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June 15, 2016

The Orlando Shooter’s Many Paths to Violence

Update – 9/27/16: Newly released information indicates that Mateen told a hostage negotiator during the standoff that his attack was inspired by the death of an ISIS commander. This indicates that Mateen’s support of ISIS may have been more influential in his decision than was previously known.

This weekend’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 dead and 52 people injured, has reinvigorated debate surrounding the nature of radicalization and what it means when someone claims to act on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization.omar mateen

While details about the attack and the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, continue to emerge, there are indications that the assailant may have been motivated by more complicated factors than a simple allegiance to any one, or combination of, terrorist groups. During his call to 911 at the time of the attack, Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, called the Boston marathon bombers his “homeboys” and mentioned Moner Abusalha, a Florida resident who committed a suicide attack on behalf of Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda in Syria, in 2014.

There are signs, however, that extremist ideology may have been only one of many elements that led him to carry out the massacre. Mateen reportedly exhibited violent tendencies prior to the attack; he was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife and reportedly threatened coworkers in the past. Domestic violence has been linked to mass shootings – extremist or otherwise. His ex-wife has also suggested he may have been gay. If true, that could point to a host of personal, psychological reasons for his decision to attack Pulse, which was a gay nightclub.

Still, the fact that Mateen had claimed support for Hezbollah and Al Qaeda in a conversation with co-workers – which, along with his possible connections to Moner Abusalha, led to him being investigated twice by the FBI– may indicate he had some profound attraction to these groups.

Mateen is far from the only individual whose activity appears to have been shaped by a complex web of factors, of which extremist ideology may be just one element. For example:

  • In August 2014, Ali Muhammad Brown was allegedly engaged in a rob­bery when he shot a man in a car in New Jersey. Brown is also accused of killing three indi­vid­u­als outside a gay nightclub in Cal­i­for­nia that June; Brown had allegedly lured them to his car on Grindr, a gay  (dating) app, and then murdered them. When appre­hended, Brown claimed that the mur­ders were revenge for U.S. actions in the Mid­dle East. Brown had also reportedlyali-muhammad-brown written in a journal that he planned to follow ISIS and “learn the way of jihadis,” and had previously been linked to a conspiracy to send funds to Al Shabaab, al Qaeda in Somalia. The circumstances of this particular murder, however, indicated that he was hoping to get away with robbery, rather than undertaking a politically charged act.  Similarly, there were no clear indications that his murders in California were undertaken for political reasons.

At least two other individuals never claimed their attacks on behalf of specific foreign terrorist organizations, but were linked to those organizations in their online activity – and in both cases, ISIS eventually claimed credit for their violent actions. ISIS has also claimed credit for the Orlando attack.

  • In September 2014, Okla­homa res­i­dent Alton Nolen was sus­pended from his work­place, a food pro­cess­ing plant. Nolen returned with “a large bladed knife,” with which he beheaded a for­mer col­league and attacked a second. Nolen’s social media feed indi­cated an inter­est in vio­lent extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda, and par­tic­u­larly violent acts associated with ISIS, even as it became clear that he had no actual links to extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions or a com­pre­hen­sive adher­ence to extrem­ist ideology. Indeed, his online activ­ity may have influenced him to some extent – his inter­est in extrem­ist vio­lence may have informed his deci­sion to under­take a behead­ing rather than another form of vio­lence. Dabiq, ISIS’s English language magazine, claimed credit for Nolen’s activity and boasted that he had acted based on ISIS propaganda. The circumstances of the activity, though, seemed more directly related to workplace violence than to Islamic extremism.
  • In October 2014, Zale Thomp­son of New York attacked law enforce­ment offi­cers with a hatchet. Thompson’s online history  indi­cated he had experimented with a variety of extremist ideologies, but had most recently engaged with Islamic extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda and ide­ol­ogy, includ­ing ISIS-specific pro­pa­ganda, prior to the attack – presumably because it justified such an attack more than other groups he had associated with. He had also independently expressed anger against law enforcement. Thompson’s ultimate motives have not been made clear; the NYPD classified his actions as a terrorist attack, but the FBI did not. Like Nolen, Thompson did not state that his action was undertaken on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization, but ISIS claimed that it was inspired by their propaganda in Dabiq magazine.

The apparent complexity of the motivations in the Orlando Shooting would indicate that this tragedy can fall under the rubric of many other mass casualty attacks – such as Sandy Hook and Charleston- as well as under the rubric of domestic terrorism motivated by Islamic extremist ideology – such as the Boston Bombing and the San Bernardino shooting.

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June 15, 2016

Anti-Gay Rhetoric in English-Language ISIS and Al Qaeda Magazines

The claim by Orlando shooter Omar Mateen that he acted on behalf of ISIS in perpetrating a shooting at a gay club draws attention to the role of anti-gay sentiment in Islamic extremist ideology and propaganda.

ADL analyzed past issues of Dabiq, ISIS’s English language magazine, and Inspire magazine, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s English-language magazine, to determine the scope of anti-gay rhetoric and threat in those publications. While these publications are only a limited sample of the overall field of online English-language propaganda distributed by foreign terrorist organizations, they serve to demonstrate the issues and language that these organizations use when targeting English-speaking audiences.

Our analysis indicates that anti-gay rhetoric played a smaller role than may have been expected. Neither group preached hatred of the LGBT population nearly as much as it railed against other groups, such as Jews and the U.S., for example. However,  both magazines did feature examples of anti-gay rhetoric and used homosexuality as a synonym for sin and immorality.

Cover of the first issue of Dabiq, ISIS's English language magazine

Cover of the first issue of Dabiq magazine

Dabiq (ISIS)

Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language magazine, was first released in July 2014. Since then, there have been 13 issues, with the most recent released in April 2016.

Dabiq included anti-gay rhetoric with much more frequency than Inspire. In addition to using homosexuality as an example of sin and immorality, Dabiq also had at least three quotes in which homosexuality was associated with the death penalty. The increased number of references and the violent nature of the references are consonant with ISIS’s broader propaganda, which has been more overt than Al Qaeda propaganda in highlighting violence against individuals and groups ISIS has targeted. This has included images of ISIS members murdering men accused of being gay by throwing them off of buildings.

Examples of statements in Dabiq that link homosexuality with a punishment of death include:

  • “These sons fell into fāhishah (sodomy), leading them into espionage (as happened before in Sudan with others). Their treachery led to tens of airstrikes killing many brothers.” (Issue 6)
  • Likewise during his khilāfah, Abū Bakr…gathered a number of his advisors from amongst the Sahābah and consulted them about the case of a man found guilty of committing sodomy. The one who had the most severe position was ‘Alī … who said, “This is a sin that no nation had committed before except for one nation, and you know how Allah dealt with them. I view that we should burn him alive.” (Issue 7)
  •  “Knowing this and that he [a man ISIS is advocating should be assassinated] admires the secularist US Constitution and does not oppose sodomite marriage, it should be easy to grasp that he is nothing but another murtadd imām of kufr (apostate and leader of infidels).” (Issue 11)

Examples that include homosexuality as a general example of sin or immorality include:

  • “So the fornicators, the sodomites, the abandoners of jihād, the people of bid’ah (heresy), and the drunkards, these people and the mingling with them is harmful for the religion of Islam.” (Issue 3)
  • “’Liberal’ concepts that the kuffār (apostates) apply across the board for achieving evil, such as political pluralism, freedom of religion, and acceptance of sodomites. (Issue 3)
  • “If one’s children and grandchildren don’t fall into kufr (apostacy), they are under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs, and alcohol.” (Issue 3)
  • “They used their entertainment industry to mock and belittle those against the sexually deviant fringe, used their shirk (falsehood)-based parliaments to legalize sodomite marriage, used their education system to corrupt their children right from the kindergarten level by introducing books into the curriculum to combat “homophobia,” and used their churches and clergy to bless these sins via ‘revisionism.’ (Issue 7)
  • …All sinful acts are openly committed among you and for most of you they have become part of your nature. This includes committing shirk with Allah, fornication, and sodomy (Issue 10)
  • “If the majority [in a democracy] decide sodomy is legal, it is legalized even though it contradicts Allah’s Sharī’ah.” (Issue 11)
  • “Part of the pagan democratic religion is what has been labeled (sic) in this era as “human rights,” including the “right” to commit apostasy, devil-worship, sodomy, and for­nication.” (Issue 11)
  • “[The Muslim] is a stranger amongst Christians and liberals. He is a stranger amongst fornicators and sodomites.” (Issue 12)
  • “So the fornicators, the sodomites, the abandoners of jihād, the people of bid’ah (heresy), and the drunkards, these people and the mingling with them is harmful for the religion of Islam.” (Issue 13)
Cover of the first issue of Inspire, AQAP's English-language magazine

Cover of the first issue of Inspire magazine

Inspire (AQAP)

Inspire magazine was first released in July 2010. Since then, there have been 15 issues, with the most recent released in May 2016.

We discovered at least three references to homosexuality in those 15 issues of Inspire.

In the third issue, released in November 2010, the magazine noted that a gay and lesbian synagogue had been among the locations targeted in AQAP’s 2010 cargo plane bomb plot, in which the group attempted to detonate explosives in packages with Chicago addresses in a cargo plane. Although the threat appeared to be directed against Jews more than against the LGBT community, it can be seen as a threat specifically to LGBT Jews as well.

  • “We in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine,” it said, “…So we listed the address of the ‘Congregation Or Chadash,’ a Gay and Lesbian Syngaogue on one of our packages. The second package was sent to ‘Congregation B’nai Zion.’

In the magazine’s 8th and 10th issues, homosexuality is listed as an example of immorality.

  • A quote in the 8th issue stated, “Immorality and corruption have seeped deep into the roots of the Pakistani Army and it is not uncommon to find alcoholics, gamblers, adulterers, homosexuals and drug traffickers amongst its lower and higher ranks.”
  • A quote in the 10th issue contrasted “The freedom of living in peace with adequate resources” to “the freedom of adultery, homosexuality, interest and other impurities.”

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June 14, 2016

We Are Not Powerless When Faced with Hate, Bias, Propaganda and Extremism

No Place For Hate spokesperson Lady Gaga talks about the importance of being an ally at the Los Angeles rally for the Orlando attack victims

Los Angeles rally for the Orlando attack victims

The unspeakable tragedy that took place at the Pulse Club in Orlando, FL in the early morning of June 12 brings with it a wide range of emotions for people across the country and world. Those feelings include anger, sorrow, loss, hopelessness, horror, fear, rage and also—a sense of powerlessness. It is easy to feel powerless when you think there is nothing you can do: nothing you can do about the hate, the gun violence, the terrorism and the extremist propaganda that takes place in the lonely crevices of the internet.

But we are not powerless. We know that just as bias and hate are learned, they can also be unlearned. We know that there is potential legislation for limiting gun violence and automatic weapon accessibility. We know that the propaganda used to recruit young people for terrorism can be addressed by helping them deconstruct this propaganda, addressing vulnerable students’ feelings of marginalization, stigma, and isolation and creating school communities where all students feel safe and respected.  We know that the escalation of hate —if addressed on more subtle levels which include bias, belittling and stereotyping—can be stopped in its tracks before it makes its way up to the pyramid to bias-motivated violence.

Specifically, we need to guide and teach young people:

  • To explore their own identity, learn about other kinds of people and reflect on how to play, work, learn and live with people who are different than they are. This is easier said than done and takes active and intentional work at home, in schools and among the adults in young people’s lives who also need to self-reflect and be good role models. While we don’t know for sure if the shooter targeted the club because it was an LGBT establishment or because it was “Latin Night,” we know that accepting oneself and others is a critical component to living in a pluralistic society.
  • To treat others with respect and not fall prey to judgment and stereotyping when people are different. For example, the anti-Muslim bigotry, bias and rhetoric that has been a permanent fixture since 9/11 and is exacerbated after an attack like the recent one, only feeds into the terrorism danger and increased recruitment and radicalization potential. Often times, the very people who are most at risk for extremist behavior find themselves in that situation because terrorist groups tell Muslims that the U.S. is at war with them and their religion, therefore reinforcing the terrorists’ propaganda. This Islamophobia  actually makes us more vulnerable rather than less so.
  • To understand what bias is, the different forms it takes (e.g. racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, sexism, etc.) and how—over the course of history—injustice has been overcome by people addressing it in large and small ways—both personal and institutional.  We need to teach young people how to be an ally and the ways in which activism makes a difference.
  • To be critical and analytical thinkers and specifically, to be judicious readers of online propaganda and cyberhate  as a weapon to counteract the power of it. If students are able to deconstruct the subtle messages in propaganda and understand how its creators use it to manipulate young people, that decreases their opportunity to take advantage of vulnerable youth.
  • To work with others to do something about the bias, violence and hate they see in the world. As the news made its way into people’s homes on Sunday morning, there was an immediate and overwhelming response to the need for donating blood, so much that they had to ask people to stop coming. Across the country and world, vigils are taking place to mourn, convene with others and show the world that intolerance and hate are unacceptable. In addition to these immediate expressions of support, there is long term activism that can take place around bias, injustice, gun laws and hate crimes legislation.

In U.S. schools, fears of extremism, radicalization and mass violence have become all too familiar.  It is important that schools, too, feel a sense of power that there is something they can do about those fears and realities. Among other things, they can understand and reflect on the precursors to violent activity, identify warning signs and refer young people to specific and appropriate support, create safe communities of learning that includes anti-bias programs and provide resources for students who are targets of bias and bullying.

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