On June 17th, a gunman killed multiple people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church claimed the lives of nine people, including church pastor and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, according to Reuters.
Reuters later reported that the alleged gunman, 21 year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina. He confessed to the shooting, according to law enforcement officials, and reportedly wanted to start a race war, reports CNN. A survivor of the church shooting told reporters that the gunman said, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go," according to NBC News.
News reports indicate that Roof had white supremacist sympathies. In a Facebook photo, Roof's jacket was decorated with patches of the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (later known as Zimbabwe), according to Reuters. One of Roof's Facebook friends posted a photo that appeared to show the gunman sitting on a car with a "Confederate States of America" license plate. The Associated Press reports that the FBI is investigating a racist manifesto reportedly written by Roof, in which he spews vitriol about blacks and laments the supposed cowardice of whites.
"I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."The Charleston shooting is a horrific example of racial hatred. The massacre stirs memories of racist violence against black churches in the 1960s and 1990s. Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen called the shooting "an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country's changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life."
Sadly, many right-wing commentators have deflected attention away from the shooter's racist motivations. Despite the gunman's racist motivations, several right-wing observers have attributed the shooting to everything from religious persecution to gun control to "identity idolatry" to abortion.
Some commentators used the Charleston shooting as an opportunity to pontificate about unrelated social issues, such as abortion and gender identity. For example, In a commentary piece at the Gospel Coalition website entitled "Dylann Roof and the Danger of Identity Idolatry", Isaac Adams touched upon the racial hatred that drove Roof. Unfortunately, his commentary piece quickly devolved into a sexist, transphobic mess. Roof's motivation was "identity idolatry", Adams argued, a sinful attitude Roof allegedly shared with Caitlin Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, and Eve.
"... [H]is Word speaks to the terrors of identity idolatry. It speaks to how we demonize the opposite of what we idolize; we devalue the opposite of what we treasure; we hate the opposite of what we love. And Dylann Roof—the Charleston gunman, the domestic terrorist—ultimately loved his ethnicity. He rang out with the worst manifestation of his hatred: he took the lives of those who were the opposite of white, yet who bore the same image he did ...
What hand did Satan play in Eden? He laid his regular ace: attacking identity. He tempted Eve to believe God was not who he said he is. Adam negated his identity as a male, as one who was to protect and lead; Eve wandered outside of Adam’s authority, foiling her womanhood. Both actors took a good thing—identity—and made it an ultimate thing, which is the essence of idolatry. Both attempted to rise above their author, grasping for his identity, grasping for God-likeness. The tragic irony? They were already like him, for he had made them in his likeness (Gen. 1:26–28). But still they grasped, and so they died. God removed them from his fellowship."During the June 18th edition of Fox & Friends, anti-abortion activist Alveda King blamed insanity, anger, and a culture that tolerates abortion for the Charleston shooting. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Let's define hate. Hate does not have a color. It could be a white killing black people, it could be blacks killing whites, it could be whites killing each other, blacks killing each other. So this is not just a racial hate crime ... The motivation, it's insanity. It's rage. Race can be behind it. I'm not going to deny that ... It's a lack of value for human life. You know I'm going to say that as director for African-American outreach for Priests for Life. You kill babies in the womb, kill people in their beds, shoot people on the streets, so now you go into the church when people are praying."Other commentators used the Charleston shooting as an opportunity to complain about alleged Christian persecution. According to the Washington Post, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum told AM 970 that the shooting was "obviously a crime of hate", but added that "we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before."
During a June 18th interview with radio host John Fredericks, Pastor E.W. Jackson downplayed the racial aspects of the shooting, wondering out loud if the attack was actually an anti-Christian crime. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Before we jump to conclusions about this being some sort of racial hate crime, we need to consider that this man didn't go to a basketball court where he probably would have found plenty of black people playing basketball ... He didn't go to a bar. He didn't go to a bowling alley. He went to a church. And it does make me wonder, John, whether this growing hostility and antipathy to Christianity and for what it stands for, this Biblical worldview about sexual morality and other things, is not sort of creating a climate and hostility against Christian people."Still other commentators used the tragedy to grandstand for gun ownership. On June 19th, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee told Fox News host Todd Starnes that the tragedy could have been prevented if the Emanuel AME congregants had been armed. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"The one thing that would have at least ameliorated the horrible situation in Charleston would have been that if somebody in that prayer meeting had a conceal-carry or there had been either an off-duty policeman or an on-duty policeman, somebody with the legal authority to carry a firearm and could have stopped the shooter ... It sounds crass, but frankly the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a weapon that is equal or superior to the one that he’s using."Bryan Fischer expressed a similar sentiment in a June 18th tweet. "Misguided bans on guns in houses of worship turned this black church in SC into a shooting gallery. Nobody could shoot back," he wrote on Twitter. (Hat tip to Friendly Atheist.)
What is wrong with you people?
Nine people were shot to death in their church by a white supremacist, and you don't think race is central to the crime? Innocent people are dead and a community is traumatized, and you're using the tragedy to slam abortion and Caitlin Jenner? You complain about "Christian persecution" over the fallen bodies of people who just suffered actual persecution?
What is wrong with you people?
The Charleston shooting is a reminder that racial hatred still simmer in America. This should be a time of compassion, sensitivity, and national introspection, so as to honor the lives of those who were murdered. Right-wingers, please stop using their deaths as an excuse to pontificate on unrelated issues.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
The White House Blog: President Obama Delivers a Statement on the Shooting in South Carolina
People for the American Way: PFAW Foundation Mourns the Loss of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a Member of Our Family
Esquire: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable
The Atlantic: Thugs and Terrorists Have Attacked Black Churches for Generations