Yesterday, June 12, 2016, was a milestone day for the US. It marked the largest mass shooting (by a lone gunman) in our history. The targets for this were the revelers at a popular LGBT nightspot in Orlando. I am writing this approximately 24 hours after the horrific event. It is dark outside, and my thoughts like the night are dark. In the hours following the event the political leadership of the nation and the state have spoken, the entertainment and television news industries have spoken, the internet has spoken and various LGBT communities have spoken. Each with their own take on this act. As I listen, attempting to sort out the facts from the agenda driven rhetoric, I am struck by how locked into denial we are.
It really doesn’t matter if it is the President of the United States, or the President of the National Rifle Association. Each has their position and nothing that happened can alter their language. The event must be shaped to support the narrative.
What is terrorism and what is a terrorist? The Oxford dictionary defines a terrorist as “a person who uses or favors violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community.[i]
After 9/11 the US Government passed the “Patriot Act” and created a broad definition of domestic terrorism. The definition is found in 18 U.S. Code § 2331, which reads in part “activities that –
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”[ii]
In this particular event 18 U.S. Code § 249 – Hate crimes acts, has also been used by the government to classify the actions of the shooter. Section 249 identifies a special class of offense when the acts are targeting, or are perceived to target, “individuals based on race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”[iii]
Here is where the words really do matter. The President has been reluctant to ever link Islam with terrorism, and his supporters are on-board with the idea that radical Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS/ISIL or Al-Qaeda are not likely to be in the US, and if they were we would be able to identify them before they acted. The idea of a few radicalized individuals acting as “lone-wolfs” without guidance is a much more palatable answer. So we see in the Presidents statement yesterday the reluctant use of the word terror, from some unknown source, and the use of the word “hate” since the specific targets were largely, if not exclusively, from the LGBT community. I don’t believe this was accidental and if he had been able to avoid the use of the word terror he would have.
While we could debate whether the terrorist organizations reflect the fundamental philosophy of Islam there is, in my opinion, little to be gained in that discussion. There is enough evidence to show a tolerance for violence by all concerned to call into question the near impossibility of determining a "radicalized" individual from the larger church. As a person familiar with the problem stated, the 98% of law abiding individuals are irrelevant. They have little to no ability to stop the violent 1-2 percent.
Of course the President pointed out this violence was done with guns and if we had greater control this might have been prevented. All the reporting yesterday brought to light the shooter had “assault weapons” or “assault like weapons like the AR-15” and the gun rights supporters were quick to respond with accusations the President is seeking to take our rights away, and of course the old chestnut, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
ABC news on their 20/20 coverage was able to find the shooters wife who said she had told authorities about his violent outbursts, he had been investigated by the FBI at least twice for potential terrorist links, and yet he was still able to buy the guns he used to kill 50 individuals and wound another 53. Clearly, the laws we have today are failing us. The question is why? Is it because we are not enforcing them, or is it the more likely reason we don’t have the resources necessary to implement them?
Mental illness seems to be an increasingly prevalent thing in today’s world. We have Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists struggling to help people cope with all the problems their patients face. They are guided by a complex and ever-changing medical landscape and the philosophies of patient care. They must balance the rights of the patient against the larger needs of society, but at the same time are often restricted by their profession’s ethical standards on what they can and should do to report potentially dangerous individuals. Then, of course, there is the legal problems associated with incarcerating an individual based on a professional’s judgement. It seems to me the dilemma in the mystic arts of Psychiatry is for every professional opinion there seems to be an equal and opposite professional opinion. You just need to find the right professional.
So suppose Omar Siddiqui Mateen had been identified as a potentially violent individual with a desire to kill gays. What should the government have done while protecting the rights of the individual? Unfortunately, that debate is unlikely to happen since everyone is certain they are right in their beliefs.