Fox News' immediate response to the deadly shooting at a black Charleston church was to repeatedly push the prospect that the massacre was a religious hate crime, rather than a racially motivated one.
At around 9 p.m. on June 17, a white man named Dylann Roof entered a prayer service at the historic black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and murdered nine black people with a gun. Roof is said to have left one witness alive, to “tell the story of what had happened,” and reports soon surfaced that Roof told his victims, ranging in age from 26 to 87, that “you rape our women and are taking over our country, and you have to go.” Charleston police chief Gregg Mullen was quick to describe the shooting as a hate crime, calling the crime “senseless” in a news conference that same evening.
The church was founded in 1816, and after a founding member of the church, Denmark Vesey, organized a slave revolt in 1822, the church was burned in retaliation. One of the shooting victims, state senator and pastor Clementa Pinckney, previously said, “This site, this area, has been tied to the history and life of African Americans since about the early 1800s.”
On the morning after the shooting, Fox News' coverage scrambled to suggest the shooting may not have been racially-motivated, but was perhaps a religious hate crime.
Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy stated that it was extraordinary the massacre was being labeled a hate crime, positing, “It was a church, so maybe that's what they're talking about” and citing “hostility towards Christians.” Guest Bishop E. W. Jackson agreed that “most people jump to conclusions about race,” and that “we don't know why he went into a church, but he didn't choose a bar” or “basketballc ourt.” Later, frequent Fox guest and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani theorized that “we don't know the motivation of the person who did this,” saying “maybe he hates Christian churches.” And later that day on Fox News Radio, Brian Kilmeade speculated that maybe the shooter “hates Christian churches” or possibly just the state of South Carolina.
After Dylann Roof was arrested, he reportedly confessed to investigators that his motivation for the shooting was to “start a race war.” Additional evidence emerged of his racist, white supremacist beliefs -- A Facebook photo showed Roof wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and the former nation of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which have been “adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.” And friend of Roof's said that he “was saying all this stuff about how the races should be segregated, that whites should be with whites,” and that he wanted to “start a civil war.”
Fox has a long history of concocting alternative explanations for events others see as examples of racism and its effects. When Eric Garner died at the hands of police in Staten Island last year, Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Greg Gutfeld blamed New York's high cigarette taxes for leading Eric Garner to sell black market cigarettes, the crime for which police were arresting him when he was killed; Hannity described it as the “root cause” of his death. Host Bill O'Reilly has attributed the disproportionate imprisonment of black people to “the culture” in “ghetto neighborhoods,” while contributor Geraldo Rivera once said that Trayvon Martin's hoodie was “as much to blame” for his death as George Zimmerman was. And Fox host Eric Bolling has said he simply doesn't “think there's racism” in America, because we have a black president.