Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

On days like today there’s always a lot of talk about “politicizing a tragedy” when people talk about the policy implications of someone walking into a church and murdering nine people for who they are. I mean, it’s just random violence, eh?

Almost certainly not, but the thing that clearly is an effort to “politicize a tragedy” is when some pol interprets a tragedy via some optic that just isn’t there. Leave it to Rick Santorum to do just that. Asked about the Charleston terrorist attack by conservative radio talk show host (and former comedian) Joe Piscopo this morning, Santorum said “It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be?” and you figured he meant “race.” But then a few seconds later he followed with this:

You talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.

Yes, it seems Rick Santorum thinks this young white man (probably his exact identity and specifically racist background wasn’t known when Santorum was speaking, but his approximate age and race were) strolled into a historic black church and started killing people because they were praying. After all, there’s a lot of that going on now, right? It’s been happening with great frequency ever since we told Florists and Bakers of Conscience they had to serve gay couples getting married and told Christian Corporate Magnates they had to let female employees keep some of their compensation to buy contraceptives. Next thing you know people are blazing away at poor persecuted Christians for holding a prayer meeting!

Steven Payne has an appropriate response at Daily Kos:

It’s not surprising that Santorum would use this moment to fearmonger to Christians, but it is still sickening. That there is an concerted “assault on religious liberty” in this country is a laughably empty controversy dreamed up by fundamentalists in response to the marriage equality debate. To drag it into the murders that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is beyond human decency, even for a Republican presidential candidate of Rick Santorum’s caliber.

UPDATE: Turns out Santorum wasn’t alone. Turns out he was joined in this obtuse or dishonest characterization of events in Charleston by the people who absolutely have the least excuse for it: South Carolina’s elected leaders. As reported by Jeet Heer, SC Nikki Haley suggested it was Emanuel AME’s character as a “house of worship” that made the murders horrific. SC Sen. Lindsey Graham was more explicit:

“[I]t’s 2015. There are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”

Clearly, it had nothing to do with race, because racism against whites is the only racism, right?

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.