Editor’s note: unfortunately, a recent encounter with what I can only describe as a low-grade internet stalker and general exhaustion have conspired to keep me away from the keyboard a little longer than I would have liked. In light of the recent, devastating news out of Orlando and the already numerous attempts to spin this atrocious hate-crime against LGBT Americans into votes on both sides of the political spectrum however, I felt obligated to sit down and untangle this heartbreaking story. As always, it is not necessary to click on the various links scattered throughout this article to understand it but your overall comprehension of the piece will likely increase by doing so.
As you have no doubt already heard, early yesterday on June 12th, 2016 the deadliest, officially recognized mass shooting in American history took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the heartbreaking carnage started sometime around two in the morning.
We of course do not have all the details yet, but as of this writing there are at least forty-nine dead people and another fifty three wounded; many of them catastrophically. Although it will not be widely reported as such, this violent act of domestic terrorism is the one hundred and seventy-sixth mass shooting this year in the United States; a year which was at the time, only one hundred and sixty-four days old.
Before we sit down to examine this horrifying, literal atrocity against the LGBT community and the disturbing, political spin being put on it in the mainstream media as we speak – I’d like to take a moment to recognize the sheer soul-shattering, mind-numbing insanity of those two numbers for a moment; there have been one hundred and seventy-six incidents where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree in the US over precisely one hundred and sixty-four days as of the time I write this. That’s the kind of math that makes a grown woman fall to her knees weeping at the sky and asking “dear god, what have we become?”
Perhaps the most truly heart-wrenching fact of all however is that when I sat down to write this story it was entitled One Seven Three. In the time it’s actually taken me to gather my evidence and compose my thoughts, three more previously unrecorded mass shootings that occurred before the Pulse nightclub shooting came in and forced me to update the title.
The combined casualty list of just those three shootings were nine dead and another five wounded – there will be no national news stories or independent journalists investigating the circumstances of their deaths. They will remain to all but those who directly knew them and the most observant watchers of local news programing, as just another set of sad numbers; more human wreckage in the unrecognized war gun manufacturers and lobby groups have declared on the American people. What does it mean to live in a society that is so busy counting forty-nine dead bodies that they don’t even have a moment to acknowledge the violent passing of nine more people who suffered nearly identical deaths at the end of yet another gun? I’m not really sure anyone truly knows the answer to that question at this exact moment.
I wish I had the time and the mental faculties to tell all of their stories my friends, I genuinely do but sadly there’s only one of me and I’m facing down an impossibly gigantic media machine that is currently working very, very hard to shape your opinions on the devastating, anti-LGBT attack in Orlando.
Just the Facts Jack
As I’ve mentioned earlier, there has already been a tremendous effort undertaken to spin this tragedy for both maximum television ratings and political advantage – an assertion you can easily confirm by shifting over to Fox News at any point in the next forty-eight or so hours I’d imagine.
I would like to refer you to historical precedent in an attempt to understand this horrifying attack but I’m afraid there really is no historical precedent to go on; this devastating crime touches on so many cultural, political and social equality hot buttons in modern America that I literally cannot recall a single event like it in our history – and that includes the terrorist attacks in NY on 9/11.
There are simply so many threads to this atrocity that any unscrupulous journalist can easily create a desired narrative simply by highlighting some of the evidence involved and minimizing the rest. This is known as message crafting and it’s a particularly insidious technique that allows news networks and political operatives to openly lie to you about developing events without technically being guilty of actually uttering a lie.
Personally, I have found that there is really only one good way of protecting yourself from this type of extremely dishonest reporting and that is to engage in a dispassionate review of the facts – which will in turn allow you to make informed conclusions about those facts once you’ve absorbed them. Some might call this entire process “critical thinking” but for now let’s just focus on precisely what we know based on the evidence we have available to us currently:
- We know that the shooter was a 29 year old man born in the United States to Afghan immigrant parents and employed by GS4 – a worldwide security company that provides both everyday security guards and highly specialized security operatives. Update: I apparently missed this the first time I read the Daily Beast article but we know that the shooter worked at a juvenile detention center near his Fort Pierce home – thanks to reader Mark for the save.
- We know that at one time, he fancied himself as a potential police officer and had expressed at least some solidarity with the US Marines.
- We know that the attacker’s father might be the Afghan version of a tinfoil hat loony with a YouTube channel but he was also important enough to apparently arrange a visit to the White House and he appears to be homophobic, but is probably not a terrorist mastermind.
- We know that the shooter’s ex-wife divorced him after a brief marriage because he beat her and that she described him as bipolar and dangerous. We also know the assailant’s name, but I’m not going to bother sharing it with you here because his sad, violent chapter in the book of life has come to an end – and not a moment too soon apparently because he had taken hostages by the time police officers finally ended the massacre.
- We know that co-workers and family members have described the attacker as toxically bigoted, abusive and aggressively homophobic. We also know that he either kept his violently anti-gay beliefs well hidden in his early twenties or they developed sometime after he left a 2009 job in a GNC nutrition store at Treasure Coast Mall.
- We know that he specifically targeted a famously popular gay nightclub, apparently traveling one hundred and twenty five miles from his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida to do so. We also know that he likely made this trip multiple times before the attack, although it is unclear if this was for personal reasons or as part of a long term plan to scope the place out.
- We know that the nightclub was hosting Latin night that evening and that despite the media’s almost complete failure to mention it, there were two popular minority drag acts set to perform. We also know that the iconic bar represented a central anchor point for the Orlando LGBT community and that on the night in question, it was packed to the brim.
- We know that the attacker was Muslim; although there are certainly some questions about his level of devotion to the faith. Both his father and his ex-wife have described him as not particularly religious, but Saudi Arabian officials have confirmed that the shooter had visited Mecca twice for religious purposes.
- We know that the shooter had been on the FBI’s radar for quite some time, that he’d been interviewed on three separate occasions before eventually being cleared and that he was on the Bureau’s terrorism watch-list for over a year from 2013 to 2014.
- Fox News has also reported that he was enrolled in an online Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary run by Marcus Dwayne Robertson; a former US Marine turned Iman that the Bureau says has a “history of recruiting terrorists and inciting violence.” Unfortunately, this information is currently impossible to verify anywhere else on the internet and Fox attributes the evidence to an unnamed source inside the FBI.
- We know that during the attacks, the shooter placed a 9/11 call during which he pledged allegiance to ISIS, expressed solidarity with the architects of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and mentioned Moner Mohammad Abusalha – an American who had had fought with an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria before killing himself in a suicide attack. This is problematic because ISIS, al-Qaeda and the organization the shooter once told co-workers he as a member of, Hezbollah are not allies and experts have suggested that the shooter had only a very general and indeed, extremely confused understanding of radical Islamic terrorist organizations. Despite this, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack and recognized the shooter as an Islamic State fighter inside America.
- We know that the assailant was armed with what is almost universally recognized as the most deadly gun in US History – the AR-15; as well as a Glock-manufactured pistol. We also know that he purchased the guns legally, in a state with some of the least effective gun control laws in the country, in the week before the attacks. Update: police have now indicated that the shooter was armed with a Sigsauer MCX; which is a near identical gun to the AR 15 and serves precisely the same purpose – killing a lot of people in a very short period of time.
The Weavers, Deceivers and True Believers
Assuming you took at least a cursory glance at the links I’ve provided, you should be able to see why this horrifying tragedy is literally the perfect storm for a media hellbent on justifying any number of political positions in response to the shooting.
The shooter’s ethnicity, Muslim beliefs and his extremely tenuous ties to ISIS have allowed and will continue to allow right wing media and politicians to paint this assault as an act of Islamic fundamentalist terror – justifying a potential ban on certain types of immigrants, armed conflict in the middle east and god knows what else in the name of defending ourselves from terrorists. Pro-gun advocates on this side of the political spectrum will no doubt also hone in on the shooter’s mental health issues to deflect focus away from the legally purchased AR 15 he used to massacre forty-nine Americans in a single attack.
On what passes for the left in America, the shooting has already been used to call for expanded surveillance powers, armed conflict in the middle east and using the highly-flawed, deeply-racist terrorist watch-list to deny people the right to purchase guns. In the coming days, there will no doubt be some effort to refocus attention on gun control and anti-LGBT violence but for the moment, the conversation is being almost completely dominated by terrorism on both sides of the equation.
Throughout all of this spin, turmoil and political skullduggery, the LGBT community of Florida, America and the world at large have been left to simultaneously mourn those murdered by a violent, bigoted extremist and to forcefully remind those that would seek to use their heartbreak for political purposes that this terrible crime was an act of terrorism against the LGBT community.
In this way, it has been suggested that whether you believe the shooting was a terrorist attack, the deranged final acts of a madman or a hate crime against LGBT Americans, depends entirely on your political point of view but I’m of the opinion that this idea allows far too many greasy opportunists to escape judgement far too lightly. There is, as always, a universal version of this sad tale that is the absolute truth and while I do not know where future evidence will take us, I’m prepared to offer up my opinion on what that truth is based on the objectively established facts we’ve covered so far.
What Evil Lurks In the Hearts of Men
First and foremost it must be said that the Pulse nightclub attack primarily represents a heinous act of violent hatred and terror towards the LGBT community all over the world, but particularly in America. The shooter did not randomly pick the most popular gay club in Orlando on a night when it was certain to be swarming with activity. He arrived at the Pulse with every intention of killing gay people and in the final reckoning, he was horrifyingly successful in that endeavor.
Although the attack will and should have an affect on us all – it was a gay space that was invaded, it was gay culture that bore the brunt of the shooter’s malevolence and those were dead LGBT Americans who’s lives were ended far, far too easily in the early hours of June 12th. In this regard, failing to recognize the shooting as an anti-LGBT hate crime represents an act of extreme callousness and a willful attempt to use dead LBGT people as prop for political purposes – anyone who tells you otherwise is either a goddamn bigot or they’re trying to sell you something.
This conclusion unfortunately leaves us with a significant amount of detritus to sift through regarding the shooter himself, his life and his motivations.
Clearly, he was an angry, violent individual who over time developed a number of strongly held prejudices and hatreds. I’m also inclined to believe his former in-laws claims that he was a physically abusive spouse as well as his ex-wife’s report that he used steroids for a time and was likely practicing his shooting on his own to eventually become a policeman. I would however stop short of taking her claims that he was bipolar at face value, if only because she is completely unqualified to make that diagnosis and there’s no evidence available he ever showed up on any particular mental health professional’s radar before the shooting. It is extremely easy to rationalize staggering acts of violence away by declaring the perpetrator mentally ill but rage, homophobia and spousal abuse are not inherently the result of mental illness.
As far as the shooter’s religion, possible radicalization and connections to Islamic terrorist organizations – I’m inclined to believe faith was far more of an excuse than an actual motivation for the shooter. What little evidence of his radicalization that exists is all fairly recent and largely, seems to fail the extremely generous standard of evidence required by the FBI’s terror division. Yes, the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS twenty minutes into the attack and yes, ISIS claimed the shooter as their own the very next day but a careful reading of the statement released by ISIS seems to reveal this association was likely an after the fact arrangement. Although some terrorism experts have declared that ISIS doesn’t claim random attacks as their own, this idea doesn’t mesh up very well with recent statements by the group’s leadership encouraging “lone wolf” attacks in Western countries. The simple truth is that terrorists evolve along with the systems designed to stop them; especially when you’re dronestriking their leadership to death on a semi-regular basis.
It is important to note at this point that the lack of a real, solid connection to extremist Islamic terrorist organizations does not prevent the shooter from being a domestic terrorist. Even assuming that this act was not primarily motivated by a radicalized interpretation of the shooter’s faith, the simple truth is this horrific violence was committed to punish, terrify and harm LGBT Americans. In this regard, it is then important to also recognize the Pulse shooting as an act of domestic terrorism without losing sight of the fact that the killings specifically targeted LGBT people.
Finally, though I am loathe to speculate, it is completely impossible to resolve the questions around this attack without at least mentioning the possibility that the shooter himself may have been suppressing his own homosexuality. Although I can’t say with any real precision, I’m almost certain that the repeated visits to the Pulse and his prior friendship with openly LGBT people back in 2009 still factor in here somewhere – even if we may never uncover the evidence necessary to definitively prove it. Despite his father’s protestations otherwise, it’s hard not to see the shooter as potentially trapped in an unnecessary cycle of destructive self-loathing; unable to reconcile his faith and his father’s anti-homosexual rhetoric with whatever demons he perceived to be lurking inside of himself.
The Elephant Gun In the Room
Of course, a cynical person might suggest that all of the money, media and mental energy that has been expended in this country to figure out precisely why the shooter walked into the Pulse club and started gunning down LGBT patrons exists precisely to ignore the far more important question of how he did so. That is of course, because the answer is incredibly simple; the AR 15 (correction: Sigsauer MCX) used by the shooter is a military-grade weapon designed to fire a lot of bullets in a very short period of time.
The gun itself was originally just a stripped-down, civilian version of the US Army M-16 rifle with the automatic fire settings ripped out to make it legal on the domestic market; although the weapon can be easily modified with an illegal “auto sear” to restore fully automatic fire. It’s a low stopping-power, high rate of fire “spray and pray” gun originally designed to seriously wound, rather than immediately kill enemy combatants – forcing their comrades to stop and drag their disabled man to safety. The AR 15 is also lightweight, extremely customizable and predictably absurdly popular with weekend warrior types who like to play solider in the back woods while hunting or target shooting.
Despite the NRA’s protestations that the AR 15 is ideal for target shooting, hunting and home defense; there is simply no goddamn reason whatsoever for a gun like this to be available for public purchase virtually anywhere in the country. It lacks the stopping power of a hunting rifle and the gun’s overall length make it a poor choice for home protection – never mind the fact that you’ll literally shoot right through your own fucking walls if you happen to miss the home invader. The AR 15 and numerous, similarly designed guns on the American market serve literally only one purpose and that purpose stands in complete contradiction to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness – killing a lot of people, in a very short period of time.
Although I freely confess that I would personally prefer to abolish the Second Amendment of the US Constitution and ban all guns, the simple truth is that I also like to think of myself as a realist; there just isn’t enough popular support to enact a full ban on firearms in America and the task of collecting the simply absurd number of guns already in the country would be both logistically impossible and potentially end in numerous instances of violence. Furthermore, while I am philosophically opposed to game hunting and I question whether having a pistol in your house for home defense makes you more, or less safe overall; I absolutely recognize that many responsible, gun-owning Americans with proper firearms training would disagree with me – especially those who rely on game hunting as part of their livelihood.
Surely however, we can come together as sane, reasonable people who are not being directly bribed by the National Rifle Association and say that the line must be drawn somewhere and that somewhere starts with the fucking AR 15 and other, military grade semi-automatic rifles designed expressly for the purpose of killing a lot of people, very quickly.
Surely we can vote out government officials who put NRA and other gun lobby donations ahead of the lives of everyday Americans.
Surely we can demand that our leaders offer us more than thoughts and fucking prayers in the face of mass shooting after mass shooting.
Surely we can insist that legislators address at least the most popular and extremely dangerous, military-grade weapons currently being sold on the American market.
Surely we can stop accepting the bullshit argument that because you cannot reasonably stop all gun violence, there is no point in attempting to stop any gun violence.
Surely we can stop blaming mental illness, radicalized faith and domestic terrorism for the fact that it is simply too damn easy to buy extremely lethal, military-grade firearms in the United States of America.
Surely, we can stop pretending that any form of reasonable gun registration program or ban on extremely dangerous guns represents a full, Soviet-style ban on firearms and instead look to countries with highly-successful gun control models; countries like Canada, who’s laws freely allow licensed gun owners to purchase and use reasonable weapons for sane purposes without arming every butt-beaming asshole with a gun fetish to the goddamn teeth.
Surely legislators and responsible gun owners can work together, without the influence of insane lobby groups, to identify a reasonable standard that allows a healthy gun ownership culture in America without allowing the sale of high-rate of fire, low-stopping power “spray and pray” military rifles capable of killing dozens of people even in the hands of a poorly trained assailant.
Surely, we can come together and make a stand as sane, rational people who love both life and liberty to say that enough is enough. The American way of life cannot be allowed to descend any further into the way of the gun or we will surely find ourselves right back here – talking about body counts, political lobbies and why the prayers of politicians who actively protect gun manufacturers are simply not enough.
That’s all I have to say to you kids tonight, there’s no more magic left in these sad fingers for a towering crescendo or a witty conclusion. Some day, Americans as a whole will realize that there is truly nothing stopping this country from demanding and obtaining better gun control laws; no matter how much money the NRA spends to thwart the will of the people. I hope that day comes soon; until then, I’ll be counting the fallen and trying to find meaning in a society that is prepared to accept every possible reason for gun violence except the most obvious one – the fucking guns.
A mis hermanos y hermanas caídos en Orlando – Descansen en amor y paz.
- Nina Illingworth