If you’ve been watching TV news and/or listening to our political leaders, then you know one thing about Omar Mateen: he was an ISIS terrorist, or an “Islamic radical,” or whatever magic combination of words we’re all supposed to say. But the more we learn about him the clearer it is that his motivations for murdering 49 people at the Pulse nightclub were multiple, and some of them may have been deeply personal. New evidence, which Marcy Wheeler has compiled here, reveals a guy who was, at the very least, fixated on the LGBT community, very possibly because he himself was gay or bisexual and conflicted about it. In addition to scoping out Pulse as a potential target, Mateen reportedly cased out Disney Springs, Disney World’s “downtown” retail center, on a date that coincided with the park’s annual Gay Day celebrations.
Mateen’s jihadi statements are also verging on incoherent. In his 911 calls, where he expressed his allegiance to ISIS, Mateen also spoke admiringly of the Tsarnaev brothers, who were radicalized through al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and suicide bomber Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who fought in Syria for Jabhat al-Nusra. He also reportedly told co-workers, back when he was “on the FBI’s radar” in 2013, that he was a member of Hezbollah. ISIS and al-Qaeda are similar enough ideologically that even though they are hostile to one another overseas, some dude in Florida might not really care about the distinction, but the fact that he’s variously described himself as being affiliated with both Hezbollah and ISIS suggests that he was a guy who liked to namedrop any Islamic militant group that came to mind. It’s not really indicative of a person who put a lot of deep thought into his commitment to jihadism. This jibes with reports from his relatives to the effect that he was never, in their experience, particularly religious.
More and more this looks like a person who was a violent homophobic killer first and a jihadi fighter second, maybe a distant second. He may have pledged allegiance to ISIS, he may even have had some contact with someone in that organization before he carried out his attack, but there is a lot more to this case than the ISIS connection. We could be talking about homophobia, or we could be talking about how to do a better job of denying firearms to borderline individuals, or how to do a better job of identifying borderline individuals and getting them some help, but instead we’re focused on what may have been the least important part of the story. It makes no sense.