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Orlando: A Tragedy Everyone Wants To Exploit

The bodies of the dead were still laying on the floor of Orlando's Pulse nightclub when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump started repurposing the tragedy to serve their respective presidential campaigns.

The victims' families were still getting phone calls with the awful, life-altering news when pop star Madonna tweeted a photo of herself kissing Britney Spears from the 2003 VMAs, in one click of a mouse making the worst tragedy since 9/11 all about her.

Terrified survivors were still wiping away tears and trying to make sense of what happened when sanctimonious TV "personalities" like Piers Morgan and Sean Hannity decided it was a good time to go fishing for likes and upvotes on social media.

While despondent mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, partners and friends paced along the crime scene cordon near Pulse, Republicans were getting ready to flog President Barack Obama over his refusal to use the phrase "radical Islam." Meanwhile, their Democratic counterparts in California used the deaths as a rallying cry to push for new gun control legislation.

And while authorities were still trying to identify the bodies of the victims, fundamentalist pastors were taking to YouTube to celebrate the deaths of "50 pedophiles," and Salon's Amanda Marcotte was penning a story about how Christians are to blame for the tragedy, because it turns out the shooter was just a confused and closeted gay man.

The June 12 shooting claimed the lives of 49 people and prompted millions to do some soul-searching. It also prompted millions to point their fingers in blame in a tidal wave of smug posturing and opportunistic preaching.

This is not going to end any time soon. Those 49 bodies are going to be twisted, turned and pulled in an ideological tug-of-war, used as props in speeches packed with platitudes, and held up as examples of why we need to support this new law, ban this type of religion, mollify this terror group, build this wall. Republicans will leave out the fact that the victims were mostly gay Americans in a gay club, while Democrats will gloss over the connections to Islamic extremism.

One constant that remains true in any breaking news situation is that facts change. We're all used to seeing police shows in which investigations are wrapped up neatly and on time, legwork is always off-camera, and we always get clear answers about why the suspect did what he did.

But real life is messy. Conflicting portraits emerge. Motives are guessed at, and absent any real clues, things like religion, video games and music are easy substitutes when talking heads need fodder to speculate on.

That's already happening here.

First, we learned gunman Omar Mateen was incensed by the sight of two men kissing in public, and that's what led him to plan his deadly rampage.

Then we learned he had pledged loyalty to ISIS in a 911 call, and it seemed obvious he was a terror recruit.

But then we heard Mateen had been a regular at Pulse and had profiles on gay dating apps, so he was no longer an enraged bigot or terrorist, he was a confused gay man.

But no! His father hosts a virulently anti-American talk show on local cable access TV, so this is a case of a young man who was radicalized by his parents.

Except maybe not, because some of his friends gave interviews saying he wasn't a devout Muslim, while some of his former co-workers gave interviews insisting he was just an angry guy.

Facts? Who needs them? Patience? Not while there are political points to score and social media likes to accumulate. The reality is that we won't know exactly what drove Mateen to do what he did for a long time, after a long and exhaustive investigation. Even then, we probably won't have a complete picture: Almost two decades since the Columbine High School massacre, criminologists and true crime authors are still arguing over what caused two teenagers to kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher.

When all is said and done, the portrait of Omar Mateen will seem more complete, but it won't be any less confusing. No one can read the mind of a dead man. But what we can do is remember the victims, and remind ourselves that this is about them, not us.

Sources: Patheos, Salon / Photo credit: Vox

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