As news of Dylann Roof's longstanding and deeply rooted racist beliefs began to filter through the media yesterday, many of the Republican candidates for president nevertheless denied that race was the motivating factor. Taking their cues from Fox News, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham speculated that Roof was a "whacked out" opponent of "religious liberty," just one of many "people out there looking for Christians to kill them."
Early Friday morning, CNN reported that a source close to the investigation said that Roof had confessed to police that he chose the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because he wanted to start a race war. That statement is consonant with what a survivor told Sylvia Jones yesterday -- that Roof had said that African-Americans have "raped our [white] women, and you are taking over the country. I have to do what I have to do."
And yet, despite the abundance of evidence that Roof's attack was racially motivated, GOP presidential front-runner Jeb Bush told attendees at a Faith and Freedom Coalition summit in Washington today that he doesn't "know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes."
According to Talking Points Memo's Tierney Sneed, Bush followed Santorum and Graham's lead and focused on the fact that Roof decided to stage the opening salvo of his race war at a church. (The fact that it's a historically black one is, we must assume, beside the point.) Bush later claimed that while Roof is completely opaque to him, he does know "what was in the heart of [Roof's] victims."
"They were praying. They were learning and studying the word of the Lord," he said. "In times like these, in times of great of national mourning, people of faith, all of us must come together and at least reflect on this and fortify our strength and love of Christ, love of God to be able to continue to go forth."
The Huffington Post's politics reporter Laura Bassett asked him point blank about the racial component of the Charleston massacre:
For their part, both Democratic candidates have addressed the racial animus that motivated Roof, Clinton in a speech yesterday and Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter today: