As is often the case in our 24 hour news cycle, our first impressions of the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, were incomplete. Before we put him on the shelf alongside so many others we’d like to forget, let’s make sure we get the story right.
Even more than most mass shooters, it is difficult to decode his motives. Mateen is a “choose your own label” attacker. If you look at his choice of targets, you will see an attack on the LGBTQ community. If you look at his ethnic origin, you might see a problem with Middle Eastern immigrants. If you talk to his wife, you’ll hear that he was mentally ill and deeply unstable. If you look at his upbringing, you’ll see a troubled, bullied, isolated kid who suffered abuse. If you look at his religion, you’ll see an Islamic extremist/terrorist.
In that first day, we heard every explanation under the sun. Whatever your worldview, Omar Mateen validated it.
For your consideration, a few things we’ve learned since:
1) On his 911 call during the attack, he pledged allegiance to ISIS. He also claimed to be a member of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Which is absurd: Hezbollah is Shiite, ISIS and al-Qaeda are Sunni. Not only are they incompatible, they are hostile: ISIS and Hezbollah are currently at war with each other in Syria. He could not have been both.
In other words, I know more about Islamic extremism than the shooter did. He had no contact with any radical terror groups, and investigators are convinced that his attack had almost nothing to do with ISIS.
2) He’d been in Pulse a dozen times, and had a profile on a gay dating site. For a time, he was friends with an openly gay classmate. On a family outing in Miami, he told his wife that he was disgusted at the sight of two men kissing, especially in front of his son. People have drawn different conclusions from this, but “self-hating homosexual” fits best for me.
3) He took drugs and drank enough to blackout on some occasions. Bar fights, etc. He used steroids.
This begins to paint a picture that makes sense. The more that comes out about Mateen’s life, the more he begins to look like every white mass shooter we’ve had: disaffected, deep-seated emotional issues, bouts of depression/drug use/isolation, abusive upbringing, violence and aggression in adulthood.
He was a Muslim, yes. But he was neither devout nor knowledgeable. It is entirely possible that he told 911 that he was ISIS simply to get on the news. Considering he paused in the middle of his attack to make sure he was noticed fits that theory.
This gives no comfort. But it does give insight.
Why bother? Because if we ever hope to reduce the frequency of incidents, insight is key. Taking the wrong lessons from this tragedy doesn’t help prevent the next one.
This wasn’t an Islamic terror attack.
This was a hate crime.