Let’s Not Overthink the Motives of the Orlando Shooter

Omar Mateen in an undated photo (Reuters)
Omar Mateen said he did it for ISIS — that explanation should count for something.

Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people and wounded 50 others at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, and as late as June 15 the New York Times editorial board was still puzzling over his possible motive:

While the precise motivation for the rampage remains unclear, it is evident that Mr. Mateen was driven by hatred toward gays and lesbians. Hate crimes don’t happen in a vacuum. They occur where bigotry is allowed to fester, where minorities are vilified and where people are scapegoated for political gain.

Granted, Mateen was a troubled, complex individual who might have been gay himself and who expressed support for Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, which have fought against ISIS and each other. But the evidence that Mateen committed mass slaughter partly out of allegiance to ISIS is explicit and strong. Attempts to psychologize an additional motive, such as repressed homosexuality, are in this case secondary to the immediate national-security threat posed by the pattern of terrorism committed in the U.S. and inspired by Middle Eastern Islamist terror groups.

During his spree, Mateen called 9-1-1 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS. He made several other 9-1-1 calls, in which he mentioned the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which was carried out by Islamic radicals, and Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, the Fort Pierce, Fla., man who in 2014 became the first American to carry out a suicide attack in Syria. Mateen then called News 13, a local Orlando television station, telling the producer that he was the shooter and that he attacked the nightclub for the Islamic State.

In an odd turn, he paused shooting and asked whether any black people occupied the club. Following several phone calls, he started speaking in Arabic and then reportedly said, “I don’t have a problem with black people. This is about my country. You guys suffered enough.” Partiality toward black people doesn’t necessarily fit the image of an Islamist terrorist, but his emphasis on avenging his “country” — apparently Afghanistan, where his parents were born — against the perceived evils of the West does.

Furthermore, after the rampage, Mateen posted on his Facebook page: “I pledge my alliance to [ISIS leader] abu bakr al Baghdadi..may Allah accept me. The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west. . . . You kill innocent women and children by doing us taste the Islamic state vengeance.” Before the shooting, he had posted, “America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state” and “In the next few days you will see attacks from the Islamic state in the usa.” 

#share#His apparent radicalization began long before the shooting. The FBI investigation into the massacre revealed that Mateen had watched Islamic State terrorist videos, including some showing beheadings, and had described them to co-workers. He had also told his co-workers of his desire to become a martyr, reportedly telling them that if the FBI “raided his house and killed his wife and child,” that would free him to martyr himself in an operation.

By his own admission, Mateen’s allegiance to ISIS was the proximate cause of his massacre.

These and other similar comments so consternated his co-workers in 2013 that they alerted the local sheriff’s office, which then informed the FBI. The bureau’s “preliminary investigation” into Mateen lasted ten months — six months longer than average. A second FBI probe examined his unclear tie to Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha. Neither investigation confirmed wrongdoing. Some of his former classmates said he cheered the terrorist on 9/11 and recalled that he had been expelled from his high school in Stuart, Fla., shortly thereafter.

The bulk of available evidence supports the reasonable speculation that, despite his possibly motley motivations, Mateen was inspired by ISIS and perhaps other Islamist terrorist organizations. Nonetheless, some, such as Paul McGeough, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald (June 16). harbor serious doubt: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s hectoring about global terrorism and Muslim migration will seem misguided if there’s nothing to link Mateen to foreign movements and he is confirmed to be a case of what US President Barack Obama has called ‘the kind of home-grown extremism that all of us have been concerned about.’”

#related#This raises the question “Are Mateen’s repeated and explicit identifications with the Islamic State insufficient to link him to the movement?” The New York Times et al. continue their psychological and sociological analyses of Mateen’s possible subconscious motives. They reference the supposed contagion of undefined “hate” incubated in an atmosphere where Republicans can freely oppose political agendas with which they disagree. They suggest that suppressing one’s sexual orientation could cause one to become a murderer. The FBI investigation is ongoing, but the journalists whose job it is to offer educated speculation are prioritizing vague conjectures over evidence of a much tighter cause-and-effect relationship.

By his own admission, Mateen’s allegiance to ISIS was the proximate cause of his massacre. Unlike complex and indeterminable self-loathing, ISIS is an organization with a known ideology and can be destroyed, and the final destination of the terrorist attacks it inspires is the West, where they can be crushed.


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