The Pulse nightclub rampage was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, an unprecedented assault on LGBT Americans, just the worst and saddest and most horrifying shit imaginable. Now, though, it seems very important for people to argue about whether shooter Omar Mateen was motivated by ISIS or homophobia. The answer, in short, is probably both.
Let’s remember, first of all, that right now, on Monday morning, at this very moment, dozens of people are still waiting in anguish to learn whether their loved ones were among the 49 people killed. Orlando blood banks are currently at capacity, but if you live near the area and are qualified to donate, you should schedule an appointment to do so in the coming days and weeks.
That said, it’s natural that people are already intensely probing Mateen’s motives, particularly since he reportedly called 911 mid-attack to declare his allegiance to ISIS. The Islamic State has since formally claimed responsibility for the attack. Donald Trump wants you to know that his ban on Muslims is, thus, a Good Idea, even though Mateen was a U.S. citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents. He also purchased his firearms legally, the ATF says.
But as the New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi writes, it’s not quite as simple as “ISIS attack” versus “homophobic act of domestic terror.”
Callimachi covers Al Qaeda and ISIS and pointed out this morning in a Twitter essay that Lone Wolf versus ISIS isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as right-wing politicians would have you believe. She thinks it’s most likely that Mateen had some contact with ISIS members through intermediaries, but that they didn’t “command” the attack.
The FBI investigated Mateen at least twice for terrorist ties, first in 2012, acting on a tip from a coworker at G4S, the private security agency he worked for and then again in 2014, when they looked for links between him and an American suicide bomber affiliated with the Nusra Front in Syria. Both times, the inquiries were closed.
In the meantime, we also have evidence that Mateen was, all on his own and without the warping influences of terrorist ideology, a terrible person. His ex-wife Sitora Yusifiy has said that he was physically abusive, assaulting her for crimes like “not finishing the laundry.” His father, an odd duck who claims to be president of Afghanistan, said Mateen was infuriated by recently seeing two men kissing in Miami, and further infuriated because of the fact that his three-year-old son had seen it too.
There is a rush, however, to claim that Mateen’s potential terrorist ties somehow override his homophobia, that his choice of target—a club full of mostly Latino gay people—is irrelevant. Right-wing columnist and reliable source of bad takes Erick Erickson said that calling the attack at Pulse an attack on the gay community is “an unnecessary dividing line.” Anti-gay politicians like Florida Governor Rick Scott are studiously avoiding mentioning who the victims were, as Slate noted yesterday, effectively erasing them from their own tragedy:
Anyway, there’ll be plenty of time to debate all this in the coming days and weeks, and surely more opportunities to mourn future mass killings in America, since we will never, ever, not in a million years of hideous deaths, make assault weapons harder to purchase.
Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. Photo via AP