WASHINGTON -- White supremacists on Thursday quickly tried to distance themselves from the suspect in the mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, worried that a white man killing nine people in a black church in South Carolina looked bad for their movement.
"This is going to be really bad, I'm afraid," wrote WhiteNationhood in a discussion thread on the white nationalist site Stormfront. "Condolences to the families."
"The media and the left will use this to support their narrative that whites are slaughtering blacks," added MattwhiteAmerica. "It will not matter what the truth is."
The gunman opened fire during a weekly Bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Police have identified the shooter as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who is now in police custody. Roof reportedly told churchgoers before the shooting, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go."
Stormfront commenters continued to hold out hope Thursday morning that perhaps Roof wasn't motivated by racism -- maybe it was anti-Christian hatred instead -- and their movement could keep what they think of as their good name.
"Lets not jump to conclusions and call him a WN [white nationalist] until there is an indication as such... The fact that he targeted a church gives me an inkling that it was religion-related," wrote WhiteVirginian.
"Yep, bad news for gun rights advocates as well," wrote maththeorylover2008. "Another nail in the coffin for the 2nd Amendment."
Time and again, many Stormfront members emphasized that their online community is one inclined to peace and racial harmony -- albeit segregated.
"[T]he Feds can waste all the time they want searching these threads," wrote member PureWhiteRagePWR. "SF is so dang PC, if it was a race crime it didn't come from here."
The site's members also took umbrage with what they perceived to be racial profiling against white people by the police. "Picking up whiteys who fit the bill in the area," posted member Craig Cobb above a screenshot of a local news report about a young white man being taken into police custody. "[H]e is hardly a prime suspect--just within a few blocks maybe, ha."
"If that's not the right guy they just ruined his life," echoed user sons of vengence, "[a]nd will never apologize for it."
Other commenters offered conspiracy theories about the shooting, suggesting that it was a setup aimed at distracting from conversations about race.
“These types of events are happening way too often and smell fishy to me,” wrote woden29. “People were beginning to talk about the race issue openly after ferguson, baltimore, and now the Rachel Dolezal scandal. Looks to me like the powers that be wanted to turn attention back to whitey if it turns out to be a white perp.”
There was some sympathy on the message boards, if not for the extent of the shooter's actions, then for his motivations.
"Okay, so I guess there is no question now, it was a white guy with a bad haircut," conceded GERyMOR. The user then suggested that the reasons Roof reportedly gave to his victims moments before he shot them are legitimate societal concerns. "It's a shame this happened and I do feel bad for the victims and their families. However, it's making me sick (although no surprise) how this is being spun by the media. Racially charged killings? It's a fact that Blacks commit way more crimes per capita and behave a certain way, that's why they get chased and hurt. They do rape our women, and they are taking over our country and cost way too much money to maintain. But none of these points will ever be addressed because then it would bring open discussion to the NEGRO PROBLEM IN OUR SOCIETY ... which is theREAL news."
"Obviously I am very against this heinous act of violence," WhiteVirginian said. "Although a White guy going on a mass shooting is made such a big event because it happens so rarely. Blacks commit mass shootings everyday in every major US city."
"Lets not make excuses when a person of our own race does something like this," added WhiteIsRight. "The guy was clearly a bad apple."
A number of Stormfront members seemed to be aware that their site would be subject to scrutiny by the press.
"We all condemn this sort of action," wrote sons of vengence. "We all despise it and think it cowardly. Make sure you write that on your next article about this incident!"
There seemed to be much less discussion of the shooting on a "WhiteRights" subreddit. "Shooting innocent middle aged black women in church is about the best way I can think of to help blacks win more sympathy and to fire up the anti-white groups," wrote one of apparently just two commenters.
"It's ok, mate, there are plenty of churches full of Negroes," wrote another. "Don't be too sad about it."
Ryan Grim contributed reporting to this article.