Statistics that apparently were cited as inspiration by the man accused of killing nine people last week at a historic black church were not portrayed in context on the website Dylann Roof was reading, statisticians with the U.S. Department of Justice are saying.
"A similar percentage of whites experienced violence from blacks as blacks experienced from whites," Bureau of Justice Statistics statistician Lynn Langton said Wednesday.
Langton works for the U.S. Department of Justice division that prepared the 2008 report the white supremacist organization, the Council of Conservative Citizens, used in claiming that 83 percent of violent, interracial crimes were committed by blacks against white victims.
In a manifesto attributed to Roof, the 21-year-old says he felt compelled to act after reading the damning statistic on the Conservative Citizens' website.
The national organization's president, Longview resident Earl Holt III, said Monday that the mainstream media refuses to report that statistic, then closed his door on a News-Journal reporter and has relied on an organization spokesman to field media queries.
Spokesman Jared Taylor said Wednesday the organization stands by its reading of the 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey.
The organization cites Table 42 in the survey, an annual household inquiry by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in which respondents are asked about both reported and unreported crimes.
"We calculate a total of 520,162 interracial crimes (the sum of attacks by blacks on whites and attacks by whites on blacks)," Taylor wrote in an email. "Of that number, 82.56 percent are black-on-white, and 17.44 percent are white-on-black."
Langton said that's not quite right.
"But it needs to be taken in context," she added. "Eighty-three percent is correct, because whites account for so many more victims of violence than blacks."
The distinction, she said, is the 83 percent refers to violence committed on whites by assailants of all races. She said about 67 percent of white victims had a white assailant.
An accurate reading of Table 42 in the federal report shows 15.4 percent of violent crimes against whites were committed by blacks, she said.
Similarly, she added, 15.9 percent of violent crimes against black people were committed by white assailants.
"It's a similar percentage," she said. "What (the Conservative Citizens) are saying is, they are using the number of white victims and black victims in this percentage. And they are saying, of the total 500,000 interracial crimes, whites account for 83 percent of that. And that's true, but whites account for that total percentage."
Roof's attributed manifesto also cites the report as saying 20,000 white women were raped by black men in 2008.
"Table 42 says that there were 117,640 whites who were raped, of which 16.4 percent were raped by blacks — 16.4 percent of 117,640 is 19,293, which we rounded to 20,000," Taylor wrote.
Langton said that looks right.
"The flip side of that is 75 percent of the rape/sexual assault against whites were committed by other whites," Langton said. "So that works out to 88,000, or something like that."
Holt wrote in a prepared statement earlier in the week that Conservative Citizens denounces the murderous action Roof is accused of taking after reading his group's "accurate" report of "the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder."
Rachel Morgan, another statistician with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, pointed out the annual survey relies on victims to identify the race of their assailant. It also extrapolates total numbers from very small samples.
"In looking at Table 42," Morgan wrote in an email citing another Conservative Citizens figure, "the percentage (16.4%) of White victims of rape/sexual assault perpetrated by an offender perceived by the victim to be black is flagged and should not be considered a reliable estimate. This statistic is based on a very small sample size, 10 or fewer cases, and this estimate should be interpreted with caution. These estimates may also vary considerably from year to year."