On Sunday mornings, on our way to Highland Baptist Church in Junction City, KS, my family would drive past a Ryder Rent-a-Truck building. It was a unremarkable facility, housing the type of business that so easily blends unseen into the commercial background of a normal Midwestern town. On April 17, 1995 however, a customer stopped in to rent a 20-foot vehicle. He too was unremarkable. Caucasian. Irish name. Born in New York state. Former high school computer geek. Timothy McVeigh loaded up his rental with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, drove to Oklahoma City, and killed 168 people, injuring 684 more.
Timothy McVeigh, Caucasian terrorist, launched his attack from just a short radius from where I worshipped God, from where I went to Senior Prom, from where I served up Dairy Queen ice cream, from where I had my first kiss. Whenever I hear about a terrorist attack, like that of Omar Mateen who killed 50 people in Orlando on Sunday morning, I think about McVeigh and remember that terrorism is no import. We manufacture hatred domestically too. In fact, I remember that McVeigh launched his attack from just a short radius from where I made homophobic jokes about an effeminate classmate at Junction City High School, from where I secretly felt gratified when Muslim students got beat up at Kansas State University in 1979 at the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, from where I cursed in my heart the swagger of black classmates in the hallway. My heart had its own domestic industry.
If terrorism was an import, then we might be able to ban it. One of the first tweets from Donald Trump following reports from Orlando was: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” Later, he tweeted, “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.”
One of the problems that is emerging with the Orlando shooting is that there are too many frames. We all get to pick and choose the one with which we want to frame our reflections and frame the conversation. Is the Orlando shooting about radical Islam, about the immigration of Muslims, about homophobia, about gun control? Should it be about early mental health intervention? Should it be about parenting, since Omar Mateen was an American-born citizen but his father, Mir Siddique, we are learning, is a jihadist who has made violent pronouncements against homosexuality? With multiple frames from which to choose, one can choose the frame which is least likely to disturb one’s own perspective. For instance, Mateen was able to legally and easily obtain the type of firearm capable of killing that many people, but Donald Trump doesn’t want to talk about gun control; he wants to talk about his proposed ban on Muslims. I can sympathize with my friend who pointed out on Facebook (paraphrased): “You realize, don’t you, that for all his purported ISIS ties, Mateen wasn’t targeting Americans per se; he was targeting gays. Why can’t we talk about homophobia?” We can even bring a 2016 Election frame to the Orlando shooting. Responding publicly to mass shootings, as the 44th President has explicitly told us, is now part of the presidential job description, space kept open for scheduling on the White House calendar. How did the two candidates respond? What did they consider to be important in the moment?
Whenever there is a multiplicity of frames, it’s helpful to ask if there is a larger frame that somehow encompasses all of them. In this weekend’s case—not only the incident itself but also in the gun control/terrorism/immigration/2016 Election conversation that is emerging—I think that frame is hatred and violence toward the “Other.” Hatred and violence was and is expressed towards gays, towards Americans, towards Muslims, towards immigrants, towards others who differ from us politically. The frame is big enough to implicate all of us.
What did Timothy McVeigh fear and hate? Oklahomans? Day care centers? He hated Attorney General Janet Reno. He hated the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. He hated the US government. He wrote in a farewell letter to Steve Hodges, a childhood friend:
Those who betray or subvert the Constitution are guilty of sedition and/or treason, are domestic enemies and should and will be punished accordingly.
It also stands to reason that anyone who sympathizes with the enemy or gives aid or comfort to said enemy is likewise guilty. I have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic and I will. And I will because not only did I swear to, but I believe in what it stands for in every bit of my heart, soul and being. I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle, Steve. I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause. Blood will flow in the streets, Steve. Good vs. Evil. Free Men vs. Socialist Wannabe Slaves. Pray it is not your blood, my friend.
I recently heard an interview that Piers Morgan did with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on the subject of gun violence. Here’s an excerpt:
SHAPIRO: The basis for the Second Amendment is not really about self-defense and it's not about hunting. It is about resistance to government tyranny. That's what the founder said and that's what the right believes in this country.
MORGAN: Which tyranny are you fearing yourself?
SHAPIRO: I fear the possibility of a tyranny rising in this country in the next 50 to 100 years. Let me tell you something, Piers. The fact that my grandparents and great grandparents in Europe didn't fear that is why they're now ashes in Europe. So this kind of leftist revisionist history where there's never any fear of democracy going usurpatious or tyrannical is just that. It's fictitious.
Ben Shapiro prides himself on being the most articulate, hardest-driving defender of the Constitution out there. But add a little hatred and violence and how does his gun control argument keep from becoming Timothy McVeigh behind the wheel of a Ryder Truck? And wasn’t it the rightwing fascists and not the leftwing socialists who killed Shapiro’s family? Is a fundamentalist like Omar Mateen any different than a fundamentalist like Timothy McVeigh, just because one is Muslim and one isn’t? Both were born in New York and both moved south to do their killing. (I know where we need to build the wall.)
Donald Trump thinks that the Orlando shooting vindicates him in the campaign—“appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism”—and that it justifies his proposal to ban Muslims from our shores. But how is his ban “tough, vigilant, and smart,” while the banning of automatic weapons is draconian, a trampling of the Constitution?
Making America “Indo-European” Again, that is. . .
Making America “of or relating to a hypothetical ethnic type illustrated by or descended from early speakers of Indo-European languages” Again, that is. . .
Making America “Nordic” Again, that is. . .
Making American Aryan Again.
Bah, fascism! I’m sick of it. I despise it in myself. Why would I vote for it in the presidential election just because it dresses itself up as national security, immigration policy, and second amendment rights?