13 June 2016

The inevitable politicisation of the Orlando shooting


A revised update from police in Florida states that up to 50 people have been killed and 53 hospitalised from the attack in Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning.

The aspects of this particular crisis – and how key politicians respond to it – will likely be key issues of the upcoming presidential election. The shooting drew universal condemnation from both Democrat and Republican parties but exposed deep divisions over how to respond. Most noticeably, President Barack Obama led Democrats in urging new gun laws and control in the US, but Republicans stayed largely silent on the issue.

The first public responses from presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton unsurprisingly also revealed two drastically different approaches to tragedy and crisis. Clinton was holistic, acknowledging that this complex attack involves terrorism, homophobia, and gun access.

She tweeted her support and condolences to the LGBT community:

And noted that gun control was an issue in general:

Trump, meanwhile, homed in on the national security implications and on himself, accepting congratulations for speaking out about terrorism.

Trump also offered words of support to the victims and their loved ones. But then he tweeted that he had been “right” about Islamic extremism, issued a statement saying he “said this was going to happen” and went after President Barack Obama. As Obama stepped to the podium in Washington to address the nation early Sunday afternoon, Trump tweeted:

“Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Trump also challenged Clinton to ratchet up her language about terror threats.

“President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘Radical Islam.’

For that reason alone, he should step down. If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the Presidency.”

Trump’s campaign has also cancelled a planned rally which was due to take place today in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, due to the shooting.

In his address, President Obama called the tragedy an act of “terror and hate”. He did not talk about religious extremists, probably reluctant to inflame a stunned nation already on edge.

Bernie Sanders, who is yet to drop out of the Democrat nomination race, issued a statement of sympathy to the Florida victims, with no political overtones.

29-year-old American citizen Omar Mateen has been identified as the gunman. He is the son of immigrants from Afghanistan, and had been put under surveillance in 2014 for regular communication with Moner Mohammed Abu Salha, a fellow Floridian who was a member of al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. Colleagues and relatives have also said Mateen was openly homophobic.

In a radio bulletin, IS has declared Omar Mateen a “soldier of the caliphate”.

The news item by al-Bayan, an IS-allied station, also noted that the shooting was the worst in US history. But it remains unclear whether IS’s leadership in Raqqa approved the attack.

As Issie Lapowsky has noted, to his critics, Trump’s tweets look like knee-jerk self-adulation; to his supporters, they’re a show of strength. Whether we want to admit it or not, this tragedy will shape the Presidential election.

Olivia Archdeacon is Assistant Editor of CapX