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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

It should not be controversial to say that the tragedy that took the lives of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina Wednesday night was an act of racially motivated domestic terrorism.

A white supremacist planned and executed a mass murder in a public place with a single vile intention: to murder African-Americans.

And yet, somehow — despite the Facebook photos of the confessed shooter wearing the flags of white-supremacist regimes, despite the fact that he confessed his motives to the victims who pleaded with him to stop, despite the recollections of his peers that he used to say he wanted to “start a civil war” — few conservatives have had the backbone to say on record what is a plain fact.

Instead they scrambled to defend the legacy and symbolic value of Confederate flag, which has flown proudly on South Carolina’s Capitol lawn since 1962. They twisted themselves into knots trying to argue that this was an anti-Christian hate-crime — as if there were no churches in Charleston other than the historic “Mother Emanuel.”

And yet… look past the tone-deaf Republican presidential candidates and glib morning-show pundits. Dive into the lunatic fringe of right wingers weighing in on the events in Charleston — and you’ll find some truly appalling, noxious, and deranged responses to the tragedy. Here are just five of them

1. Sandy Rios

Sandy Rios, the American Family Association’s director of governmental affairs inveighed against President Obama Friday morning for his remarks Thursday, accusing him of using the Charleston shooting as an “opportunity” to push his agenda.

The president asked (once again) for a reckoning of the country’s poisonous relationship to guns. According to Rios, this is yet another example of Obama using the shooting “to lay out his passion against allowing American people to carry guns,” part of a pattern, she claims, of the president rushing to co-opt tragedies for his own political gain.

2. Erick Erickson

Of course it didn’t take very long for conservatives to connect Charleston to their big bête noire of the moment: Caitlyn Jenner.

On Thursday’s edition of The Erick Erickson Showthe program’s namesake and conservative blogger went on a rant about how the shooting was the inevitable byproduct of a country that has lost its moral compass, thanks to people like Jenner.

“As a nation, when these things happen, we never have the conversation about real evil,” Erickson said. The reason that conversation never takes place is because we are a society that “looks at a 65-year-old male Olympian and, with a straight face, declares him a her.”

In other words, no nation, in Erickson’s schema, that evolves its views on transgender rights can have a conversation about “mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good.”

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3. White Supremacists

Turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity.

White supremacists are the one group that’s really getting bad press from on all sides on this, and they want you to know: the Charleston shooting is totally not what they’re about.

According to Huffington Postwhite-power groups are “trying to distance themselves from the suspect” because they’re “worried that a white man killing nine people in a black church in South Carolina looked bad for their movement.”

Commenters on the white nationalist site Stormfront took to the forums to express their exasperation that Dylann Roof’s actions would reflect poorly on them. HuffPo quotes a commenter named WhiteIsRight as saying: “Lets [sic] not make excuses when a person of our own race does something like this,” and moreover, “The guy was clearly a bad apple.”

4. Alex Jones

Alex Jones says the media are using this tragedy to feed their endless “race war” narrative. And it will end with the fall of America.

And okay, to his credit, the perennially paranoid radio host said explicitly on his show that this is not a “false flag” operation, by which he means this wasn’t staged to steal Americans’ guns the way the massacres in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and Aurora, Colorado movie theater were. “Let’s be clear, these things have been staged before,” Jones said — but this isn’t that.

Rather, he claims, the Charleston shooting is giving the mainstream media another occasion for ‘hyping racial division and race war,” and that the coverage has “elicited a lot of low-intensity attacks on whites.” This is part of their 24/7 campaign to inculcate Americans with fear. “They’ve been hyping ‘race war,’ pushing it as hard as they can, saying the NRA is the new KKK,” Jones said.

What’s the endgame here? “You can bet your bottom dollar,” he continued, that “America is being set up for a fall and, out of that, the new socialist nightmare.”

5. Rick Perry

GOP presidential candidates said their share of ill-considered things about the killings in Charleston. But only former Texas governor Rick Perry (R-TX) went so far as to call the shooting an “accident.”

This is part of the Obama administration’s M.O., he explained, of exploiting tragedies: “Any time there is an accident like this — the president is clear, he doesn’t like for Americans to have guns.”

Perry also pointedly refused to refer to the shooting deaths of nine people as an act of terror. “It was a crime of hate. We know that.” He then proceeded to suggest that opioid abuse might have had something to do with it.

Because, really, when a racist kills people with guns, you can blame it on anything…  except racism and guns.

 Screenshot: Right Wing Watch/YouTube

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at