Because I almost always compose my Friday Five on Thursday evening, I debated whether to just find a story related to today’s fourth anniversary of that massacre to include, or do a separate post. I decided that I would have time to finish a post during my lunch break, and that there might be one or two stories posted this morning that would be worth linking to.
Well, that worked out a bit differently than I expected.
Before I jump into the cruelty, let’s start with a reminder of what the Pulse massacre was: Democrats Mark Fourth Anniversary Of Pulse Massacre:
“Four years ago today, 49 people were murdered in the single deadliest attack on the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities in U.S. history. What should have been a night of celebration was overtaken by hatred and bigotry.”
Four years ago today, a guy armed with assault rifles shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, taking people hostage and taunting authorities online and over the phone, engaged in a barricaded stand-off (with hostages), until he was finally killed by the police. There were so many bodies on the floor, that EMTs and cops had to ask people who were still alive to raise their hands. Four years later there is still some debate about the motives of the shooter, I’ll get to that later. Whatever the motives, victims were at a queer nightclub celebrating Latinx Night during Pride when the shooting started. As noted in the article above, the single deadliest attack on the queer and Latinx communities in U.S. history.
So what is the current occupant of the White House doing to mark this solemn occasion on this, the second Friday of Pride Month. Well:
As a large number of people have already noted, the cruelty is the point. The alleged president of the United States was elected on the most homophobic election platform ever adopted by any political party in U.S. history, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. But just because we expect this sort of hateful cruelty doesn’t make it any less painful or infuriating.
The sooner we get these evil goons out of office, the better.
The last few years when I have mentioned or linked or reblogged news stories on the anniversary, some randos have felt the need to slide into my mentions or try to post a comment explaining that this wasn’t actually a hate crime against queer people. And I want to talk about that.
While in the immediate aftermath of the shooting there was a lot of reporting that pointed to all kinds of motives, there was also an immediate push from Fox news and Republicans to insist that it wasn’t a hate crime. It took more than a few months for the FBI to interview witnesses and to investigate the mountain of tips that came in. Most of the evidence pointed to in those first days trying to tie the shooter to Islamic terrorist groups and so forth were debunked by the following fall. Just as all but one of the people who claimed to have proof that he was a closeted gay man were also proven to be cases of mistaken identity. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because the pictures of the shooter that were circulated to the public were of a frankly very generic dark-skinned man.
More than a year after the shooting, federal agents arrested the shooter’s widow and charged her with conspiracy, claiming she had been part of the planning of the crime. In statements made to obtain the warrant, and during the bail hearing, the feds argued that it was definitely an Islamic anti-American plot and had nothing to do with queer people. However, during her trial, the prosecution slowly was forced to admit that all of those things they had asserted were false.
It’s hardly surprising that the jury acquitted her.
The case was so ludicrously weak that lots of news people were asking why the administration pursued it at all. My personal (admittedly cynical) theory is that then Attorney General Sessions, and Vice President Pence, and other vehemently anti-gay members of the administration needed to get that story out there to overshadow the fact that a gay club was the target of the attack.
Since that case collapsed, there are two pieces of evidence left to support the claim that homophobia had little if anything to do with the choice of the target. One is that based on his internet searches and the tracking of his cell phone that night, it appears that three different nightclubs (including Pulse) were under consideration for attack, and the other two weren’t specifically gay clubs. The other piece is that the statements he made on social media and to police were all generic anti-American statements and references to places America has bombed.
Let’s look at a different hate crime altogether to get a little perspective. In the mid-90s federal agents sent in an undercover agent to one of the White Supremacist compounds in Idaho because they had evidence indicating some people there had purchased illegal weapons. The undercover agent discovered that the White Supremacists were plotting to bomb some targets in Seattle. He got himself put onto the team. Groups left the compounds and traveled by different routes, each carrying only some of the ingredients necessary to make three bombs. The checked into a motel, and while some members of the group went out to investigate their chosen targets, others assembled the bombs.
The three targets were: a Jewish synagogue, a gay nightclub, and a Korean Baptist Church. The plan was to plant all three bombs, each with a timer set to go off at times when each of the three places were expected to be very crowded (Friday evening shabbat service, Saturday night at the night club, and Sunday morning church service). Federal agents arrested them all a couple of days before the bombs were to be planted.
Two of the three targets the White Supremacists chose for that (thankfully) foiled operation were not a gay nightclub. Does that mean that homophobia had nothing to do with their choices of targets? Of course not!
There’s more. At the trials of the White Supremacists, one of the pieces of evidence introduced was a statement that they had intended to release to the press after the last bomb went off, taking responsibility for the crime. The statement was filled with anti-American sentiments and referenced a couple of infamous shoot-outs between federal agents and anti-government groups. The statement didn’t have specific anti-Semitic, racist, nor homophobic language—just generic slurs against undesirables. Does that mean that racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism had nothing do do with their choices of targets? Again, of course not!
Maybe the shooter really was so stupid that he didn’t realize it was a gay club. Even with all the rainbow flags and other things on display inside and outside the club. Maybe it is an insanely improbable coincidence that he had been ranting about the evils of gay people to his father, other family members, and acquaintances in the days before the shooting. It’s possible.
But more likely: he was a man filled with a lot of hate for a lot of things he saw as wrong with America. And one of those things was clearly the existence of queer people and the fact that we were allowed at least some rights. Just because he happened to also hate a bunch of other groups and ideas that didn’t happen to be clearly connected to that gay nightclub that night doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still a hate crime directed at queer and latinx people.