Orlando Shooter Watched Online Extremist Propaganda, Authorities Say
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene in Orlando, Fla., where the FBI is investigating the life of a man who opened fire on patrons at a gay nightclub here early Sunday morning. Law enforcement officials say it is increasingly clear that 29-year-old Omar Mateen had watched a great deal of extremist propaganda on the internet. But it appears this was just not a simple case of radicalization. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story and joins us on the line from New York. Dina, good morning.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So what is the latest here? Paint a picture of what investigators know at this point.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we're learning more about the shooter's movements in the days and weeks before the attack. Witnesses interviewed by investigators have said that Omar Mateen was a regular at the Pulse nightclub. And according to authorities who've talked to the witnesses, the witnesses say Mateen was there to meet men. There've been some reports that he was also on a gay dating and hookup app called Grindr. I understand that investigators are talking to that company.
But I should say that while investigators are following up on those leads, they haven't ruled out the possibility that Mateen may have been casing the club before the attacks and that's why people saw him there. And investigators wouldn't say whether they had spoken to someone in the community who had actually had a date or relationship with Mateen. But that's clearly one avenue of investigation that they're pursuing.
GREENE: You know, Dina, so interesting in cases like this - I mean, even as the investigation goes on, people begin to internalize things as they're learning details, sort of internalize in their own way. I want you to stay with me if you don't mind because I want to tell you about last night. This discussion about Omar Mateen is really on the minds of people here in Orlando. And that included at Parliament House, this gay club and resort where it was karaoke night last night.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing unintelligibly).
GREENE: And as that man was singing, I was watching this other young man in a red T-shirt. He had a shaved head. And he was right next to the bar. He was crying. He was hugging the bartender. And we chatted with him outside in the courtyard a few minutes later.
JASON SCHWARTZ: The reason why there was a lot of emotion there and a lot of the hugging going on is because I'm actually in the Army. And I got back from a deployment overseas, you know, he's one of my friends that kind of got me through the rough times in the deployment. And then, you know, we get back and then this happens here and to our community.
GREENE: So his name's Jason Schwartz (ph), and he was serving in the Army in the Horn of Africa, places like Yemen and elsewhere. And before he returned home on Saturday - so he got home on Saturday and just began celebrating being home. And then comes this attack on his community.
SCHWARTZ: You know, in the military, we're kind of known for making some, you know, less than appropriate jokes or whatever. But the one that kind of stuck with me was, you know, wow, we just got back from a war zone, and it's safer there than it is here for a gay man.
GREENE: Now, the story of Omar Mateen, the killer - I mean, Jason has been hearing all of the news and the details. And he's been thinking about this a lot.
SCHWARTZ: I remember growing up. And I remember, you know, realizing that I was different and realizing that I was wrong and realizing that I was bad. And, you know, that's what society tells you. And that's what religion tells you. And that's what the world tells you.
And I remember knowing that there was nothing that I could do about it. And I would try. I would try to date women. I would try to be with women. And it didn't work. I couldn't do it. It wasn't what I wanted. And I wasn't doing the right thing to those - for those women. I couldn't love them the way they deserved to be loved, you know. And I remember hating myself. And it doesn't surprise me that there's somebody out there who hated himself so much that he was driven to reject it violently. Don't get me wrong. It's wrong. It's horrible.
GREENE: I just - it's so - it almost gives me chills to hear you talk - to find some empathy in someone who committed something so heinous. But that must be something that...
SCHWARTZ: Yeah. So I struggle with that too, right?
GREENE: ...A lot of people are going through.
SCHWARTZ: Because I don't want to feel empathy towards him. It would be very easy for me to say this man was evil. This man was a demon. It would be very easy to do that. But we'll never be able to know his true motivation, right? He's dead.
GREENE: If he was at bars like this and it could lead to something so tragic and horrible, does that change the way you sort of think when you're out enjoying yourself at bars like this?
SCHWARTZ: I don't think it can - I think every, you know, person who is going to a gay bar in the city of Orlando or anywhere in the world right now, you know, is, for a moment, stopping and - I mean, we thought about it when we were driving here tonight. But you dismiss it, right? Because, I mean, for generations, the gay community has really only had, you know, bars and the nightlife as a safe space for us to be ourselves. And I don't think that we're ready to let one person take that away from us.
GREENE: All right. That was the voice of Jason Schwartz, a soldier in the Army who I was speaking to last night at a gay club, Parliament House, here in Orlando. It's a place where, shortly after the attacks, the LGBT community gathered and just had a pulsating night to sort of demonstrate to the world that they were not going to be deterred and turned away by such a violent thing at Pulse.
I'm with NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston on the line. And Dina, you know, one reaction there from a young man I met. But I guess it's really important to keep stressing that we don't know a lot about Omar Mateen yet. We don't even know if he was indeed gay.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. That hasn't been confirmed. And I'm not even sure that investigators really know that yet. What we do think we understand from what investigators have uncovered so far is that Mateen may have been struggling with his sexuality. The sources we talked to wouldn't confirm that he was on gay dating apps. But they did say that they had uncovered evidence that suggests he was having sexuality issues.
And frankly, from a counterterrorism perspective, this wouldn't be unusual. Sexuality has played a huge role in radicalization cases in the past. Many of the young men, for example, in this country who've been caught trying to leave for Syria to join ISIS have told authorities that part of their motivation was sex. I mean, ISIS promises you a wife and almost more importantly, an islamically permissible way to have sex. Even going back a little further, al-Qaida tended to attract people who were found to be struggling with their sexuality.
Just as a quick example, there was a North Carolina al-Qaida member named Samir Khan. I did a story on him years ago. And...
GREENE: Yeah, I remember that.
TEMPLE-RASTON: ...One of - yeah. One of his spiritual counselors had told me that he had developed a stutter as he had entered puberty. He told me he thought Samir Khan was having trouble being around girls in a regular high school. And he would look at them and thought every time he had an impure thought, which is basically a natural, red-blooded young American's thought, he was sinning against God. Samir Kahn ended up starting al-Qaida's magazine Inspire - the al-Qaida in Yemen magazine Inspire. Because he just couldn't handle this, he left the United States and went to Yemen.
GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thanks so much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.