From the moment massacres like the one Sunday morning at Pulse occur, we try to decipher what lay in the heart of the murderers who commit them.
We search for motive because motive helps fit these tragedies into categories. We think we can understand them if we can check the right box. Which particular warped worldview did our latest mass killer subscribe to?
Sometimes it’s clear.
Most of the time it’s not.
Sometimes you get a case like this one, which lies at the very intersection of many of our country’s darkest ills.
Terrorism. Homophobia. Guns. Hatred of another – hatred of self.
Here is the emerging portrait of the man who massacred 49 people and wounded 53 others at the Pulse nightclub: He was American. He was Muslim. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. He abused his first wife. He had deplorably easy access to a killing machine.
He undeniably set out to murder gay people – the killings in Orlando are first and foremost a tragedy for the LGBT community. That must be said again and again.
Now we learn that Omar Mateen himself may have been gay. That he was a regular at Pulse. That he used gay dating apps – and tried to connect with men he met at the club. That in the weeks before the massacre, he scoped out Pulse to plot how to best kill those in the community that had let him in.
And now, this tragedy complicates: The killer wasn’t a person who set out to kill gay people because he didn’t understand them. It was someone who knew gay people and set out to kill them anyway.
“The response is this anger that he stood among us and yet hurt us,” said John Super, a psychologist who has been helping coordinate volunteer LGBT counseling efforts for those affected by the Pulse attack.
“There is going to be that process of ‘How does this make sense’ – this desire to make sense of it,” the University of Florida professor said Tuesday at a downtown church.
What sense can be made of this? Other than that Orlando is just the latest venue for this new American virus, where killers unmoored by hatred and self-loathing and terror can murder so effectively, so easily.
Rob Domenico, a board member at the city’s LGBT center and a Vineland, N.J., native, said the reports on Mateen’s sexuality make one thing even more plainly clear:
“This was an attack specifically on our community.”
The killer “is an individual who was unable to live as his authentic self,” Domenico said amid the rush of reporters and volunteers flooding the center.
“This gentleman seemed to have his own demons to deal with – and he dealt with them in a way that he felt appropriate, and lives perished from it.”
I have no sympathy for this killer, whether he killed out of hatred for America, or hatred for gays, or hatred of self. He killed.
At the core of every single one of these mass killings that have become such an American norm lies one commonality: rage.
In this case, it might have been rage turned inward, then outward in a devastating fashion.
Our best redress to this rage can be found in the example of how the gay community has long lived: by continuing to be open and welcoming and accepting, while beating back intolerance and hatred of every form.
“This is where we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Super said. “This is where we put light into the darkness.”