The Orlando massacre at a popular gay nightclub shows no one yet has “found the magic bullet” to prevent Americans from being inspired to violence by jihadist propaganda on the internet, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said June 21 as she visited a city still shaken by the shootings.
Countering the narrative of radical extremism continues to be a challenge for the government, Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“How do we break that chain? How do we counter this extremist ideology that’s online, knowing that the internet has to remain free and open?” she said. “What can we get out there that’s a counter-message to that?”
At the scene of the carnage, workers removed a temporary fence that was erected around the Pulse nightclub. State officials wondered how they would pay for resources drained by the June 12 massacre, and investigators kept probing for gunman Omar Mateen’s motives for the rampage, in which 49 people were killed and dozens more wounded. Mateen died in a gunbattle with police.
Lynch said investigators may never pinpoint a single motive and have not ruled out witness reports suggesting Mateen might have been at Pulse before or had gay interests.
“While we know a lot more about him in terms of who he was and what he did, I do not want to definitively rule out any particular motivation here,” she said, later adding, “It’s entirely possible that he had a singular motive. It’s entirely possible that he had a dual motive.”
In a 911 call from the club, Mateen pledged solidarity with the Islamic State group, and Lynch said there’s no doubt, based on evidence gathered during the investigation, that he had read and absorbed extremist propaganda on the internet.
“We believe that is certainly one avenue of radicalization, but we want to know if there are others,” she said in the interview. “We want to know everything he did in the days, weeks and months leading up to this attack.”
“We still do believe that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” she added.
Speaking to reporters later, she called the rampage a “shattering attack – on our nation, on our people and on our most fundamental ideals.” She also directly addressed the LGBT community, saying, “We stand with you to say that the good in the world far outweighs the evil … and that our most effective response to terror and hatred is compassion, unity and love.”
While in Orlando, Lynch visited a memorial, praised the actions of first responders and met with victims’ relatives. Her remarks at a news conference followed meetings with U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors assigned to the investigation.
Lynch’s meeting with first responders came as Orlando police faced continued questions about their response.
On June 20, police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, Mateen bears the responsibility. “Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind,” he said.
Lynch said the Justice Department will provide Florida $1 million in emergency funds to help with response costs. Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott had complained that Washington had turned down his request for $5 million to help pay for the state’s response.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said its disaster fund was not an “appropriate source” to pay for law enforcement response, medical care and counseling for victims of a shooting.
More clues emerged about the attack Monday when the FBI released a partial transcript of phone calls Mateen had with a 911 operator and police crisis negotiators once the shooting got underway.
In them, he identified himself as an Islamic soldier, demanded that the U.S. “stop bombing” Syria and Iraq, warned of future violence and at one point pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, the FBI said.
Mateen’s calls to police, which one FBI official said were made in a “chilling, calm and deliberate manner” were similar to postings he apparently made on Facebook around the time of the shooting.
“I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings,” Mateen said in one call that came more than a half-hour after the first shots rang out, the FBI said.
Despite his declarations, the FBI says it’s found no evidence the attack was directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Mateen instead appears to have become radicalized through online jihadist propaganda, officials say, an influence that openly worries law enforcement.
Federal officials have encouraged friends and families to report to authorities individuals they believe are coming under the sway of extremist ideology and have sought to discourage Americans from traveling to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State by portraying it as a hellish danger zone. But “it’s a real challenge” to redirect extremist propaganda that motivates people like Mateen to violence, particularly when the material is so easily accessible online, Lynch said.
“A lot of people are looking at this, and I don’t know that anyone has found that magic bullet or that way to break that chain,” she said.