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A hate crime and a terrorist act

Authorities say Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay Orlando nightclub early Sunday, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.
Authorities say Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay Orlando nightclub early Sunday, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.MySpace via AP

In the aftermath of the mass shootings in Orlando, it is easy to forget that the United States has experienced far fewer terrorist acts than most other countries around the world. Countries at greatest risk for death by terrorism are Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, Indiam and the Philippines. We are at the bottom of the terrorist barrel.

Still, the size of domestic terrorism has expanded to an incredible extent, and most mass killings have been committed by non-Muslim white men, not radical Islamics who have pledged allegiance to ISIS or Al Qaeda.

The Orlando nightclub shooting seems to have been inspired by the killer’s personal animosity toward gays and lesbians as well as his radical religious beliefs. In a sense, his deadly attack was as much a hate crime as it was a terrorist episode.


We have witnessed other recent mass killings based on hate, including Dylann Roof’s slaying of nine black churchgoers in Charleston and Wade Michael Page’s shooting of six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. In such killings, the killer seeks to send a message to an international audience. His purpose is to rid the world of evil, as he sees it, by eliminating the enemy from the face of the earth. He sees his victims as villains or sub-humans or children of the devil. The larger the killer’s body count, the more likely it is that his terrorist act will receive publicity around the world.

By setting a record number of victims who were shot to death, the Orlando nightclub killer has assured that Americans will consider retaliation. Too many citizens will regard all Muslim Americans as potential terrorists and will overlook the large number of Muslims in the United States who are prosperous, well educated, and loyal to the country.


The worst thing possible would be for American citizens to get even by committing anti-Muslim hate crimes. That would be giving the killer exactly what he wanted.

Jack Levin is professor emeritus and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University. He is also co-author of “The Violence of Hate.’’