Some in America are taking Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to task for his recent comments about Muslims and the victims of gun violence and the Holocaust, but none of them showed up at Books-A-Million in Rock Hill Saturday.
At least 500 people waited in line for as long as four hours for a chance to have a picture taken with the retired neurosurgeon and shake his hand in meetings that lasted just seconds. Many bought Carson’s new book, “A More Perfect Union,” and got him to sign it for them.
The crowd wholeheartedly embraced Carson’s views on gun rights and other issues, as well as his proudly public Christian faith.
And Carson – consistently ranking second to Donald Trump in most national and early primary-state polls – was making no apologies for any of it Saturday.
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Most of those who showed up at the bookstore were not just curious. These are hard-core supporters who believe that Carson – a political outsider, the only black candidate seeking either party’s nomination – is the cure to what ails America.
Michael and Carrie Jacob of Rock Hill showed up just after 8 a.m for Carson’s planned noon arrival, just to be first in line.
“He stands for God, country and religious freedom like I do,” Michael Jacob said.
Beverly Spisak of Tega Cay also waited hours to see Carson, who she said can “heal the racial divide.”
“He can do great things for this country,” she said.
An unquestioned American success story, Carson was born poor in Detroit and rose to become an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon. He repeatedly tells people he is not a politician. Supporters of Carson clearly want an outsider like him to shake up a country that conservatives say is mired in doubt and struggling toward mediocrity.
“We need a good man, not a politician,” said Matilda Venable of Matthews, N.C., after waiting hours to meet Carson.
Carson is “an honest man,” she said, the opposite of the political class – believable, filled with integrity and unwilling to compromise.
Kristy Sappe of Fort Mill said Carson’s success after “humble beginnings” shows her children “what they can accomplish if they try hard enough.”
Her 16-year-old daughter was thrilled to meet Carson – and distraught that she will not be 18 in time to vote for him.
“To meet him was just awesome,” Haley Sappe said.
The line to meet Carson, which snaked through the entire store as a steady rain fell outside, was filled with people proudly conservative and unapologetic about wanting someone who agrees with them to take over the White House after Democratic President Barack Obama’s two terms.
R.O Atkinson of Lowrys in rural Chester County talked of how “proud” he was to meet Carson and what Carson could bring to the country.
“The man is great,” Atkinson said.
Betty Atkinson, his wife, put it plainly: Carson is a “very strong candidate.”
Repeatedly throughout the store, people young and old talked excitedly their chance to see Carson, whom conservatives see as an antidote to the establishment politics of compromise. Robin Ellison and her daughter, Bailey, a first-time voter at 19, were “thrilled” to meet Carson. Winthrop University students Sydney Hankinson and Ashley Ricciardi said they wanted to meet Carson in person after seeing him on television.
Carson makes no apologies, blames ‘the media’
After signing hundreds of books, Carson made no apologies as he answered questions from reporters for about four minutes.
Carson created an uproar last week when he told CNN, “The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.”
That came after Carson has made remarks in recent weeks about whether a Muslim should be president, that teachers should be armed in classrooms, and how, if he were targeted by a mass shooter, he would rush the gunman.
Carson is unapologetic about what he says is the right of Americans to have almost unlimited access to weapons, claiming “the media” is trying to make more of his recent remarks.
“Listen carefully to what I said and not what the media says,” Carson said, adding that the “Second Amendment is extremely important.”
When asked what he would do to address the string of U.S. mass shootings, most recently at an Oregon community college, Carson said the solution is “thinking proactively and learn from these situations” – but he offered no specifics on how to stop or reduce the number of shootings.
Americans want a president who has “accomplishments,” Carson said.
When asked about his accomplishments, Carson spoke of his career as a neurosurgeon and the success and awards his medical practice has enjoyed.
As for his rise in the polls, Carson made it clear that he believes that his message of less government – long popular with staunchly conservative voters – is taking hold.
“People are starting to think for themselves,” he said.
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Read for yourself
When asked about his recent controversial remarks, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson encouraged voters to “listen carefully to what I say,” blaming “the media” for twisting his words. Here are those words:
On the Holocaust
“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson told CNN last week. “I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.”
On the Oregon mass shooting
“Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson told FOX News earlier this month. “I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’ ”
On whether a Muslim should be president
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he told NBC last month. “I absolutely would not agree with that.”