Owen Jones, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper and an out gay man, walked off the set of Sky News late last night in the wake of a heated argument about the motives of the shooter in the Orlando terrorist attack. Omar Mateen targeted the gay nightclub Pulse in the Florida city, leaving 50 people dead and another 53 injured.
Armed with assault weapons, Mateen stormed the popular gay bar in the early hours of Sunday morning, firing indiscriminately. A three-hour hostage situation ultimately ended with SWAT teams shooting Mateen dead.
Speaking to the US press, Mateen’s father claimed that his son, an American citizen, became incensed at the sight of two men kissing in Miami, and that this may have played a role in his targeting of the gay community.
Tensions arose in the Sky studio during yesterday evening’s paper review segment, with Owen Jones becoming increasingly angry with the comparisons made by presenter Mark Longhurst and journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer of the Pulse attack to that of the Bataclan, the Paris music venue that was the centre of an ISIS attack in November, 2015.
While talking about the front page of The Telegraph, Jones argued that the Pulse shooting was the single biggest attack against the LGBT community in the West since the second World War, when the Nazi forces in Germany murder countless gay men and women in concentration camps.
“People rationalise their hatred,” Jones said. “This guy, apparently, according to his dad, saw two men kissing and he was repulsed by it.
“And people know this who are gay, that there are people out there who are sickened and repulsed by our very existence and this guy, however he dresses up his bigotry and hatred, is somebody who hates gays.”
Jones went on to call Omar Mateen a ‘homophobic terrorist,” adding: “At the end of the day, this was a homophobic crime, as well as terrorism. And it had to be called out.”
When Mark Longhurst then drew comparisons between Pulse and the Bataclan, describing both as an attack on the freedom of people out for a night trying to enjoy themselves, Jones angrily replied: “I’m sorry, but you don’t understand this because you’re not gay.”
With the situation growing increasingly testy, Longhurst said: “Whether I’m gay or not has no reflection on the fact that this person killed 50 people,” adding “Now you share that view that basically this was deliberately targeted on one part of the community rather than the freedom to enjoy yourself no matter what your sexual orientation is?”
Jones then continued to become increasingly and visibly frustrated by the focus of the debate and his belief that the two other journalists were trying to “deflect” from identifying the attack as homophobia. Shortly afterwards, he said, “I’ve had enough of this, I’m going home,” before leaving the set.
On social media, many people quickly lent their support to Jones and praised him. Julia Hartley-Brewer claimed that the anger people felt towards the segment was misplaced.
50 people were murdered simply for being gay. I think we should all be angry about THAT, not about some contrived offence taken on a tv show
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) June 13, 2016
Early this morning, Jones tweeted to his followers describing the Pulse attack as both “a terrorist attack and a homophobic attack on LGBT people - this really isn’t hard.”
Thanks for all the lovely comments: but it really was just an instinctive reaction to an unpleasant situation, this isn't about me.
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) June 13, 2016