Orlando shooter a case study in radicalization and a warning for the future

Orlando, Florida (TFC) – Before the blood was cleaned up, the propaganda machine was already in full swing. In this case it’s difficult to tell if it’s intentional or simply ineptitude. For the reader who has been watching the minute-to-minute coverage, which consists of lists of facts with absolutely no context, the picture seems complete. The lack of context is painting an inaccurate portrait. Omar Mateen was not a hardened terrorist from an ISIS-supporting family. He was a perfect example of a radicalized member of the disaffected American-Muslim population. This is the very phenomenon academics, terrorism experts, and the terrorists themselves have been warning about.

The Islamic State’s strategy for the “far enemy“, which is how the US and the western powers are described by the Islamic State, is not to infiltrate. It is to use propaganda to radicalize people already within the United States. The propaganda counts on exploiting those who are prone to violence, weak-minded, despondent, and searching for a sense of belonging.

Omar Mateen wasn’t a militant when he was married or joined a mosque. He was a wanna-be cop and a wife-beater. His social media accounts show him proudly sporting NYPD clothing, an organization he never belonged to. He was employed with G4S, a private security firm known for victimizing Muslims the world over, which is hardly a company a good jihadist would work for. That started to change around 2012 or 2013 when he began expressing sympathies. He was tagged by the FBI and interviewed. He was determined to not be a threat. He is said to have seen a gay couple kissing in Miami. This incident apparently incensed him. He bought his weapons and became a mass-murderer.

Image Source: Facebook

Image Source: Facebook

The media is dutifully trying to convince the American populace that his father’s links to the Taliban explain his radical behavior. They don’t. The Taliban is more than just “the bad guys”, it’s also a legitimate political party in several counties, as brutal as their policies are. More importantly, even the most radical elements of the Taliban have a special relationship with the Islamic State: they’re at war with them. The oversimplification of the situation in the Middle East has allowed the western media to lure Americans into a false-dichotomy of “good Muslims” vs “bad Muslims”. There are instances of “bad Muslims” vs “bad Muslims” and “good Muslims” vs “good Muslims”. A link between the father and the Taliban does not make a link between the Islamic State and the son. If Omar had been radicalized by his family, it would have been with the Taliban brand, not the Islamic State’s.

The reader has a timeline that takes a man from wanna-be cop who works for G4S to a radicalized Muslim. A man traversed from wanting to be a part of an organization that has terrorized the Muslim community to Muslim terrorist. While many might want to classify these actions as the actions of a sleeper who was attempting to infiltrate organizations, the reality is very different and much more terrifying.

The slide from wanna-be soldier of the empire to terrorist represents an extremist mentality. As with all lone wolf shooters, the exact causes of radicalization are difficult to determine. In most cases, the only evidence is the shooter’s own writings. Those can’t be trusted because the shooter knew those documents would be discovered and are written for public consumption, rather than as a confession of motivation. We’ll probably never know the exact catalyst, it’s doubtful that it began with a couple kissing. It may have been the FBI interviews that were meant to protect the public. An Irish-American can openly support the IRA without risk of an FBI visit. The intrusion of the interviews may have caused him to feel betrayed by the government agencies he idolized. It may have been something completely different. What is clear is that Islamic State propaganda combined with the constant vilification of Muslim-Americans has taken its toll. The disaffected are being radicalized.

A “private” person (read: loner) who has shattered dreams, a weak mind, insecurity, and a propensity for violence now can gain fame and lash out without seeming like the childish losers they are by simply claiming affiliation with an Islamic terrorist group on the other side of the world. Their actions are given more meaning. They can belong to something. No Omar wasn’t a hardened terrorist. He was a bigot searching for identity, and that is much more dangerous.

Image Source: Zach Zupancic Flickr, Creative Commons Allison Touchatt's Birthday Mutau for some birthday action!

Image Source: Zach Zupancic Flickr, Creative Commons
Allison Touchatt’s Birthday
Mutau for some birthday action!

It is time for the political machines in the United States to see horror on horror’s face. The policies the United States is pursuing are ineffective. Many of the programs set up to stem the tide of radicalization are actually causing it. Programs the rely on informants and surveillance of the Muslim community only serve to show the world that Muslims aren’t really Americans. They’re treated as suspect second class citizens. While in public, they are suspect. While at home, they see the massive civilian casualties caused by an ineffective military strategy.

The Islamic State’s entire strategy is based on provocation, as explained in a letter to Paul Rogers:

“Now that the war with the far enemy [the United States] has really started it is so much easier for us to present the case that the Islamic world is once again under attack from the Crusader-Zionist conspiracy, and we can point to all the other examples – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, Libya and the rest.

Already we are seeing an increase in the numbers of young men and even women coming to our cause. I saw a recent western estimate of 18,000 joining us so far, including 3,000 from outside the region. Surprisingly, they are not too far out with these figures except that they are seriously underestimating the numbers from western Europe.”

As more and more men and women with shattered dreams seek a sense of belonging in the arms of the Islamic State or seek meaning for a final act, the United States will see more acts similar to the Orlando attack. Because of the nature of lone wolf attacks, it will be impossible to predict targets. It may not be homophobia that triggers the next attack. It could be any number of things. It could be a school attack, perpetrated by a despondent teen. It could be another workplace shooting. It could occur anywhere. The dangers of radicalization are real.

Combating it will not be accomplished through more surveillance, gun control, FBI interviews, and more stigmatization of the Muslim community. It will require a complete shift in the US domestic counter-terrorism policy and military strategy.

As The Fifth Column has pointed out before:

Bombing terrorists into submission only creates more terrorists. Waiting for them to strike and attempting to interrupt their plot only leads to civilian casualties because the terrorists can hit and miss while the counterterrorist must always be successful. The successful counterterrorist knows that the most effective method of disrupting terrorist organizations is to interrupt command and control through the selective use of in-person assassinations to create a power vacuum. As in any organization, not all terrorists are good at their jobs. Selectively assassinating charismatic, influential, and competent confirmed terrorist commanders while leaving the dull, politically inept, and incompetent commanders in the field places the terrorist organization in the hands of bad leadership. This negatively impacts their ability to operate, recruit, and obtain funding. Eventually, these organizations become bygone relics. When’s the last time you heard of an attack by the Red Brigades? Baader-Meinhoff? The Irish National Liberation Army? Islamic Jihad Organization?  Three of these groups still exist in a combat-ineffective capacity.

That brings us to the final point. It’s that second reason politicians aren’t forthcoming about terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. It’s a tactic that works. The proof of that is in your fear and desire to bomb Syria, knowing it will kill innocents. The proof can be seen in the US invasion of Iraq. An entire nation was struck with so much terror that two years later they invaded a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the attack of 9/11, thereby radicalizing the people the US is fighting today. The proof is in you being willing to surrender your rights and be under constant surveillance. Terrorism works. The thing no politician will ever tell you about the war on terror is that it can never be won. Much like a Chinese finger trap, the harder you fight the stronger it is. Terrorism can be slowed. Terrorism can be deterred. But it can never be stopped.

As long as people are willing to use violence against a technologically advanced military, terrorism will exist.

The war on terror is unwinnable.

Until the policy changes occur, expect more violence-prone people who feel isolated to serve the goals of the Islamic State without even understanding what those goals are. This is an international game with major financial stakes and while the attack in Orlando is tragic, it is a pawn being moved on a chess board. The Islamic State will happily take credit for this act, even though it may never have had contact with the shooter. It will promise more. It will encourage more. Without policy changes, the US government will bring that promise to fruition. Certainly tonight, there are people being harassed and surveilled by the FBI. The Muslim-American community is being vilified, and undoubtedly somewhere, someone will  begin to see the United States as their enemy. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The story behind Omar Mateen is one every American should pay attention to. It isn’t the story of a man bred to hate Americans. It’s the story of man who was insecure in his own sexuality and the impact a kiss might have on his son. It’s the story of a man who, after being rejected by the law enforcement community and his wife, found himself on the outside. It’s the story of a man who found meaning by serving as a pawn for people who only seek power and money. His death and the deaths of the innocents he killed didn’t serve to strengthen the Muslim world. The attacks are encouraged by the Islamic State to intentionally victimize Muslims by the fallout.

As Americans in and out of the political limelight begin with the anti-Muslim rhetoric, they aid the Islamic State. As Americans seek to politicize this for other means, they aid the Islamic State. A man who once wanted to join the NYPD, fell down the rabbit hole of radicalization. Do not think it will stop here.