one thing: The provenance of the site is unclear, and it needs to be shown that Roof actually created it. Somebody with more resources than I have should look into this.
A friend of Mr. Roof’s, Jacob Meek, 15, said the references to the Trayvon Martin case made clear that Mr. Roof had written the essay. “That’s his website,” he said. “He wrote it, and I just can tell.”
Maybe. I'd like to hear from Roof's English teacher, because Meek strikes me as not the sharpest tool in the drawer (and speech is not writing).
The Times goes on:
Benjamin Wareing, a blogger in Britain, said the writings were nearly identical to blog entries that Mr. Roof posted several months ago on a Tumblr page. Mr. Wareing was preparing to write an essay on the dangers of Tumblr and troubled youths, so he took notes on the writings.
Which might be dispositive, if there were link to Wareing's material (apparently, Roof's Tumblr has been deleted). If this is the same Wareing (WordPress, not Tumblr), he blogs for commission. And I still want to know who the webhost is!
UPDATE And I was right to be skeptical. Hat tip to alert reader Cujo359 in comments:
This just went up at the Waering WP site:
I wanted to perform a little experiment with the help of my friend, Sadrak Ramirez, to see how easily one can change the outcome of global news reaching every corner of Earth. Our target; Dylann Storm – The Charleston Shooter.
So, says Waering:
Lets give an example; I told her that Dylann Roof had some ‘elusive’ and mysterious Tumblr page in which he posted his deepest thoughts. Without providing any screenshots or ANY proof of its existence other than my own word, the reporter published it as fact. Oops.
So, one of the two pieces of supposedly confirming evidence that Roof wrote the Manifesto is gone. The other piece is Meek, friend of Roof, saying "I just can tell." Oh-k-a-a-a-y.
So what next? And couldn't the Times have placed a call to Roof's English teacher?