Conservatives are blasting Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision not to release ISIS-related statements made by the shooter who massacred 49 people at a gay nightclub last Sunday, accusing her of trying to obscure the role of “radical Islam” — even though the shooter’s ISIS pledge doesn’t appear to make any sense.
On Sunday, Lynch announced the FBI will release partial transcripts of phone conservations between the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen and authorities recorded during the rampage, but that references he made to ISIS and other militant groups would be edited out to avoid “further[ing] his propaganda.” Although the redactions appear to be minimal, conservatives were quick to express outrage, with Ric Grenell, a Fox News contributor and former aid to UN Ambassador John Bolton, calling it “a PR move.” Similarly, Mollie Hemingway, writing for the Federalist, referred to it as “the latest in a series of efforts by the Obama administration to downplay ISIS terrorism and other radical Islamist terrorism.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) also derided the decision, implying that obscuring the shooter’s ISIS pledge was an affront to the shooting victims.
The shooter’s supposed pledge of allegiance doesn’t actually make any sense, because at least two of the groups he claims are actively fighting each other.
“This seems like another example of not focusing on the evil here,” Scott said. “It’s evil, it’s ISIS. It’s radical Islam. At some point … we need a president who says ‘I care about destroying ISIS.’ I want a focus on how do we get rid of ISIS. How do we stop this. How do we stop radical Islam.”
“It appears they don’t want to talk about that ISIS was involved,” he added. “It’s clearly ISIS-inspired. It’s clearly the result of evil, radical islam. We have to call this for what it is.”
It is true the Orlando shooter reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS during his conversations with authorities, when he also claimed concurrence with the extremist ideology of the two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013. According FBI Director James Comey, the shooter then voiced solidarity with a Florida man who fled to Syria to fight with the al-Nusra Front — a militant group that, like ISIS, claims Islam as their inspiration — where he later died as a suicide bomber. To hear conservatives politicians tell it, the details of this litany of extremist affiliations is important, because naming the various forms of “radical Islam” will supposedly help the United States combat extremism.
But there’s just one tiny problem: the shooter’s supposed pledge of allegiance doesn’t actually make any sense, because at least two of the groups he claims are actively fighting each other.
To be fair, the web of organizations fighting in Syria has always been confusing, so perhaps Gov. Scott and others can be forgiven for failing to understand who is fighting whom. But that doesn’t change the fact that the al-Nusra Front, which the shooter claimed a connection with, is actively fighting ISIS in the Middle East, where the two have been shooting at each other for roughly three years. Al-Nusra was once part of ISIS, as the groups were both originally expressions of al-Qaeda in the Iraq-Syria region. But they split in 2013 when ISIS claimed al-Nusra’s soldiers as their own, a merger many al-Qaeda leaders refused to recognize. The result was a series of assassinations and open battles that left hundreds dead, leading al-Nusra’s leader to proclaim in 2015, “There is no solution between us and them in the meantime, or in the foreseeable future … We hope they repent to God and return to their senses … if not, then there is nothing but fighting between us.”
And as Adam Taylor explained last week over at the Washington Post, the Orlando shooter’s affiliations were confusing even before he opened fire on innocent LGBT people. He reportedly also claimed to be a member of Hezbollah in 2013, a militia based in Lebanon that is not only Shiite — a form of Islam whose devotees ISIS has murdered en masse during its campaign of terror — but whose leaders have openly condemned ISIS as a “monster.” Hezbollah fighters have also supported the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, meaning they are in direct conflict with both ISIS and al-Nusra.
The shooter’s apparent vacuum of understanding regarding his own allegiances implies that his connection to ISIS was tenuous at best, despite how fervently he claimed allegiance to the organization. As FBI investigator Ronald Hopper told reporters while unveiling the transcripts on Monday, the terrorist’s support for ISIS was, like the tragedy itself, largely nonsensical.
“We currently have no evidence that he was directed by a foreign terrorist group, but was radicalized domestically,” Hopper said.