Early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 50 and injuring 53 more, in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. On Monday, the presumptive nominees for both major political parties, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, each gave speeches outlining their responses to the attack.
The speeches, delivered just hours apart, were a study in contrasts. Clinton, sober and reserved, refrained from directly attacking her opponent. Instead, she called for the type of national unity that appeared after 9/11 and outlined a set of reforms—ranging from new gun control measures to increased intelligence funding and from putting pressure on America's Middle Eastern allies to cracking down on their citizens' funding organizations supporting extremism.
Trump, on the other hand, personally attacked Clinton, raged against immigrants of all stripes (but primarily from counties with large Muslim populations), and threatened American-Muslim communities with “big consequences” if they don't do a better job of turning over people who are in the process of being radicalized.
Speaking at Cleveland's Industrial Innovation Center with Sen. Sherrod Brown, Clinton addressed the shooting by saying the U.S. needs to take actions to stop these sorts of attacks from occurring in the future. “On Sunday, Americans woke up to a nightmare that's becoming all too familiar,” said the former Secretary of State in a speech that mentioned neither the shooter nor her Republican rival by name. “No matter how many times we endure attacks like this, the horror never fades.”
Tying the attacker's proclamations of loyalty to the terrorist group, Clinton laid out ISIS's list of atrocities in the Middle East—committing genocide around minority religious groups like the Yazidis, beheading LGBT people, and systemically torturing and enslaving women and girls. She noted that, while the international effort to defeat ISIS on the ground in Iraq and Syria has made progress in recent months, the war with the so-called Islamic State is being fought on the domestic front as well.
“Part of ISIS's strategy is to radicalize individuals and encourage attacks against the U.S., even without direct coordination," she said.
Clinton charged that, as ISIS loses ground in Iraq and Syria, the group will attempt to compensate by increasing its campaign of terrorist attacks around the world. To those ends, Clinton laid out three areas in which she, as president, would take aggressive steps to stop future terrorist attacks.
The first area is dismantling the international terrorist networks that distribute money, propaganda, arms, and fighters around the world that feed ISIS's efforts on the ground in places like Iraq and Syria.
She also directly challenged the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait to take action to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations spreading violent Islamist ideology. “They should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have sent too many young people around the world into the arms of extremists,” she said, adding that she would work with tech companies to intercept terrorist communications and map online terrorist networks.
However, the area that received the most focus, along with the most enthusiasm from the audience of Democratic partisans, was Clinton's focus on strengthening America's defenses at home. “Too often state and local officials can't get access to intelligence from the federal government that would help them do their jobs,” she said, asserting governments need to work with the owners of businesses like nightclubs and organizations like churches to protect what she termed “soft targets.”
Clinton said more resources need to be funneled into locating terrorists within the United States, citing her proposal for “an intelligence surge to bolster our intelligence across the board.”
“I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets,” said Clinton, who has long advocated for a blanket ban on assault weapons.
She added, Mateen, who had been investigated by the FBI on two separate occasions for links to terrorism, should have been blocked from legally purchasing firearms.
“We may have our disagreements about gun safety regulations, but we should all be able to agree on a few essential things—if the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorists links, you shouldn't be able to go buy a gun with no questions asked,” she said. “And you shouldn't be able to exploit loopholes and evade criminal background checks just by buying online or at a gun show.”
“If you're too dangerous to get on a plane, you're too dangerous to buy a gun in America.” she continued. “We have to make it harder for people who should not have those weapons of war. It may not stop every terrorist attack, but it will stop some and it will save lives.”
Clinton concluded by insisting the best resource law enforcement and intelligence agencies have in preventing terror attacks are strong, open relationships with American-Muslim communities.
“Millions of peace-loving Muslims live, work, and raise their families across America. They are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it's too late. We should be intensifying contacts in those communities and not scapegoating or isolating them,” she said, noting that President George W. Bush visited a mosque less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, urging Americans to resist scapegoating their Muslim neighbors. “We should avoid eroding trust in that community, which will only make law enforcement jobs more difficult.”
Clinton called it unacceptable that hate crimes against Muslims have tripled since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. She linked those hate crimes with the assault on the LGBT community in Orlando. “The terrorist in Orlando targeted LGBT Americans out of hatred and bigotry. An attack on any American is an attack on all Americans,” she said. “I want to say this to all the LGBT people in Florida and across the country: You have millions of allies that will always have your back and I am one of them”
The contrast between Clinton's speech, with its high-minded tone, focus on inclusion, gun control, domestic intelligence, and building relationships with the American Muslims was a world away from Trump's broadside against Clinton, immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations, and the American-Muslim communities he charged were insufficiently supportive of anti-terror authorities.
Speaking at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump began by saying, “This was going to be a speech on Hillary Clinton, about all of the bad things and how poor she'd do as a president in these times of radical terrorism ... [But] today there is only one thing to discuss: the growing threat of terrorism inside our borders.”
Even so, Trump spent much of the speech attacking Clinton as someone too willing to allow immigrants and refugees into the U.S. and too timid to fully vet those immigrants—and their American-born children—for radicalism. “[Clinton is] in support of much of what is wrong with this country,” he said.
Trump's focus on attacking Clinton wasn't surprising. In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Trump suggested that President Barack Obama might be secretly working in league with the terrorists attacking America.
However, his target during Monday's speech was the frequent bugaboo of political correctness, which he said prevented Clinton from attacking Islam, as a singular entity, with sufficient vigor. “The current politically correct repose cripples our response,” Trump said. “If we don't get tough and get smart and fast, we're not going to have our country anymore. There will be absolutely nothing left.”
Reiterating his support for a full-scale, temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States, Trump focused on the Orlando shooter's father being from Afghanistan. He said that, because a 2015 Pew study found that nearly all Afghan citizens support some form of Sharia law, no one from that country should be allowed into the U.S.
“The only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here,” Trump charged. “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a history of terrorism ... until we fully understand how to end these threats. And, by the way, we have no choice.”
Trump incorrectly stated that the shooter himself was born in Afghanistan; he was born in New Jersey. As Gawker notes, that line was ad-libbed by the candidate and not part of the former reality TV star's prepared remarks.
Trump spent much of the speech attacking what he labeled a “broken immigration system” allowing dangerous radicals to slip into the country. “We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into [this] country that have the same thought process of this savage killer,” he said.
Trump tied terrorism fears into a larger critique of all immigration into the U.S., blaming the lack of real middle-class wage gains over the past two decades on immigrants coming into the U.S. and increasing competition in the labor market.
Whereas Clinton included gun control as an important element of anti-terror reform, Trump insisted access to firearms is not a problem, saying he planned on meeting with the NRA to coordinate on how best to protect gun rights. He claimed that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment, leaving “only the bad guys with guns,” an oft-repeated claim that Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checker Politifact has previously rated as false.
Trump was notably silent on one aspect of gun control relevant to the Orlando attack where there is considerable daylight between himself and the nation's preeminent gun rights organization. Mateen was able to legally purchase firearms even though he had been investigated by the FBI on multiple occasions. Trump has said he believes people on terrorist watch lists shouldn't be able to legally purchase firearms. For its part, the NRA has opposed efforts by congressional Democrats to oppose the imposition of this rule, arguing it violates the gun purchasers' constitutional rights.
Trump said there is currently no system in place to vet immigrants and refugees coming into the United States. “Why don't we have an effective screening system?” he asked.
While people on both sides of the immigration debate had said the system contains room for improvement, the screening process, which takes about two years for refugees, is exhaustive with coordination between the United Nations and four federal agencies.
Like Clinton, Trump said engaging American-Muslim communities was an important part of combating terrorism. However, his tone in addressing those communities was decidedly different.
While Clinton praised American-Muslim communities as active partners, Trump threateningly scolded American Muslims for not doing enough. “We need to form a partnership with Muslim committees ... they have to work with us and cooperate with law enforcement. They have to turn in the people who are bad. They have to do it and they have to do it forthwith,” Trump said.
“The Muslims have to work with us ... They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But they didn't work with us,” he continued. “We need to make sure that everyone who knew something but didn't tell us is brought to justice ... These people need to have consequences, big consequences.”