The Orlando Pulse nightclub attack

Following the most lethal terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, I will set law and policy aside for this post.

Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Fla., known to the FBI as an Islamic State sympathizer and twice the subject of previous investigations, entered Orlando gay nightclub Pulse around 2 a.m. Sunday morning heavily armed and killed 50 persons after taking hostages. Authorities called his attack “well organized and well prepared”; Mateen had firearms training and according to reports had been scoping out gay clubs in the area before the attack.

As in two earlier attacks on American soil — those against a cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas, and in San Bernardino, California — Mateen used contemporaneous public media (in this case, a 911 call) to pledge his allegiance to the leadership of Islamic State. As Rukmini Callimachi notes in today’s New York Times, this follows a protocol announced by Islamic State for independent fighters acting in sympathy with IS. A few hours later an Islamic State news agency hailed Mateen as an IS fighter, effectively accepting his pledge of allegiance.

The group’s head has urged followers in the West to act without prompting or coordination, selecting targets and employing attack methods in line with instructions published by IS. For example, IS has recommended capturing hostages and holding them in a sealed off space, which makes it likely that a prolonged siege situation will develop for maximum media interest, and that the attacker will die in an eventual police operation, reducing the likelihood of intelligence debriefing following a capture. As at the Bataclan in Paris, the passage of a long period before police rescue arrives tends to augur poorly for victims’ chances of survival.

The instructions-for-lone-wolves model is intended precisely to obviate the need for IS to know of or direct its supporters’ actions in advance. “The fact that there is no link back to the core is *by design* and is intended to protect the organization in an age of surveillance,” writes Callimachi on Twitter.

If you weren’t thinking of Gay Pride Month in a major American tourism city as a likely target for murderous jihadist attack, you should be. As Karol Markowicz writes on Twitter, “Just like it wasn’t a random ‘bunch of folks in a deli in Paris’, let’s not pretend it was a random bunch of folks in a club in Orlando.” If you’re gay, Islamic State’s ideology wants to kill you, even more than it wants to kill unbelieving Westerners in general. For us in America after today, that’s no longer the stuff of distant headlines.

More: I’ve set down some thoughts at Ricochet.


  • Actually, “law and policy” are central to understanding this event (and the copycats that will follow).

    First, Mateen cased a number of LGBT bars. In Florida, firearms are prohibited in all bars. Mateen was, thus, looking for a venue full of defenseless sheepeople. Not all LGBT persons are sheepeople. Many are skilled in the use of firearms and self-defense, and are leaders. But, with a dance club at closing, during Gay Pride Month, Mateen was clearly looking for a place where he could shoot, re-load, shoot, re-load, shoot, and take hostages who wouldn’t resist. He found that at Pulse. At 2 AM, he only had to surprise and get past one armed guard (who was probably tired) outside, and he did.

    Second, is lack of training in dealing with Active Shooters. There are several good courses and YouTube instruction videos available online. They all provide the same basic advice:

    1. Situational awareness. Where ever you are, look around and decide what you will do if something occurs. If you have to, can you successfully flee, hide or fight?

    2. Should you flee? That means, do you have a place you can flee to? Is there a close by exit (office, stairwell, door, window, etc.) that you can get to very quickly (say 3 seconds or less, and without having to deal with others trying to flee through the same exit). If you face a shooter who is at the other end of a hall, then fleeing is the best option. But, on an open dance floor in a room in which are several hundred people, many of whom will panic and run (including into you, and knocking you down), fleeing is a bad option.

    3. Should you hide (or, more accurately, can you hide and barricade) ? It appears that a bunch of people ran into a bathroom, and trapped themselves there, and, then, Mateen went in after them. If you hide, at a minimum, you have to securely lock or block the entrance to keep the shooter out (and, also, be willing to listen to pleas from others who are locked or blocked out wanting you to let them in). If you cannot hide and barricade, and listen to pleas by those you’ve locked or blocked out begging for their lives, then this isn’t a good option.

    4. Should you fight? If you fight, you fight violently and with anything at hand. In a bar with a dance floor and surrounding tables, there should be plenty of bottles, glasses, pitchers, chairs and tables (and other stuff) to throw. You may not still have the 100 MPH fastball from High School, but a 30 MPH half full beer bottle is a pretty good weapon. And, if you fight, you rush the shooter. If you have something that can be used as a knife (including a letter opener, scissors or a broken bottle), and you are less than 20 feet away, you actually have the advantage. And, if you charge from the rear or side, the odds are very much in your favor. Unless you are dealing with a very, very practiced shooter who somehow has learned to control his own adrenaline surge, his first couple of shots at anyone charging him will be wide and high. Go low (meaning a rolling body block — you want to wrap him up and take him down, and, with luck, make his knees bend in ways they aren’t supposed to bend — that type of injury generates immediate and nearly paralyzing pain), and lets those who will follow your lead the time to pile on and disarm him. And, you hit him with anything handy. Chairs, fire extinguishers, and bottles, glasses and pitchers, all make good clubs. Don’t forget to stomp on his hands and wrists — it’s hard to shoot with broken fingers — and stick things, including thumbs, in to his eyes — he can’t shoot what he can’t see. If you have to fight, you are fighting for your life. The only fair fight is one you survive (hopefully, unharmed).

    Mateen held about 30 hostages for almost 3 hours, and no one tried to jump him. There were hundreds in the place, and no one rushed him. A panicked crowd will follow a leader. There were no leaders, only sheepeople awaiting someone to save them — and over 100 died or were wounded. Even with a large clip, it appears that he had to drop the clip and re-load twice, which provides enough time to rush and knock a shooter down. In an Active Shooter situation, your odds aren’t good, but, if you have to fight, a chance is better than no chance. But, you need to decide what you will do before anything happens (including a fight breaking out, or a fire, or someone with the flu coughing near you, or, running into your date’s ex, or even a rude or incompetent waiter, etc. — that’s situational awareness).

    As a matter of policy, should people be taught to await help by “First Responders”? Or, should people be taught that they are their own First Responder?

    In the past several years there have been repeated mass shooters — many of whom were motivated by Jihad. Mateen is only the latest. There will be more. So, we’ll get to ask the same law and policy questions (those above, and others) again.

    • Oh, so if only you were in there to play hero, as opposed to all the leaderless “sheepeople” who didn’t follow your self-defense tips, this would have turned out better? Criticizing the people in that club as if they were the ones to do something wrong here is classless and pathetic.

      I would also posit that this man didn’t target Pulse because it was full of hostages who wouldn’t resist (indeed, firearms are prohibited in bars and nightclubs in most states, even those with extremely liberal gun laws), but rather choose it because he wanted to kill gay people. To dismiss that is to ignore that this was an attack motivated by hate and designed to strike fear into that particular community.

  • Not trying to judge anyone. People who know tell me that prior training is the decisive factor in how most of us will respond. Maybe it’s time for me to take more responsibility myself.

  • I won’t join WFJAG in the use of the term “sheepeople” – I’ve never been in that situation, hope to never be in that situation, and until then, won’t know with any confidence as to how I will react. The rest – situational awareness (which I’m terrible at) and the Flight/Barricade/Fight decision mostly accords with my readings over the decades and the comments of law enforcement, I have no objection with the general content.

    On the other hand, i am not the first to point out that there were two shootings in Orlando this weekend, one ended quickly with a tragic death, at least one courageous bystander who put himself in harm’s way, and the death of the shooter. Grimmie shooting and the nightclub shooting above, which ended much later with the death of the shooter, but not before at least 50 were killed, and at least as many more injured – some possibly gravely.

    There has been some noise today that the shooter had also spent time evaluating the potential of a shooting at Disney World, before settling on the Pulse nightclub as his target. Time will tell if that is ever substantiated, its importance is only in helping to better understand his motives for as law enforcement reviews its interactions with this shooter in an effort to evaluate and improve threat identification.

    In any event, both shootings are terrible tragedies which we will no doubt continue to experience in a free society. Motivated killers have proven again and again that they are very capable of inflicting great carnage before law enforcement, they commit suicide, or engaged bystanders bring their spree to a halt.

  • Government is powerless to stop lone-wolf shooters. “As at the Bataclan in Paris, the passage of a long period before police rescue arrives tends to augur poorly for victims’ chances of survival.” One ought to amend that to say, “unarmed victims…” as all of these horrific attacks have occurred in gun-free zones. I join the Libertarian Party in demanding an end to all “gun-free zones”

  • […] Things to blame: the killer, jihadist ideology. Things not to blame: America and its attitudes on gays. My new post at Ricochet. Earlier on the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack here. […]

  • Not sure what the point of this article is. ISIS has a playbook about how to carry out a terrorist attack on line. So everyone that reads it and carries it out is a part of the ISIS organization? That’s one hell of a standard to live up to. One that not only ignores the Mateen’s personal self-hating motives but one that also has no solution. Do we start mobilizing the US military in the Middle East again and kill everyone who posts dangerous literature online?

    No one is disputing that ISIS wants to kill gay people. The dispute is how do you deal with terrorists who are inspired by what they read on the internet.