Jumping to conclusions to score political points is something that progressives have made into an art form over recent years. So when, on June 19, a pickup truck slammed into bystanders during a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, north of Fort Lauderdale, FL, one could almost have started counting the minutes before some journalist, Democratic Party politician, or left-wing activist proclaimed that, without a doubt, a hate crime had been committed.
It did not take very long before some factual details of the incident became known. Those who misjudged the situation because they peer at the world through a constant fog of political rage found themselves looking around for a spatula with which to remove the egg from their faces.
There’s That T-Word, Again
Okay, this appears to make light of the situation, which is not entirely appropriate, considering that, tragically, one person was killed and another seriously injured. What was more inappropriate, though, was the breathless proclamation by Fort Lauderdale’s left-wing mayor, Dean Trantalis (D). Just minutes after the incident and before any of the facts were known, the mayor stated:
“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community. This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident. It was deliberate, it was premeditated, and it was targeted against a specific person. Luckily they missed that person, but unfortunately, they hit two other people.”
Trantalis made these remarks to a reporter on the scene with such conviction, such absolute certainty. It could not have been possible to condemn this alleged attack in any more stark or direct terms. The problem is that nothing the mayor said was either accurate or appropriate.
One doesn’t need to be psychic to know what likely went through the mayor’s mind: a deranged lunatic who hated gay people – probably a white male and almost certainly a Trump supporter – had deliberately plowed into the spectators with the intention of taking as many LGBTQ lives as possible and, specifically, taking out Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). That “specific person” Trantalis claimed was targeted is almost certainly Wasserman Schultz, whose vehicle was narrowly missed by the truck.
Discredited by the Facts
What is the real story behind this tragedy then? The exact details of what happened in those moments have still not been confirmed. On Saturday, it was only known that the driver of the truck, a 77-year-old male, was tasked with driving the lead vehicle in the parade.
The man, who initially was not named but later identified as Fred Johnson, according to a report from WSVN.com, made no attempt to flee the scene after the incident. Fox News reported that he showed no signs of impairment and cooperated with police. Despite the no doubt frightening spectacle of a truck careening into a crowd of people, other circumstances suggested that it may have been an accident; that, as a result of either human or mechanical error, the man behind the wheel lost control of the white Dodge Ram and accelerated into the crowd before crossing two lanes, crashing through a fence, and coming to rest.
Justin Knight, the president of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, later confirmed that the driver and the victims were all members of his group. “To my knowledge, it was an accident,” Knight said in a statement. “This was not an attack on the LGBT community. We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.”
Yet, even the next day, on Sunday, Trantalis seemed reluctant to admit that he was, in all likelihood, wildly and irresponsibly rash to draw conclusions. In a statement to Fox News, he appeared to be continuing to link the incident to hostility toward the gay community in Fort Lauderdale. “I was an eyewitness to the horrifying events,” he said. “It terrorized me and all around me. I reported what I saw to law enforcement, and had strong concerns about what transpired; concerns for the safety of my community. I feared it could be intentional, based on what I saw from mere feet away.”
Though Trantalis went on to acknowledge that “a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control,” he seemed almost loathe to acknowledge that this was not an attempted murder of LGBTQ community members by some deranged homophobe.
At a vigil for the victims on Sunday evening, the mayor – whilst finally admitting that he had made a mistake – still did not directly apologize for the fact that he had implied that a 77-year-old gay man was a terrorist, guilty of both premeditated murder and attempted murder. “I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not,” Trantalis told the gathering, “but I don’t regret my feelings. I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd.”
Johnson, who was not arrested and faces no charges at this point, issued a statement on June 21, saying in part: “I offer my sincere regrets to all those who were impacted by this tragic event. I love my Chorus family and the community and would never do anything to intentionally harm anyone.”
For the most part, the media refrained from making Trantalis’ mistake. Perhaps it is because so many left-wing news outlets have been called out for their habit of immediately assuming the worst, erroneously condemning certain sections of American society and frequently falling for alleged “hate crimes” later proven to be hoaxes or simple misinterpretations of events.
These outlets do not get a pass this time, though; on Saturday (June 19), the Florida incident was one of the biggest news stories. The fact that a truck plowed into bystanders at an LGBTQ event was enough to make it big news. By the next day, though, coverage of it had all but disappeared. Did the left-wing media publish follow-up stories to clarify that this was probably not a hate crime after all? No, they simply moved on – which is nothing short of journalistic malpractice.
They reported on the incident and, without even needing to embellish the details, left a general impression among their readers that an attempted mass-murder of gay people had been committed. They had a duty to follow up when the details emerged, to assure their audience that a deliberate crime against the LGBTQ community had not been perpetrated. By failing to do so, some media organizations, one might suspect, deliberately avoid dispelling false and divisive assumptions about certain events.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.