Dick Durbin Calls Charleston Shooter A 'Terrorist'

06/23/2015 05:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

WASHINGTON -- The man who gunned down nine worshippers in a Charleston church is a terrorist whose brutal act demands a conversation that's much broader than the debate raging over the Confederate flag, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), said Tuesday.

Dylann Roof, the apparent author of a white supremacist manifesto, allegedly killed the churchgoers to further his hopes for a race war.

While some leaders, including the head of the FBI, have shied away from the terrorist label, to Durbin -- the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate who has long been an outspoken critic of gun violence -- Roof's alleged crimes make him not just an insane killer, but a terrorist who used violence to further a twisted political goal.

"This one touched a special nerve in the American public," Durbin told The Huffington Post in an interview. "The notion that these people were peacefully engaged in Bible study, that this terrible terrorist comes in, is invited in, sits there for an hour, then turns the gun loose and kills nine people, it really touched people in a way that’s different from some of these other instances."

Among those other instances, Durbin mentioned the drumbeat of death on the streets of his own city, Chicago, and the shocking slaughter of children in Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And he said he hopes that this time more comes out of the outrage -- which has sparked a discussion now twinning race and violence issues -- than a another debate, even one about the symbol of the Confederate flag.

"That’s a good conversation. It’s even an important conversation. But it’s not sufficient," Durbin said.

"There’s still two major topics that we haven’t addressed," he said. "The issue of race -- we’re not going to solve it with any bill that we’re going to pass, but to ignore it is wrong." A number of politicians, including many running for the White House, have been reluctant to label the shootings racism, much less terrorism.

"And the issue of guns -- as the president said, we happen to be one of the few nations on earth, advanced, developed nations, where this type of wholesale killing takes place," Durbin said. "And we’ve come to the point where many people accept it as just part of America. I’m not one of those people."

One of his colleagues, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the heir-apparent to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), agreed with Durbin’s broader sentiment.

“I’m glad they took down the flag, or they agreed that they would make preparations to take down the flag, but they’ve got to go a lot further than that,” Schumer told HuffPost, referring to the effort to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina's Capitol grounds. “It’s a good thing, but it’s not enough.”

Watch Durbin's interview in the video.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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