Many people recall that in the immediate wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, virtually the entire world came together for a golden moment. Here at home we were briefly united – and folks were a little kinder and compassionate to each other for awhile. Even this author had started to think of those who died in at the World Trade Center that day as martyrs to world peace – and had believed that one day they would be honored as such.

It didn’t last long. Within weeks, the Bush Administration and its handmaidens in the corporate media had gone to work. They soon spun it from a criminal act perpetrated by a small group of psychotic religious fanatics into an “ACT OF WAR.” It was subsequently used to justify military action abroad, and draconian security measures at home – the consequences of which continue to haunt us, almost fourteen years later. Many have come to believe this was the agenda all along.

Now, in the wake of another tragedy, it’s what Yogi Berra might call “déjà vu all over again.”

Last week, there was the mass shooting of nine African-Americans in a North Carolina church by a racist psychopath. The murderer’s vehicle sported the image of the old Confederate Battle Flag. This week the big story became that state legislatures across the South are calling for the removal of the old symbol of hate and bigotry. Even Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has discontinued the sale of Confederate battle flags.

On the surface, this seems heartening. Dylann Roof’s victims did not die in vain…some small good comes out of a monstrous evil. Their deaths serve as a wake-up call.

Or are we missing the real story?

Earlier this week, media sources started reporting that 21-year-old Dylann Roof had used money given him as a birthday present to purchase the semi-automatic 45 caliber Glock pistol at a gun shop called “Shooter’s Choice.” The shop was located in West Columbia, some eighty miles from Charleston where the mass murders took place. Earlier, it was reported that his father had purchased the gun and given it to him.

If his father did and knew about his son’s drug charges, he could face a ten-year prison sentence. Either way, under federal ATF regulations, it was illegal for Dylann to be in possession of a firearm because of the felony drug charges pending against him. The owner and proprietor of Shooter’s Choice refused to say anything about the transaction to reporters.

Let us return to the issue of Southern States’ apparent “Come to Jesus Moment” over the Confederate Battle Flag. Is that really what’s happening? Or is there an agenda here? If so, whose agenda is it and what is it.

As with similar tragedies almost too numerous to count, the mass shooting in Charleston has once again started discussion and debate about gun laws and gun control in the United States. It is discussion and debate that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would prefer we didn’t have. What does that have to do with the Confederate Flag? On the surface, not much – and that’s just how the NRA wants it.

It’s an old, old technique, designed to distract the masses from the real issues. In Ancient Rome, it was called panem et circensem. Today, it’s defined as “media manipulation” or “media distraction.”  For example, in 2013, five corporate darlings on the Supreme Court voted to gut a major provision of the Voting Rights Act . This ruling opened the door for several Southern States to completely disenfranchise African-American and other minority. It was a major story…but few were even aware of what had happened. Instead, this historic travesty of justice was overshadowed by lurid tabloid accounts of a celebrity chef making an ass of herself. This is only one example…but there are enough (especially in recent history) to fill several volumes.

Apparently, this is exactly what’s going on now. Unfortunately for the NRA, there are no big celebrity “scandals” going on at the moment. So, NRA lobbyists have been going into state houses across the former Confederacy, a traditional stronghold for rabid gun-rights advocates. They’ve been busy calling in favors from their hired whores in the legislatures. Remember that a flag, whatever it may symbolize, is only a piece of fabric. It wasn’t a flag that pulled the trigger and murdered nine people. Yet once again(!), the Powers-That-Be – currently represented by the NRA – are succeeding in distracting all of us from the real issues.

Are we going to continue to allow them to get away with it? The Confederate Flag needs to be permanently placed in a museum, and not commercially sold. However, much more important, is that we need to remain focused that guns are the real issue.


K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.