Is the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston a hate crime?
Pictures of the apprehended suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, show him in front of a car with Confederate license plates and wearing a jacket with patches of flags from white-supremacist regimes.
Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of one of the victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, told reporters what one of the witnesses had told her: The shooter “just said: ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go.’”
But for Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy, the evidence doesn’t point to race as a factor. A hate crime may have occurred, but it’s Christians who are being targeted.
“Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime,” Doocy said. “Some look at it as, well it’s because it was a white guy apparently and a black church.” He emphasized that the location of the shooting could not be so easily dismissed: “It was a church.”
The show’s guest, E.W. Jackson, concurred, saying that there was a “rising hostility against Christians across the country” and that the congregation was attacked for its “Biblical views.” Furthermore, he urged “pastors and men in these churches” to carry guns to protect themselves from anti-Christian attacks.
“It’s sad but I think we’ve got to arm ourselves,” Jackson said. “Look, I’m a pastor. If someone comes in to hurt my church members, I have an absolute obligation to defend them, to protect them.”
Jackson wasn’t the only conservative who felt compelled to shift the conversation away from race or to express a wish that churchgoers pack heat.
American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer took to Twitter to express his (erroneous) belief that more guns mean less violence, and to repeat NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre’s infamous maxim about “good guys.”
Against the law in SC to carry concealed in church. No good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. http://t.co/l5ujS3Rbvd
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) June 18, 2015
Two Republican presidential candidates also aligned themselves with the anything-but-race-narrative camp.
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham echoed Doocy’s opinion that it’s a dangerous time to be a Christian, telling The View to beware of people wanting to kill Christians.
Rick Santorum, while acknowledging that the attack was a hate crime, called it “an assault on our religious liberty.”
Of course there are religiously-motivated crimes in this country, but the vast majority are directed at non-Christians. According to hate crime statistics compiled by the FBI, 60.3 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2013 were anti-Jew and 13.7 percent were anti-Muslim.
Meanwhile, racially motivated crimes accounted for nearly half (48.4 percent) of all hate crimes in 2013. And of those race-related crimes, 66.4 percent were anti-black or anti-African-American.
So who is calling the shooting in Charleston a racially motivated hate crime?
Not incidentally, South Carolina is one of only five states without a hate-crime law. County Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who represents the district where the AME church is located, has been trying for years to enact one.
Hate groups — South Carolina has 19 of them — are mostly concentrated in the Deep South and Montana/Idaho, when controlled for population, and out of all ethnic groups, blacks experience the most hate crimes, according to a Washington Post piece that contextualizes crimes of this nature.
“This is a reality,” Gilliard told reporters in 2014. “We really have to understand prejudice, racism is definitely on the rise and if we turn our backs away from that, then it grows like a cancer.”
Details about Roof’s views on race are emerging too. In an interview with The Daily Beast, a high-school acquaintance of Roof said that as a teenager the suspected shooter enjoyed telling racist jokes, and that he “had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs.”
Another acquaintance told The Daily Beast that Roof, a lifelong resident of a state that still flies the Confederate flag, was “big into segregation” and that “he wanted to start a civil war.”
Photo: Dylann Storm Roof, 21, proudly proclaimed his affiliation with groups known for their anti-black views. The two patches on his jacket are for flags for apartheid South Africa and for Rhodesia, an unrecognized African state dating from the ’70s, that was unrecognized by the U.N. because of its overtly racist government. Facebook via The New York Daily News