02 October 2017

What happened in Vegas (updated)

In Las Vegas, a person tentatively identified as a 64 year man --at least one news network says that he was white -- took a room on the 32nd floor the Mandalay Bay casino. He set up a shooter's nest overlooking an outdoor concert venue about three football fields away, by the popular measure, where a country music festival was taking place. During Jason Aldean's performance, the distant spectator opened fire on a crowd of thousands of people. According to this morning's news, he killed at least fifty people, while more than 200 others  were either wounded by him or injured during the rush to escape the killbox. As usual, it remains unclear whether the suspect, whose name has been reported, was killed by police, who apparently identified his room by a smoke alarm, or killed himself. It is known that he was able to monitor the arrival of the police at the casino, and everything else indicates a thoroughly premeditated mass murder.

Investigators describe the shooter as a "lone wolf" but are eager to learn what his "ideology" was. They may be giving too much credit to the concept of ideology, now that we expect people to be "radicalized" and effectively weaponized by the Internet and social media. If modern American history has shown us anything, it's that many of us are perfectly capable of motivating ourselves to commit atrocities, though it might be argued that a defining American ideology of entitlement to kill enables even those killers of divergent or contradictory partisan ideologies. The public will want to know whether the shooter had an ideology in order to confirm their own prejudices or ideological biases, though at this time the massacre (or amoklauf) doesn't look like the work of a Muslim or (considering the target) a white supremacist. Some will see it as simply another occasion to remind the public of the pressing need for more effective gun control, though last night's crime raises more sweeping questions about the security of public gatherings within view (and range) of tall buildings. Others would prefer that no one "politicize" the incident, but the general threat to public safety implicit in every such slaughter seems an ideal subject for Democratic discussion. To decry politicization is to politicize it a second time, in a more partisan fashion, and nothing we learn about the shooter's motives  will change that.

Update: An Islamic State news service claims that the shooter -- whom a photo (if authentic) confirms to be white -- recently converted to Islam. While many reports are quick to note that the terrorists have offered no proof of their claim, I wonder whether they would make a claim that might be easily disproved. In any event, the Caliphate wants us to believe that the killer was Muslim. One knee-jerk interpretation of that would be that they want to provoke a Trumpian crackdown on American Muslims, or more general anti-Muslim violence, in order to radicalize the Muslim population. It may simply be that they want to show that their reach into people's minds is undiminished by Daesh's recent territorial losses in Syria and Iraq. More definite answers may come from the woman described as the shooter's companion, though the most recent reports indicate that she is currently in the Philippines. Meanwhile, depending on your news source, the number of people wounded/injured last night may be as high as 400. More updates later.

3 p.m. Without any opinion trail to follow as yet, there's some speculation that the shooter was a leftist of some sort. The sole basis for such speculation so far is the choice of target, a country music concert. That country music fans are the victims of prejudice is borne out by a Facebook post today from a legal executive at CBS who was fired this afternoon for withholding sympathy for the Vegas victims on the ground that "country music fans often are Republican gun toters." The terrible thing about that is that the executive didn't even say that all fans are that way, but judged "guilty" and "innocent" alike equally unworthy of sympathy. Country music is equated with political conservatism mainly because its fan base is presumed rural or simply "redneck," and because some critics may know little country music other than "Okie From Muskogie" or similar provocations that get mainstream publicity. But from Willie Nelson to Steve Earle -- and one could go further back if you want to include Woody Guthrie in the country tradition -- leftist views often have found expression in the country idiom. A national discussion about tastes in music would seem to be in order along with any further discussion about guns. The shooter's politics remain unknown as I write, but people have noted that his demographic profile (sixtysomething white guy) matches that of the attempted assassin of several Republican congressmen on a baseball diamond earlier this year. Beyond that, I'm reluctant to speculate about someone who appears, in the photo circulating with many news stories today, to be nothing more than a drunk. His harmless appearance has fueled some creative speculation that he may have been no more than a dupe or hostage (and victim) of whoever the real killers were. That sort of speculation is predictable when a mass murderer fails to fit a preferred profile and people in general prefer not to think about what made that person a mass murderer.

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