Analysts on Fox News floated the theory on Thursday that the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday night was motivated by religious animosity toward Christians, rather than by racism.
Host Steve Doocy suggested on "Fox & Friends" that religion was the likely motivation for the terrorist attack.
"Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime," Doocy said in an interview with a pastor Thursday morning. "And some look at it as, well, it's because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church. But you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility toward Christians, and it was in a church, so maybe that's what it was about."
Doocy's co-host, Brian Kilmeade, also tried to cast doubt on the idea that the gunman, whom authorities believe to be 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was motivated by race, asking a guest, "Is it a church that has white congregants as well as black?"
Early Thursday morning, Fox News host Heather Childers acknowledged that officials are treating the shooting as a hate crime, but wondered, "Could the shooter have been motivated by pure hatred for religion?"
The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office plan to participate in a hate crime investigation of the attack.
White supremacists who convened on the neo-Nazi site Stormfront.org voiced similarly aspirational speculation, suggesting that the shooting's location might indicate anti-Christian violence. They also expressed worries that if the shooting did turn out to be an act of racism, the white nationalist movement would suffer.
It's understandable that actual, outspoken white supremacists would need to believe that the killer was not one of their own. But the gymnastics that Fox commentators engaged in to find some other motive is disconcerting. Why were they so afraid the attack might prove to be racially motivated?
The search for a motive continues... https://t.co/44kdJ9C8XH
— Jermaine Spradley (@MrSpradley) June 18, 2015
Roof, the alleged killer, is known to have sported the flags of the white supremacist Rhodesian and apartheid-era South African governments. He also reportedly said during the attack that he was there "to shoot black people."
"You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go," Roof told his victims, according to a witness.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the shooting took place, is a historic black church, founded in the early 1800s.
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum offered his own thoughts on New York's AM 970. "It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be?" Santorum said. "You talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation."
He made racist jokes, wore patches with flags of racist states & is alleged to have killed 9 black people. The motive is mysterious.
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) June 18, 2015
President Barack Obama spoke on Thursday about the tragedy, making clear that he had no doubt that racist hatred motivated the shooting, just as it has so many times throughout history.
"The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history," said Obama. "This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked, and we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals."
The president invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words nearly 52 years ago, the day after four young black girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
"They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution," quoted Obama. "They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream."
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BEFORE YOU GO
06/19/2015 10:10 PM EDT
Murdoch Owned New York Post Calls Removal Of Confederate Flag
The New York Post's editorial board joined the chorus opposing South Carolina continuing to fly the Confederate flag at the State Capitol after the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, writing, "Time to take it down, folks."
The Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the current chief executive of 21st Century Fox and its property, the conservative Fox News.
More from the Post:
Yes, some white Southerners point to it as a symbol of regional pride. But it represented a bloody rebellion against the United States in defense of slavery.
The Confederate flag isn’t quite as clear-cut; many no doubt honestly display it to honor ancestors or just the "rebel spirit." But at core it remains the emblem of those who fought to defend secession and slavery.
That flag has no place on any government institution.
06/19/2015 9:13 PM EDT
Reverend Makes Fervent Call To Take Down Confederate Flag
During a Friday night vigil for the victims in the shooting at a Charleston church, Rev. Nelson Rivers III of Charity Missionary Baptist Church offered support to the families of those killed, and made an impassioned call for the Confederate flag to be removed from the South Carolina State Capitol.
Reverend Calls For Confederate Flag To Come Down
During a Friday vigil for the victims of the Charleston church shooting, Rev. Nelson Rivers III passionately called for South Carolina to take the Confederate flag down from the state Capitol.See what else was said at the vigil http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/charleston-shooter-failed-miserably-to-divide-city-mayor-say?bffbnews&utm_term=4ldqpho#4ldqphoPosted by BuzzFeed News on Friday, June 19, 2015
(h/t BuzzFeed News)
06/19/2015 8:57 PM EDT
Lawmakers Moving Away Confederate Flag
On Friday night, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) tweeted, "We will have many conversations over the coming days and weeks, and the placement of the Confederate flag will certainly be one of those topics."
Also, South Carolina State Rep. Norman Brannon (R) told MSNBC that he would sponsor a bill that would "take down" the Confederate flag from state government buildings.
SC state Rep. Todd Rutherford just told @chrislhayes that a Republican state rep, Doug Brannon, will sponsor bill to remove Confederate flag— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) June 20, 2015
.@RepRutherford just announced on MSNBC that GOP State Rep Doug Brannon has agreed to sponsor a bill to take down the confederate flag in SC— Tyler Jones (@TylerMJones) June 20, 2015
06/19/2015 7:54 PM EDT
Vigil Held For Charleston Church Victims
Crowd. Bagpipes playing Amazing Grace pic.twitter.com/EWy6APzWRY— Christina Elmore (@celmorePC) June 19, 2015
"God wants Charleston to be a lighthouse. ... We are one family in this community" - Elliott Summey, chairman of Charleston County Council— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) June 19, 2015
NBA Star Dwight Howard in attendance.
06/19/2015 7:25 PM EDT
Martin O'Malley Is 'Pissed,' Calls For Assault Weapons Ban
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley didn't mince words in the wake of the massacre of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston.
"I'm pissed," the former Maryland governor said in a Friday email to supporters, in which he derided Congress for its inability to pass tighter gun control measures.
“I’m pissed that after an unthinkable tragedy like the one in South Carolina yesterday, instead of jumping to act, we sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to say what we’re all thinking: that this is not the America we want to be living in,” O'Malley wrote.
Read more here. -- Kim Bellware
06/19/2015 7:12 PM EDT
What It's Like To Be Black And Live Under A White Neighbor's Confederate Flag HuffPost's Dave
HuffPost's Dave Jamieson reports from Summerville, South Carolina, just outside Charleston: Annie Caddell proudly flies the Confederate flag in her front yard here in the Charleston suburbs. She maintains a cache of spare flags on her front porch, replacing the one on her white flagpole every few months, after it gets tattered. A visitor to her home -- if the "no trespassing" sign doesn't turn him back -- is greeted near the door by a green, imitation street sign that reads "Confederate Circle."
Caddell said she'll die before her stars and bars stop blowing in the wind.
"Would you let your family history die like that? I don’t think so," Caddell, who's "pushing 56," said. "That’s tantamount to treason in my family. You just don’t do that."
Her neighbors know to take her at her word. Read more here.
06/19/2015 7:06 PM EDT
Louisiana Gov. Orders Flags To Half-Staff
In a statement, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, "Out of respect for those murdered in Charleston, I issued an Executive Order to fly flags over state buildings at half-staff."
06/19/2015 5:39 PM EDT
Roof Family: Shock, Grief Over Shooting
The family of suspected Charlotte church shooter Dylann Roof issued a statement on Friday night, expressing shock over the killings, and offering sympathies and condolences to families of victims.
JUST IN: Roof family statement: 'Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night.' #CharlestonShooting— WSOCTV (@wsoctv) June 19, 2015
Roof family statement pic.twitter.com/wtPAPNhqUn— Rodrigo (@RodrigoEBR) June 19, 2015
The full statement:
Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night,” the statement continues.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week. We have all been touched by the moving words from the victim's families offering God's forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.
06/19/2015 4:08 PM EDT
Rick Santorum: Charleston Shooting 'Clearly' Motivated By Race
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.
Read the full story here.
-- Igor Bobic
06/19/2015 4:07 PM EDT
Justice Department To Expedite $29 Million Grant Funding To South Carolina For Victim Assistance
The Department of Justice will expedite a $29 million formula victim assistant grant funding to South Carolina, according to DOJ spokesman Kevin Lewis. Some of the grant funding can be used to help victims of the recent tragedy at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.