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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/20/12

What is George Zimmerman Thinking

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In invoking the "God's plan" message, George Zimmerman and his team of public relations specialists made a critical decision.  The man who shot and killed the unarmed youth Treyvon Martin in Sanford, Florida offered an exclusive interview to Fox News' Sean Hannity and expressed little remorse while telling America that the events leading to, and Martin's death were part of God's plan.  What he did do was attempt to draw support from a different direction; the usually right leaning Christian groups, who are also often strong supporters of the Second Amendment.

The natural support base for Martin comes from the African American communities, and the fact that Al Sharpton took up the cause reinforces the image of the civil rights agenda, black versus white, and the underprivileged versus the middle and upper class.  Martin's cause became known and big, getting all the way up to the President of the United States' bully pulpit, and millions on the left rallied behind the boy's family seeking justice for Treyvon.  Then came the pictures of Zimmerman walking through the police station, some had him looking uninjured and others showed him with a few band-aids on his head questioned Zimmerman's version of events that fateful night.

Pundits on the right tried to show Zimmerman injured, while pundits on the left tried to play down whatever wounds he may have received at the hands of the boy during the melee.  Still, it did more damage than it helped Zimmerman; the doubt mounted.  Then a judge dealt what seemed like a severe blow, when he revoked Zimmerman's bail and accused the man of lying about his financial status.

Zimmerman himself likely does not have a lot of money, but there was enough money raised through public defense campaign established for him by outside groups to use for bail.  Zimmerman either did not think of it as belonging to him per se, or thought it was for defense and not bail, or maybe he truly just did not even consider it.  Either way, he kept quiet, and in public relations and crisis communications the one thing you cannot have happen happened to Zimmerman -- his carelessness over an issue that would normally be chalked up to a minor misinterpretation of the court's question as to his ability to post bail, became the "big lie".

The snowball was rolling and getting larger. Even people on the right inclined to support Stand Your Ground legislation and gun ownership or just racists who look at every black man with suspicion seemed to back away from Zimmerman, leaving him virtually alone.

So where does one go to seek support when your issue made you one of the most hated people in America, tantamount to Casey Anthony, who is widely believed at the very least to have had a hand in the death of her daughter and appearing to go out partying knowing her daughter was either dead or in danger?  In Zimmerman's interview with Hannity, he said that he doesn't regret following Trayvon Martin or having a gun because "it was all God's plan," and that he was not going "to second guess it or judge it..."

That's an odd thing to say when trying to convince the public and eventually a jury that you did not want to kill the kid and you did all that you could to prevent it from happening.  Remorse is the first emotion any jury would look to, and that statement does not demonstrate that he has much.  His lawyers may be inclined to think that a demonstration of remorse is indicative of legal guilt, and only by holding fast to the events as he described them will exonerate Zimmerman.

That strategy can easily backfire unless there is more to it.  By appealing to the religious communities and invoking God's will, Zimmerman is seeking to corner support from a large sector of America.  If he puts so much credence into God's plan for the world, than he cannot be a bad person, and he must have been acting with the greater good in mind.  At least that is the sentiment he is wishing to convey.  How can a man of such deep belief be bad?

Zimmerman is either deeply troubled and seeking the insanity defense, or he is looking to use those statements to show just how sane he truly is.  He appeared too measured and composed to get away with the former, making the latter more likely.  He is probably relying now on good Christians to write letters, editorials, articles, blog and to call into radio shows around the country supporting his "Good Samaritan" defense in the hope of influencing a jury pool and the prosecutors, and raising money for his defense.  This was a calculated statement composed by a crisis communications team, and he was poorly advised if you look at it from a conventional lens he was poorly advised.

Think of it this way.  Like O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony, should Zimmerman go to trial for murder, a jury may acquit him, but not for his belief in God, but because he may have the Florida law on his side.  If he walks away, and it is still unclear if there is even a case to be made to try him for murder, he will need new friends and an income stream.  George Zimmerman, in invoking God's will the way he did on Fox News, put himself on the speaking circuit and surrounded himself by many, who believe in what he said and wish to encourage more people to totally put their life in God's hands.  He also appealed to a select market for his defense fund.

You witnessed the attempt at making Pastor George Zimmerman -- the next dynamic leader on the lucrative church speaking circuit.  My guess is that it will not go very far. This was another huge miscalculation.

Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president of the New York public relations agency, 5WPR

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Juda Engelmayer is the president of HeraldPR and Emerald Digital, and now a managing partner with Converge Public Strategies. His expertise are in the Corporate communications/Public Affairs/Crisis Communications areas of Public Relations, and (more...)

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