The Largest Mass Shooting in American History
June 17, 2016 (Fault Lines) — On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub, which catered to the LGBT crowd in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire. He murdered 49 and wounded at least 53 more people. Mateen had driven two hours to reach the club, and what he did was horrific. It could have been worse. Mateen started shooting as soon as he entered the nightclub, and was almost immediately engaged by an off-duty Orlando police officer who was in full uniform working security. Additional officers came in and engaged Mateen, allowing many of the patrons to escape.
It is being billed by the media as the largest mass shooting in American history. As far as I can tell of the mainstream media, only the Washington Post correctly points out that the massacre of between 250 and 300 Lakota in December of 1890 had more fatalities.
It was deadlier—almost six times the number of dead. But it will never be compared to the current type of mass shootings because the massacre was conducted by American soldiers. At least twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for the “battle.” The Lakota were killed indiscriminately, armed men, unarmed men, women, children, and infants.
At Wounded Knee, the Army was trying to disarm the warriors of Spotted Elk’s[i] Lakota band when a rifle discharged. At that point the soldiers began firing indiscriminately. About 30 soldiers also died, but most historians believe that they were killed by so-called friendly fire from other soldiers. General Nelson Miles, who wasn’t present but was in charge of the efforts against the Lakota, said that:
“[The incident] was the most abominable criminal blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children….”[ii]
Miles relieved the commander, Colonel James Forsyth, of duty and convened a court of inquiry to investigate the slaughter. He was outraged when it cleared Forsyth. But the American public did not want to punish the commander of the massacre; indeed, in many circles the public supported Forsyth. Indians received what they deserved in the minds of many.
The nation went with the easy choice, the decision to blame an unpopular, disliked group instead of holding the right people accountable. We are still paying for that decision in the poverty on reservations, the political issues, and the battles over style instead of substance.
Meanwhile, going back to the situation in Orlando, people were blaming the victims (or appearing to, which to some people, amounts to the same thing. The Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick tweeted:
“Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”[iii]
This caused an uproar, with the LGBT community claiming that Patrick, a fundamentalist Christian, did so intentionally, while Patrick said that it was pre-planned earlier in the week. The tweet was later deleted, and it is unlikely that any politician would put out that type of statement immediately following a tragedy or have one so professional looking in such a short period of time.
On the other side, people are condemning Muslims in general, despite the horror and condemnation shown by Islamic organizations and people. The right-wing media of course is blaming Muslims and calling for the United States to eliminate help for refugees, to destroy ISIS, and the like. Some of the left-wing media want to sing Kumbaya.
Everyone seems to ignore the fact that Mateen was a native-born, United States citizen. So was the husband of the San Bernardino shooters. Ali Brown in New Jersey shootings was also born in the U.S. The Little Rock recruiting office shooting was perpetrated by a native‑American, born Baptist who converted to Islam shortly after graduating from high school. Major Nidal Hasan, of the Fort Hood shooting, was born in Virginia.
We don’t need to demonize a religion, that’s been done before and millions died before we could put a stop to it. Instead of demonizing people, why don’t we try to work out our differences. Treating all people as humans with the same rights is a start. That includes the LGBT community, the Muslim community, the Christian community, the left, the right, everybody.
We won’t win everyone over, but if we pull together, we can win most people over. It’s worth a shot.
[i] Spotted Elk (Lakota: Unpan Gleska) was called, as a derogatory term, Big Foot (Lakota: Si Tanka) by U.S. soldiers.
[ii] Peter R. DeMontravel, A Hero to His Fighting Men: Nelson Miles 1839-1925 206 (1998).
[iii] Galatians 6:7 (original emphasis).