In a move disturbing to even the most cynical critics of the network, Fox News has begun to use the recent tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, in which an apparent white supremacist committed a mass killing of nine black men and women in a historically black church, as “proof” of the ongoing victimization of Christians.
On a segment discussing the hate crime during Fox & Friends, the hosts frame the event not as an attack on the black community, but as “a horrifying attack on faith.” The hosts even expressed their disbelief that civil rights organizations and advocates were claiming a racial motive, stating “extraordinarily they called it a hate crime.” Indeed, most of the segment focused on what host Steve Doocy called “hostility towards Christians” and recommendations for religious leaders to carry weapons in their houses of worship.
While this case is still developing, it’s important to look at the available facts. The shooter was quoted by a witness to the killings as stating, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Photos of the alleged shooter online depict him wearing clothing featuring the flags of two extremely racist government regimes, that of apartheid-era South Africa and of the Republic of Rhodesia. And black churches have long been targets of racist violence over decades in the United States—Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in particular “has a history of civil rights activism and has long been one of the most prominent historic black churches in the South.”
How any honest observer at this point could discount race entirely as a motivation for the shootings, and insert a religious motive in its place, is hard to conceive. But Fox News, in its misguided effort to downplay the wave of racial tension sweeping the nation in favor of something more palatable to its conservative viewers, did just that.
It’s ironic that Fox News is acting in this manner when many of the religious institutions and individuals they are supposedly trying to court with this imbalanced coverage seem to be on the other side of the issue. In an attempt to breed unity and enact reform in the criminal justice system in the wake of the Eric Garner killing, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that “a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African-American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”
That statement was in stark contrast to the Southern Baptists of old who allowed slaveholders to serve as Christian ministers and initially opposed some methods of desegregation. Many religious institutions have similarly evolved with the times, but it seems as though Fox News is unwilling to join any call for positive action on race relations, deciding instead to whip up fervor among extremist Christians who feel “victimized” when they’re unable to use faith as a tool for discrimination.
With their so-called “War on Christmas” becoming less relevant every year, Fox News is opening up a new front in the culture war. While the targets were usually atheists who felt ostracized by ongoing attempts to seek government endorsement of religion, the targets in this instance are a community that is under constant attack by racists and discriminatory institutions. By dissuading their viewers from becoming informed about racial violence in America they open the door for more hate. Instead, we need a sober, informed look at the challenges before us. Only then can we hope to reform the problems that exist within both our society and our government when it comes to race.