It started with the quick explosion of violence and bloodshed in an Orlando gay club on Sunday morning. Then there began a much more prolonged explosion of political fury, one that could last months – for this atrocity is almost perfectly calibrated to inflame the ugliest debates of a very nasty U.S. electoral season.
First, it was a deliberately targeted, merciless attack on a gay, largely Latino and sometimes transgender crowd, a horrendous hate crime occurring at a moment when the targeting of those sexual and ethnic minorities by Republican candidates including presidential hopeful Donald Trump, by state legislatures and by conservative movements has become one of the most heated issues in the United States.
The addition of a terrorist mass murder to this rising wave of intolerance will keep these minorities in the forefront. But it also may shift sympathies, as it draws attention to the startling similarities between forms of intolerance expressed by the Islamic extremist movements that apparently inspired the shooter and those who have become prevalent in U.S. conservative and nativist movements, and candidates.
Second, it was a mass murder committed by a U.S. citizen who appears to have been able to legally purchase, license, own and openly carry both a pistol and an AR-15 assault rifle – the same type of rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the 2012 movie-theatre shooting in Aurora, Colo., and the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
With at least 50 dead and even more seriously injured, this was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. But it was also the 135th U.S. mass shooting of 2016, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and the fifth to have occurred on the weekend.
And third, it was an act of terrorism committed by an American, Omar Mateen, who is the New York-born child of immigrants from Afghanistan. His claim to have been inspired by the terrorist group Islamic State and his apparently Muslim background are sure to become issues in an election that has already been dominated by Mr. Trump's unprecedented promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Indeed, Mr. Trump responded within hours of the shooting on Sunday with a statement congratulating himself for having "said this was going to happen" and redoubling his promise to impose restrictive measures including a ban on any Muslims entering the U.S., even though the shooter was a native-born U.S. citizen: "If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country any more," the statement read. "We can't afford to be politically correct any more."
But the similarities between Mr. Trump's angry attacks on minority groups, along with his recent endorsement of unrestricted gun ownership, and the similarly violent and intolerant views that appear to have motivated Mr. Mateen were already causing Mr. Trump some political damage within more moderate branches of the Republican Party.
Republican Senator Larry Pressler announced on Sunday that he would be switching his presidential endorsement to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton because he found Mr. Trump's response to the attack disturbing.
"Secretary Clinton would be able to handle such explosive situations which are terrorist inspired much better than Donald Trump," Mr. Pressler wrote, describing Ms. Clinton as a potential president who would be better prepared to fight the explosion of gun violence in the United States.
The attack's deliberate targeting of sexual and ethnic minorities occurred at a moment when opposition to the rights and sometimes the presence of those same minorities has become a rallying cry among a significant branch of the Republican Party.
This year has already seen 22 Republican-dominated states attempt to pass bills which would limit the rights of same-sex couples by allowing businesses to deny them services or prevent judges from marrying them (after the Supreme Court ruled last year that marriage cannot be restricted by sex), and several states attempt "bathroom bills" which would prevent people whose gender identity has changed or is unclear from using public toilet facilities.
Anti-gay rallies, some of them supporting outright bans on homosexuals of the sort imposed by African countries, have featured prominent Republican candidates as speakers. And Mr. Trump's refusal to denounce attacks by his supporters on gays, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and other minorities have become a cause of alarm across the political spectrum.
The gunshots fired early Sunday morning are sure to cast this wave of intolerance in a stark light. For Mr. Trump and his supporters, the shooter's identity will provide plenty of reasons to double down on the restrictive wall-building rhetoric. But the similarity between that rhetoric and Sunday morning's horrors is equally likely to turn many Americans, including members of his party, away from him.