I need to expand just a bit on something I wrote earlier in the week.
The Orlando LGBTQ massacre was not an act of terrorism—irrespective of how one chooses to define the word, by which I mean this: conservatives tend to define violent attacks by brown people from the middle east as terrorism, while liberals are rightly concerned with expanding that definition to include any instance in which, as Wikipedia puts it, violence is used “in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim.”
Omar Mateen had no political, religious, or ideological aim. This was a murder-suicide. This was an act of self-destruction masquerading as an act of martyrdom.
Omar Mateen was gay, this much has become clear. Unfortunately, in addition to whatever psychological disorders were present, his religion fostered, as many religions do, a deep resistance to and hatred of his own inherent homosexuality—and thus the existential anguish of deep self-loathing. This led to a life of lashing out and hurting others until he could bear it no more and began to look for the exit strategy that would make him feel important for the first and only time in his life.
This makes religion a proximate cause, but not a proximate motive.
That he chose to pledge allegiance to ISIS at the end is no more significant than if he had declared a mandate from the Supreme Intergalactic Ambassador for Zarabathia Quadrant Four, Zone Forty Seven. He was a nobody, with no connection or commitment to any stable political, religious, or ideological organization or philosophy, playing war games in his head as an escape from the misery of his reality.
And this is extremely important because it is manifestly distinct from the type of intellectual radicalization that leads to real terrorism. By calling Omar Mateen’s horrific act “terrorism,” we are elevating (degrading?) the act to a status that makes the future commission of similar acts all the more attractive to delusional loners looking for glory. We are granting the dubious prestige he claimed for himself even though he lacked the credentials—and inviting others to do the same.
Of course, we’re only really inviting brown people from the Middle East to do the same, aren’t we?
Remember James Wesley Howell? He was the guy arrested near the Los Angeles Pride festival last Sunday with a trunk full of guns and explosive material, just as the nation was reeling from the news of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
It remains unclear exactly what Howell intended to do in Los Angeles, but here are two things we do know: he was on the run from charges that he molested a 12-year old girl and he has had homosexual relationships but “He didn’t like anybody to know about it,” according to an ex-boyfriend who also claims that Howell had been violent with him. In other words, he was a similarly troubled loner savagely smashing his way through a life he couldn’t make sense of.
There are other white guys who fit this bill and who achieved their aims to greater and lesser extents, but the parallels and timing here are uncanny. James Wesley Howell could have been Omar Mateen and vice versa; that one “succeeded” and the other “failed” does not preclude us from comparing the two—and the salient point of comparison appears to be shame over their shared sexual orientation.
Omar Mateen’s shame may well have originated in harsh disapproval of homosexuality within his religion of birth (Islam), but it might just as well have been informed by the pockets of virulent anti-gay sentiment that persist in his nation of birth (the U.S.)—and so it is especially hypocritical for certain conservatives to point to Islam’s view of homosexuality as evidence of Mateen’s radicalization while ignoring the role that domestic homophobia may have played in either case.
There was no radicalization. Neither had anything resembling a coherent goal tied to any kind of political, religious or ideological set of beliefs. And so the problem is not, as some would argue, that we fail to refer to guys like James Wesley Howell as terrorists; the problem is that we insist on referring to guys like Omar Mateen as terrorists. This sets them apart as a separate and transcendent threat, one that is not inextricably connected to the issue of guns.
But it is entirely about guns.
One can sympathize or not with the set of psychosocial factors that drove these guys to their respective fates, but one cannot make the case that either of them should have had access to guns, let alone big guns, given what was already known about them before last weekend. It was not masterful planning or international support that made Omar Mateen’s pathetic denouement so deadly—it was just a very big gun in the hands of an unhinged loner.
James Wesley Howell also had some very big guns and was able to keep them while on probation for pointing a gun at a neighbor. And there are others like him out there—ticking time bombs with arsenals in their basements and garages and trunks. And they all have different fears and frustrations driving them inexorably toward acts of violence against gays, co-workers, minorities, children, you, me, our families.
Now, please come ‘Like’ Hyperationalist—the page that brought you the satirical petition to allow guns at the GOP convention—on Facebook for more anti-gun, pro-reason content.