It’s been nearly two years since the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people — widely believed to be an act of aggression against the club’s LGBTQ clientele and “undeniably a homophobic hate crime.” There’s now conclusive evidence that the shooter wasn’t intending to target LGBTQ people at all.
In fact, he allegedly had no idea Pulse was a gay club, and simply Googled “Orlando nightclubs” after finding that security at his original target, a major shopping and entertainment complex, was too high, as reported by ClickOrlando.com.
This evidence dramatically changes the mass shooting’s narrative; politicians and individuals across the political spectrum had positioned it as an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. Instead, the new evidence suggests, the Pulse nightclub shooting was intended as revenge for US anti-terror policies abroad.
The evidence emerged during the trial of the shooter’s wife, Noor Salman, whom the federal government charged with aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors argued that Salman had helped her husband plan and orchestrate the attack. She was acquitted by a jury last Friday, a rare occurrence when most defendants accused of terror charges accept plea deals and the average conviction rate in such cases is above 90 percent.
The shooter’s motive was apparently revenge for United States bombing campaigns on ISIS targets in the Middle East. He had pledged allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and during the Pulse shooting posted to Facebook, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes. ... Now taste the Islamic state vengeance.” In his final post, he wrote, “In the next few days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa.”
The Pulse nightclub shooting was the deadliest attack on LGBTQ people in American history, and liberals and conservatives — including then-presidential candidate Donald Trump — assumed the shooting was based on the victims’ sexual orientation and gender identity. Trump and other Republicans attempted to use their response to the shooting to argue that they were true pro-LGBTQ advocates because of their support for immigration restrictions aimed at Muslims.
In a speech on June 13, the day after the shooting, Trump said, “This is a very dark moment in America’s history. A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub, not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens, because of their sexual orientation.” The following day at a North Carolina rally Trump said, “We want to live in a country where gay and lesbian Americans and all Americans are safe from radical Islam, which, by the way, wants to murder and has murdered gays and they enslave women.”
During Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention where he accepted his party’s presidential nomination, he said, “Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted the LGBTQ community. No good. And we’re going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”
But the evidence shows otherwise. The shooter didn’t target LGBTQ people — he didn’t even realize Pulse was a gay-oriented nightclub, asking a security guard at the club where all the women were just before he started shooting.
After a mass shooting, observers, including journalists, often search for a motive, sometimes even before the first victims have been identified. But the Pulse shooting proves that initial narratives about mass shooters’ motivations are often wrong — and those narratives can be far more powerful than the truth.