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Where did the Orlando shooter learn his hate? Hint: It wasn’t Osama bin Laden.

Where did the Orlando shooter learn his hate? Hint: It wasn’t Osama bin Laden.
June 15, 2016 Jennifer Boylan

The Source of 3195935035_12feecefefHome-grown Terror

Jennifer Finney Boylan

Donald Trump wasted no time. “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism?  If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

This was early on Sunday, as the country was waking up to learn about the massacre in Orlando. Fifty people dancing at “Latin night” at a gay nightclub, The Pulse, had been killed by shooter who, at that hour, had not yet been identified.

The facts weren’t all in then, and are even now still being revealed.  But it wasn’t too early for Donald Trump to decide on the source for this tragedy. “I called it,” he tweeted, referring to his pledge to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

There are a lot of threads in this story: gun rights, terrorism, ISIS, Latino and Latina identity, immigration, and the endless and execrable campaign of 2016.  It is hard to understand this catastrophe without taking the time to understand how all these forces intersect.  The weeks ahead will give us the chance to learn more.

But one thing seems clear already.  Omar Mateen didn’t learn his hatred of LGBT people from a distant cell of terrorists in Syria. He learned it on American soil.

This was no foreign born terrorist who furtively snuck over the border, like those Mexican “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists” Trump has mentioned.  This was a man born in New York, raised in this country.  Whatever he is, he is the product of our own culture.

We know that Mateen had been married, for a year, and that the marriage was marked by violence and abuse.  But we also know that he had used an app called Jack’d, a dating site for men.  He’d once proposed meeting a gay man for a drink at Pulse, the very club where he would later commit his atrocity.

One possible narrative of this tragedy is that it was committed by a man who was attracted to other men, and who found it impossible to accept the truth of what was in his heart.  So instead he decided to destroy what was in himself,  by lashing out at his brothers and sisters, to destroy the lives of people living with an absence of shame that he could not imagine for himself.

This was a man who had learned that it is better to commit mass murder—and suicide—than to accept oneself.  This was a man who had learned that the lives of gay and lesbian and bi and trans people are expendable, that his own life, if he was one of us, was not worth living.

From whom did he learn this lesson?  Did terrorists in Syria send him telegrams?  Did the Taliban reach him by phone?

Of course not.  He learned hatred of LGBT people, and of himself, right here at home.

He learned it from a county in which 200 anti LGBT bills have been introduced in the last six months.

He learned it in a country in which legislators have approved bills making it legal for any business not to approve services for marriages on the basis of religious objection.

He learned it from a country in which in one state, people with female anatomy and appearance are legally required to use the men’s room, because of what might appear on their birth certificates.

He learned it from a country in which, in another state, mental health professionals are permitted, if they so choose, to refuse services to gay people.

He learned it from a country in which people like me, and families like mine, are blithely referred to as “abominations.”

He learned it from a country in which the Lieutenant Governor of Texas—the second highest elected official in our second largest state—responded to the tragedy in Orlando by posting the message on Twitter: “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

He learned it from a country in which more than a third of transgender people have attempted to take their own lives.  One such victim, seventeen year old Leelah Alcorn, threw herself in front of a truck last year rather than live in this culture. “Fix society,” she wrote in her suicide note.

The society Alcorn wanted fixed is not the society of the Taliban in the mountains of Pakistan.  The society Alcorn wanted fixed is not the society of the Islamic State.  It was the society of her home town of Kings Mills, Ohio, a state that has no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity outside of state employment.

It was the society of Orlando, Florida, where a person who survived the massacre at the Pulse on Saturday night can be legally fired on Monday morning for being gay.

On Sunday, just hours after the Orlando shooting, a twenty year old Indiana Man, James Wesley Howell, was arrested in California with an arsenal of weapons he apparently intended to use on an attack on the Los Angeles Pride celebration.  His car contained three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunition, and a five gallon bucket containing chemicals.

From whom did Howell learn his hatred? Hint:  It wasn’t Osama bin Laden.

We cannot create a more loving and compassionate country by sealing our borders.  Hatred of people like me, and of my family, does not come from overseas.

The fault is not in our stars. It is in ourselves.


  1. Anne Faith Beon 8 years ago

    Well said. Thank you.

  2. Paedra 8 years ago

    thank you for your thoughtful word mirror to all of us

  3. Stacy 8 years ago

    So very well written! Thanks for sharing your point of view on this, I’m sure it will help others to see things with a new perspective. At least I hope!

  4. Mary Dante 8 years ago

    I am so glad you wrote this, I have been saying this since hours after the incident…I actually ache for his never having the chance to learn we are different yes but loving and accepting. ..I do not care what your religion says, you are not worth less ever…

  5. Patricia Phillips 8 years ago

    Well said. I am the proud mother of a Trans man. His journey was difficult but he found peace and happiness because he was and is loved unconditionally. Thank you for your voice and advocacy.

  6. Jana Temple 8 years ago

    Thank you for this

  7. Emily 8 years ago

    Thank you. For putting into words what I have been thinking since this tragedy, and for doing so with such eloquence.

  8. Karen van Nijkerk 8 years ago

    Beautifully and eloquently written piece. Everything you say is so true. I’m not Ametican but have insight into your country. This has given me more. Thank you.

  9. Robyn Walters 8 years ago

    Thank you, Jenny. That needed to be said, and it needs to be heeded. Whenever we see some politician or alleged Christian or other religion’s pastor call for the execution/murder of LGBT people, the FBI must be informed, Let them discover that conspiracy/inciting to commit murder is a crime.

  10. Bobbie Justice 8 years ago

    Great article, I am sharing this on facebook.

    Thank you.

  11. Charlene 8 years ago

    He may have learned it “at home”, but not in the sense you are speaking. Keep in mind that Muslims keep their culture “at home” and teach their children that culture. Did you not listen to his father. We don’t have a mandate to kill. It is not our culture, it is their culture that they are trying to enforce.

  12. Sharon Dandy 8 years ago

    Thank you, Jennifer Boylan, for writing such an insightful narrative about what people refuse to acknowledge here in the United States about the hearts and attitudes of people living here, born here, toward the LGBT community and the direct impact discrimination and hatred have on the increased violence we are all suffering.

  13. Darci 8 years ago

    ❤️❤️ Thank you Jenny. Very well said. ❤️❤️

  14. Vicky M. 8 years ago

    So very true, we do not need outside help for terror to exist here in our country, it is a native plant of the bitter herb variety, and yet so addicting to so many.

  15. Erik 8 years ago

    WOW! What a message Ms. Boylan!! Now if others will read this and really think about making changes in our home cities, states, and countries, we can begin to make more of a change. A change for the better!!

  16. Jade Foxx 8 years ago

    Lovely writing.

    Thank you Jenny.

  17. Bob 8 years ago

    A lot of assumptions from an America cultural perspective. They do not necessarily hold true in the Afghan culture.

  18. Alan Vervaeke 8 years ago

    Very well written, and probably the most common sense I’ve read since this occurred.

  19. Karen Solis Nimmo 8 years ago

    Your feelings are well expressed and will reaping with many. Listening and reading the many comments and stories in the aftermath tell me a lot of what you say is true. But reading your words, I see some things that are not true but perceptions brought about by loud voices that aren’t kind. No state in this country can fire a person for sexual orientation for only that reason. And Dan Patrick’s statement, though still unkind, was directed at the shooter who was shot himself door shooting others. And Howell, a gay man, target and intent is not clear as he went to LA looking for a friend. And we are not an isolated country thanks to the Internet which brings everything to us from around the world, including hate and terrorist groups. For Omar, his struggle and lash out was juse as much about his self loathing and struggles as anything, but not because of America but his own self convictions. He would be killed or punished severely in eastern countries. We’ve come a long way and have a long way to go. But you will not find as much freedom to be who you are in many other places around the world. That’s why we need to be part of the solution instead of pointing fingers of blame. Because we can. Through our own actions and reactions. We’ve overcome many differences that have come to a head in America over time. No growth comes without struggle and sometimes pain. Standing together in times like these, though, can show the fringe haters that we don’t recognize their voice when spoken in hatred. People can be different and believe differently and coexist without hatred. I made my own decision to publicly denounce the actions and words of haters against LGBT and Muslims in this aftermath. To take a stand in unity and with others, show there are more of us than the few loud voices spewing hatred. Incidentally, I am a conservative Christian. Being called names and spat on hurts me too.

  20. Polly Martin 8 years ago

    To the center of this issue, thank you for expressing so clearly. I’m sharing it.

  21. Karen O 8 years ago

    You deserve an award for writing such an eloquent and spot-on article. Very well done!

  22. Marilyn Flores 8 years ago

    Thank you, this is so true,

  23. Elizabeth Bryant 8 years ago

    I am so sorry that you have been treated badly but happy you have done so well in spite of that. I AGREE with what you said in your article. However, it also seems that there is so much more to who he is and what he has done (I prefer not to name him). His father appears angry and hostile and although he actually may not have known exactly what his son was doing, he knew his son was not a “good boy” as he claimed…….he had to know of his school records.

    His culture was carried from his parents and family community. And it included the high probability that his bad behavior was tolerated, ‘explained away’, and excused by the family who was was invested in looking good at any cost. So in addition to sexual preference confusion and social instability he had a long history of finding and hurting people who would tolerate his inexcusable behavior in many more arenas.

    I come from a very traditional (and military) family who did not teach me the kind of tolerance that your article seems to wish for (nice). But they did teach their children that you don’t hurt other people and that the “world did not revolve around us”. Mine was the dad who would march a child into a store and make him or her pay for the stolen candy and apologize to the store clerk. I would be very surprised if the shooter’s parents dealt with his early aggressive behavior at all. His school records indicate that he was tolerated and allowed to hurt others on a regular basis.

    Hurting and killing other people may include intolerance for differences and intolerance for the imperfect self. But comfort with hate and planning to kill as justified is learned far beyond the social inequities of our American Society. People like him seek justification, excuses, and nice people to victimize.

    If he had not had an assault rifle, but went to the club for a fair hand to hand battle, there would be a much more tolerable outcome . But bullies and abusers don’t work that way. And they don’t learn evil and harmful behavior from political ideologies. From things he proclaimed, he was confused about ideologies anyway. The only thing that mattered was himself. That seems to be the problem. Very very sad overall.

    Best to you

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