Wingnut Week In Review: Call It What It Is, Or Be Complicit

Terrance Heath

Even as the rest of the country reeled from the horror of the shooting that killed nine at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the right-wing began its shameful spin of what can only be called an act of terror. Those familiar with the long history of violence against black churches in the South felt a deep sense of foreboding at the news that a gunman killed nine people, during a Bible study at a historic black church in Charleston.

But, as Isaiah J. Poole noted, as the rest of the country grieved, the cast of “Fox & Friends” tied themselves in knots to spin the shooting as “an attack on faith.” African-American minister E.W. Jackson cautioned people not to “jump to conclusions about race.” Co-host Steve Doocy added, “Extraordinarily, they called it a ‘hate crime,’ and some look at it as, ‘Well, because it was a white guy and a black church,’ but you made a great point earlier about the hostility towards Christians. And it was a church. So maybe that’s what they were talking about. They haven’t explained it to us.”

By this time, Charleston’s police chief had already declared the shooting a hate crime. Surveillance video showed the gunman, a young white male, entering the church. An image from the surveillance footage led the FBI to name 21-year-old Dylann Roof as the suspect. A survivor told a reporter that Roof told his victims, “You rape our women and are taking over our country, and you have to go.”


Details about Roof started to emerge even before he was caught. Other than an arrest on a drug charge in March, and another one month later for trespassing, Roof has no criminal record. His father gave him a .45-caliber pistol for his birthday in April. High school friends remembered Roof as a “pill popper,” who “had black friends,” but also “had that kind of Southern pride” and “strong conservative beliefs,” and made “a lot of racist jokes.”

Further details suggested the shooting was an act of terror motivated by racial hatred. Roof’s friends said that he talked of wanting to start a race war or see segregation reinstated. Roof’s roommate said he planned the shooting for six months. Dalton Tyler told ABC News, “He was big into segregation and other stuff. He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

In a picture on his Facebook page, Roof wears a jacket bearing two white supremacist symbols. The first was the flag of South Africa’s apartheid government. Below the apartheid flag was the flag of Rhodesia, a majority black country ruled by a white minority from 1965 to 1979, upon gaining independence from Britain.


Yet, Fox News wasn’t alone in its spin, or its delusion.

Republican presidential candidates parroted the Fox News talking point.

There was much more.

Delusion and denial abounded on Twitter, too.

According to a survivor, Roof asked for Rev. Clementa Pickney when he arrive, and was taken to the minister, who had Roof sit next to him at the Bible study. Roof sat with his soon-to-be victims for almost an hour. A Snapchat video taken by Tywanza Sanders moments before the shooting shows Roof, the lone white face, seated at the far end of the table.


Roof had an hour to see the humanity of his victims, and choose not to go through with his plans. Instead, according to survivors, he rose near the end of the meeting and said, “You all rape women and you’re taking over our country,” adding, “I have to do what I have to do.” Tywanza Sanders allegedly tried to talk Roof out of killing anyone, but Roof began shooting, stopping to reload his gun five times. Sanders died trying to protect his aunt, Susie Jackson. Roof killed state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49.

The survivor and her five-year-old granddaughter pretended to be dead, to avoid being shot. But as he prepared to leave Roof noticed that she was still alive. “Did I shoot you,” he asked her. When she answered “No, Roof said ”Good, because I need someone to survive,“ saying that he planned to shoot himself. ”And you’ll be the only survivor,” he added before he fled the scene.

Roof was caught 245 miles away, near Shelby, North Carolina, after a motorist spotted his car, with a “Confederate States of America” plate on the front bumper. Roof has allegedly confessed to authorities that he was the shooter, and that he hoped his actions would cause a race war in the United States. Roof told police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him,” but ultimately decided that he had to “go through with his mission.”

It is no coincidence that the shooting happened in a state that is home to at least 19 active hate groups; a state that still has no hate crime law; and where the confederate flag still flies outside the state capital, its presence there protected by state law. Nor is it a fluke that it happened in a city where schools are still segregated; where white police officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man; and where citizens say that racist ideology runs deep.

Roof did not choose his victims “indiscriminately.” Nor was he there because he objected to their religious beliefs. In a neighborhood with numerous churches, Roof chose Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, founded by former slave Denmark Vesey. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” the church played a central role in the struggle for black equality, and became a symbol of the black middle class. Roof asked for Rev. Clementa Pinckney by name.

Reasonable people cannot deny that the Charleston shooting was a racially driven act of terror. The beliefs that motivated Dylann Roof are not innate. They do not develop in a vacuum. To deny the connection between Roof’s actions, and extremist rhetoric that tells young people like him that black people are inherently violent and criminal, and are “taking his country away from him,” is to enable its spread, and to be complicit in the actions it inspires.

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