GERARD HOWLIN: There will always be maniacs but the US chooses to put the means of perpetration within easy reach

People hold up candles against a rainbow lit backdrop during a vigil. Picture: AP/David Goldman

No state can always protect its people from acts of evil mania. But the US chooses to put the means of perpetration within easy reach, writes Gerard Howlin

WHAT happened in an Orlando nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning was a matter of choice. One was a choice made by the gunman, Omar Mateen.

Another was the choice made by much of the American political class, allowing people generally, and people who are disturbed or mentally ill especially, ready access to high-powered automatic weapons. Calamities are an inevitable outcome. Unquestionably, the causes of the event were multi-layered, and many of those layers are still unfolding.

No state can always protect its people from acts of evil mania. But the United States chooses, as a policy, to put the means of perpetration within easy reach. It is astonishing to see politicians espousing sympathy for the victims and calling for prayer, while accepting donations from the extraordinarily powerful National Rifle Association or NRA.

The Republican leader of the US senate, Mitch McConnell, received $922,000 (€822,753) from the NRA in his re-election campaign. Unsurprisingly, his speech on the senate floor, which was strong on condemnation and sympathy, didn’t mention guns, just Isis.

If Mateen had survived his own murderous rampage, he would have likely faced multiple charges, including charges of hate crimes under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The killing of Matthew Shepard in 1998, was a horrific anti-gay hate crime. Pistol whipped, tied to a fence, set on fire — Isis style — and left to die in freezing conditions in Wyoming, where the category of hate crime did not apply because he was gay.

James Byrd Jr, a black man, was beaten by three white men who chained him to the back of their truck by his ankles and dragged him for more than three miles along an asphalt road. His headless torso was subsequently found.

Byrd had graduated with the last racially-segregated class in his High School, in 1967. He lived long enough to know that hate endures, even after laws change.

His racially inspired murder in Texas took place in the same year as Shepard’s in Wyoming. McConnell, and regrettably many others also, voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Laws cannot prevent evil, but they can call it what it is and over time they can shape culture. McConnell & Co were quick to call out Isis — the better not to have to name the NRA.

Mateen was a man who, according to work colleagues, was given to verbal tirades against black people, women, Jews and gays. He also previously frequented the gay nightclub he chose to commit his atrocity in. His former wife says he beat her and was ‘bi-polar’.

What is clear, is that he was an inadequate, mixed-up angry man who somehow found in Isis and its ideology a permission to carry to extreme lengths behaviour patterns that were clearly embedded.

What he found in Florida, where I lived years ago, is a state with one of the slackest gun control regimes in a country where guns are out of control. That is the considered view of the President of the United States on American gun control laws.

Mateen, when he wasn’t himself in gay nightclubs or on gay dating apps, may have been religiously radicalised. This dichotomy is not a new phenomenon, indeed it is a very old story. Part of repression is inculcating shame and mixing it with the hope that religion if more feverishly practised, will ultimately alleviate it.

If the remedy fails in this world, there is hope in the next. An inward journey of faith can be a very beautiful voyage, but an extreme course, for an unbalanced person, can be catastrophic.

Isil, is an evil in the world. What it does and stands for is abomination. We thought, at least in the West, that reason and enlightenment had outpaced the superstition of evil, but no. It exits. It burst out into the open last Sunday in Florida. The rush to claim what happened as an act of terrorism per se, may be premature. Isil is a convenient distraction, in the US at least, from issues it will not or cannot confront itself.

We should remember the role of the Homintern in subverting and corrupting America. Conceived as an ‘in’ joke in gay art circles in the 1930s and a play on the communist Comintern, an abbreviation for the communist international, it was turned with deadly effect on an already oppressed gay community.

In the world view of Senator Joe McCarthy, ‘queers’, like communists, were everywhere, and they were to be exposed and rooted out. The nonsense gained such traction that Time magazine was still recycling it in the 1960s. So much for respected sources of information.

Now, in Donald Trump, Joe McCarthy has at last found a worthy successor. Muslims are the new bogeymen, to be kept out en masse.

There is little comfort, and much to fear from Trump and all he stands for — for gays, women, Jews or blacks. McConnell and his ilk stand for little enough and conspicuously failed to stand up to Trump within their own party. They are quintessential followers of the crowd and appeasers of its sentiments.

Over a generation they paved the way for a Trump, and now that he has arrived, he will devour them. Trump, unlike the republicans who allowed for his political creation, is a leader, albeit in the mode of McCarthy. The challenge in the face of atrocity, is not to be rushed into precipitous actions or conclusions.

The tragedy of those who have died, who are wounded, some maimed bodily for life, others psychologically, and for all who mourn them, is that they will be calcified into totems, that are then used to serve pre-existing interests and ends.

A free society cannot navigate its future based on bias or fear. Everything cannot be aggregated into a single, simple cause. The origins of Isis itself are deeply complex. The exact circumstances of what happened in the Pulse nightclub are equally so. Some causes and circumstances may overlap, but for now, we cannot say more than that.

It’s a long time ago but I remember the nightclub I worked in at in Fort Lauderdale at 2.30 in the morning. It was throbbing, packed, full of people in full swing. Sweat and noise and the boom, boom, boom of the music from loudspeakers, as lights overhead flashed — it was full-on. People were high on life, looking good and it seemed it would go on and on. Of course it didn’t.

The music stopped, the lights went up, and people didn’t look quite so good. The crowds went home, some together, others alone. But life went on. In Orlando life is over for many. That fact requires truthful consideration, as a mark of respect.

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