In light of the events at the Orlando massacre last weekend, it is nearly impossible to overstate the cruelty and the malice exhibited there. Forty-nine lost their lives. As many and more again wounded. Rivers of blood flowed that night. And the response was understandable.
Such a vicious event in an otherwise peaceful city shocked the world. They took notice of where the attack occurred and responded in a well-worn way. They flew Rainbow Flags. They splashed multi-coloured lights on national monuments. They pledged solidarity as they denounced this Hate Crime that targeted LGBT(etc).
They didn’t even stop to ask the question of whether “Hate Crime” (in the specific way that they usually mean it) applies in this case. In fact, the confusion surrounding some of the details here actually serve to show why “Hate Crime” is at best, a slippery term.
Some of the known facts are that this dead terrorist visited the site of his crime on a number of occasions. He had profiles on homosexual dating apps. He was briefly married to a woman who describes him as abusive. Various people have commented on his unrestrained temper. He himself claimed association with ISIS. They, in turn, claimed credit for the attack. And he had gone on religious pilgrimage.
What does the notion of Hate Crime entail? It would entail an action [in this case, murder] taken for the explicit reason that one group was a special target of his contempt. What it would not mean is that a particular individual from within a group was hated. (That would describe a *personal* animosity rather than the hatred of a group more generally.)
Something else it would not mean is a generalized hatred for a group broader than the one in question. Example: OBL didn’t hate New Yorkers more than all other Americans. They were just a convenient target that would create the result he was looking for. If I tried to argue that it was an anti-New York hate crime, I would be laughed at, and rightly so.
My question is, how do we know if we aren’t doing the same thing with Orlando?
There are plausible explanations for his motivation that would not require a politicization of the murders.
The simplest one is that he was a hothead and easily offended. His ex-wife claimed he was violent. His former coworker complained about being harassed by the dead terrorist. He had been seen frequenting this location. If this were the case, it would be a grudge gone nuclear, not a hate crime.
The claim by some that he was secretly a homosexual would lead to several other explanations. If untrue, and he had heard the claim, he might be angry that anyone could think that about him. (See scenario above) Another scenario would be that it is true, and perhaps he was rebuffed, or possibly a bad breakup with someone. Another could be that it was true, and someone threatened to “out” him.
If he could be shown to be gay, does that invalidate accusations of it being a hate crime? Do we usually say crimes are racially motivated when victim and attacker are ethnically the same? Why would this be different?
His orientation has another implication: if he was actually feeling same-sex attraction, (whether he acted on it or not) that would take him into direct conflict with his family, his religion, and his culture. Eastern culture is strongly influenced by the honor/shame dynamic in ways those of us in the West can scarcely comprehend. If this act was motivated by considerations of the honor and shame of either himself or his family, the motive ties in with honor. “Hate”, then becomes at most, a secondary consideration.
There is the question of intentionally-excluded targets. One witness claims the killer said: “I don’t have a problem with black people, this is about my country. You guys suffered enough.”
Allowing that the black people he spared were as likely to be homosexuals as the victims, this isn’t the indiscriminate killing of homosexuals a Hate Crime would imply. Dead Terrorist also said that his motivation was political. “About my country.” So it is at least plausible that this was an issue or grievance broader than simply gay sex.
There is the obvious religious connection. In a gay nightclub, our dead terrorist referred to ISIS. If these killings were connected to a violent interpretation of the Koran, this becomes violence in the name of something, rather than an attack on a particular group. Islamic extremists have hit venues as diverse as gay bars, office towers, shopping centers, weddings, transit, soccer matches, and schools full of Christian children.
What these targets share in common is that they are all outsiders to the terrorist’s religion, and (therefore) valid targets in their thinking. If Dead Terrorist was motivated by his Islamism, a Jewish daycare, a strip club, or an American landmark have been just as valid as The Pulse.
And, naturally, we have the mental illness angle (ex-wife suspected he’s bipolar). I find it easier to accept that this guy was blinded by hate than I do that he cut down 49 people in the prime of life simply because his brain chemistry was off, but we have a habit of explaining away these things by saying they “just aren’t right in the head”. If it were the case, then it’s mental illness, not a hate crime.
Obviously, we don’t have the definitive reason he picked this place and these targets. We likely never will. The ultimate reason might even have been something else entirely. If we say definitively that it is a hate crime, we are just politicizing the deaths of real people to move forward an agenda.
Let’s all be adult enough to admit to not fully knowing certain things. We have theories, sure. They might even be correct. We see patterns all around the world. We see red flags. But motives are tricky things. Sometimes we even conceal them from ourselves.
In adding the descriptor “hate” you ultimately diminish other serious crimes. The random killing of a stranger is just as hateful an act as the deliberate selection of someone by race or religion. Raping someone because of their color is no more heinous than the same assault on a random passerby. Let’s not muddy the issue by treating some premeditated murder as more serious than others. It only serves to diminish the horror of crimes that don’t fit within a political narrative.