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Trump Rally Near Pulse Shooting Comes With Confederate Flag

Trump Rally Near Pulse Shooting Comes With Confederate Flag


The Republican candidate for president referenced the Pulse shooting in his speech.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The most controversial moment of a Donald Trump rally here Thursday night may have come before the bombastic candidate took the stage. For a solid 20 minutes, a Confederate flag with the words "Trump 2016" hung from the railing in the Silver Spurs Arena.

It was easily visible even as public figures like Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Pastor Mark Burns gave warm-up speeches before the Republican presidential nominee took the stage. Then minutes before Trump began his speech, organizers asked the supporters who brought the flag into the venue to furl it.

The imagery harkens back to a heated debate throughout the South over the flag's racist meaning after another mass shooting, in Charleston, S.C., which ended with the flag being removed from the capitol grounds. It also harkens back to a New York Times video that recently went viral that recorded unfiltered remarks by Trump supporters that were unabashedly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic. Confederate symbolism makes an apperance there as well.

The media doesn't often focus on the attitude of the Trump crowds. Even in this latest case, as tends to happen at Trump rallies, such symbolism got brushed aside as the crowd got whipped up over other matters. Trump went after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on issues ranging from trade policy to her mental capacity. "Remember, short-circuit there," he said. Trump repeated a much derided statement that President Obama is the founder of ISIS -- which today he's told media was only "sarcasm."

Most importantly, Trump was speaking in a suburb of Orlando two months after the Pulse massacre and hours after meeting with pastors and evangelicals during an event critics have called an anti-LGBT gathering. Trump made mention of the Orlando attack, saying more people should have reported shooter Omar Mateen to the FBI: "People knew he was demented." In fact, Mateen was interviewed multiple times by the FBI based on complaints placed by those who knew him.

Clearly building off the closed-door discussions with leaders at the American Renewal Project conference in Orlando earlier in the day, Trump appealed to social conservatives in the room. "The evangelicals took me to a point that I never even thought we could reach," he said. "All around the country we did well."

Trump mentioned mass shootings, suggesting the San Bernardino, Calif., attack in which terrorists killed 14 people last December might have been stopped if the site wasn't a gun-free zone, arguing that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Mook wouldn't have bothered attacking the venue at all "if we had bullets going in the other direction." He had once made a similar claim about the Pulse shooting, which he revised after critics pointed out the danger of having people at a bar involved in shoot-outs. Trump mentioned the Pulse tragedy largely to segue into the fact that Omar Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, had recently been seen sitting behind Hillary Clinton at a different Kissimmee rally.

The Clinton campaign disavowed Seddique Mateen afterward and said it was unaware the man was in the audience. Of note, Trump got criticized himself for bringing up the issue of Seddique Mateen while friend and disgraced former congressman Mark Foley sat behind him at a South Florida rally. At the Kissimmee rally Thursday evening, nobody sat behind Trump.

Other speakers at the rally touched on the Pulse shooting. Burns even invoked the victims' sexuality while discussing the threat of terrorism. The "real enemy," ISIS, won't care if Americans are gay or straight when it attacks, he said. Burns also suggested a lower-level enemy to the crowd, encouraging supporters to turn and boo media in a staging area within the arena.

Silk and Diamond, a popular Trump-supporting sister duo, took the stage to joke at the expense of professional protesters and Hillary Clinton's medical records, something the speakers suggested would prove more interesting to read than Trump's tax records, referncing insinuations in right-wing media about the Democrat's health.

Hecklers were escorted from the arena in Kissimmee at several points. One man shouted at Trump about connections to Russia. Trump said a "goodbye" while crowds shouted at the man until his removal. "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?" he later said, never mentioning the country's incredibly anti-LGBT record.

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