Dylann Roof refers to Harold Covington’s white separatist group, the Northwest Front, in his alleged manifesto. The rightwing sci-fi writer distances himself from the shooting, but his followers speculate if his work influenced Roof’s actions
One of the shadowy figures who appears to have influenced alleged Charleston killer Dylann Roof is Harold Covington, the founder of a white separatist movement and, within supremacist circles, an influential sci-fi author. Covington, the latest in a long line of rightwing sci-fi writers, has been linked to racist crimes in the past and this week called the massacre “a preview of coming attractions”.
The racist manifesto and photos apparently posted by Roof makes mention of the Northwest Front, created by Covington, a former member of the American Nazi party who traveled to South Africa and Rhodesia in order to agitate for white power. In the accompanying photos, Roof wore patches with Rhodesian and apartheid-era South African flags on them.
Covington, if you believe his website, runs a growing enclave of white supremacists near Seattle called the Northwest Front. The non-profit group is reflected in a series of sci-fi novels, authored by Covington, about a dystopian future in which a white nation is the only answer to US economic and racial woes.
American science fiction has long had a rightward tilt, from the contemporary strain of small-press sci-fi Tea Party fantasias swarming the Hugo Awards nominations all the way back to libertarian deity Ayn Rand. But Covington’s novels are a breed apart.
His followers see conspiracy in Covington’s connections to Roof. “And why did this young man have a flight jacket with flag patches from the old White ruled southern African countries, which is where HAC spent part of his early days in the Cause, hmmm,” wrote a commenter called Wingnut under a recent podcast on the Northwest website. “Wonder if they’ll ‘find’ a pile of NF-HAC stuff in this young man’s home? Then they can pull one of those ‘the devil made me do it’ numbers on HAC.”
Covington doesn’t advocate for randomized violence; he wants revolution, to the extent that he calls his followers “comrades” and lectures them on “the purpose of revolution” among other phrases more characteristic of the left than the right. While it was clear Roof knew about the Northwest Front and seemed familiar with it, Covington condemned Roof’s shooting on his Tuesday podcast because “it doesn’t work.”
“People, don’t do this shit, this flipping out with a gun lunacy,” he said. “No, this is not just ritual disclaimer, Harold trying to cover is ass, this is what Harold really thinks.”
The Roof killings are not the first time Covington’s name has come up in connection with an allegedly racist murder. Covington was part of a group of white supremacists in the 1970s who massacred black people at a rally in Greensboro (Covington didn’t kill anyone and wasn’t in attendance on the day of the violence). He was also at one time close with Frazier Glenn Miller , who is charged with killing a one woman, a 69-year-old Jewish man and that man’s 14-year-old grandson in front of their temple last year.
Elizabeth Wheaton wrote about Covington in her book Codename Greenkil: The 1979 Greensboro Killings. “Covington was pretty much a minor player,” she told The Guardian. “He liked the Nazi image on the white power kinds of things, but he was kind of nerdy. Most of [the others] were country people or ex-military.”
“For all of his lacks, he does not lack the ability to turn a phrase,” said Wheaton. “He’s very articulate in presenting his message.”
Covington said he’d never heard of Roof before the massacre and told The Guardian to “try Stormfront. That’s usually where newbies in the Movement end up leaving their first electronic footprint.”
Much of Covington’s influence on his followers comes from his novels, which are written in a style that reads like someone spilled a 50-gallon barrel of ethnic slurs all over a stack of early-draft Robert Heinlein novels. His choice of cultural icons dates his books considerably, even the recent ones, which are filled with up-to-the-minute references to Jane Fonda and Gilligan’s Island, but the author probably doesn’t care about these criticisms. The books are not primarily novels, anyway.
The Northwest novels “are not meant to be mere entertainment”, according to Covington’s website Northwest.org. “They are meant to be self-fulfilling prophecies. The author wishes to inspire the creation of a real Northwest American Republic, and his novels are filled with a great deal of sound practical advice about how to do it.”
There are five Northwest novels are all populated with similarly brave and heroic white men (“domestic terrorist-type dudes” in the words of Shane Ryan, the narrator of Covington’s A Distant Thunder), cruel, DW Griffith-style black people whose speech is written in dialect, and hand-wringing liberals who want nothing more than to stifle the right to free speech of (white) people who just want to secede from the US.
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