Seddique Mateen, the father of the suspect in the June mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, secured a prime seat at a rally for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday outside the city. For 25 minutes, Mateen sat right behind the Democratic nominee for president as she remembered the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and laid out her policies.
Mateen's presence was first noted by WPTV reporter Tory Dunnan, who was initially rebuffed for an interview but then was surprised to find Mateen holding a pro-Clinton sign and asking to talk to press.
"Clinton is good for the United States, versus Donald Trump," Mateen said in broken English. "I was invited by the Democratic Party; I'm a member." Asked about his son Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in one of the biggest massacres in American history, Mateen said that he'd wished "that my son joined the army and fought ISIS" instead.
Clinton's campaign was apparently unaware of Mateen's presence at the rally, much less the 25 minutes he spent sharing a frame with the nominee.
"The rally was a 3,000-person, open-door event for the public," a Clinton campaign official said. "This individual wasn't invited as a guest, and the campaign was unaware of his attendance until after the event."
But in 2015, Mateeen made a $250 donation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which would have placed him on the radar of Democratic groups inviting voters to rallies. Mateen has spent years, and some of his own money, attempting to become better known. He paid to air a news and commentary show in Afghanistan, where he declared a fringe campaign for president and offered support for the Taliban. "Our brothers in Waziristan, our warrior brothers in [the] Taliban movement and national Afghan Taliban are rising up,” he said in one episode. “Inshallah, the Durand Line issue will be solved soon."
Mateen had also traveled to Washington to promote his view that Pakistan was "the capital of terrorism" and that Afghans needed more support, especially in border disputes. On Facebook, he shared photos of encounters with congressmen — it was unclear whether they knew to whom they were speaking — and "open letters" in the form of large banners, resembling the one he waved outside the Clinton rally.
Clinton visited the Pulse nightclub in July, laying flowers at a memorial outside. She also met privately with family members of the victims and held a town hall event with LGBT leaders in Orlando during the visit.
After WPTV broke the news of Mateen's rally attendance, several conservative pundits urged Republican nominee Donald Trump to make it an issue in the campaign.
"Donald Trump might be the luckiest son-of-a-gun to ever run for president," wrote National Review's Jim Geraghty. "If he can’t make some noise over this and make up five points quick, he should just close up shop and let Pence-Cruz handle it from here."