Leonard Pitts: It was exactly what it looked like

(Joanna Kulesza | The New York Times) A makeshift memorial stands in front of Club Q, where a mass shooting on Saturday night left five people dead and 18 people injured, in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. The authorities said they were holding Anderson Lee Aldrich, on suspicion of murder and bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, Colorado’s equivalent of a hate crime, for each of the five people killed in the shooting.

It might not have been what it looked like.

That, at least, was the message you’d have heard had you turned to Tucker Carlson of Fox “News” for perspective the Monday after the recent massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs. Club Q is a nightspot that had been known as a gathering place for the LGBTQ community, their oasis in a conservative (read: hostile) town where sexual diversity is scorned and unwelcome. Henceforward, it will also be known for bloodshed and sorrow, for the killings of five people by what has become a defining American archetype: a disaffected loser with a military-style rifle.

Before the attack was over, before he was subdued by a former soldier and a drag queen, the attacker -- you won’t read his name here -- managed to kill five people, identified by local police as: Raymond Green Vance; Kelly Loving; Daniel Aston; Derrick Rump and Ashley Paugh. In the first hours after it happened, authorities said it was being investigated as a possible hate crime. The club’s owner said he thought it was a hate crime. Mayor John Suthers told The New York Times it “has all the appearances of being a hate crime.”

Yet when he took to the air Monday night, Carlson insisted it might not have been what it gave every appearance of being. “The truth is, we don’t know,” he said of a possible motive. He went on to add that “guessing” would be “dishonest and irresponsible” because it would “dishonor the memories” of the dead. “These were human beings,” he insisted. “They were not props in a larger ideological war.”

It was intended to sound like principled journalistic prudence. It was, of course, not.

Rather, it was an attempt to stay out of the path of chickens coming home to roost. Because Carlson and his ilk in conservative media have hardly been reticent about spreading the kind of rank anti-LGBTQ propaganda that might spur someone to walk into a place like Club Q and start spraying bullets. Indeed, Carlson told his viewers just two months ago that “no matter what the law says” they must “fight back” against gender-affirming care of transsexual kids, which he calls “sex crimes.”

Now he wants to play dumb? Now he tries to hide behind journalistic scruples when he is barely the former and has never shown any evidence of the latter? Oh, please.

“The truth is, we don’t know,” he says.

The actual truth is, we all had a pretty good sense the moment we heard. And investigators soon confirmed it.

If all this feels familiar, it’s because it is. Shortly after a white supremacist butchered nine African-American people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, right wingers were similarly confused. Then-Gov. Nikki Haley said, “We’ll never understand what motivates,” such an act. Glenn Beck, said, “I don’t know why this shooter shot people.” Jeb Bush said, “I don’t know what was on the mind” of the killer.

The word “racism” barely squeaked past their lips.

Now, as then, one is appalled by the pretend ignorance, the chicken-hearted refusal to call the thing what it is. Understand: While conservatives did not “cause” the carnage in Colorado Springs -- any more than they did what happened in Charleston -- they surely encouraged it, Carlson in particular.

So at this point, the most meaningful gift Carlson can give the LGBTQ community -- and the rest of us -- is his silence. This man has spent years serenading forces of intolerance.

He doesn’t get to play innocent when they respond.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com