I had the day off from work on Monday and was off doing things both Sunday and Monday that required real-world presence, so I didn’t get online at all those two days. Which gave me a fortunate and welcome breather from the partisan, ideologized, social media shitstorm that is now our national reaction to any major event. I was still aware enough that along with the tragedy in Orlando there was another, unrelated, arrest in Southern California, and that the Lieutenant Governor of Texas had said something that seemed outrageously upsetting as well.
So I was all prepared Tuesday morning to post something about how I stood with people who celebrate love and diversity, against those like the Orlando ISIL groupie, Southern California extremist and Texas Lieutenant Governor who oppose it.
Before I posted, I thought to look up the latest on James Wesley Howell, the man arrested in Santa Monica on Sunday on his way to a West Hollywood pride celebration with a car-full of guns and explosives. I learned that current indications are that he had a history of dating men and women, his social media indicated no animosity to the gay community, and he had not, as early coverage indicated, stated to police that he planned to do something at the Pride event.
Now, homeboy was rolling into town from Indiana with a prior gun-related charge, some heavy-duty weapons in his car, and explosives that were primed in a way that police can’t fathom there’s some innocent explanation for. So he was clearly a danger in some fashion, and there’s probably more to be revealed here. But one thing he is not, by currently-available evidence, is the kind of Christian/Conservative home-grown terrorist I had originally pictured.
With Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, I unfortunately didn’t look further into the story before posting. And I should have. His post Sunday morning of a Bible verse about sowing what one reaps turned out to have nothing to do with Orlando. It was something that had been pre-programmed days before to post at 7 AM that morning, oblivious to any news item. As soon as the unfortunate timing became apparent, it was removed, and his office released a statement of outrage and shock at the shooting, and a new verse was posted offering comfort in times of trouble.
When things like the Orlando tragedy happen, I can get very reactive (actually mostly numb with grief, with a sprinkle of outraged and reactive). And one can easily understand why, based on the last two decades of American public life, I could have thought that a self-righteous official was using the tragedy to moralize at the Gay community’s expense instead of sympathize. You don’t have to dig very far into coverage to find people doing just that. But Lt. Governor Patrick was doing no such thing, and I should have looked before I leaped.
The motive for the shooting itself is turning out to be equally complicated. Once I heard the confirmation that the shooter had pledge support to ISIL in his 911 call, the shooting arranged itself immediately into a narrative about Islamic Fundamentalist-inspired terror in my head, with a generous heaping of homophobia on the side. In fact, there is an emerging body of evidence that indicates the shooter may have been gay, or at least struggling with his sexuality in some fashion. You’ll also find stories indicating that he mentioned three different inspirations inspirations in his 911 call, two of which (ISIL and a Syrian suicide bomber) are actually enemies of each other. And, while he had no particular interest in religion for much of his life, he did have a history of domestic abuse, possible shooting threats as a youth, and quarrels with a coworker during which he spouted invective against all kinds of social groups.
So it may well be that this was an extremely angry and troubled man who glommed on to a pastiche of Islamic radicalism to justify his lashing out at the world, rather than a religious fanatic whose fanaticism led him to violence. And that the animus toward the gay community may have been, much more primarily than religiously inspired, inspired by an internalized homophobia. Or not. Much more will be revealed here too. What we can say is that the real picture may turn out to be much more complicated than the initial picture that I, and many other, people formed.
All of this is a reminder to me that major events are almost always more complicated than they seem at first. Whatever our prejudices, Left or Right, Secular or Religious, may be, the real story is unlikely to be something that fits neatly into them. And so I continue, a little more humble than before.
And I still stand with people who celebrate love and diversity. Because what else can get us through such a complicated world?