In the early morning hours of June 12th, 2016, armed U.S. citizen Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding 53. Discussions surrounding the event fail to address the core issue underlying mass violence: identity.
Identity underlies the majority of ethnic and religious conflict. When an individual feels that their identity – a set of norms, values, beliefs, and customs that are intrinsically important to their sense of self and belonging – is threatened, a violent response is only natural. Identity analysis can pinpoint the dominant identity within an individual or community, possible causes of violence, and establish a new narrative designed to prevent conflict.
Identity drives human behavior and can be channeled to predict it as well.
Traditional “reactive” responses continue to drive counter-terrorism initiatives and dominate the media. They focus on the symptoms, not the causes, of mass violence. Analysis of core identities is a proactive approach that can help forecast seemingly “uncalled for” and “unpredictable” atrocities.
U.S. government profiling techniques fail to prevent mass violence because they are reactive. Current strategies rely on increasing amounts of technology to solve what is fundamentally a human issue. Profiling methods based on race, ethnicity, or religion have limited predictive power. Identity analysis provides the missing link.
The current system for tracking and profiling terror suspects makes it impossible to hold prospective terrorists without first obtaining guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is when suspects slip through the cracks, maintain their ability to purchase assault weapons, and are able to commit massacres like in Orlando.
Mateen has been described as a “lone wolf terrorist” as he is a U.S. citizen with no clear ties to ISIS. Yet, Mateen was known to the FBI, who investigated him in 2013 and 2014 concerning inflammatory extremist comments towards co-workers and ties to an American suicide bomber in Syria. Mateen was even placed on a terrorist watch list, but removed when the investigations were closed. Due to U.S. law, lack of incriminating evidence linking him directly to extremism, investigations surrounding Mateen were closed and he was able to legally buy firearms the week before the Orlando attack. Similarly, the FBI investigated the Tsarnaev brothers prior to the Boston Marathon bombings, yet were forced to remove them from watch lists due to lack of evidence. Today, there are over 900 open cases on suspected terrorists being conducted by the FBI.
Law enforcement and policymakers need to employ identity analysis in order to pinpoint and forecast the motivations and behaviors of potential perpetrators of mass violence. While it is impossible for outsiders to reason with or change an individual’s belief system, it is possible to predict their actions before they cause irreparable damage to human lives.