Nov 28, 2022

The Colorado Springs shooting.

A rally to prevent gun violence in Maryland. Image: Jay Baker at Annapolis, MD.
A rally to prevent gun violence in Maryland. Image: Jay Baker at Annapolis, MD.

Fingers are being pointed on the right and left.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

First time reading? Sign up here. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 13 minutes.

In today's edition of Tangle, we're going to be breaking down the Colorado Springs shooting and what we know about it. We also have the news you missed over Thanksgiving, an opportunity to tell your story to Tangle readers, and a fascinating "under the radar" section. We're skipping our reader question today.

Trying something new...

I want to get to know my readers and listeners better. So I've decided to do something interesting: I'm going to interview five random Tangle readers/listeners and publish those interviews as a podcast and transcription. The conversations will run during our holiday break around Christmas and the New Year.

The idea is simple: Five conversations with five people who read Tangle. We'll talk about life, politics, how they ended up chatting with me, and simply get to know them. I think it'll be a really interesting experiment.

How I'll choose: Randomly (for the most part). If you want to be a candidate for an interview, fill out this survey. I'll put every email address into a digital hat and then let a computer simulation pick five winners. I will try to diversify the kinds of people I chat with, but will mostly let the numbers pick. Then we'll set up a time to chat remotely and go from there. You can fill out the form by clicking here. We’ll be taking submissions until Friday.

What you missed.

  1. President Biden announced an extension to the student loan payment moratorium through June 30, 2023, or 60 days after the Supreme Court resolves the dispute over his cancellation program. (The extension)
  2. The Supreme Court allowed the release of former President Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. (The release)
  3. Six employees were killed when a fellow employee opened fire inside a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia. The gunman was also found dead. (The shooting)
  4. Former President Donald Trump came under fire after hosting rapper Kanye West (now known as Ye) and white nationalist Nick Fuentes for dinner at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday. Trump denied knowing who Fuentes was, saying Ye brought him as a guest. (The dinner)
  5. China hit a new daily record of Covid-19 cases after reporting over 31,000 cases on Wednesday, setting off a new wave of lockdowns and protests. (The outbreak)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Quick hits.

  1. China's government says it is sticking with its zero-COVID lockdown policies even as protests against lockdowns break out across the country. (The protests)
  2. President Biden will host his first state dinner on Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron. (The dinner)
  3. Ye announced his plans to run for president in 2024 (The announcement). Separately, California Governor Gavin Newsom says he won't challenge President Biden in 2024. (The announcement)
  4. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says she will resign as head of the governing Democratic Progressive Party party shortly after it suffered losses in local elections. (The loss)
  5. Houston, the fourth most populous city in America, is under a boil water notice after a power outage knocked down water pressure in the city's primary water system. (The advisory)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The Colorado Springs shooting. Last week, five people were killed and nineteen more were injured when a shooter opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. The 22-year-old suspect made their first court appearance via video call on Wednesday.

Editor's note: Tangle does not name mass shooters because of the well documented contagion effect. For similar reasons, we also try to share limited information about the shooter and their alleged motives, where possible. In this case, the 22-year-old suspect's lawyers say they identify as nonbinary, so — like other news organizations — we will refer to them with they/them pronouns in this article.

Police say the alleged shooter walked into Club Q in Colorado Springs around midnight last Saturday and began firing an AR-15 style rifle. The shooter, who also possessed a handgun during the attack, was subdued by patrons of the club who tackled them to the ground. One of the attendees of the club who brought the shooter down was an army veteran who was at the club watching a drag show with his wife, daughter and some friends.

Police, prosecutors and defense attorneys have not yet made a case for the motive of the attack. The five killed in the shooting were Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump and Ashley Paugh.

The alleged shooter did not have a significant internet presence, though they did frequent a far-right internet forum where they had been bullied about their weight. The suspect is also the grandson of Randy Voepel, the outgoing California Assemblyman, according to several news reports.

Last year, they had weapons seized from their home after holding members of their own family hostage at gunpoint. The alleged shooter's mother said they also threatened to hurt the family with a homemade bomb, which led to an arrest but no charges. Colorado has red flag laws designed to prevent people with violent criminal histories from purchasing firearms, but it's still not known if the weapons in this case were purchased legally, or whether they were bought before or after the incident from last year.

Authorities did say red flag laws were not used when the alleged shooter's weapons were confiscated.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the left and right to the shooting, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left point to "moral panic" from conservatives about drag shows and transgender people as a potential contributor the violence.
  • Some call out the uniquely American problem of mass shootings and suggest our gun laws need further overhaul.
  • Others say right-wing violence is going to proliferate because the conservative movement is failing.

In The New York Times, columnist Michelle Goldberg argued that the shooting is “hard to separate” from the right's fixation on drag shows.

"In recent years, the right has become increasingly fixated on all-ages drag shows, part of a growing moral panic about children being 'groomed' into gender nonconformity," Goldberg said. "Club Q hosted a drag show on Saturday night and had an all-ages drag brunch scheduled for Sunday. Perhaps we’ll learn something in the coming days that will put these murders, which took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, into a new light, but right now, it seems hard to separate them from a nationwide campaign of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. incitement. During the early years of Donald Trump’s administration, conservatives downplayed the contempt for homosexuality and gender nonconformity that had once been central to their movement, foregrounding racial resentment instead.

"Opposition to gay marriage had become a political loser, and it was hard to pose as champions of wholesome family values while enthusiastically supporting a thrice-married libertine who’d made a cameo in soft-core porn. But in recent years, as growing numbers of kids started identifying as trans, the puritanical tendency on the right has come roaring back, part of an increasingly apocalyptic worldview that sees the erosion of traditional gender roles as a harbinger of national collapse," she wrote. "The language of 'grooming' recapitulated old homophobic tropes about gay people recruiting children, while also playing into the newer delusions of QAnon, which holds that elite liberals are part of a sprawling satanic child abuse ring. Conservatives hoped to turn this conspiracy theory into political power; according to the Human Rights Campaign, Republicans and Republican-aligned groups spent at least $50 million on anti-L.G.B.T.Q. ads in the midterms."

In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch put the shooting in the context of rising anger on the right because they are losing.

"In normal times, the horror that was perpetrated a week ago at Club Q would have triggered a flood of 'thoughts and prayers' from some of the worst Republicans who’d sought to normalize political hatred toward the LGBTQ community during the 2022 midterms — but maybe also some actual heartfelt talk of dialing back the rhetoric," he said. "Just 11 years later, there was no such reckoning after Colorado Springs. To the contrary, the right was doubling down in its attacks against drag shows of the type that took place at Club Q, on the transgender community, and against LGBTQ culture in general... The dead in Colorado hadn’t yet been buried and [Tucker] Carlson followed his brief, tepid condemnation of the killer with an on-screen graphic 'STOP SEXUALIZING KIDS!' and the shocking take that shootings will continue ‘until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.’

"It’s true that we don’t know the exact motivation of the Club Q shooter — a young person with a muddled and confusing background — but we do know they were raised in a family that has openly embraced political violence and homophobia. The killer’s grandfather, an outgoing California GOP state lawmaker named Randy Voepel, compared the Jan. 6 insurrection to the American Revolution — 'the first shots fired against tyranny.' The gunman’s dad, tracked down by a San Diego TV reporter, expressed no remorse for the nightclub massacre. Instead, he claimed to be relieved because he determined his child ... 'is not gay, so I said, ‘Phew.’... I am a conservative Republican.' ... The antisemitism, the homophobia, the violence ... this isn’t the American right flexing its muscles out of strength. Quite the opposite. The forces of 400 years of white supremacy culture are like a wounded bear right now — lashing out, and extremely dangerous because its proponents know they are a seriously endangered species."

The Washington Post editorial board pleaded with Americans to be honest about guns.

"The United States has averaged nearly two mass shootings a day this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks when four or more people are shot. To put that another way, it’s now unusual to have a day without a mass shooting," the board said. "It can happen anywhere, to anyone. Fourteen Americans mowed down this month at the University of Virginia, Club Q in Colorado Springs and a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., were doing normal activities of daily life — going to school, enjoying a performance, working. They leave behind grieving loved ones, who ask: Why? In each case, as usually happens, there were warning signs missed — or ignored.

"The chilling note the Walmart shooter left in his phone railing against his co-workers and claiming his phone was hacked suggests he was a deeply disturbed 31-year-old. And yet, he was able to buy a pistol just hours before he massacred six fellow employees in a break room. In Colorado Springs, a 22-year-old suspect who had been arrested last year for an alleged bomb threat, but never prosecuted, was not prevented from obtaining an AR-15-style weapon and a handgun," the board said. "It’s eerily similar in the University of Virginia shooting: The 22-year-old suspect had multiple prior run-ins with the law, including a 2021 conviction for possessing a concealed firearm without a license... Too often these tragedies are written off to individual cases of mental illness. That does not explain why the United States has had more than 600 mass shootings every year since 2020 and why no other country has anything close to this level of gun violence."

What the right is saying.

  • The right criticized the left for blaming conservatives when we still don't know what the shooter's motive was.
  • Some argued that new laws aren't needed, but the story is actually one of law enforcement failures.
  • Others argued the instant blaming of the right without more information is what will actually lead to more political violence.

National Review's editors criticized the instant politicization of the event — and assumptions about the shooter's motive.

"Club Q was an LGBT club 'where families of all ages gathered for brunch on Sundays to watch drag performers,' the Washington Post reported. According to the burgeoning conventional wisdom, therefore, the true culprits for the Club Q shooting include Libs of Tik Tok, Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk’s Twitter content-moderation policies, the 'right wing moral panic' about drag queen story hours, and — of course — the entire Republican Party," the editors said. "It is grotesque to lay the blame for this shooting at the feet of the millions of Americans who have legitimate questions about children being exposed to drag shows or undergoing irreversible sex-change surgeries. The idea that those questions are not just beyond the pale, but are affirmatively responsible for the murder of gay and transgender Americans, is a shameless attempt to gain an edge in an ongoing culture-war debate.

"In 2017, a Tennessee woman attempted to run a Republican congressman off the road for his support for the GOP’s Obamacare replacement bill. A month later, a former Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer opened fire on a number of House Republicans, putting House whip Steve Scalise in the hospital for six weeks. Sanders had previously argued that if the GOP’s health-care bill passed, 'thousands of Americans would die' — a claim echoed by numerous top Democrats. Are they responsible for the attempted murders of their partisan opponents? Of course not," they wrote. "From the 2012 shooting at the Family Research Council to the 2022 arrest of an armed assassin outside of Brett Kavanaugh’s house, political violence on the left is never seriously treated as the fruits of left-wing rhetoric."

In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria blamed "another law enforcement failure" that gun control wouldn't solve.

"A gunman in Colorado Springs killed five people and injured 18, and unsurprisingly, he was already on law enforcement’s radar. In June 2021, he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb. Neighbors were forced to evacuate from their homes, and a bomb squad and crisis negotiators were brought in," Faria said. "And yet, according to the Associated Press, 'there’s no public record that prosecutors moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges.' Instead, charges were dropped. The shooter was out on the streets with seemingly no restrictions and no felonies on his record, meaning it is entirely possible that the firearms he used in the shooting were purchased by him legally, as CNN claimed law enforcement believes.

"There is also no indication that Colorado’s red flag law was ever used by the shooter’s family or by law enforcement to remove firearms from his possession. Colorado has also had universal background checks in place since 2013, and an 'assault weapons' ban would have done little given that the shooter was also armed with a handgun," Faria wrote. "Yet again, it appears that none of the Democratic Party’s favorite gun control ideas would have done anything to prevent this shooting... This has been par for the course... The Washington Post determined in 2015 that no mainstream gun control proposals would have prevented mass shootings, and a follow-up in 2022 essentially reached the same conclusion. As usual, we have red flags around shooters being ignored and existing gun control laws failing or simply being ineffective."

In USA Today, Ingrid Jacques said we should pause and mourn before immediately trying to demonize one another.

"On Wednesday morning, I woke up to an NPR news report linking the deadly weekend shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub with conservative-backed legislation regarding gay and transgender policies. There was no proof of this serious charge, yet it was pronounced as fact," Jacques wrote. "NPR is far from the only news outlet making these claims. Headline after headline the past few days has made similar allegations. It strikes me as incredibly sad that as a country we can’t come together to mourn such senseless violence without immediately pointing fingers at one another. It’s also dangerous to assume blame and motive, and the knee-jerk instinct to quash serious debates – especially ones taking place [about] curriculum in public schools – is a threat to our freedom of speech.

"As someone in the business of words, I know that what we say does matter and that words hold power. And hate is real – but the tendency to stereotype and ostracize others falls on both sides of the political spectrum," she said. "Not all policy discussions around LGBTQ issues, however, deserve the label 'hate.' It’s a mistake to paint all Republicans (and parents) who may have concerns over what children are learning in school and how gender identity affects sports teams as perpetrators of hate and violence... In a social media world where news spreads like wildfire, journalists and politicians have a special obligation not to fuel false or uncertain narratives. Otherwise, the hate and distrust that fracture our country will deepen. And that, sadly, may lead to even more violence."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • We still don't have a motive. Full stop.
  • It is important to discuss the failures of the people around the shooter, our laws, and our law enforcement.
  • Pundits on the right should reckon with the fact right-wing violence is much more common today than left-wing violence, even if this isn't an example.

Unfortunately, we've had to cover many of these mass shootings now. And my response is typically the same: It's unbelievably disheartening to watch them happen, it's important to build "blame pyramids" for responsibility, and it is absolutely within our power to do something about this.

As I wrote after Uvalde and Buffalo, it's hard to deny that our country is broken. We can't pretend there is nothing we can do when what happens here is so utterly unique and horrifying. We don't have to pretend mass shootings make up a large chunk of gun deaths (they are a tiny fraction) in order to recognize the traumatizing impact they have on society as a whole.

Recently, every time a shooting like this has happened, a familiar pattern has played out. Democrats blame loose gun laws and increasingly hysterical rhetoric from the right for motivating a killer. Republicans respond by pointing to unenforced gun control measures already in place and left-wing violence, reminding liberals they don't blame that violence on increasingly hysterical rhetoric from the left.

My take is a little different. When I talk about “blame pyramids,” I mean emphasizing where the most responsibility lies and building out the various dynamics of fault from there.

First and foremost, the responsibility for these attacks always lies primarily with the person holding the gun. Individuals make decisions to act violently and we should center the responsibility on them, lest we reinforce the idea for future mass shooters that they are justified or were left no choice due to societal ills. Whether it is a mass shooter, gang violence, a police killing, a domestic dispute or a suicide, there is a person with a gun making a decision. We should assess them and their choices first.

Secondarily, and seldom mentioned, is the responsibility of families and immediate social circles. We don't yet know the motive of the Club Q mass shooter. We do know, as in the cases of many, many others before them, that there were warning signs. There were opportunities for intervention. There were chances to disarm, to get this person help, to ensure they were flagged in the system, and in this case, even to put this person behind bars before they could do harm. Their social circle appears to have utterly failed.

It is my belief that the third layer of blame rests in our laws. I've written before about the idea of friction — how multi-billion dollar companies spend endless amounts of money trying to reduce friction for consumers. In too many states in America, buying a gun is a very low-friction event. I believe more friction would make us safer. As someone who enjoys guns, sees their role in society, and believes strongly in the value of preserving our Second Amendment rights, I also think we can have far more friction than we do right now without infringing on those rights. Frankly, I think it is absurd to believe otherwise.

Key to this layer of blame, though, is the enforcement of those laws. Our background check system is riddled with flaws. Local police, military, federal and state courts, and hospitals are regularly failing to report records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. In this case, it is unfathomable that the alleged shooter was not reported in Colorado's red flag system. This is precisely the kind of person who must be prevented from obtaining or possessing any gun legally, and if it comes out that they did buy or possess this gun legally, it will be the latest indictment of that system.

Earlier this year, Democrats and a few Republicans passed a gun safety measure that called for more mental health funding and expanded background checks on 18 to 21 year olds who are trying to buy guns. It also beefed up funding for the kinds of laws that allow the seizure of weapons from people with troubled or violent records. This was a good intervention, the results of which will take time to see as it’s implemented. In the meantime, we need to better enforce the laws we already have on the books.

Fourth and finally is the rhetoric in our current political moment. Our general cultural environment is not the most important factor in gun deaths, but I'm not going to sit here and say alarmist rhetoric is blameless for what happens. It comes both from nationally syndicated pundits and the dark corners of the internet. I am certain that it plays some role. In this case, we still don't have a motive from the shooter, and I'm not going to invent one until authorities give us an indication of what their investigation finds. It could have been a personal dispute, it could have been fervent anti-LGTBQ mania, or it could have been something else. We just don't know.

What I can say is that our rhetoric matters, even if it is at the bottom of my blame pyramid. When we published our deep dive on which party is more extreme this summer, one of the things I noted is that the data strongly suggests extreme right-wing violence is much more common than extreme left-wing violence. It'd make my job easier here if this wasn't the case and I could scold both sides equally for their actions — but that'd simply be a lie. This isn't a partisan talking point but a reflection of what the FBI tells us about domestic threats. It's an uncomfortable truth. And right-wing pundits who regularly broad brush entire communities as pedophiles and threats to our children have to reckon with the fact it only takes one unstable person with a weak support system to act on that hyperbolic language for an act of mass violence to be committed.

But again: This isn't a uniquely right-wing problem. Threats to Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting are easy reminders of that. When our politicians and pundits speak in increasingly hysterical terms about our political opponents — insisting their actions are going to harm our children, destroy society or end our lives — it is only logical for the few people who take them at face value to take action.

For now, we have to wait for more information about how and why the shooter in Colorado Springs did what they did. But when we find out, we should use the information to learn, adapt and hold each other more accountable, not simply dismiss this as something that is impossible to prevent or entirely unpredictable.

Under the radar.

Lawmakers and agriculture groups are working hard to pass an overhaul of the farmworker visa program before the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives next year. A bill providing a path to citizenship for some one million farmworkers that would create a capped number of new year-round visas has already passed the House, and is now being circulated in the Senate. The measure is supported by many immigrant advocacy organizations, as well as farm groups who say they badly need more laborers to harvest their crops. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) are trying to reach an agreement to secure 60 votes in Biden's lame duck session. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


  • 42. The number of mass shootings (in which four or more people are shot) in November so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
  • 40,252. The total number of gun deaths in the U.S. in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
  • 21,912. The number of gun deaths this year that were suicides.
  • 617. The number of mass shootings to date in the U.S. in 2022.  
  • 269. The number of mass shootings in the U.S. in all of 2014.

Have a nice day.

The U.S. Coast Guard made one of its most remarkable rescues ever after a cruise ship passenger fell overboard near Southwest Pass, Louisiana. A 28-year-old man had been in the water for hours after falling from a ship heading to Cozumel, Mexico. He had gone to the bar at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night and didn't return, and his sister didn't report him missing until the next day. The U.S. Coast Guard found a person 20 miles off the coast. In the incredible image below, you can barely make out his head in the water (to the left of the crosshairs). The man reportedly spent 15 hours in the ocean before being found. BBC News has the remarkable story.

An overboard cruise ship passenger is discovered off the coast of Louisiana. Image: U.S. Coast Guard
An overboard cruise ship passenger is discovered off the coast of Louisiana. Image: U.S. Coast Guard 

Dear readers,

Tangle is a grassroots community. We are battling the sensationalist, divisive, combative, and misleading news narratives with nuance and fairness. In order to spread the word about our work, though, we rely heavily on readers like you.

Here are some ways to help... 

💵  If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

🎉 Want to reach 50,000 people? Fill out this form to advertise with us.

📣  Share Tangle on Twitter here, Facebook here, or LinkedIn here.

😄 Share and every time someone signs up at that URL, we'll donate $1 to charity.

📫  Forward this to a friend and tell them to subscribe (hint: it's here).

🎧  Rather listen? Check out our podcast here.

🛍  Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!

Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.