Orlando: Home-grown Terror

Against the Current, No. 183, July-August 2016

David Finkel

DOMESTIC TERROR AND hate crimes in the United States are as old as the country. That’s what mass killings of Native Americans and lynching of Black people have been all about. Immigrant communities, labor organizers and of course gay, lesbian and transgender people have been targeted.

In today’s America, women’s health clinics, Black churches, mosques and a Jewish community center have been assaulted by terror and hate attacks. The perpetrator in almost every case is a male with some kind of individual pathology, obsessive hatred and often a violent history. That’s how it’s understood when the criminal is white and drawn toward one or another neo-nazi, skinhead or racist ideology.

But when the perpetrators aren’t white or Christian — e.g. the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing, Syed Farooq in San Bernardino or Omar Mateen in Orlando — it’s not recognized the same way. Rather it gets portrayed as an expression of “radical Islam” penetrating our borders from outside, borne by a mythical horde of unscreened and uncontrolled Muslim immigrants.

The reality is that it’s home grown. Omar Mateen was as American as the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or the Charleston church mass shooter Dylann Roof. But the son of Afghan immigrants can’t join the Klan or the Aryan Nation — they won’t have him — so he apparently trolled around the internet for some half-baked ideology that he thought made sense of his messed-up life.

He apparently found something masquerading as Islam, but it’s no different fundamentally from the making of a violent white supremacist, misogynist or homophobe. We may or may not find out exactly what factors turned Mateen into a violent domestic abuser and ultimately a mass murderer. What is most important to understand is that this is a story made in America, not in Afghanistan or some foreign fundamentalist madrassa, and it’s about our society and not about Islam or jihad at all.

In some ways the most shocking thing about Orlando may be that it’s hardly shocking at all, in context. Only the scale is unusual. How long since the last mass shooting? How long before the next one? The AR-15s, we hear, are flying off the shelves. How many are already in the hands of the next human time bombs?

July-August 2016, ATC 183