Orlando massacre: Terrorism or homophobic attack?

 FBI investigators work at the crime scene of a mass shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. © Jim Young
Despite various possible motives behind attacks such as the Orlando shooting, the media usually gloms on to a story which attracts more viewers and sadly sometimes they miss nuance, said Jack Rice, a former CIA officer.

On Monday, the FBI released transcripts of 911 calls with Orlando gunman Omar Mateen, recorded during the massacre in a gay night club. While talking to the police he demanded the US stop anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) air strikes in Syria and Iraq. 

RT: Why do you think the media mainly focused on the attack as a homophobic act, rather than an act of terror? 

Jack Rice: I think one of the reasons is because frequently the media is looking for a story to tell. Let’s be honest about that – they are always looking for the next thing to drive the issue, and sadly sometimes they miss nuance. The reality is, if you think about many people involved in terrorist attacks they are motivated by many, many different things. Potentially it could be ideology; it could be revenge; a whole series of other things. Frequently it is a combination of one, two, or three of those. But frequently again the media has a tendency of glomming on to one particular story and running with it because it either has traction, or because it is going to have eyeballs, it is going to have viewers who want to watch it and hear it, and try to understand it.

RT: President Obama said that if it wasn't simply a homophobic attack, it's likely to be an example of homegrown terror. How likely is it that copycat assaults could follow in the US?

JR: It’s possible. A couple of things… Let’s start with President Obama in the first place. I think frankly President Obama is looking at this in a broader spectrum. Logically - and I think reasonably - there are many things that may motivate this young man. Clearly what motivated him was this connection to terrorism; this connection to ISIS, this connection to Hezbollah and a couple of other organizations, which apparently he claimed despite the inconsistencies that come along with that. 

But there maybe have been motivations tied to his homosexuality and other things too. At least it is important that the media needs to take a breath on this issue to really dig in and understand. Part of what happens – and this is reality in the US, and certainly in the West, but everywhere, as I think, potentially liable to it – is that with the 24/7 media they are constantly looking to feed the beast. And if you’re looking to feed the beast, you need to find a story ... So they are constantly looking for something new to add, some new nuance. The latest nuance seems to be a gay element and they are driving down that path, even if it isn’t a broader picture or the most accurate picture at this point. 

RT: An Orlando shop owner alerted the authorities that Mateen tried to buy body armor before the attack, but there was no response. How did that happen? 

JR: If we take a look at what is going on here in general, there are a lot of specifics when it comes to what the Attorney General requires from the FBI. Any time somebody wants to investigate an American citizen, there are limitations in terms of what it is that they can do. Yes, they did actually talk to him several times, but they ultimately cut him loose. The problem is that you continue to see these specific actions he continued to take that seem to raise the flag again and again. We can go back to statements from a long time ago, but actual actions… It seems to me if this effort was to go out and buy body armor that is a reasonable question to say: “Wait a second, if we have somebody under these circumstances… Well, he did work in private security. But I don’t believe there was any requirement for body armament in that place.” That is part of the problem. Was there a ball that was dropped here? I think that is a possibility. They have to be looking at that now.  

Abayomi Azikiwe, from Pan-African News Wire, also shares his opinion on the Orlando case and argues that released transcripts indicate there was a tendency on the part of Mateen to identify with Islamic State.

“He made specific political demands during the course of the 911 call. This also brings back into focus the fact that the FBI had interviewed Matten at least on two occasions, perhaps even more,” he told RT. 

Azikiwe  added that the gunman’s employment with a leading private security firm, who counts among his clients the CIA, also raises lot of questions about what the FBI knew about Mateen and “what type of contact and the nature of the contact the FBI had with Mateen.” 

“They are trying to deflect attention away from the fact that this individual had been in the purview of the FBI. They had had discussions with him. There had been a pattern of erratic behavior, pronouncements, which indicated that this person was potentially violent,” he said. 

“Yet, despite this contact the FBI cleared him of any suspicion that relates to terrorism,” Azikiwe concluded. 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.