Conservatives shamelessly use Charleston shooting to claim religious persecution

On Wednesday night, Dylann Storm Roof reportedly attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat with congregants for over an hour, and then opened fire, killing nine people. Emmanuel is one of the oldest historically black churches in South Carolina, and the shooting took place on the 193rd anniversary of an aborted slave uprising by the church’s founder, Denmark Vesey.

Dylan Storm Roof wearing the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.

Dylan Storm Roof wearing the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia.

Roof traveled over 100 miles from his home in Lexington, South Carolina in order to target Emmanuel Church specifically. Roof’s Facebook photos showed him sporting and taking pictures with white supremacist flags, ranging from the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy all the way to the apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia. The suspect’s former roommate was quoted by CBS as saying that Roof had been “planning something like that for six months,” and “said he wanted to start a civil war.” Roof reportedly told his victims, who were all black, that “you rape our women and are taking over our country.”

This was not a random, senseless act of violence. This was a planned, thought-out terror attack. It fits every one of our criteria for terrorism: Violence committed by a non-state actor with a clear political motive — in this case white supremacy. So, of course, mainstream conservatives — some of whom have a non-zero probability of being our next president — took to the airwaves to remind everyone that, despite the shooter’s clearly-stated motives, the attack really isn’t about race.

It’s actually an attack on Christianity.

Lindsey Graham, in an appearance on The View, took the position that, the Charleston shooting “probably” constitutes a hate crime, but it was a hate crime against Christians, not against African-Americans.

That’s right: “It’s 2015. There are people out there, looking for Christians to kill them.”

Setting aside for the moment that that simply isn’t true — there really isn’t any critical mass of people out there “looking for Christians to kill them” — there are organized groups of people out there who are looking for black people to kill. That’s especially true in South Carolina, which is one of only five states without hate crimes legislation and which sports one of the highest per-capita concentrations of white supremacist groups in the country.

Lindsey Graham, screenshot via YouTube

Lindsey Graham, screenshot via YouTube

What’s more, white nationalism and its violent associations are inextricably linked to Christianity itself. If you don’t believe me, ask a white nationalist. There’s a reason the KKK burns crosses and why those within the movement talk about a “re-Christianization” of the West, so let’s not pretend that Christians are the real victims when a black congregation is attacked; Christians are the aggressors.

It’s also rather facetious, to say the least, for Graham to assert that the attack “is not a window into the soul of South Carolina” or the rest of the country when conservatives, especially in the South, have been preaching that they need to “take our country back” from “welfare queens” and “thugs” for decades. Dylann Roof’s attack was a political statement as much as it was a racial one, telling his victims that he was doing what he was doing for the good of the nation, and it cannot be completely separated from rhetoric and policies that telegraph the idea to white people that their brown neighbors are stealing their money, their jobs and their votes.

Not to be outdone by Graham, Fox and Friends used an entire segment to downplay race and up-play religion’s role in the shooting, bringing in noted black Republican E.W. Jackson — the guy who has called gays pedophiles and Democrats worse than the KKK — to tell Fox’s pearly white viewers that we just can’t say for sure whether race was a factor in the shooting. But we can be sure that Christians are under attack in this country:

Said Jackson:

We’re urging people: Wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions. But I have to tell you: I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church. Because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our Biblical views. It’s something we have to be aware of, and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.

That’s right, definitely don’t jump to conclusions, but definitely do conclude that this attack was faith-based. Jackson used the assertion that Christians are under attack as an excuse to call for arming pastors in order to protect their congregations, presumably against militant secularists who are hunting Christians like him down. Like Lindsey Graham said, it is 2015, after all.

Following Jackson’s shameless plug for the NRA, Jackson and host Steve Doocy turned their focus to turning everyone’s focus away from race:

Doocy: …extraordinarily [the media] called it a hate crime. Some look at it as, ‘well, it was because a white guy — apparently — in a black church.’ But you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility toward Christians — AND IT WAS A CHURCH — so maybe that’s what they’re talking about. They haven’t explained it to us.

Jackson: Most people jump to conclusions about race. I long for the day when we stop doing that in our country. But we don’t know why he went into a church. But he didn’t choose a bar. He didn’t choose a basketball court. He chose a church, and we need to be looking at that very closely.

Given what we know about Dylann Roof, all signs point to him choosing a church — and Emmanuel Church in particular — because he knew he could find the most innocent, peaceful and unarmed victims that he could kill with the most ease, shock and symbolism. If you’re looking to start a race war, you don’t kill people who society has already otherized; you kill people whose deaths you think will generate the most outrage.

But sure, let’s ignore everything we know about the suspect and say the word “church” as many times as we can.

To claim that the Charleston shooting was anything other than an act of race-based terror is to be wrong. It’s that simple.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • [email protected]

    There are huge groups of killings of black people by racist groups? Thank goodness no, but there are a lot of Christian murders by Muslims. We do not have but a few in this country that have killed by Muslims. I will say that this boy is an extremist nut job far from normal

  • DoverBill

    It didn’t tale Lindsy (along with other conservatives presidential wimps) long to change his tune once Haley decided to be the pincushion for NC hater’s hate.

  • Badgerite

    What would make a young man kill 9 people in a church? .. Graham asks. Well, by Dylan Storm Roof’s own account, it was fear. nternet racial fear mongers. And what was Graham doing during this TV segment? Well…fear mongering, of course. He states, “There are people in 2015 just looking for Christians to kill them.” This child killer was never in any danger except from himself and the fear mongers he listened to. He was threatened by nothing but his own paranoia which was stoked by people like Graham. Now, he will probably die for his crimes having accomplished nothing other than families and communities deprived of their loved ones.

  • Hayley Winningham Frandsen

    Not true. Quakers played a major role in the abolitionist movement in the US and UK. The Bible and Christianity speak to freedom and love from the Father. People may try to pull different verses out of the Bible to prove that slavery is approved by God, but when you read the whole book, you understand that God loves us all unconditionally, and calls us to love one another in the same way. We tend to be self-centered and loving others as we love ourselves is not our default mode. But Christ and His love give us strength to love and forgive our brothers and sisters. Jesus loves EVERYONE: all races, rich, poor, sinners, men, women, and children. He created us all in His image. Those who would use the Bible to support racism simply don’t understand Christianity or God. I would even go so far as to say that Christianity empowers slaves and oppressed people to overcome evil. Christianity continues to empower people today. God loves us ALL. Jesus died for me and called me into his family. I am the child of an all-powerful king. And so are you. Do people who call themselves Christians oppress others? Unfortunately, yes. Is that what God calls them to do? Absolutely not. Many Christians throughout the world also bring God’s peace, love, healing, understanding, and care to the world. Are they perfect? Not by a long shot. Please don’t blame Christianity for hate. True Christianity is based on love.

  • Milly Anderson
  • DoverBill

    Man. that takes some balls, even for a politician… make that especially for a politician.

    Does he really feel that his base is that fuckin’ stupid or is he banking on it?

    Fucking cowards, the whole Clown limo!

  • 2karmanot

    Burn that traitor’s flag and use the cross for crucifixion, then we see some real persecution.
    #BettyBowers

  • And being the moral cowards that they are, when something does happen, they will disclaim any responsibility, just as they do when yet another gay or trans teen commits suicide because of the environment they have created.

  • Becca — Terrific comment, and pretty much what I was going to say, but better than I can manage at this hour.

    One thing I think should be considered in this: the essential arrogance and narcissism of the “Christian” right: everything, always, is about them; the only legitimate viewpoint is their viewpoint; and everything they do is directed at regaining the privilege they’ve seen erode over the past half-century.

    Thus, it’s easy to recast an act of racist terrorism as an “attack on Christians” — they don’t want to talk about racism (especially in South Carolina), and “persecuted minority” is their latest ploy while they work toward insuring that they are above the law — or that the laws are tailored to their requirements: they’re really after complete dominance.

  • benb

    Astonishingly bad policital judgement. Somebody must have picts of Graham in a hotel room with a sheep.

  • The_Fixer

    It can be both stupid and intentional, can’t it? Don’t confuse crafty conspiracies with overall intelligence. Their lying is the stupid part – they get called out on it and look idiotic in the process.

    I think that racism, by its very nature is stupid and requires lying in a vain attempt to justify it. Dismissing an entire race based on some perception that they are sub-human is stupid, to my mind.

    Regardless of how else you characterize it, racism is evil. What this guy did was evil and to use this tragic event to promote a conversation that’s stupid to start with puts these people on the lower rungs of humanity’s ladder, to be sure.

  • The_Fixer

    Oh, I agree. It’s obvious to people like us, who’ve been paying attention, that they’ve been on the road to nowhere for quite some time.

    I’m talking about the average “man-on-the-street” who is used to giving religion, especially Christians, some form of (undue) respect. The default position seems to be that Christian religion=good, anything else is at least questionable and probably bad. It’s a given for them.

    I think that the more reasonable of the average person has been looking at the fundamentalist types lately (who claim to speak for all of Christianity) and thinking “what the hell, these people seem nuts..”

    Speaking of the media, I have a Yahoo! mail account and every time I log out, it returns me to the main page. It’s amazing how many articles appear there that showcase the extremism of the fundamentalists, and not in a good way. I think if these people keep it up, Christianity may not enjoy the favorable reputation it’s had with average Joes and Janes very much longer. That’s not a huge slice of the media, but it’s a lot of eyeballs.

    Of course, more exposure would be a very good thing. I think it’s going to come eventually. Add to that, an up-an-coming Millennial generation who is not very receptive to organized religion, and you have some bleak days ahead for the fundamentalists, I think.

  • Remember when the wingnuts jumped up and claimed that the president was going to basically take the whole of the Navy on his trip abroad and it was going to cost us all a ga-zillion dollars a day ? Then when it was shown to be bullshit whoosh ! …Silence. No apology. Zip , zero. They had done what they set out to do. And they do it time and again. Give the ignorant haters something to grab onto and then run for the hills. And it really doesn’t matter if the rubes know that its ll bullshit. It’s something they can repeat and expand on.

  • FLL

    The tone and intensity of the fundie Christian “victim” campaign has been getting a little creepy. Both Perkins and Dobson of the Family Research Council have used loaded terms like “revolution” and “civil war” when talking about the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Rhetoric like that is what motivates nut cases like the shooter in Charleston. On top of that, the nutso gun laws have made AK-47s very available (and they’re already relatively cheap). I know how to use a firearm and so you do you, although I don’t feel any need to own one here in urbanized South Florida… maybe if I lived in Western Montana, I might own a firearm. But I can’t help but worry about the effects of the violent rhetoric that Perkins and Dobson spew on a few disturbed souls out there who are not wrapped too tightly.

  • DoverBill

    Unfuckingbelievable what hoops a politician will jump through not to offend his bigoted, racist, base lest he lose their vote.

    To date, I know of nada, zilch, nil republican candidate for president that will admit this was a racist attack on blacks rather than an attack on religion.

    Have they no shame?

  • (1) The racist terrorist shooter tells his victims he’s shooting them because they’re black.
    (2) The racist terrorist shooter’s friends (shocked has such, but anyway) say he was a racist through and through and spoke often about his desire for apartheid and racial civil war, especially recently.
    (3) The racist terrorist shooter’s social media shows him displaying proudly the symbols of racism, segregation, and apartheid.
    (4) The racist terrorist shooter didn’t just pick any random Christian church, but as you noted here, drove over 100 miles to go to THAT specific church.
    (4) The cops release a statement saying that the cooperative racist terrorist shooter said he wanted to start a race war.
    (5) Roof’s old and likely abandoned MySpace page has little on it, but one link to an album by one of those thrash-metal Christian bands named “A Thousand Times Repent” — suggesting rather strongly that this racist terrorist shooter is a Christian himself.

    Prominent Republican leaders and Fox News immediately and without any evidence claim the act of racially-motivated terrorism was actually just a ‘lone wolf gunman’ (there ain’t any other kind according to them when the shooter’s skin is white) hating Christians for being Christian. And worse, they KEEP DOING IT, even after there’s abundant and snowballing evidence the racist terrorist was motivated only by racism.

    What we’re seeing here from the radical right is all part of the same “we’re persecuted religious victims” meme which has been growing from the day Fux News began shilling their “War on Christmas” bullshit. Now they think it’s a one-size-fits-all for every kind of blame-shifting and discrimination advocating they want to do.

    It’s also quite dangerous, because consider what they’ve been saying in recent months. They say they shouldn’t have to do business with gay people or respect legal marriages. They say it doesn’t matter if their beliefs about contraception are scientifically and demonstrably wrong, belief trumps reality and again, they claim their religion gives them the right to force other people to live by their rules. And as I’ve noted many times, they keep deliberately conflating “Christian == Anti-gay”, when this is not true for the majority of Christians, not nowadays.

    I know it may sound like hyperbole, but every time the radical right spouts crap like this, jumping to the wrong conclusion so they get to play the victim, the phrase “wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” always comes to mind. The one related to how fascism comes to America, that is.

  • Monte Logan

    I can’t even focus right now because of the mental and emotional strain this has caused, but for any and every person to take claim to this nightmare to plug their own personal agenda when we all know what it is, is F!@@$%^g sick. I really want to have a moment where I can within arm’s length distance so that I can curse every last one of them out. And for E.W. Jackson? For him to be a pastor and a Black Man and to come onto that intellectually destructive show and to be their parrot and DENY the clear motive and truth of this, makes me want to PUNCH HIM. He is worse than Stacey Dash right now and I thought it couldn’t get any lower than that. History repeats itself everyday here it seems

  • Did you hear about the white supremacist that drove two states to Howard University and killed nine black kids that all received scholarships from the UNCF? It was an assault on education.

    #WellRegulatedFail

  • 2karmanot

    Well, well, well, if that Mz Lindseybelle ain’t just a Christian martyr. Gawd bless huh dainty lil soul.

  • cambridgemac

    It’s not stupid. It’s intentional and it’s racism. The Nazis were liars, not dopes. So are American white supremacists. Lying about what just happened is a feature, not a bug.

  • cambridgemac

    White supremacists have always used terrorism. Always. Since BEFORE they first landed on the shores of this continent. (Columbus killed Indians on Santo Domingo and used their fat to make SOAP.) Enslavement of Indians and Africans. Biological warfare here in New England in the 1670s – giving smallpox infected blankets to Indians. Driving 20,000 Indians out of Alabama and Mississippi in winter and forcing them at gunpoint to swim across the Mississippi River (Creek war of 1836). Scalping – introduced by white people who wanted scalps as proof before paying bounties. And so on and on. The Ku Klux Klan – the largest terrorist organization active on US soil in US history – was built on a centuries-old legacy. And they’re still here.

  • Indigo

    For someone to label themselves “Christian” is already a red flag. A source of continuing amazement, for me at least, is that no one in the media or even in the questioning and speculating, ever brings that point up. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve long since over-played their hand.

  • Jack Werner

    Always has would be a better way of stating it. The lynchings and cross burnings in the not to distant past were the tools of terrorist.

  • Indigo

    That kind of double think is about all they’ve got left in their repertoire. The white supremacist movement is clearly ready to step over the line into terrorism. Or already has.

  • The_Fixer

    I think that the right-wing fundamentalist Christians are getting dangerously close to overplaying their hand, if they haven’t already done it with this series of quite stupid remarks. This attempt at martyrdom is as transparent as a window.

    The story is out there – he went to that specific church to shoot black people. He chose that particular church because it was symbolic of the struggle of black people for 200 years.

    This bullshit – and that’s all it is, simply stated – that it’s some attack against Christianity will only be swallowed by the minority who is predisposed to think that way. The rest of the populace will see this tragedy for what it is – a murderous attack on black people, plain and simple.

    It’s just flat stupid to think otherwise.

  • FLL

    The suspect announces that he is there to shoot black people… and he does. It is in the poorest of judgment for anyone to try to score cheap points for some religious or partisan political cause, either in the media or on these comment pages—whether their target is secular and gay people or the Obama administration.

    Southern slave owners based their pro-slavery stance on the Bible, and with good reason. Northern abolitionists never even attempted to use the Bible to oppose slavery because countless Bible verses, both Old and New Testament, are clearly accepting of slavery. Northern abolitionists instead based their arguments on the concept of civil rights; they also based their arguments on common decency, something with the Bible arguably lacks. The KKK has always had a Christian ideology. I think that the burning crosses are a real big hint. And as always, Lindsey Graham is making an utter jackass out of himself, as is the Republican brigade at Fox News.

  • devlzadvocate

    republican media whores.

  • Bill_Perdue

    christers are not oppressed, they’re the oppressors with deep ties to racists, misogynists and violent anti-gay bigots.

    Whatever their lies American history is replete with tragedies like this. Racism is one of the building blocks of rule by the rich and they won’t let it go, particularly the institutionalized racism of the police. People of color have been murdered in the US long before it was the US. The grief of the people who knew or loved the victims are tears in an ocean of tears. Our hearts go out to them.

    No one in the two major parties takes the violent drift of racists and bigots seriously.

    On the contrary, since 2008 both the Clintons, many Republicans and Tea Party types used racism against Obama and in the process whipped up a frenzy of racism. And every major politician in both parties has been an active anti-LGBT bigot at one time or another, even if some have rebranded.

    If the DoJ had hunted down, arrested and prosecuted some of the hundreds of white cops who’ve wantonly murdered men and women of color the thugs who practice racist violence might be given pause for thought.

    Those who defend the Obama regimes in action on killer cops and other rightists who blame these shootings on atheists anti-racists are equally wrong.

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