On Sunday morning, terrorists carried out a coordinated attack on churches, hotels, and other populated sites across Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 people. Sri Lankan officials believe the attack was carried out by a radical Islamist group called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, and police arrested 24 people in connection.
Messages of sympathy rolled in as people around the world mourned this tragic event. But tweets from former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent right-wing journalists and commentators into a rage spiral.
Conservatives took issue with Obama and Clinton saying “Easter worshippers” instead of “Christians.” Naturally, outrage ensued.
Townhall’s Cortney O’Brien claimed that Clinton “ma[de] up a new term” (she didn’t). Breitbart’s Joel Pollak reminded readers that Obama “drew criticism for his reluctance to identify radical Islam as the source of many terror attacks.” At The Washington Times, Cheryl K. Chumley called the tweets “a political ploy designed to tamp down realities of radical Islamic terror targeting of Christians and Christianity,” adding, “This is how Muslim apologists roll.”
There’s nothing wrong with saying “Easter worshippers” to refer to people attending an Easter worship service, and neither Obama nor Clinton coined the term.
Right-wing commentator Erick Erickson, of all people, had one of the more reasonable conservative takes on the outrage. In a piece titled “‘Easter Worshippers’ Is Fine,” he wrote:
A lot of people, including a few of the politicians who tweeted, only show up to church on Easter Sunday. And while the phrase “Easter worshipper” is not common, it is also not unheard of. Ironically, had Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama not tweeted to express concern for the dead and condemn the attacks, a great many of the people outraged now would have been outraged by their silence.
This is a silly controversy. Conservatives exhaust themselves pointing out how frequently progressives get outraged over minor things on social media and now are doing it themselves. The only people who care already noticed and do not need others to scream about it. It makes conservative complaints about social justice warrior insanity seem cheap.
Adding to the “silly controversy” is the fact that only a few people who were outraged over the tweets from Obama and Clinton seemed particularly upset that President Donald Trump’s tweet in reaction to the bombings referred to the victims simply as “people” and mistakenly claimed that there were 138 million deaths.
In fact, even the official statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also failed to mention Christians.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have claimed so many precious lives on this Easter Sunday. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the more than 200 killed and hundreds of others wounded. We stand with the Sri Lankan government and people as they bring to justice the perpetrators of these despicable and senseless acts.
“Worshippers” is a fairly commonplace term to refer to people attending a worship service. While The Washington Times may see use of this term as “a political calculation” in 2019, it was fine using it when referring to an attack in 2014. (The article link in the Times' 2014 tweet no longer works.)
Some conservatives also pointed out that both Obama and Clinton referred to Muslims specifically when tweeting about the New Zealand mosque attacks, and several people on Twitter wondered why terms like “Ramadan worshippers” weren’t used then, but the answer is simple: The New Zealand attacks didn’t happen during a Ramadan service.
Contrary to the below tweet, the phrase “Ramadan worshippers” is sometimes used, especially regarding terrorist attacks on Muslims.
The outrage isn’t really about the attacks at all, though.
Three of the bombings happened at churches holding Easter services, and four others occurred at hotels throughout the city of Colombo. Additionally, one suicide bomber detonated during police questioning, and a pipe bomb was found and defused near the Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo. While the attacks certainly targeted Christians, they were almost certainly not the only victims in this act of terrorism, as the country’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist.
Over the years, conservative media have gotten extremely good at coordination, and the emergence of a social media-dominated news apparatus has allowed that skill to shine through. It’s commonplace to see something posted on social media get amplified in the conservative echo chamber and become big news in a matter of days if not hours. This is what happened when conservative media coalesced around the idea that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was downplaying the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, when they clutched pearls over Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussing the long-term sustainability of U.S. meat consumption, or countless other examples.
The credulity with which mainstream news organizations take these claims of outrage only embolden the people making them, checking an important box in the conservative media ecosystem: their status as a persecuted minority unfairly picked on by politicians and a “liberal” media. Right-wing commentators have recently learned that by claiming that the Mueller report exonerates Trump (it does not), they can shape a reality in which people will perceive it actually does. Similarly, they know that if they repeat the claim that Obama and Clinton were showing their anti-Christian bonafides by saying “Easter worshippers,” they can build a conventional wisdom in which that is true.
The answer, clearly, is to stop taking such people seriously by calling out their phony outrage where it exists and not letting them shape reality through repetitive propaganda.