While there remain some mysteries linked to the hellish massacre at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, one thing was clear -- the man who kept pulling the trigger wanted to make sure that it was impossible for journalists around the world to avoid putting religion in the lede.
In the past, journalists have often had to wrestle with vague allusions to the names or nationalities of the terrorists involved in this kind of incident, while cautiously searching for on-the-record information that might point to motivation.
With his mobile call to Orlando's 911 center, Omar Mateen settled that issue, claiming that he was acting out of loyalty to the Islamic State.
But you knew that already and that's my point. It's hard to find a lede this morning that doesn't include a direct reference to that call.
So it's no secret why Mateen did what he did, at least according to whatever logic was functioning in his head at the time he marched into that nightclub. In this terrorism case, reporters could move straight into the second layer of mysteries about the man and the details of his life and faith. While President Barack Obama kept his language vague, other political leaders were quite blunt. The New York Post noted:
Mateen “made a pledge of allegiance to ISIS,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN.
Schiff said the timing and target of the attack can’t be a coincidence.
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT nightclub during (LGBT) Pride (month) and, if accurate, that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Schiff said.
“Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed, remains to be determined. I’m confident that we will know much more in the coming hours and days.”
And there is the main mystery that remains, at the global level. In this online, digital age, what is the difference between "inspired" and "directed"? For journalists and law officials this has boiled down to one analog: Did Mateen have real, two-way contacts with real people who helped guide his work?
There is far too much coverage of this story to cover it all and, frankly, I'm too disgusted right now to even mention at the explosion of political name calling on Twitter. You may want to follow updates on this post by Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher.
Our own Jim Davis, with decades of experience in Florida, will look at the local coverage later today. In particular, I'm interested in all of those Floridians who lined up at blood banks on Sunday.
If readers are interested in the current state of information about Mateen himself, let me note two sidebars in The Washington Post focusing on statements by his family, including his former wife, Sitora Yusifiy. In some ways it is a familiar story.
Born in New York, he was the son of an Afghan immigrant who moved his family to Florida when Mateen was a child. The older Mateen would eventually open a business and attempt to dabble in Afghan politics from afar, starting a YouTube channel in Florida in which he sometimes expressed favorable views about the Taliban.
Mateen would spend his youth and young adulthood in Florida, attending a local high school and obtaining an associate’s degree in criminal justice from nearby Indian River State College in 2006, according to college spokeswoman Michelle Abaldo. He held jobs as a security guard and appeared to have a fondness for law enforcement, having once talked to friends about becoming a police officer. In a series of Myspace photos, Mateen is seen taking selfies wearing New York Police Department shirts.
Florida public records confirm that Mateen had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and was a licensed security guard, first at a facility for juvenile delinquents and later for G4S, a security company.
A semi-career in law enforcement and a desire to project images of strength.
A clean record with the police and, thus, his guns were legal.
Links to historic conflicts somewhere in the Muslim world.
A few comments about radical Islam that drew the attention of authorities.
Along with a troubled personal life? Struggles with women and family? Possible mental and emotional issues, perhaps linked to steroids? A surge of interest in conservative forms of Islam as his personal life splintered?
In this case, there are hard facts to report and the Post did so, quickly and clearly:
Acquaintances gave conflicting views about Mateen’s religiosity. Yusifiy said her former husband wasn’t very devout and preferred spending his free time working out at the gym. She said in the few months they were married he gave no signs of having fallen under the sway of radical Islam. “He was a very private person,” she said. ...
But one friend said Mateen became steadily more religious after his divorce and went on a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
“He was quite religious,” said the friend, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. Yet, he added, if Mateen had sympathies for the Islamic State or other terrorist groups, he never mentioned them.
For several years, Mateen regularly attended the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce and was there as recently as two days ago, said Imam Shafiq Rahman on Sunday. The imam said Mateen’s father and young son would pray with him, and Mateen’s three sisters were active volunteers at the mosque, which had about 150 congregants.
Rahman stressed that Mateen never sought spiritual help. And there is the central question, again. Was his true spiritual home online?
But here is the question that I will leave you with, at this point. What about all of those YouTube videos and television broadcasts by the gunman's father, Seddique Mateen? I expect journalists will be all over those, sooner rather than later. Check out this Post sidebar dedicated to the work of Mateen's father:
Seddique Mateen, speaking in Dari, concluded the video by expressing disbelief that his son took it upon himself to seek retribution against the gay community. “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality,” he said. “This, is not for the servants” of God.
In Afghanistan, officials were still trying to piece together the family’s background.
There is much to cover, already. Is this information actually important, when considering what happened in Orlando? Or is it simply evidence that Mateen grew up in a family built on strong opinions and claims of power?
I was fascinated that the family's history includes roots in a troubled, violent border region that was so crucial to the final acts in the drama of Osama bin Laden.
Seddique Mateen appeared to maintain a strong affiliation to Afghanistan, hosting a television show broadcast from California that weighed in on the country’s political affairs. He also filmed dozens of sparsely viewed, rambling YouTube videos portraying himself as an important Afghan analyst and leader.
While his travel history remains unknown, Seddique Mateen apparently traveled back to Afghanistan at least occasionally.
In 2014, during Afghanistan’s presidential campaign, he secured an inteview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani filmed in Kabul.
Ghani spokesman Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri said this was not a big deal.
Chakhansuri said Ghani is also outraged by Seddique Mateen’s controversial views.
In one YouTube video, Mateen expresses gratitude toward the Afghan Taliban, while denouncing the Pakistani government.
“Our brothers in Waziristan, our warrior brothers in [the] Taliban movement and national Afghan Taliban are rising up,” he said. “Inshallah the Durand Line issue will be solved soon.”
The “Durand Line issue” is a historically significant one, particularly for members of the Pashtun ethnic group, whose homeland straddles the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand Line is that border. It is not clear whether the Mateens are Pashtun. The Afghan Taliban is mostly made up of Pashtuns.
Will any of these details prove to be crucial? I have no idea. However, I was impressed with the depth of the information that emerged this quickly. News consumers may want to keep an eye on coverage of Mateen's father.