In the annals of American political narratives, few were worse and more malicious than the notion that a young Muslim jihadist decided to shoot up a gay nightclub in Orlando because of an alleged “climate of hate” created by American Christians.
This was no mere fringe view. Remember the astonishing piece by the New York Times editorial board on June 15, 2016 — published a mere three days after the attack? Here’s a taste:
While the precise motivation for the rampage remains unclear, it is evident that Mr. Mateen was driven by hatred toward gays and lesbians. Hate crimes don’t happen in a vacuum. They occur where bigotry is allowed to fester, where minorities are vilified and where people are scapegoated for political gain. Tragically, this is the state of American politics, driven too often by Republican politicians who see prejudice as something to exploit, not extinguish.
It then proceeded to name-check GOP politicians for their alleged homophobia, before ending with this unconscionable flourish: “The 49 people killed in Orlando were victims of a terrorist attack. But they also need to be remembered as casualties of a society where hate has deep roots.”
It would be bad enough if it was “only” the editorial board of the nation’s most powerful newspaper attacking Christians after a Muslim terrorist attack, but remember this contentious Anderson Cooper interview where he incredibly asked if Pam Bondi, Republican attorney general of Florida, was a “hypocrite” for declaring that anyone who attacks the LGBT community would be “gone after with the full extent of the law.” And why was she a hypocrite? Because she defended the definition of marriage in Florida’s constitution. No, really. Watch:
The examples could roll on and on. Progressive Christian celebrity Jen Hatmaker wrote a viral Facebook post arguing that Christian “anti-LGBTQ sentiment has paved a long runway to hate crimes.” The Washington Post published a piece arguing that “we can’t ignore America’s homegrown homophobia.” In a lengthy Vox interview, a prominent LGBT activist argued that it was “time to talk about America’s faith-based homophobia problem.”
As I wrote at the time, the reasoning went something like this: “If you oppose same-sex marriage or mixed-gender bathrooms, then you not only can’t legitimately grieve the loss of gay lives, you’re partially responsible for the massacre in Orlando.” This reasoning was ridiculous on its own terms. It was based entirely on Mateen’s alleged homophobia combined with the completely unproven, totally unsupported notion that he was somehow influenced by American Republican rhetoric to attack a gay club. That was the entire basis for using a terrorist massacre to attack and shame fellow citizens.
Well now, thanks to the trial of Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, the facts are in. As Melissa Jeltsen wrote in a well-reported piece for HuffPost, quite a few members of our media elite got the Pulse massacre story “completely wrong.” Oops:
Salman’s trial cast doubt on everything we thought we knew about Mateen. There was no evidence he was a closeted gay man, no evidence that he was ever on Grindr. He looked at porn involving older women, but investigators who scoured Mateen’s electronic devices couldn’t find any internet history related to homosexuality. (There were daily, obsessive searches about ISIS, however.) Mateen had extramarital affairs with women, two of whom testified during the trial about his duplicitous ways.
As far as investigators could tell, Mateen had never been to Pulse before, whether as a patron or to case the nightclub. Even prosecutors acknowledged in their closing statement that Pulse was not his original target; it was the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment complex. They presented evidence demonstrating that Mateen chose Pulse randomly less than an hour before the attack. It is not clear he even knew it was a gay bar. A security guard recalled Mateen asking where all the women were, apparently in earnest, in the minutes before he began his slaughter.
This was a terrorist attack, pure and simple. There’s no evidence it was an anti-gay hate crime. In fact, as Jeltsen notes, Florida’s 2016 hate-crimes report “does not include the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting in its official total.”
The available evidence indicates that Mateen’s original target was Disney Springs and EVE Orlando, but he was deterred by “heavy, visible security.” He then googled “downtown Orlando nightclubs” before targeting Pulse. Mateen’s attack was a “crime of opportunity, the location chosen at random.”
It’s fashionable to mock American Evangelicals for their alleged “persecution complex.” Scornful elites shake their heads and mock the decision of Evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump. Indeed, I’ve had my own issues (for very different reasons) with Evangelical hypocrisy in 2016 and beyond. But if you want to know why American Christians sometimes feel as if they’re under siege, realize this — at the highest levels of media and in the complete absence of evidence, influential people tried to make the case that Christian and Republican “hate” was partially responsible for the worst jihadist massacre since 9/11.
Now that we know the facts, it’s time for accountability. This is not a case of “No harm, no foul. I was merely expressing my opinion.” There is much harm. This is a flagrant foul.
Members of the mainstream media rightfully scorn fringe sites and online demagogues who leap to conclusions after each and every mass shooting, spreading conspiracy theories and using the wildest claims as a club to beat their political opponents. In this case, however, the “fringe site” was the New York Times. The online demagogues were people toasted in elite circles across the land. Their actions were inexcusable then, and they’re even more inexcusable now. An apology is necessary. A course correction is mandatory.
But I’m not holding my breath. American polarization means never having to say you’re sorry. Moderation in opposition to the GOP is no virtue. Extremism in the fight against “homophobia” is no vice. And so you’re never really wrong if you attack the right enemies. After all, this is culture war, and in culture war there is no substitute for victory, facts and reason be damned.