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June 15, 2016 1

The Orlando Shooter’s Many Paths to Violence

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 0

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 4

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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