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Monday, June 13, 2016 

The American circle of death.

The horrific massacre in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the surface looks like an almost exact mix of the Islamic State Paris cell attack on the Bataclan concert venue, and the San Bernardino shooting of last December.  Nothing has been uncovered as yet in the investigation to suggest that Omar Pateen had any direction whatsoever from Islamic State itself, just as nothing has been turned up in the San Bernardino investigation to link Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik to any terrorist group.  Both Pateen/Farook and Malik it seems "pledged allegiance" to IS or its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi either during or immediately before their attacks, but this seems to have been almost an afterthought.  The FBI investigation into Farook and Malik suggests they had "self-radicalised" before IS had so much as emerged; their pledge was little more than an simple explainer as to their motives they knew would be quickly discovered.

In that sense, Pateen and Farook and Malik were relatively odd fish in the modern world of terrorists, spree killers and other murderous narcissists: they usually want us to know exactly why they did what they did, leaving behind videos, manifestos, etc that can swiftly be used by media organisations desperate to fill up airtime once the attack itself has either finished or been brought to an end.  It might well be that Pateen has left behind just such media which will subsequently be discovered, as there is yet to be any confirmation of whether, like Farook and Malik, he destroyed personal effects.  The belief was Farook and Malik did this to cover their tracks, yet no links to others have been found.  At this point it would be a surprise if Pateen did have accomplices: his method screams far more of the lone spree killer motivated by hate than it does of someone who has dedicated themselves to Islamic State.  The briefing since given by James Comey of Pateen claiming to have various connections with al-Qaida, Hezbollah and the Boston marathon bombers rather underlines his confusion and Billy Liar qualities.

Not that this means Pateen wasn't inspired by IS.  He seems to have taken almost as a template the Bataclan attack, and the fact he chose as a target a gay club, somewhere he knew would meet with the approval of the repressed, hateful supporters of IS, is indicative of the impact he wanted his actions to have.  If an Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan was to the IS propagandists a "profligate prostitution party", you can but imagine how they would describe the Pulse on a Saturday night.  That more than a few on the right of politics in the US have yet to come to terms with homosexuality has only added to the discomfort felt; those who like me can recall the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9/11 on, variously, abortion, gays and liberal values in general can but reflect on how if he were still alive Falwell would be trying to comprehend Orlando without his head exploding.

In other senses, the assault on the Pulse is a grim refraction of many recent spree killings.  Pateen used both a semi-automatic assault rifle and a handgun, just as other recent mass murderers have relied on more than a single weapon, with most favouring an M16 or equivalent.  That these guns have no real practical use for hunting and are far too big to be concealed makes no odds to an industry that has poured more and more cash into variations, accessories and customisations.  That Pateen was engaged by an armed police officer providing security at the club also undermines the recent counter-argument made by pro-gun activists that more armed people means such attacks can swiftly be ended.  Unless they're really going to suggest bar and club patrons being allowed into such venues with concealed weapons, an idea so monumentally stupid you wouldn't put it past them, Orlando ought to put such notions to bed.

The fact is that America has chosen to make itself uniquely vulnerable to atrocities like Orlando, San Bernardino and Sandy Hook.  Guns can always be smuggled across borders, and pass through the hands of your average garden variety gangsters to inadvertently end up in the possession of terrorists, as we saw in Paris.  Even in this country we still have the odd Derrick Bird type figure, as tough gun laws are never going to stop those absolutely determined to do harm to their neighbours and themselves.

It's something else entirely though to have gun laws so lax that you can walk into a store, buy a weapon that was designed to be used in war, and then less than a week later kill 49 people with it.  You could argue that Pateen's interactions with the FBI, which seem down more to his being a mouth-breathing boaster than any real links to terrorist suspects should have meant he was barred from holding a licence, and yet the Republicans voted down just such restrictions.  You can argue that the problem seems unique to America, and that other countries with high gun ownership to population ratios don't have the same number of such killings, a notion I don't entirely accept but am open to.  Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, for one says that gun control is pointless without measures to improve equality.

The choice in other words is no choice.  Hillary Clinton can call for an renewed assault weapons ban, only even if she wins she can no more force a gun-supporting house or senate into voting for one than Obama has been able to.  She could by contrast attempt to do something about inequality, only her husband accelerated the policies began by Reagan that did so much damage in the first place.  With no action on the latter, more and more people will only, as Obama put it, cling on to their guns and religion, with a little hating Muslims and supporting continued wars in the Middle East on the side.  Vicious circle doesn't even begin to cover it.

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