Guest View: The Role of Righteousness in Orlando Shooting and Others
(Kathleen LaTosch, June 15, 2016)
“We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer.”
“It’s a hate crime and an act of terror.”
“We need tougher gun laws.”
“We need more help for the mentally ill.”
We are here again. Another mass murder in the United States – the country with the highest number of mass shooting events in the world. While we don’t have the highest per capita of mass shootings (11th internationally), we do have the highest number of mass shooting events of any country. From 2010-2016, the U.S. had 21 mass shooting events; France was the next runner up with six.
In a Washington Post report, from 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings took place in the U.S. This is according to a 2016 study that used the FBI definition of ‘mass shooting’. It surveyed 292 incidents and found 90 of them occurred in America. Put another way: While the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, we had 31% of all public mass shootings.
Yes, Orlando was a hate crime. As a bisexual woman married to another woman, I’m well aware of the prejudice that exists in today’s society. While as a white, feminine woman, I don’t experience the level of hostility as many others, I’ve heard it, read it, felt it. But my trans brothers and sisters of color face the worst. Twenty two transgender men and women were killed in 2015 – nearly all were people of color and most were killed in brutal ways, one-by-one. This is real and the fear and pain of this is something many of my LGBT community members live with every day. This most recent horrific event, which killed mostly LGBTQ young people of color, weighs like a heavy stone on the heart.
But what did Orlando have in common with the rest of our mass shootings? Experts immediately psychoanalyze the murderer and the shooter gets painted as a renegade solo murderer, deranged and socially inept, a mad man. But these shooters are not crazy.
They are angry men (only three have been women and one of those acted in partnership with her husband); men bent on revenge with a desire to prove something to the world – it shows up in their own words. They have a power complex deeply rooted in their own beliefs about who and what is moral and immoral, right and wrong.
Consider some of our recent incidents:
In Isla Vista, CA (2014), a 22 year old man was quoted as saying in a self-recorded video, “I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am in truth the superior one, the true alpha male,” the man says on the video, sitting in a car. On the six-minute video, the young man talks about feeling alienated and rejected by women.” He targeted sorority women.
In Rosebury, OR (2015), a 26 year old white man was known by community members as an anti-religion, white supremacist. He targeted students at a local community college.
Charleston, NC (2015), a 28 year old white man later confessed he had hoped to reignite a race war. He targeted one of the country’s historic black churches.
Chattanooga, TN (2015), 24 year old Kuwait man wrote in his diary, “Don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to Allah may pass you by.” He targeted Americans.
Colorado Springs, CO (2015), a 57 year old white man, a self-professed anti-abortionist. He targeted an abortion clinic.
San Bernadino, CA (2015), a U.S. born married couple with possible fundamental Islamic ties. They targeted the husband’s workplace.
Orlando, FL (2016), a 29 year old American-born man who hated gays and claimed an attack rooted in ISIS beliefs. He targeted a gay night club.
All of these events are founded on a deep hatred of an entire group of people – be it based on gender, race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation, combined with a sense of righteousness.
And they are righteous. They are so sure they are right, that their actions are justified, even sanctioned, sometimes by a higher power in their minds.
There is no mystery here. This is the root. Yes, we know it’s complicated – gun availability and mental illness both play a role in the severity of each event. But at its root, it’s an, “I’ll show you!” righteousness. It’s a mindset that is born in pain and trauma – probably when the attackers were growing up, festered into resentment and anger, then exploded as justified violence (in the murderer’s mind). We see it at the individual level every day – in cruel acts committed against women, people of color, religious groups, LGBT people, and many others. This is the same thing, on steroids.
And it’s getting worse – pushed along with and by the polarization of rhetoric in our country. We created these people. With one exception, all of the above were born and raised in the United States. We created these people. We created these mindsets where violent actions are not just okay, but justified by the attacker, and justified by stereotyping entire groups of people.
I could have been in that Orlando nightclub, or any one of my many LGBTQ friends. I could be one of the grieving parents of Sandy Hook right now – so could you. I could have lost a friend at the Charleston church, or maybe you did. I could have lost a sibling at Virginia Tech. We could all be those people and we must all ensure that we do what’s needed to prevent a new generation of mass shooters from being created.
We must work to temper the righteousness that is so strong in this country. People are so certain that their experience is the one and only true experience – that they have the answer and everyone else is wrong. It cuts across all lines – political, religious, gender, economic, geographic. It happens within groups, Democrat vs. Democrat, Republican vs Republican, neighbor vs. neighbor. Our society is a judgmental one that is quick to point the finger and slow to thoughtfully consider. As a colleague often says, “we don’t live in a feedback-rich culture.” We’re not self-aware, we don’t create opportunities to become self-aware or to learn about others’ experiences and perspectives. We are hundreds of subcultures that exist in nearly walled separation, living in our “bubbles.”
It’s time for a change. It’s time to seek to understand before judging, to ask before preaching, to listen before speaking.
There is abundant research now that clearly shows that we all have biases. The good news is that the research also shows there are evidence-based ways to reduce our bias. It’s time to start practicing those strategies – like pausing on that reactionary Facebook post and instead asking a sincere question about someone else’s viewpoint. Like meeting someone who is transgender and learning a little bit about what life is like when walking in their shoes. Like spending time with Muslims in the United States, to learn about Islam and their experience. Like talking to your children about racism instead of being silent – even if you don’t know what to say, something is better than nothing.
Like talking to your boys about what being powerful looks like.
It’s time for a change and it’s up to all of us to make that change.
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations. She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011. While there, she led a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative. For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com
Guest View: The Role of Righteousness in Orlando Shooting and Others