Louisiana Governor and passive presidential aspirant Bobby Jindal inserted the shruggie icon into the debate, averring that we should defer to the expertise of police detectives in sussing out the connection between Roof’s documented history of racist sympathies and his perhaps coincidental murdering of black people: “Law enforcement will figure out what his so-called motivations were.”
South Carolina Senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham pointed out that it’s Christians who are the serial killer flavor of the month: “It’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.” His fellow campaign traveler Rick Santorum opined that the slaughter was part of a larger “assault on religious liberty.” And Rand Paul blamed the massacre on “people not understanding where salvation comes from.”
Fox & Friends couldn’t help dumbing down the debate by framing it simply as an “Attack on Faith,” while anchor Steve Doocy wondered aloud how people could “unbelievably” “call it a hate crime.”
This is, of course, nonsense. The massacre was not an attack on faith. According to witnesses, Roof stated his goals and motivations as he committed the crime. He told the victims, “You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” By Friday morning, CNN was reporting that he confessed he had wanted to start a race war.
The reliance on culture-war narratives rings even more hollow. Roof wasn’t some unhinged hippie atheist with contempt for conservative values; a high-school classmate told The Daily Beast that “he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs.”
Roof joined white-supremacy groups, not the American Civil Liberties Union. He didn’t even ask some Christians to bake a cake for a gay wedding; he opened fire on a bunch of black people after watching them at Bible study.
So how can we explain conservatives’ misidentification of Roof’s motives? Could it be an overzealous application of “allegedly” to describe what happened (Perhaps they take so seriously the idea that Roof is innocent until proven guilty, they’re acting as his lawyers.) Then again, conservatives seem to be concerned about due process only in very specific instances. It’s not as if Roof has been accused of campus sexual assault.
No, the problem here is not that GOP politicians blame the victims. It’s that these days they desperately need to believe that they are also victims.
*Depicting Roof as just another one of the foot soldiers in the war on Christmas steals unearned legitimacy from black Americans’ struggle on a scale that should give critics of Rachel Dolezal pause. It’s a theft of the Emanuel AME victims’ martyrdom that’s as capricious and as unaccountable as any Iggy Azalea appropriation.