In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, there is an emerging theme on social media to invisibilize the identities of the victims. There’s a reason for this – and it’s an ugly one.

Leading this charge most prominently is Florida Governor Rick Scott, who refused to acknowledge during an interview with CNN that LGBT people were targeted. He also tweeted:

Note what he left out: that it was an attack on attendees at an LGBT club on Latin night.

There’s a particular cruelty in refusing to acknowledge this, while simultaneously asserting that it was “an attack on our people” — when the Republican Party has been busy pushing anti-LGBT legislation in such forms as: “religious freedom” bills, which confer the right to discriminate against LGBT people; and “bathroom bills,” which confer the right to discriminate against trans people in a way that puts their safety at risk; plus anti-immigrant legislation, using rhetoric that demonizes Latinx people.

The Republican Party’s legislative approach to the LGBT and Latinx communities has specifically used an othering “Us v. Them” frame. So when Scott uses phrases like “our people” and “all of us” — while refusing to acknowledge the identities of the people who were targeted because of those identities — he’s playing a very contemptible game.

It’s a deeply cynical ploy, and one which serves dual purposes.

First, it’s a way of upholding his party’s favored narrative that this attack was strictly attributable to extremist Islam, which in turn justifies their Islamophobia – and attempts to make their party’s nominee for president, Donald Trump, and his “Muslim ban” look somehow reasonable.

Second, it’s a way of distancing themselves from the particular hatred and bigotry their policies embody and promote.

Conservatives like to pretend that their rhetoric doesn’t matter, and that it doesn’t have consequences. But they know just as well as anyone else that words matter.

After all, if words didn’t matter, they wouldn’t bother to call their “right to deny services to LGBT people” legislation “religious freedom” bills. They wouldn’t call their “restrict abortion access” legislation “pro-life” bills. They wouldn’t call their union-busting legislation “right to work” bills.

They hide behind Orwellian language because they know that words matter. And now they want to run away from their words by invisibilizing the identity of shooting victims, in order to distance themselves from the decades they’ve spent talking about them as being less than other people.

Don’t let them get away with it.

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)