Santorum supports Dylann Roof being charged as a terrorist

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said he supports the federal government putting accused Emmanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof on trial as a terrorist but wouldn’t weigh in on South Carolina’s Confederate flag debate.

Speaking at The Citadel on Tuesday, Santorum told reporters, “Mr. Roof was a lot of things — terrorist is one of them for sure. He’s obviously a racist, he’s a terrorist. He was using this violence for terroristic purposes.”

Santorum said he felt it would be appropriate if the federal government wanted to charge Roof with terrorism in addition to the nine state murder charges he now faces.

Santorum avoided the question of whether he thought the Confederate flag is a racist emblem, saying the issue of it flying next to the Statehouse in Columbia is not a matter for a presidential candidate.

“The people of South Carolina, I have no doubt, are going to do the right thing when it comes to the flag on the capitol grounds,” he said. “And I’ll let the people of South Carolina make that decision, and I trust they’ll make the right decision.”

He declined to identify what he considered the right decision. “I’m running for president of the United States, not governor of South Carolina,” he said.

Fellow Republican hopeful Jeb Bush on Monday called the flag a “racist” symbol during a campaign stop in West Columbia.

Santorum was at The Citadel on Tuesday to take part in an Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security forum on global security. The group has held similar discussions with other GOP presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s honorary chairman is former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, who once led the House Intelligence Committee.

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Santorum said the principal lesson of what happened in Charleston is how the community reacted in the wake of the June 17 shooting. Nine black members of the church were killed in what authorities have called a racially motivated hate crime. Roof, 21, is white.

“If you want to cure racism in America, you saw it right here in Charleston how you do it,” Santorum said, pointing to the peaceful marches and integrated rallies that followed.

The state Legislature is expected to address taking down the Confederate flag through legislation in the coming weeks.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is one of about 15 Republicans pursuing the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.