On Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in Kissimmee, FL, in which she paid tribute to the victims of the June mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in nearby Orlando, and detailed her economic message. But controversy erupted after the local NBC affiliate noticed that Seddique Mateen, who is the father of the Pulse shooter and has his own history of anti-gay and extremist comments, had been seated directly behind Clinton during the event.
The Clinton campaign has disavowed Mateen’s support and explained that the rally was an open event with minimal screening and that campaign officials were unaware that Mateen had attended until after it had concluded. But the conservative conspiracy machine is already going into overdrive.
Here are two possible explanations for how Mateen ending up standing behind Clinton during the speech:
It was an accident. A low-level staffer grabbed Mateen from the crowd and put him in that position without realizing that Mateen was the father of the Pulse shooter, positioning him as part of what “a longtime Republican presidential campaign advance staffer described as a ‘tapestry’ -- an area where a diverse group would be seated to reflect wide-ranging support for the candidate.”
For some nefarious purpose, the Clinton campaign made a conscious, deliberate decision to highlight the support of Mateen during a speech in which Clinton paid tribute to his son’s victims.
Occam’s razor destroys that second explanation. It makes no sense for the Clinton campaign to intentionally associate itself with a man who has a history of anti-gay comments and whose son killed dozens of gay people. That is completely illogical.
So of course that’s what Trump’s media allies are going with.
Trump ally Roger Stone, who has accused the Clintons of involvement in dozens of murders, claimed yesterday on NewsmaxTV that this was a “set-up dirty trick” in which Media Matters chairman David Brock paid Mateen to appear in the crowd (note: This did not happen). While floating this absurd conspiracy, Stone admitted that he didn’t see the logic in it, commenting, “Having a murderer’s father in the crowd is suppose to get them votes where? I’m not quite understanding, but it’s despicable that they would elevate this kid’s actions, in essence.”
Sean Hannity yesterday hosted on his radio show former special operations sniper and American Grit reality show contestant Nick Irving, who claimed that Mateen had been “hand-picked” to sit behind Clinton and was “a plant just to do what we’re doing today, which is to talk about this and get away from, you know, the fact that Hillary Clinton, herself, is a criminal.”
Fox & Friends gave a platform this morning to Tom Harb, the co-chair of the American Middle Eastern Coalition for Donald Trump, to claim that Mateen’s appearance was “an engineered, orchestrated move -- I believe by the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates in the United States, where they are embedded within the campaign.” Host Steve Doocy concluded that “the campaign says he was not invited, although I think to get seated in camera view back there, somebody from the staff has to place you there. I'm sure somebody has some explaining to do there.”
And on CNN’s New Day, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski suggested that Clinton’s “honesty” was in question because “yesterday, in Florida, Hillary Clinton had the father of a mass shooter sitting behind her at a campaign rally where she is talking about praising the police and the emergency response individuals who helped at that nightclub, and the father of the perpetrator is sitting behind her. And the campaign says, ‘Well, we knew nothing about this.’”
Even for a conservative conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton, this just doesn’t add up.