We Need The Right Facts To Fight Terrorism

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

When faced with horrific tragedies we seem to seek convenient answers that focus our pain and fear. Answers that give us a convenient explanation of what happened and a source upon which we can build some understanding and perspective on how we can move forward. We want to feel safe. And, if the tragedy is manmade, we want someone at whom we can direct our outrage and retribution. We want to hold someone accountable.

These are natural reactions.

But to take the steps that make us safe we have to have the right set of facts.

Omar Mateen’s slaughter of 49 men and women in the gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning was the worst mass shooting in American history.

Mateen said the radical Muslim terrorist group ISIS inspired his rampage.  Accepting his word provides us with a convenient but flawed conclusion. That flawed conclusion could lead us to taking the very steps that will make America less safe rather than address the root causes of his anger. ISIS was simply a cause to which he could attach his hatred and anger as he sought some meaningful peg for his ego, giving more stature to his act of violence. His dedication to the group was marginal at best.

One falsehood being spread is that Mateen was an immigrant from Afghanistan. It is a lie that has been pushed by Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump. He even bragged that he was right with his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering America the day after the shooting.

Trump has no problem intentionally lying whether it is about “thousands of Muslims” cheering in New Jersey after the World Trade Center buildings came down; or claiming a judge in a lawsuit he is involved with will be prejudiced against him because he came from Mexico; or that Mateen was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to America. It has been conclusively proven he was wrong about New Jersey. The judge, Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana. And Mateen was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in Florida. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 – seven years before he was born.

But those facts are a nuisance for Trump as he fans the flames of hate for immigrants in rants to his base as well as all Americans whose fear and anger demand a focal point. Facts don’t matter to Trump. Facts don’t matter to his supporters.

Facts do matter if we are going to prevent future tragedies. Without the right facts, we could waste lives and resources in efforts that only worsen the problem.

What we do know about Mateen is that he was a physically abusive husband who could fly into a rage at his former wife over something as simple as the laundry not being done when he came home from his workout. He believed women should be subservient. His former wife and others called him “unstable.” He hated gays. His hatred apparently flared into resolve when he apparently saw two gay men kissing in public.

What we also know about Mateen is that he was twice investigated by the FBI for possible ties to radical Islamists, “but after surveillance, records checks and witness interviews, agents were unable to verify any terrorist links and closed their investigation,” the New York Times reported.

The FBI also investigated him after it was reported he had ties to a Florida man who became a suicide bomber in Syria. However, it concluded he had minimal knowledge and contact with him. We know that Mateen spent just less than a year on a terrorist watch list as he was investigated.

So what we know is that we have a deeply disturbed individual; an American citizen who was looking for ways to strike out at those who stoked his anger.

What we now know, unfortunately, is that once again a person who had no business being able to buy a gun could do so with no problem – despite being suspected of ties to terrorists, despite have been on a watch list. He simply walked into a gun shop in Florida and bought an AR-15-type assault weapon and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

Mateen received an associate’s degree in criminal justice from a local community college and later work for a security firm. That degree and job allowed him to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon – a permit he continued to have despite his obvious unstable and abusive behavior, and despite investigations by FBI.

We also know that in December 2015 54 U.S. Senate Republicans voted against a bill that would have prevented people suspected of terrorism from buying a gun. That bill was introduced two weeks after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, CA, by two people who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

We know that ISIS has widely published information about how easy it is to buy a gun in the U.S. without a background check – just go to a gun show and hand over the cash to an unlicensed seller who doesn’t have to do background checks.
“If you need proof that Congress is a hostage to the gun lobby, look no further than today’s vote blocking a bill to prevent known or suspected terrorists from buying guns and explosives,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein said after the December vote.

Trump has proposed that we bomb the families of suspected terrorists, he has said that we should bomb civilian populations where terrorists might be hiding out, he has said that we need to ban all Muslims from coming to America, he has said we need to do surveillance of mosques in this country and that we need even more lenient gun laws. His proposals go against the recommendations of the nation’s military, civil rights leaders and terrorism experts.

The more we oppress and isolate people, the more resentful they become, and the more likely they are to strike out in anger. Europe has that problem. America’s success has been its inclusiveness. People want to become Americans and live the American dream. If we take that away from them, we will fan the flames of terrorism, not extinguish them.

Most of the shooters in the far too many mass shootings this nation sees are “lone wolves” with mental health problems. We need to be able to more quickly recognize and reach those who need help. We also need sane gun laws that keep weapons like an AR-15 out of their hands.

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