Friday, June 4, 2010

Crazy in South Carolina, again

Is it something in the water of the reservoirs and faucets running through South Carolina, or is there some deep ancient strain of hate that rides the currents of the air itself? We’re left to wonder after two more incidents occurred in the Palmetto State almost back to back this week, happened so swiftly together they make you wonder if it wasn’t accidentally on purpose.

In Newberry, S.C., Gregory Collins, 19, a self-described “redneck,” was charged with murder Thursday, accused of the shooting death of Anthony Hill, 30, a black man whose body was dragged for several miles and discovered early Wednesday morning on U.S. Highway 176. Hill’s death appeared to be a deliberate echo of the murder of James Byrd, an African American who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, in June 1998.

Hill’s death is being investigated by the FBI and state police as a possible hate crime, State Law Enforcement Division director Reggie Lloyd told The State newspaper. "We don't yet have a definitive motive for all this," Lloyd said.

Hill died from a single gunshot wound to the head, said Newberry County Coroner Craig Newton. Hill was dead before he was dragged, according to deputies, some of whom followed a trail of blood to Collins’ home.

Hill and Collins worked at a chicken processing plant in Newberry County, Lloyd said. "We don't want to attribute something to Collins that isn't necessarily true," he said. "But out of precaution, given the circumstances, we are investigating the racial angle."

County Sheriff Lee Foster said the two men were together at Collins' house late Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning when Hill was shot.

Foster said Collins then tied a nylon rope around Hill's body and drove off, dragging it behind his truck; the rope snapped about nine miles later.

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On Thursday night, hours after Collins made his first court appearance, Republican State Sen. Jake Knotts disparaged Nikki Haley, the Republican candidate for governor, on a local South Carolina radio show hosted by Senate Republican Caucus political director Wesley Donehue and Senate Democratic Caucus political director Phil Bailey.

Haley hopes to succeed Argentine bush pilot Gov. Mark Sanford in the statehouse. Haley was raised in a Sikh family and is now a Methodist, a conversion of faith and a fact Knotts couldn’t be bothered with on Thursday night, according to numerous media reports. “We already got one raghead in the White House. We don’t need a raghead in the Governor’s mansion.” Knotts said. “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons,” he said.

Later, after the radio show, Knotts doubled down on stupid. “This isn’t the first time I’ve said it," Knotts said. "I’m not on a crusade to downgrade her, but if someone asks me I’ll tell ‘em. And look here, someone wants to vote for her knowing the truth, vote for her."

"We need a good Christian to be our governor," he said. "She’s hiding her religion. She ought to be proud of it. I’m proud of my god."

He justified it further by invoking late-night TV comedy. “Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes Internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It's like local political version of 'Saturday Night Live,' which is actually where the joke came from," Knotts said.

◊ ◊ ◊

These events, of course, follow the antics of GOP Rep. Joe Wilson, who earned his own memorable place in the pantheon of intolerance during the Joint Session of Congress in September 2009, when Wilson shouted “you lie!” at the president of the United States.

Wilson’s outburst on the floor of the House of Representatives followed comments that June made by South Carolina GOP activist Rusty DePass, who implied that First Lady Michelle Obama was related to a gorilla that escaped from a state zoo.

(And we can’t forget the rash passions of Gov. Sanford, not evidence of racism but a clear case of otherwise not thinking clearly. Sanford has been politically damaged goods since last June, when he admitted having an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman — a liaison that was partly conducted in Argentina during a one-week period in which the South Carolina governor was AWOL, gone, completely off the grid [an impressive feat in itself, these days]).

◊ ◊ ◊

We’re not prepared to believe any state in the Union has cornered the market on racist outrage; you only have to look at what’s been happening in the Arizona Territory since last month’s anti-immigration bill was signed into law. The secessionist bent of Rick Perry, governor of Texas; and the nativist sentiments of Tim James, candidate for governor in Alabama, also prove no one place has a lock on dangerous or dumb.

But still, it’s fair to say that on the weight of available evidence, in any national intolerance derby, South Carolina is fast achieving the pole position.

Image credits: Knotts: S.C. Senate Republican Caucus. Wilson: Associated Press.

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