Awash With Guns
Heavily-armed freelance terrorist killers -- inspired by foreign extremists groups but not orchestrated by them -- like the one who struck Orlando last week and my community six months ago, represent a critical ongoing terror threat to America, but not the only one. As I testified before Congress in October 2015: "The United States faces multiple severe risk factors and a diverse set of emerging contemporary actors" with the most prominent being violent salafist jihadists, followed by domestic far right anti-government or bigoted extremists, with many of the worst now being active shooters.
Despite this, and a ruling yesterday by the Supreme Court not to overturn a Connecticut law restricting assault weapons, the Senate failed to move forward on four limited proposals involving access to firearms for those on terror watch lists. This availability of weaponry has not been lost on extremists.
Adam Gadahn, the deceased spokesman for Al Qaeda, another group the killer supported, exclaimed in 2011:
America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?
Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a champion of Second Amendment rights in upholding a personal right to firearms ownership against a total handgun ban in the case of D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) still ruled the government may impose reasonable restrictions:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose..... [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
Armed Freelance Terrorists Pose A Threat
As I wrote in the Huffington Post in 2010: "Lone wolf offenders in particular often self-radicalize from a volatile mix of personal distress, psychological issues, and an ideology that can be sculpted to justify and explain their anti-social leanings." Yet, despite red flags about the killer's behavior and instability from law enforcement, employers, and a gun store owner he was still able to buy a Sig Sauer MCX folding semi-automatic rifle used in the Orlando massacre.
Not all unstable hate freelancers with access to guns are primarily homophobes or salafist jihadists either. Exactly one year ago, Dylan Roof murdered nine innocent African-American worshippers at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina despite having a criminal record that should have prevented a firearm purchase. These attacks lie at the intersection of hate crime -- where a crime target is intentionally selected due to perceived group membership; and terrorism -- where symbolic threats and violence are used to intimidate populations for social or political goals.
Freelancers with firearms are not the only ones who represent an armed extremist threat to the homeland. Just this month, CIA Director Brennan testified that in addition to those inspired freelancers, "ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West." In addition, domestic armed militias grew by 34 percent to 276 last year according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. If that weren't enough we also have overheated domestic political divisions in an especially volatile election year to add to a truly diverse threat matrix.
Sources for Hate Likely Intertwined
Murky details have emerged that the Orlando killer, apparently led a deeply conflicted double life that may have led to his homophobic rampage. He was apparently a turbulent swirl of personal aggression and bigotry, intolerant fundamentalism; as well as being in a state of probable sexual identity conflict. All these fissures merged with an erratic relationship and employment history toward a trajectory of radicalization. While this radicalization emerged from a diverse, and sometimes conflicting, set of far flung extremist movements, including that of al Qaeda philosopher Anwar al-Awlaki; it culminated in his stated allegiance to ISIS. His violent threats and bigotry, however, extended further back into childhood where he jokingly mocked the 9/11 attack and threatened to bring a gun to school.
One of the more ironic twists to the horrendous anti-LGBT hate massacre in Orlando last week, the worst mass shooting in recent American history; is that the killer, who went to a gay bar and dating sites, would have been executed by ISIS- the very terror group who exploited his allegiance to them. In addition, ten countries, including Afghanistan where the shooter's parents emigrated from make homosexuality punishable by death.
Violent Homophobia Is A Logstanding Scourge in America
Unfortunately, homophobia is not only confined to foreign lands or extremists. As early as 1994 I testified before Congress that lesbians and gays were "subject to the highest levels of violence of all bias crime victims." And as Attorney General Loretta Lynch observed Sunday, this fact remains true today. The LGBT community in the United States has the highest per capita hate crime victimization rate of any group enumerated by the FBI.
The 999 anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2014 accounted for 18.2 percent of hate crime incidents according to the FBI, but the CDC estimates the percentage of LGB individuals in the United States at just 2.3 percent. In the United States, of the 141 hate motivated homicides enumerated by the FBI from 1999-2014, a total of 31 individuals were killed arising out of anti-LGBT bias.
Relying on unofficial self-reporting by victims and communities, a coalition of 13 regional anti-LGBT violence service organizations, reported 24 anti-LGBT bias homicides in 2015. That is highest number since 2011. Sixty-two percent of the self-reported homicide sample were people of color; while 67 percent of all anti-LGBT homicides were transgender or gender non-conforming people. Sixteen or 54 percent of this sample's homicide victims were transgendered people of color in 2015. Over the last decade the coalition's unofficial anti-LGBT bias homicide numbers totaled 226 and their bigotry was made in America. Of the 45 states and the District of Columbia that have hate crime laws, 30 cover sexual orientation and 15 cover transgender, as does the federal law.
Moreover, non-criminal bigotry against LGBT individuals is spouted from the pulpit. An imam with a record of justifying death for gay people recently spoke at the shooter's mosque. In Sacramento, Roger Jimenez, a Baptist preacher stated right after the massacre, his proposal of what the government should do with LGBT individuals: [R]ound them all up and put them up against a firing wall, and blow their brains out." A New York Rabbi contends, "a direct connection between earthquakes and homosexuality" to explain how God uses disasters to teach right from wrong.
Responding To Violent Hatreds From Different Sources
Three things are clear. First, we face a multi-dimensional armed extremism threat including both foreign and domestic actors, that include those inspired by fundamentalism, politics, and bigotry. Second, with most of these extremist attackers using firearms, we must undertake common sense restrictions to keep these weapons out of the hands of extremists, whether they be inspired freelancers, or even more ominous orchestrated killers deployed by organized groups. Third, the LGBT community has historically faced violence beyond those that are heavily armed and inspired by foreign terror groups. Local toughs armed with bigotry and an array of imprecise weapons prey on our fellow LGBT Americans as well.
The first places to move forward include enforcing existing measures, as well as ratify new ones, that further prevent no fly list designees, criminals and the mentally unstable from having easy access to the weapons of war. We must hire more federal agents to investigate bona fide terror suspects without placing whole faith communities under a lens of suspicion. Next, we must pass hate crime legislation in those 20 states that lack coverage for the LGBT community. Lastly, as the FBI data indicates, we must encourage states not meaningfully participating in data collection and enforcement efforts to do so. To do otherwise impermissibly places these rainbow children of God at further risk of victimization whether it comes from an inspired gun toting freelance terrorist, a hateful local assailant with a baseball bat or both.