NEWS: The Department of Justice confirmed that it fast-tracked $29 million in assistance for the families of the Charleston church shooting victims.
On 19 June 2015, a Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the agency would “fast track the sending of $29 million to South Carolina” to the families of the victims of the 17 June 2015 Charleston church shooting. The news was reported in an article that was exceptionally brief at two sentences long:
An unspecified portion of the money, allocated under the government’s national Crime Victim Assistance Formula Grant program, can be used to provide services to the families of victims of the shootings at Emmanuel AME Church, spokesman Kevin Lewis said.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting the news initially drew little attention, but on 1 July 2015 the web site NewsMax publicized the Reuters article and built upon the scant information it provided. In the NewsMax article, titled “Obama OKs, Expedites Huge $29M Payout to Agencies Assisting Charleston Victims,” the “payout” was likened to similar funds disbursed to affected locations after mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
NewsMax compared the dollar amount cited with prior DOJ press releases issued between seven months and a year after three separate mass casualty incidents, making it unclear whether immediate assistance had been dispatched to victims of the earlier attacks, or if the “payouts” referenced were funds earmarked for that purpose but paid out later:
The announcement regarding the Sandy Hook payout came a year after the shooting; the Aurora announcement occurred seven months after that shooting; and the Boston payout announcement came nine months after the bombing.
The Reuters story announcing the Charleston payout came just two days after the shooting.
With NewsMax providing no information above and beyond the comment obtained by Reuters from the Justice Department, many social media users interpreted their article as evidence that the victims of the Charleston shooting had received preferential treatment compared to other victims of mass shooting incidents and their families:
Obama To Pay Families Of Charleston Victims $29 Million, While America's White Victims Of Black Murder Get Nothing http://t.co/XwodTJ4ZVl
— Patrick Dollard (@PatDollard) July 1, 2015
9 Charleston Shooting victims get $29 Million dollars from Obama Boston bombing 8.3M Aurora 2.9M Sandy Hook 1.5M http://t.co/Xs6oxlNTZZ
— NYC EMS Website (@NYCEMSwebsite) July 1, 2015
Other readers felt that the rehashed news was proof positive the Charleston shooting was a “false flag” attack, and that the funds were earmarked “hush money” paid out to silence “crisis actors”:
— Xplicit tha Analyst (@ThaAnalystXP) July 1, 2015
Was the Charleston Shooting a FALSE FLAG? Why is the DOJ paying victims families $29 million for their silence? Oh wait.
— oBoLa CrAcKa (@HouseCracka) July 1, 2015
The “false flag” claim managed to exceed novel levels of implausibility by suggesting that a purported “higher payout” to Charleston victims than to Sandy Hook victims (even though there were many more of the latter) was somehow evidence of a staged attack. A rational observer, however, might think that “hush money” needn’t have been “fast tracked” to Charleston in the wake of the shooting, but rather quietly paid out in advance to ensure compliance.
That the DoJ allocated $29 million to Charleston victims isn’t in dispute, but so far little information has been provided detailing how it is to be used. Funerals and other related services were likely made possible by help from Uncle Sam, but it also unlikely (as some have speculated) that any grieving family members have been made wealthy through government largesse due to their having lost a loved one at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The two weeks that elapsed between the Reuters report’s initial appearance and its rehash by NewsMax led many readers to believe that the funds had been disbursed well after the tragic events of 17 June 2015 and were being used for unspecified non-crisis related reasons. That was inaccurate, as the government disbursement (of which “an unspecified portion … can be used to provide services to the families”) was announced in the immediate aftermath the shooting, at a time when funerals were actively being planned; not weeks later as some sort of consolation fund.