Monday, June 29, 2015

The Charleston Church Shooting One Week Later -- Part III: Right-Wing Spin And The Confederate Flag

(UPDATED -- see below)

In Part I of this series, I noted the facts, about the shooter, that came out in the past week from the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  In Part II, I showed how the church may not have been Roof's initial target and that his overt racism was only part of the thought process in choosing a target.

Yes, as I outlined in Part I, there were many, many ways that Roof exhibited his racist beliefs: besides choosing an historical Black church and Black victims, he also had a manifesto with racist, anti-Jew and anti-Black rhetoric, photos of him with his guns and Confederate propaganda, and a history of discriminatory thought and talk, dating back at least to the Trayvon Martin killing, according to those close to him.  I would say there can be no clearer example of racist thought than what this shooter had expressed.

It is also very clear that the shooter is a poster-boy for the failure of our gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of clearly unstable people.  Here, once again, was another "lone wolf" killer who had a history of trouble, including misdemeanor convictions and a pending felony, yet was able to buy a gun without a problem.

As one writer, Gary Younge, wrote:

But the shooting of nine black church-goers in Charleston .... by a white gunman in what police are treating as a “hate crime” marks a doubling down on the nation’s twin pathologies of racism and guns. Both are deeply rooted in the nation’s history since its founding: neither are going anywhere soon.

And yet, the right-wing spin machine was in full action, even before the scene had been cleared, trying to move public thought away from guns and racism and to marginalize these as the true problems exposed by this nightmare.

Rick Perry, pro-gun darling of the NRA, (who himself can no longer legally carry a concealed weapon due to a felony indictment) was the first to get my attention.  Speaking on a news show only the day after the shooting, Perry called the shooting an "accident" and blamed the shooter's actions on drug abuse, though there was no reason to believe, then or now, that the shooter was under the influence at the time of the shooting.  He also claimed that the Obama administration was "over-reacting" to the shooting.

Two days after the shooting, presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal mocked Obama and blamed the shooting on a lack of mental health records (of which none have been noted for Roof) and on a lack of religion.  Really, Bobby?  I don't know what religion Roof is, if any, but I'm pretty sure the shooting occurred in a church...

Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, just a couple days after the shooting, couldn't help cracking jokes. While in Iowa, he quipped, "You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas -- hitting what you aim at."  Well, Mr. Cruz, Roof's "gun control," as you define it, led to nine people dead in Charleston.  Then later, between firing off rounds with an assault rifle at a shooting range, he said, "There's a famous saying, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. There is a reason why the Second Amendment is right after the First."  Very sensitive, as always, from the guy who advocates guns for armed insurrection.

Alan Keyes suggested that the shooter did what he did for "gay rights" and to "intimidate" those who oppose gay marriage.  Of course, there is no evidence at all for this assertion. I don't know if Roof is gay, but somehow I doubt this was ever an issue for him.

Rick Santorum and presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham suggested the shooter committed this crime for religious reasons as an "assault on religious liberty" and "looking to kill Christians," despite no statement about religion at all from the shooter.

Conservative radio host and FOX News commentator Kevin Jackson blamed a Liberal agenda, stating "Liberals created this kid that shot up this church," as did another FOX News commentator, E.W. Jackson, who not only blamed the shooting on a "growing hostility and antipathy to Christianity" but also on gay people, President Obama, and Liberals in academia. 

Another FOX News contributor incredibly blamed the shooting on abortion rights.  Facepalm.

And then, to top it all off, NRA board member Charles Cotton (no stranger to extreme statements) went so far as to blame the shooting on the victims themselves!  Because Rev. Pinckney had been a senator who endorsed stronger gun laws and had once opposed a bill allowing conceal carry in churches, NRA board member Cotton therefore blamed Pinckney for the crime, suggesting that the victims should have armed themselves in the Bible study group and shot Roof dead with their own guns before he could shoot them.  Yep, that's the NRA for ya, trying to push more guns in more places as a (profitable) solution.  Despicable!  Mike Huckabee, always an NRA minion (as well as a supporter of white separatists), parroted that talking point, too, as did pundit Bryan Fischer.

But then, just as all of these ridiculous attempts at red herrings were falling flat, and America was waking up to the fact that this may have been one mass shooting too many, something happened that, I think, even the NRA had not foreseen:  the racial aspects of the Charleston shooting morphed into a discussion about removing Confederate flags, and suddenly this was all that the media wanted to report about.

Suddenly the South Carolina governor was calling for the removal of the Confederate flag at the Statehouse grounds, a move that was approved by the House.  The Tennessee governor called for removing the Confederate flag from state license plates, as did the North Carolina governor from his state's specialty license plates.  The Alabama governor had the Confederate flag removed from the state Capitol.  Other governors and legislators echoed the sentiments.  (So far, no word from Mississippi, though)

And then companies stopped selling Confederate flag merchandise, including Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and eBay.  

Activists were climbing flagpoles to remove the flag themselves.

(Not surprisingly, many GOP pundits, like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, tried to defend the Confederate flag)

Don't get me wrong; it's high time this flag came down and got put in its place -- in a museum.  The Civil War ended 150 years ago, and yet this flag, which was born on the battlefield to symbolize the retention of slavery for an agrarian economic system borne on the backs of Blacks during armed insurrection, then used to justify segregation and discrimination, and then somehow morphed into a symbol of "all things Southern", Dukes of Hazard-style, is still being used as a government symbol.  (HERE is a good write-up of the flag's history and usage).  There's a very good reason why you will never see a Black person wearing a Confederate flag hat or shirt, putting a sticker of it on their car, or waving the damned thing around!

But amongst all the to-do about removing the flag, a very basic irony is being lost:  The same states that are jumping all over themselves to remove the flag are among the worst in the nation for shootings and lax gun laws, and the highest for gun ownership.  Removing the flag makes them seem as if they are "doing something" in response to the Charleston shooting, but in reality they have done nothing at all to stop the next "lone wolf" madman from arming himself and repeating the tragedy.  Walmart, too, is patting itself on the back for stopping sales of the flag, but they continue to sell handguns and assault rifles, including the handgun used by Roof, and allowing guns to be carried in their stores, no questions asked.  Perhaps because of their policies, Walmart is definitely no stranger to gun crimes and shootings.

The NRA must feel greatly relieved that the public's eyes have been turned.  I think they feared that they were facing another "Sandy Hook" response for tougher laws.  Now they need only sit back and let the flag brouhaha take over.

But I'm not the only one who has noticed.  A cartoonist at the Washington post has noticed and made a little video.  As has political cartoonist Mark Fiore, who made a musical cartoon parody, called "Blame the Flag," on the issue.  One satirist even penned a "thank you letter" from the NRA, thanking America for putting the blame on the flag. The letter begins:
Dear America,
Since the awful mass killing of nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church last week, America has been overwhelmingly focused on removing the Confederate flag from its government buildings. The National Rifle Association would like to say: THANK YOU, AMERICA! Thanks for focusing all your attention during this heartbreaking time on the true killer of people in America: the Confederate flag.....
And other gun lobbies have noticed, too.  On the Facebook page for the extremist group, Oregon Firearms Federation, the group has posted one of the photos of Roof with a Confederate flag.  In the photo, Roof is wearing a Gold's Gym shirt, so OFF stated in its usual acidic tone, "OFF Calls for the immediate ban on Gold's Gym tee shirts."  Some of their followers chimed in, as well, in the comments section, to mock it further.

Don't allow the spin!  Yes, the Confederate flags must come down, but do not lose sight of the original issue:  another demented and criminal-minded young man got hold of a gun and killed people with it.  Taking down the Confederate flags do nothing to stop the next attack!  It is time to pass reasonable gun laws to keep guns out of their hands and create a new trajectory for our nation away from gun violence.

UPDATE (6/29/15):  Twitter data reflects the sudden shift in conversation after the Charleston shooting away from gun violence prevention to the issue of removing the Confederate flag.

Also, a new cartoon was released by Jack Ohman.  See at right...

UPDATE (7/8/15):  A new cartoon, below..

UPDATE (7/9/15):  The South Carolina House has approved taking down the Confederate flag.  From an article:
More than 50 years after South Carolina raised a Confederate flag at its Statehouse to protest the civil rights movement, the state is getting ready to remove the rebel banner. 
A bill pulling down the flag from the Capitol's front lawn and the flagpole it flies on passed the South Carolina House early Thursday morning. It should get to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk before the end of the day. 
The governor promised to sign it quickly, but didn't say exactly when. That's important, because the bill requires the flag be taken down within 24 hours of her pen hitting the paper and shipped to the Confederate Relic Room.