On Radicalization: 10 Things Wrong With The Coverage Of Orlando


Something startles me where I thought I was safest. -Walt Whitman

  1. These murders were not a terrorist act perpetrated by ISIS. This was not a criminal conspiracy; it is different in kind from the terror attack in Paris. Once upon a time, “Helter Skelter,” teen “goth” culture, and The Catcher in the Rye were also blamed for acts of murder. Although I don’t underestimate the virulent nature of Islamist propaganda, the conditions for “self-radicalization” exist at all times, in all places. They are: mental illness, frustrated ambition, isolation, a personal or family history of displacement, and some kind of inherited privilege (e.g. maleness). Individuals who meet all of these criteria will become “radicalized” by whatever is readily available to them. If nothing is readily available, they will interpret their own rage into some (innocent) work of art, and use it as a totem.Collectively, we are responsible for isolated, frustrated, grandiose, mentally ill individuals. We are not doing enough to recognize and care for them.
  2. Foregrounding Mateen’s surveillance visits to Pulse and Disney obscures the fact that he made numerous other visits to the club over a relatively long period of time. This was a sexually conflicted man committing a homophobic act in a homophobic country.
  3. Trying to reduce Mateen’s decision to commit this crime to a single motivator is ridiculous. Clearly, there were multiple psychological triggers. That is different from saying, like Bernie Sanders, that we can never understand what motivated Mateen. We can understand his motivations once we acknowledge their complexity.
  4. Nobody will learn anything by determining whether Mateen did, or did not, use gay dating apps. He could have been motivated by disgust and loathing, or by sexual desire, or both. He could have been trying to plan some aspect of his attack. None of the obvious implications — either that he was gay, or that gay dating apps are exploitable by homophobic predators — are founded. This is purely sensational reportage; treating the issue as a news story is unethical.
  5. Private citizens do not need or deserve access to the weapons Mateen legally obtained. This piece of the story is old news, and therefore it is being played down. I find that unbearably frustrating and sad.
  6. Saddique Mateen, Omar’s father, has numerous political views. In this respect, he resembles many other people. In fact, over 90% of the world’s population has political views (the other 10% are either too young or in college). Trying to deduce the son’s actions from the father’s politics is a dead-end. The real questions we would like to ask Mr. Mateen — about his son’s teenage years, their exchanges on the subject of homosexuality, and his approach to parenting — will never be asked or answered.
  7. Pulse did not have sufficient security personnel, security equipment, or evacuation protocols. It had one security guard charged with protecting 320 people in a loud, dark, chaotic environment.
  8. Mateen’s own political statements were totally incoherent in substantial, relevant ways. He claimed an association with Hezbollah at one point; Hezbollah is a political enemy of ISIS. You have to read pretty far below the fold to ever learn this, though, because it undermines the big story about Mateen watching ISIS videos.
  9. Unlike the Grindr connection, the fact that Mateen was never a source of concern to his employers at G4S is a real story. Reading up on G4S —  which, by the way, is the world’s third-largest private employer and the world leader in privatized prisons — is a very unsettling experience. In general, both here and in the UK, G4S has proven to be expensive and incompetent. G4S should have detected Mateen’s instability; failing that, they should have heeded complaints about his terroristic, bigoted outbursts. They did neither. For more on their outstanding record, see this Wikipedia article.
  10. There is, I admit, some morbid interest in asking questions like “What did Omar Mateen’s wife know?” But we will not find much comfort in the answers, no matter what they are. This was a preventable crime, and we deserve to know how the FBI intends to prevent similar crimes in the future. For example, that police report filed by Mateen’s first wife — when the FBI deemed Mateen “not a threat,” did they take his private history of violence into account? Did the FBI have sufficient access to G4S employment records for persons employed as, ahem, armed security guards?

CNN and MSNBC are really dropping the ball. This is the worst mass shooting in our history; now, in its aftermath, I wish somebody with clout was asking better questions. Corporate and government accountability in the movies — the “de-commissioning” of S.H.I.E.L.D., Lexcorp, and the IMF, all following rigorous Congressional inquiries — is starting to seem like the biggest Hollywood fantasy of all.

We have a right to our safety and our freedom. We ought to demand both.