Republicans Deny Charleston Shooting Was Racially Motivated — Here’s What They’re Saying Instead

By now, the facts are well known: Last week in Charleston, South Carolina, 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he shot and killed nine unarmed churchgoers. Within hours of the shooting, officers announced they had reason to believe it was a hate crime. And not just because Roof, who is white, opened fire in a historically black church. Along with an alleged confession, photos surfaced of Roof wearing racist symbols, and a manifesto stated he "wanted to start a race war." So why are Republican leaders ignoring this was racially motivated? After all, the signs were all there, right from the get-go.

Let's start with last Friday, when Republican presidential nominee hopeful Jeb Bush told attendees at a Faith and Freedom Coalition summit that he just wasn't sure what happened that day. "[I don't] know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes," he told the crowd. But the thing is, he does. We all do. According to The New York Times last Thursday, Roof allegedly told one witness, "You are raping our women and taking over the country," after she told him, "You don't have to do this."

In a phone interview with CNN reported Thursday, yet another Republican presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, instead blamed the crime on Roof's mental health. "I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don't think it's anything broader than that," Graham said. "It's about a young man who is obviously twisted." (Sure... twisted and racist.)

A segment on Fox & Friends also aired Thursday, and pointed to religious discrimination, rather than racism, as the root cause of the attack. (In fact, the segment itself was titled, "Attack On Faith.") In it, Bishop E.W. Jackson, another member of the Republican party, talks about increasing violence against the church and even went so far as to suggest the possibility of arming pastors. Sound crazy? Not to co-host Steve Doocy, who nodded in agreement with Bishop Jackson.

"There does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians in this country because of our biblical views," Jackson continues. But when the subject of race is finally brought up, the pastor argues that most people, "jump to conclusions."

These haven't been the only comments like this made by Republicans in the last week. Speaking to New York radio station AM 970 last Thursday, presidential candidate Rick Santorum described the attack as an "assault on our religious liberty." Clearly, Santorum hasn't perused Roof's personal website, Last Rhodesian, which clearly (and disturbingly) declares his racial hatred.

So why does this all really matter? Let's not forget these are the leaders who run our country, and the trusted news voices that inform the opinions of millions of Americans — which is why denying the role of racism in Roof's massacre last Wednesday is deeply troubling. Perhaps it's easier to say that Dylann Roof is mentally ill, or that his crimes were merely against the church. But from the beginning, the facts have been there: Roof is a known white supremacist, and by all accounts, he opened fire last Wednesday with a calculated plan to murder innocent black parishioners. Those are truths we can't escape from.

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