June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub, Orlando, Florida. The deadliest single attack on the LGBT community in U.S. history was carried out by a hateful young American male. In the aftermath, the national media granted him the instant fame he sought, while Republicans reinforced his desire to make it about religion instead of what it really was: insecurity, hate and bloodlust.
It is reported that in the midst of slaughtering 49 beautiful souls and wounding dozens of others, the murderous young male who carried out the Orlando massacre wanted to know if the attack was trending on social media. Like so many other killers, he craved the public spotlight.
By plastering his selfies across their sites and on our airwaves, the national media have given him his wish on a silver platter. By some counts, MSNBC has featured his photo 500 times in the days following the attack, self-portraits of a mass murderer vacationing with his family, relaxing, posing, grinning.
Similarly, by focusing on his last-minute excuse that this was about Islam or some Mideast-based organization of other murderous males, Republicans have given him the false cover he sought for his bloodlust.
But according to news reports:
The Central Intelligence Agency chief has not been “able to uncover any link” between [the] Orlando killer and the Islamic State.
The fact is that this was the act of one individual, a horrendous person who made the personal choice to take innocent life. Across the globe, males like him make the same choice and carry out their heinous acts in myriad ways. Here in America, Republicans refuse to make it more difficult for people like him to get their hands on weapons of war.
Research tells us that somewhere between 95% and 98% of homicides are perpetrated by males. Whether these males slap a name like “ISIS” or “Boko Haram” on their violence, whether they invoke racism or misogyny or claim it has something to do with religious faith or some belief or grudge, it all boils down to one thing: Killing. Inflicting harm. Feeling the false sense of power that comes from spilling blood and taking life. False, because it is not power but cowardice that fuels these acts.
Amanda Marcotte explains:
Toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared towards dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world. Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly.
Marcotte is on target. I speak from painful experience. As the son of a Christian Lebanese father and American mother, I grew up in the predominantly Muslim area of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. I existed at the violent intersection of faiths and factions. Car bombs, missiles, gun battles, sectarian kidnappings, executions were the norm for me, not the rare exception. I have lived the things we debate in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre.
After the mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, I wrote an op-ed for the Guardian about the illusion of strength that guns can confer. I explained that you are not the same person carrying a firearm as you are without one. Guns were at the center of my childhood. As the grandson of an experienced marksman, the son of a hunter and a hunter myself, I loved my guns. I loved shooting. I loved the feeling of slinging a double barrel shotgun over my shoulder before dawn and wandering off into the cold mountains.
Conscripted for mandatory military training as a teen, I was taught how to use guns against others before I was old enough to be considered a man.
If there’s anything I learned from my difficult childhood, it’s that those who use guns to destroy life shouldn’t be permitted to cloak themselves in facile rationalizations and justifications; they shouldn’t be allowed to use monikers to pretend their barbaric actions are anything more than they are. There is never glory in killing innocent people, whoever and wherever you may be.
When Republicans like Ted Cruz, John McCain and Donald Trump blame President Obama for the Orlando massacre, when they insist that “Radical Islam” is some magic incantation that will make violence evaporate, and when they attack Democrats for trying to keep guns out of the hands of other violent males, they are doing the bidding of the killer. They are enabling and amplifying his rationalizations.
This monstrous 29-year-old male American who murdered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub tried to use some concocted fealty to a distant organization as an excuse for hate. We shouldn’t grant him that excuse. He was simply another young male who embraced the forces of evil over good, of darkness over light. He was a bloodthirsty creature who snuffed out innocent lives and sought fame in the process.
He’s no different from others of his kind. The Washington Post examined 73 U.S. mass killings since 2014 and concluded that only three were connected to Islamic radicalism. We don’t hear Republicans talking about the other 70 killers so much, do we?
Well, let’s talk about them here. They were mostly Christian. They were American. They had two things in common: they craved blood and they sought fame.
They are no different from brutal males posting videos of themselves throwing gay men off rooftops in Syria or brutal males raping children in the DRC. They are no different from their brethren who murder, pillage and rape across the planet.
Gunning down schoolchildren is qualitatively the same evil as shooting civilians in the streets of Paris. The color of the perpetrator’s skin means nothing in that context. Their stated religion means nothing in that context. Their ethnicity means nothing in that context. Their claims of belonging to some organization with a scary name means nothing in that context.
We keep hearing about “radicalization,” “lone wolves,” and terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. These terms have lost their meaning. We need to look at the big picture and accept reality for what it is: There will always be a small fraction of males across the globe who kill people in the name of some organization or another, in the name of some religion or another. Or in the name of nothing at all. In the end the result is the same: death and anguish.
Let’s stop giving them credence, let’s stop empowering them with free publicity. The ramifications of making these vicious murderers famous are obvious. Study after study demonstrates that there is a copycat effect after these mass killings. When our national media put the Orlando killer’s photo and name on endless loop, they are complicit in creating the environment for the next attack.
We will never adequately address the problem of mass shootings if we ignore the underlying cause. We are dealing with motivations and impulses that go far beyond political soundbites and media talking points, beyond borders and backgrounds.
As I argued a year ago almost to the day, in the aftermath of another horrific mass killing, the desire for fame is the need to prove we existed, to cheat the eternity of death, to show we mattered, to leave a mark in the minds of others in the hope that they will remember us. It is the deepest of all needs, the existential urge to mean something, to be somebody.
For a small segment of males, mass violence is the surest and quickest path to “being somebody,” to proving their value, to affirming a sense of self-worth. It is no coincidence that of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States, six have happened from 2007 onward, in the era of instant social media celebrity. And it is no wonder that the group of killers we call “ISIS” is so adept at social media.
With the proper cocktail of guns, racism, misogyny, hate, gullibility and evil, some young men choose the surest path to fame: mass murder. Society must deny them fame. Censor their names. They do not deserve to commandeer the national spotlight by taking the lives of others. Make them invisible. Refer to them as “the killer” or “the murderer.” Obscure them. Disappear them.
In 2012, after the terrible Aurora shooting, David Kopel wrote an impassioned plea to deny shooters the celebrity they seek:
How the media covers one event affects whether there will be similar events. That is why TV broadcasts of baseball games turn the cameras away from nitwits who run on the field, seeking attention. Media coverage also affects copycat murders — by encouraging more of them. Nearly two decades ago, Professor Clayton Cramer detailed how mass killers obsessively study the publicity which the media have given to previous killers. A 2004 book by Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines provided a horrifying litany of examples in which media coverage of one killing has led to copycat killings.
Alex Mesoudi digs deeper into the effect of media frenzies on nascent killers:
One potential cause of mass shootings that receives little attention in the mass media, however, is the mass media themselves. It may be that, simply by devoting continual, non-stop coverage to these events, the media may be encouraging ‘copycat’ mass shootings. … In simply devoting so much time and attention to mass killers, the mass media may be – unintentionally – conferring prestige and success onto them. For certain individuals, this may trigger a copycat effect and result in another mass shooting.
Ari N. Schulman explains the exhibitionist motives of mass killers:
Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book “Serial Murderers and Their Victims,” writes, “massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a ‘medium’ to make a ‘final statement’ in or about life.” Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings. Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing. What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater.
A 2015 study describes the “contagion” effect of media coverage:
Mass killings and school shootings spread “contagiously,” a study found, where one killing or shooting increases the chances that others will occur within about two weeks. The study, published in July the journal PLOS ONE, found evidence that school shootings and mass killings — defined as four or more deaths — spread “contagiously,” and 20% to 30% of such killings appear to be the result of “infection.”
These studies are crystal clear. It is long past time for the media to block this brutal shortcut to fame.
And it is long past time for Republicans to stop their fear-mongering, to stop giving these violent and bloodthirsty haters credit for some deeper religious motivations, to stop pretending these killers are anything more than depraved thugs.
Anyone can kill an innocent and defenseless person. It’s not a noteworthy accomplishment. It’s the exact opposite. It’s the lowest and vilest thing a human can do.
Don’t publicize the people who do it. Don’t blame religion. And for heaven’s sake, DON’T LET THEM HAVE ASSAULT WEAPONS.
Or we’ll just end up with more of this:
[Cover photo from AP: Jean Dasilva, left, is comforted by Felipe Soto, as they mourn the loss of their friend Javier Jorge-Reyes while visiting a makeshift memorial for the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.]
[NOTE: I have omitted links to articles that feature the Orlando killer’s face and name.]