Editorial: Orlando terror about hate, radicalization


The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was carried out by an American citizen apparently self-radicalized to a hateful ideology. As a so-called lone wolf, Omar Mateen represents the most dangerous form of terrorism facing this country.

Early reports indicate Mateen was a devotee of ISIS, the radical Islamic group that is spreading terror and bloodshed across the globe, and was raised by a Taliban supporter. Authorities say initial indications are that he was not a member of a formal cell. Rather, they say, it appears he was immersed in the terrorist teachings via the internet, and acted alone to carry out the Orlando nightclub shootings. Forty-nine people were killed in the early Sunday morning attack and 53 were injured, mostly members of the city’s gay and lesbian community.

These lone wolf strikes are becoming increasingly common, and deadly. And they are virtually impossible to detect, let alone deter.

Although Mateen had been interviewed three times by federal authorities for possible links to terrorist groups, the connections were deemed not serious enough to take further action. Some have called him a “known wolf,” but as a citizen, he could not be deported, and enjoyed constitutional protections from ongoing surveillance without specific cause.

His citizenship is what made him so dangerous. ISIS has learned that converting Americans to execute their terror ambitions is more effective than sneaking foreign fighters into this country.

Easy access to ISIS propaganda via the internet makes the recruitment job much simpler. Would-be terrorists can not only find on the web the sermons and writings of jihadists, but also instructions for carrying out attacks.

Despite a series of these domestic terrorism incidents, the United States does not have a comprehensive plan in place for combatting them. The intelligence and law enforcement communities walk a fine line between respecting civil liberties and the need to gather information and track potential threats. And even so that line is often blurry.

Trading freedom for security rarely works. But some better procedures must be adopted for identifying and intervening with American citizens who are being seduced by evil influences. And that’s true not just for those drawn to radical Islam. Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine in a South Carolina church, also was radicalized via the internet.

The lack of easy solutions to dealing with home-grown terrorism is perhaps why both the right and left are rushing toward other answers that are opportunistic and often absurd.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s first response was a cliche attack on President Barack Obama for not using the phrase “Islamic terrorism” to describe acts of terror carried about by Islamists. That’s an ongoing frustration, but it is less important than the president’s lack of leadership in engaging and destroying ISIS in the Middle East.

The left immediately tried to twist this into a commentary on the Second Amendment and the religious right’s attitudes about homosexuality. It is not likely that Mateen, a Muslim and registered Democrat, was influenced by the views of social conservatives on gay marriage. He was a devotee of ISIS, which has posted videotapes of its executions of gays.

And the call to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, or as the left is now erroneously calling them, “weapons of war,” is a feel good answer that will not have any more impact than the last time it was tried.

Terrorists won’t be deterred from wreaking havoc by more gun control laws. The Tsarnaev brothers carried out their Boston Marathon carnage with a pressure cooker, killing three and injuring 264. The blame in Orlando lies with ISIS, not the National Rifle Association.

Nor is it likely Mateen was responding to the overheated political rhetoric of this election season. He appears to be a fanatic intent on destroying a country that too often seems hell bent on destroying itself.

The president had it right in saying what happened in Orlando “was an attack on all of us.”

It is a shame that we are allowing the horrific blow to feed into our divisions, when what we should be doing is uniting to find the right answers to the very difficult challenge of domestic terrorism.