John Oliver takes aim at Confederate flag after Charleston shooting

John Oliver takes aim at Confederate flag after Charleston shooting
"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver attacks South Carolina for flying the Confederate battle flag in the wake of the Charleston church shooting. ('Last Week Tonight' / YouTube / HBO)

John Oliver railed against the Confederate flag in the wake of Wednesday's shooting at Charleston's historic Emanuel AME Church and questioned the South's need to fly the "bad flag" at all.

The racially charged shooting, which left nine African Americans dead, prompted the "Last Week Tonight" (warning: link contains mild profanity) host to focus on the South's Civil War banner after decrying "yet another senseless, horrific act of violence."

Oliver pointed out that President Obama "seemed tired of this depressingly familiar routine" and sounded "completely defeated" when addressing the nation because he already has made more than 12 similar statements on mass shootings during his time in office.

"It's still hard not to feel disillusioned watching the most powerful man in the world sound so hopeless," the British HBO host said. "It's like seeing your father cry for the first time or catching a department store Santa getting into his Toyota Tercel. Or seeing your high school English teacher at the grocery store with a shopping cart full of 14 Lean Cuisine lasagnas."

It's "pretty clear" that nothing is going to be done about how the tragedy was committed, Oliver said, echoing his former colleague Jon Stewart's sentiments, and assuming that's why so many people focused on the shooting's Confederate flag angle.

Oliver did not hold back after playing news reports about the symbol of South Carolina's slave-owning past flying full-staff in front of its state Capitol when the other flags had descended to half-staff.

"That's right, the Confederate battle flag was flying at full-staff in front of the state Capitol. Although, perhaps the bigger question is why it was flying at any staff at all," he said. "The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world."

He then took aim at the "passionate defenders" of the symbol in the South and politicians avoiding being critical of it despite its contemporary racial applications.

"I believe the first time the Confederate flag was used in a racist way was the exact second they finished sewing the very first one. It was around that time," he quipped.

The host then offered the real explanation (without a drop of sarcasm) as to why the flag continued flying at full-staff: Because it's affixed to a pole and can't be lowered the same way as the others. He expounded on that part with news reports that said any action taken on the flag requires a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber of the state assembly.

Oliver then evoked the 3/5 Compromise, which gave disproportionate representation to slave states before the Civil War. He insisted that "now might be a great time" for Southern states that flew the flag  or included it in their own state flag — to vote to fly it at half-staff ... and then some.

"Take that vote and lower that flag to half-staff. And then, when it's at half-staff, why not keep lowering it, all the way down? And once you're holding it in your hands, take it off the flagpole completely fold it  or don't bother — put it in a box, label it 'bad flag' and put it somewhere where no one can see it."

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