What motivated Omar Siddiqui Mateen to murder 49 people in the Pulse night club early on Sunday morning?
(a) Islamic terrorism
(c) lax gun control
The best answer may be “none of the above”. The rush to seize upon one thread in the tangle of motives in Mateen’s very disturbed head is absurd –however predictable it may be in an election year.
For the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, the massacre in Orlando offers a golden opportunity to whip up fear of Islam, refugees and immigrants, legal and illegal. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,”he tweeted soon after the news broke. “I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee, on the other hand, focused on gun control and solidarity with the LGBT community. “To all the LGBT people grieving today: you have millions of allies who will always have your back. I am one of them” was her tweet.
In a speech yesterday she emphasised being tough on terrorists and on guns. “We face a twisted ideology and poisoned psychology that inspires the so-called “lone wolves,” she declared. But she also said that “If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked.”
We hardly know anything about the toxic impulses swirling around in Mateen’s brain. He may even have been a homosexual himself. Some newspapers have reported that he frequented the Pulse night club and used smartphone apps to connect with gays. This remains to be confirmed.
The situation becomes no clearer if the tragedy is labelled homophobia. The targets of Dylann Roof’s rage last year in Charleston were Christians but calling those murders an example of Christianophobia sheds little light on the subject. Mateen invoked Islam, but he appears to have been a lone wolf. With or without Islam as a pretext, he might have committed the same crime.
The thread that does link most of the mass killers of recent years has not been mentioned by the candidates or the pundits. It’s dysfunctional family life.
Little has come out about the family Mateen grew up in, but his father is a very odd man who ran for President of Afghanistan from his living room in Florida. His mother is conspicuous by her complete absence from any media reports. For some reason, as a 20-year-old, Mateen changed his surname, which suggests tension with his family.
Whatever his life was like as a child, he failed as a husband and father. His marriage with an Uzbek woman, Sitora Yusifiy, lasted about four months. She claims that he beat her. He married again and has a three-year-old son.
This is the kind of profile that most of these killers have: miserable homes and miserable marriages. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, appears to have been just a domestic afterthought. His father walked out when he was one. For him it was the second of three marriages. His mother also had three partners. American perpetrators of mass shootings had similar backgrounds.
Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015 came from a severely dysfunctional family. His father divorced his mother and he was mainly raised by his step-mother.
John Zawahiri, 23, killed five people in Santa Monica in 2013 near to and on the campus of a state college. His parents had been separated for years.
In December 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, six staff at a Connecticut primary school, and 20 school children before shooting himself. His parents were divorced.
Wade Page was a white supremacist who shot six Sikhs dead in Milwaukee before being killed by a police officer earlier in August 2012. His parents were divorced.
In October 2011 a California man, 41-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, walked into his ex-wife’s hair salon and shot her and seven other people dead. His parents were divorced.
The United States has a long, long list of men (almost always men) from disturbed backgrounds who load guns and kill lots of people. Not all of them come from broken homes, but it’s quite likely that in most cases the home dynamics were bad.
We don’t know for sure because no one is asking. Research into marriage culture as reported in the media seems to focus on finding plausible justifications for same-sex marriage, rather than investigating the toxic consequences of marriage breakdown.
It’s easier criticise gun control laws than it is to criticise the culture of divorce and the havoc it wreaks upon the lives of both the children and the spouses. But, as we argued in MercatorNet in 2014 after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger shot and stabbed people at the University of California at Santa Barbara, killing six of them: “Perhaps they wouldn’t need more gun control if they had better divorce control.”
Over-the-counter assault rifles, homophobia and radical Islam are factors in this latest massacre. But not the only factors. Grandstanding about gun control, homophobia and Islam won’t quench the rage in the heads of children of divorce.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.