Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida had been filled with over 300 patrons at the time of the shooting. At this time, the swelling knot of dancers and drinkers would have been steadily growing as the clock ticked ever nearer to closing time. With all clubs, there is expected to be a gradual ebb and flow and this space was likely to be no different. Near 2AM the crowd that remains tends to be composed of devoted regulars, young men and women hoping the night will never end, professionals who have gotten a bit too tipsy and lost track of time. There’s always a certain kind of hope for what will come next near the end of the closing hours of a club that is offset with the inevitable drowsiness that comes with a long night of dancing, drinking, and an occasional narcotic. For much of the night this would have seemed a normal scene. Until close to closing time at 2AM.
It was at this time that the gunman, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, acted. Having made the hateful decision to claim the lives of so many people, having had so much rage within him as to take it out on a mass of strangers, is near beyond comprehension. He had at his disposal an AR-15-style assault rifle, and a handgun. He was an American citizen. He took the lives of 50 people. Within this group of people were likely individuals he knew or at the very least had seen before several times in the city.
This is a brutal act of violence, one which America has seen more and more often throughout the years. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Elliot Roger’s rampage, the West Virginia sniper. The names and the locations change but the situation continues to occur. An unstable young man, or men, develops a sense of rage against the world, and instead of seeking mental health services to identifythe root causes of his hatred, seeks out a gun.
So why is it that this particular attack has been labelled a “terror attack” by The Guardian, CNN, The New York Times and Fox? Why not a hate crime due to its having taken place in a gay nightclub by an American citizen who was found with no explosives and whose crime has not been claimed on jihadi forums? Assistant special agent Ron Hopper claims that they “have suggestions the individual has leanings towards (Islamic terrorism), but right now we can’t say definitely.” Considering there has been no evidence released linking the individual to any extremist groups I would agree with Hopper that he indeed cannot say that this is an act of Islamic terrorism.
Because the only thing that links this act of violence to Islamic terrorism in the eyes of the legal system is the fact that Mateen was not a white man. The fact that he was of Afghani descent is the only thing that has directed authorities and media groups to presume that he was a terrorist on the basis of his name alone. Even his father has released a statement claiming that his son was not motivated by religion, but grew upset after having witnessed an intimate kiss between two men. Mateen is guilty of extreme prejudice, but he’s not a terrorist.
American citizens are being lied to by the local media on the basis of racial misrepresentation and this is just the most recent occurrence in a long history of similar situations. Was Elliot Roger, who was from the UK and at college in America temporarily, who shot several young students at a college accused of being a terrorist who was resentful the American way of life? He was not, nor would the media be able to paint such a portrait of him because the American public has not been preconditioned to accept such an accusation lobbied at a white man. However the public has been fed a stream of information in the form of news articles, film, comics, magazines, etc that portray “terrorists” as primarily men of Southeast Asian descent.
This portrayal is damaging, and it has real effects on the lives of countless individuals. We as people look to the media to see an image of the world as it is, and we take this information in regardless of its basis in fact, sometimes knowing the representation is false, and this representation given to us by media sources combines with personal experience and becomes our truth. This is not an article attempting to minimize the pain of the friends and families of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, but rather to problematize the accusation of terrorism in this instance, and to bring to focus this unjust characterization because this too has impact on a large group of people. In the wake of such a tragic occurrence, we should be in collective mourning, and identifying ways to prevent this from happening again.
To make claims of terrorism on an unaffiliated man of Afghani descent is a distraction from the reality of this situation. Because if we as a nation are collectively afraid of the colored ghost of terrorism, we will focus on that, rather than identifying the reasons behind an act of violence and developing workable solutions to repair them, even at the short-term expense of the nation as a whole. So let us mourn the loss of 50 lives, and focus on how to take steps towards preventing mass shootings in America, and let us not create more victims in the name of patriotism.