LITTLETON, N.H. -- After a young white man walked into a historically black church in June and murdered nine people, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was initially reluctant to concede what appeared obvious to many: that the attack was motived by racism.
During an exchange at a town hall meeting here last week, Bush again initially appeared to downplay the threat posed by racist white terrorists before a second audience member persuaded him to change how he characterized the attack in Charleston, South Carolina.
The discussion over the issue began when a young man in the audience asked Bush whether he would consider the Charleston massacre an act of “Christian terrorism,” in light of the Republican presidential candidate’s use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe attacks on the West like the one that occurred in San Bernardino, California, earlier this month.
“No,” Bush said, immediately rejecting the comparison. “The difference is that this -- this couple was inspired, as they said, by ISIS, which is a caliphate the size of Indiana. The case of Charleston was the act of a deranged person. The case of Newtown was a deranged person. These tragedies that unfold -- the Aurora case where the guy was just put in prison for life -- all of these cases, I think, are related to not an organized effort but derangement, just severe mental illness.”
Bush said that while both kinds of attacks are “tragic” and “heartbreaking,” he didn’t consider them to be comparable.
“One is a threat to Western civilization and our way of life, and the other is a problem that we have to deal with in a completely different way,” he said.
Several minutes later, however, another man in the crowd challenged Bush on the point aggressively, arguing that the candidate’s attempt to lump in the Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, shootings with the Charleston massacre “misses the incredible damage that white supremacy has caused in this country.”
In responding, Bush initially rejected this charge.
“White supremacy is horrific, but it is not a challenge to our country as Islamic terrorism is, which is organized to destroy our way of life,” the candidate said.
Bush then went off on a tangent, elucidating the differences between radical Islamic extremism and the Muslim faith in general, before the man in the audience brought the White House hopeful back to his conflation of the Charleston shooting -- an act motivated by racial hatred -- and the shooters that massacred victims in Aurora in Newtown.
It was here that Bush conceded his point.
“OK, I’ll grant you that -- that white supremacy is motivated differently than somebody who was mentally deranged, but he was mentally deranged, as well,” Bush said. “I respect your point of view for that, so I’m adjusting mine to acknowledge it -- something not done in politics often.”
Watch the video above to see the exchange in full.
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