POLITICS

Rick Santorum: Charleston Shooting 'Clearly' Motivated By Race

06/19/2015 03:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2015
Alex Wong via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) didn't equivocate Friday when asked about the nature of an attack by a white gunman on a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

"It was clearly racially motivated. Clearly," Santorum told The Huffington Post at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C.

The presidential candidate took issue with news reports that said he blamed the attack on a broader assault against religious liberty. He explained that he didn't know all the facts when he was first asked about the shooting on Thursday morning.

"At the time I didn't know it was racially motivated, nobody did," he said.

In a Thursday interview with New York radio host Joe Piscopo, Santorum said the mass killings were "obviously a crime of hate." He added that "we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before."

Reaction to the nature of the shooting among other 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls has been mixed. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham didn't beat around the bush in describing the suspected shooter as a "racial jihadist." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who both appeared at the Faith & Freedom conference, took a more careful approach by stating the attack at least appeared to be racially motivated. Other candidates like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), however, have suggested the tragedy had to do with a lack of faith.

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