According to Me: Sorting out Orlando

“Pay no attention to the truth behind the curtain. This is not what you think it is.”

Or so the narrative continues to be shaped and re-shaped and poked and prodded into politically digestible bits that stop short of offending particular ideologies and agendas.

“Pay no attention to the facts of the situation. Only listen to what the appropriately authorized talking heads present as truth.”

In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred at an Orlando nightclub over the weekend, the rhetoric matrix into which we are all plugged has been spinning relentlessly in an effort to find a medium that is comfortable for some faceless majority.

On the one hand, there are dozens of victims who were in attendance at a gay nightclub. That’s easy to spin. And there was a shooter who used a high-powered weapon. That also fits comfortably into an agenda. But the shooter was Muslim and claimed to be an emissary of the ISIS ideology prior to his attack. That doesn’t so easily fit onto one side of the political spectrum. Rather it is fuel for the arguments of the other side.

So here we are. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what “the issue” is. And they’ve all appropriately turned to their respective social media accounts to voice their feelings on the matter and add to the overwhelming noise that obligatorily follows incidents of such magnitude.

When President Obama addressed the matter publicly, he would offer not a breath to the notion that this act was somehow related to ISIS. Accordingly, plenty of Americans have followed suit with their varying declarations that this is about the LGBT community or that it is about gun control.

Further muddying the tempestuous waters of one of the most significant American tragedies in recent history is the video posted by The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets of the shooter’s ex-wife Sitora Yusufiy. Among other sound bites, she offers, “A few months after we were married, I saw his instability and I saw that he was bipolar and he would get mad out of nowhere.”

So the rhetoric matrix has now spun into another direction, averting the weary eyes of cowering onlookers away from the gunman’s self-professed motivations of ISIS affiliation and to the easily stigmatized world of mental illness. And, accordingly, individuals have already started returning to their social media platforms to plug this new information into their agenda and point the finger at the weakness of gun control laws and how persons with mental illness should not be able to access guns.

Amid all of this crosstalk, it is important that the facts be taken into account.

  • A gunman shot dozens of people at an Orlando nightclub.
  • A gunman shot dozens of people at an Orlando gay nightclub.
  • A gunman who claims affiliation with ISIS shot dozens of people at an Orlando gay nightclub.
  • A gunman who claims affiliation with ISIS and whose wife says he has a history of aggression and mental illness shot dozens of people at an Orlando gay nightclub.

All of those facts are verifiable based on the information already floating in the media except for one: the shooter’s alleged mental illness.

We have a tendency in this society to hear things and quickly shove them into whatever box we need them to fit. In this case, a lot of people NEED this to be about the gunman’s mental illness. That means the issue is gun control. That problem can, theoretically, be legislated away. ISIS? That can’t be legislated away.

But nobody seems to be focused on the fact that Sitora Yusufiy did not in any way say that Omar Mateen had been diagnosed with a mental illness. Rather, what she indicated is this:

  • She saw his instability.
  • She calls him bipolar.
  • She said he would get mad out of nowhere.

None of that can be extrapolated to say that Omar Mateen suffered from Bipolar disorder, which is an actual diagnosis in the DSM-5 that describes a condition from which countless individuals suffer. And it is a diagnosis that, by and large, looks nothing like the colloquial usage of the label “bipolar” people tend to haphazardly slap upon individuals whose mood changes are incomprehensible to the onlooker.

Thus far, no one seems to be looking at the facts plainly. Yusufiy wants to point to a mental illness as the reasons for Mateen’s attack even though Mateen himself pointed to ISIS ideology as his inspiration.

So Facebook is abuzz with people who are exclaiming, “This man had bipolar disorder and was able to get a gun! How can that be?!”

But here are some facts that require just a little bit of thought in order to gain understanding.

  • Bipolar disorder is not commonly associated with acts of explosive violence. Radical Islam has proven to be associated with acts of explosive violence.
  • Bipolar disorder is not commonly associated with extreme and persistent domestic abuse (as Yusufiy reports she suffered). Radical Islam is associated with extreme and persistent violence toward women.
  • Research indicates that as many as 5.7 million American adults suffer from Bipolar disorder in a given year. Yet 5.7 million people are not committing heinous acts of violence resulting in mass casualties.

But pay no attention to the facts behind the curtain. Keep lighting up your social media feeds with your opinion that is certainly well-informed and the voicing of which is clearly serving to solve “the real problem.” There’s no need to demand transparency and action from the leaders of your government. And it’s okay if you’re not comfortable with the idea that some people do evil things for evil reasons that they don’t even realize are evil reasons. You don’t have to come to grips with that fact. Just pick an agenda through which to process this and get back to your cat videos. The countless families affected by this tragedy and the imagery associated therewith will be off your news feeds soon.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He is indignant that society prioritizes politics over people. His column, According to Me, appears periodically on