At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen Omar Mateen there before.
“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith said.
Further confusing matters, Comey also revealed that in “inflammatory and contradictory” comments to co-workers in 2013, Mateen had claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia based in Lebanon.
Now, it’s possible, I suppose, that Pulse just had great drink specials, good enough for a man with outward revulsion toward homosexuality to overcome his loathing and get some Bud. It’s also possible, I suppose, that a man whom no one described as particularly concerned with religion had a sophisticated conversion wherein he moved from Shi’ism to Sunnism, perhaps based on some actions taken by Hezbollah of which he disapproved, revoking his membership and transferring to Hezbollah’s rival, ISIS (and doing this, meanwhile, while frequently getting drunk at a gay nightclub).
In the absence of those not too terribly likely scenarios, though, we need to look at this as what it was: a deeply confused, possibly closeted man, twisted by a culture (both much of Islam and many strains of Christian American life) that has a fierce hatred of homosexuality. He’s someone who hated himself, and hated others, especially those who reminded him of what he possibly actually was, even as he was drawn to them.
An angry and boastful man, who wanted people to think he was something that he wasn’t, in many ways. A manly married man, a tough Muslim with a dangerous background. With just a few puzzle pieces moved around, a few name substitutions, this could be any of our mass shooters (and many of our non-mass-shooters, and some people who somehow don’t shoot anyone at all).
That he pledged to ISIS is no more indicative of their global reach than was the Newtown Massacre. There is little doubt that he was “inspired” by them, but not in the way we commonly understand. They just gave him an outlet for his rage, and a justification for his actions. But he would have found one anyway. It doesn’t seem he was radicalized by ISIS: he was radicalized by his hate, by something in his personality, and possibly something lurking deep within him. He let ISIS be his final reason, but the reasons were always there. ISIS was, at best, the proximate justification.
That’s what we don’t seem to understand, and the cheap and dangerous political demagoguing coming from the Republican candidate is making matters worse. As Masha Gessen said in the NYRB
, declaring “war” on people like Mateen only empowers them, empowers ISIS, and gives the next confused and small and angry man a reason to act. It makes them seem like a great and powerful force, exactly the kind of thing that someone like Mateen wants to be a part of. It isn’t Islam, although there is no doubt that Islam played a role. It’s the roaring anger that exists in so many men, a self that is curdled by tradition and loathing. In his case, it was heightened by the rank homophobia that exists in many parts of American culture, including Islam. (As Chotiner pointed out at Slate, in his speech, Trump clearly separated Muslims from Americans, even saying “them” and “us”, even when talking about citizens. This hideous bigotry is exactly what ISIS wants, and it feeds any angry teenager who identifes with Islam).
It’s this yell, this cancerous rage, that is rampant across the country, no matter the pledged allegiance. Mateen was a product of his won twisted pathologies, but they were heightened by the society in which he lived.
And he had easy and unfettered access to combat weaponry.