We will not know all of the facts surrounding the unfathomable tragedy in Orlando for some time – perhaps, many days.
But one thing is certain: intolerance and hatred inevitably lead to violence and death.
That is why our primary response to the horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub must be to rededicate ourselves to creating a culturally diverse society that is based on tolerance and respect for other religions, sexual orientations, races and life styles.
In America the one thing we must never tolerate is intolerance itself.
All of us must extend our sympathy and support to those who are directly affected – and, frankly to the entire LGBT community that was, in fact, the intended victim of this horrible attack. This was an attack on an LGBT club during Pride Month.
The shooter, Omar Mateen, sent messages indicating that it was his allegiance to ISIS that lead him to murder fifty of his fellow human beings. Whether he was motivated by ideological commitment or his own hatred of gays and lesbians, or both -- that motivation can never trump the fundamental sense of human empathy that provides the foundational principle of a civilized society.
Whatever his motivations, the shooter himself obviously bears complete responsibility for actions that ended the hopes and aspirations of so many brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, boy friends and girl friends, sons and daughters.
But while the shooter is directly responsible, political decisions – and America’s political culture – are also culpable. And we dare not allow the forces of intolerance to exploit the Orlando mass shooting and throw gasoline on the fire of intolerance itself.
In recent years, instances of mass violence that were born of intolerance, have increased:
The shooting of African American worshipers at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston;
The murders at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs;
The mass shootings by Islamic extremists in San Bernardino, Paris and Brussels;
The Boston marathon bombing.
They all have one thing in common. All of them resulted from actions by those inspired by hate filled rhetoric and intolerance.
Islamic extremism is a major driving force. But let’s remember, that the data shows that in the United States itself you were more than 7 times as likely to be killed by a right wing extremist than a Muslim terrorist in the 13.5 years following 9/11.
The New York Times reported that a study by UNC Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer, showed that Islam-inspired terror attacks “accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.” Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”
In point of fact, there is no fundamental difference between the murders by Islamic extremists, or white racists, or anti-abortion extremists. They are all acts rooted in intolerance and bigotry and we must create a society that refuses to tolerate those acts – or the intolerance and bigotry that lead to them.
For much of the last year, many on nativist right – particularly Donald Trump – have spewed out hate-filled, intolerant rhetoric like a geyser. Trump has made it seem increasingly “normal” in American political discourse.
Quite apart from wrong-headed policy proposals, the hateful, intolerant political environment that this rhetoric spawns, creates the conditions that make hate motivated political violence more – not less likely. It is reckless and dangerous.
In particular, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric legitimates the narrative that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda use to recruit impressionable young people.
Then of course there is the issue of assault weapons – and the fact that it is simply too easy for people who are planning violent acts to get their hands on guns in the United States.
The purpose of an AR-15 – or any similar rapid fire assault weapon like the one used by the shooter in Orlando – is to allow the shooter to enter a “target rich” environment and kill dozens of people in seconds. Storm a nightclub where 300 people are enjoying the evening, and you can easily use an AR-15 to kill 50 people and wound 53 others.
Assault weapons are designed for military use – to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. There is simply no justification for their sale to the general public.
During the administration of Bill Clinton, assault weapons were banned by Congress. That ban expired and the GOP Congress has refused to renew it. The GOP Congress even refuses to stop individuals on the terrorist watch list from obtaining these weapons and other firearms– although they may be banned from flying on commercial aircraft. That is simply inexcusable.
Assault weapons should be banned in the United States for all but military and police use. You can’t use them to shoot deer. You can only use them to kill other human beings.
And it is obviously time to enact universal background checks for the purchase of all guns – a position supported by 80% plus of the voters.
Gun violence has to stop. Congress must act now.
And most important, the Orlando massacre should serve as the event that forces America to launch a new war – a war on intolerance, hatred and bigotry.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.