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Orlando Massacre: Is there a link between America’s Drone War and Homegrown Terrorism?

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The circumstances surrounding the Orlando shooter have been discussed ad nauseam. Inevitably the conversation centers around the issues of gun control, LGBTQ equality, inadequate mental healthcare, and religious extremism. Those are all important issues but the purpose of this piece is to address the connection between America’s drone program and a rise of US homegrown terrorism.

To be clear, the motives of the Orlando shooter involve all of the above issues. It’s a culmination of things that got us here but we’re missing an important part of the conversation: America’s drone program. This is not to say that the continuation and extention of Bush’s drone program directly creates homegrown terrorism. It’s not that simple. But how can Americans, and the rest of the world really, come to terms with the Orlando shooter’s crazed retribution?

At first blush, connecting the Orlando shooting with Obama’s drone program seems like too far a leap in logic. Again, the cause of the shooting was a culmination of things but isolated drone strikes in Afghanistan aren’t really that isolated. How can they be, when the Orlando shooter explicitly declared the massacre retribution for Obama’s drone strikes in Afghanistan (?)

For example: discriminatory LGBTQ legislation doesn’t directly force someone to commit a hatecrime against a member of the LGBTQ community. However, discriminatory policies reflect society’s general viewpoint. In 28 states, one can still be fired for his or her sexual orientation. Immersion in intolerance has its consequences. Let’s talk American-style racism for a moment. Mass incarceration followed Jim Crow laws, which followed slavery and today minorities are still at a disadvantage and racism is “as American as apple pie.” Parts of the South are still unbelievably racist. Opression affects the hearts and minds of its witnesses and sufferers. But, here, how can we thoughtfully reflect on the connection between drone strikes and US homegrown terrorism?

Specifically, how can Americans come to terms with the unintented consequences of the program that their tax-dollars pay for? Americans annoy the rest of the world with their disconnection from reality. It’s time for less unjustified outrage, more tolerance, and more education about the empire America has proven itself to be. Americans must be able to reflect thoughtfully on the stunning fact that 90% of deaths from drones unintended targets. How can we get away with calling these deaths collateral damage? These aren’t “targeted” or “precise” killings; it’s an invading air army occupying the skies of the countries America seeks to control under its empire.


If you missed Obama’s speech on the Orlando shooter, you can watch it below.




Obama addressed: first responders, LQBTQ (in)equality, and gun control. He didn’t discuss a need for better mental healthcare – or access to it. Obama didn’t discuss religious extremism. Most importantly, Obama failed to address the impact of his drone program. In fact, Obama has gotten away with dismissing the impact of his drone program for his entire administration. Homegrown terrorism can’t be fixed by gun control alone.

Watch a survivor’s chilling account of her interaction with the shooter here. At 7:15, she provides testimony about the shooter’s plea for America to stop bombing his country.

Yes, you heard that correctly. The Orlando shooter said he wanted America to stop bombing his country. He wasn’t born there but his family is from Afghanistan. Can this horrendous act of violence be connected to Obama’s drone program? Yes. We’re missing the elephant in the room here.

A man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by U.S. drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa November 13, 2014. Yemeni authorities have paid out tens of thousands of dollars to victims of drone strikes using U.S.-supplied funds, a source close to Yemen's presidency said, echoing accounts by legal sources and a family that lost two members in a 2012 raid. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah (YEMEN - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4E1VF

Man walks past a graffiti, denouncing strikes by US drones in Yemen, painted on a wall in Sanaa

[Image credit: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah]
Let’s review what’s known of the drone program:

  • America is currently bombing Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and the Philippines.
  • Each time there’s a drone strike, ISIS recruits surge. The drone program is literally making more war. In other words, America is creating the very threat it claims to be fighting.
  • There’s little to no due process for those on Obama’s kill list. They are killed instead of apprehended and having a day in court. Obama is the judge, jury, and executioner. This is concerning because America is supposed to set itself apart. How we treat our enemies is a reflection of America’s principles.
  • Sim cards belonging to “terrorist’s” phones are used for tracking and targeting. Often times, a family member is killed by a drone strike because he or she physically has the phone of the person on the kill list.
  • Although, the exact number of total casualties of the drone strikes under the Obama administration is unclear, estimates say at least 2,000 civilians have died. America justifies these deaths as “collateral damage.” That’s the “cost of war” it says.

When thousands of lives are just written off as collateral damage, their friends and families who were once moderate muslims with no ill-will towards the US become radicalised. They are incentivised to join ISIS. Are we not willing to accept the anger and grief of Americans with ties to those regions? Drone strikes aren’t happening in a bubble.

The CIA has a term for this radicalisation phenonomon: “blowback,” which describes unintentional consequences of America’s drone program. Blowback is used to decribe the reaction of the people in the bombed territories who join, and fight for, ISIS.

The Orlando shooter probably had friends and family in Afghanistan because his parents were born and lived in Afghanistan.

People have friends, lovers, families that extend beyond their immediate family. It’s mere speculation but how many Afghanis died in a drone strike that the Orlando shooter knew? How would you feel if Russia started drone striking 3 different US states a week? My inkling is that you’d probably want join the military to fight Russia. What’s it going to take for Americans to understand that many other parts of the world see the US as an occupying force?

The Orlando shooter wasn’t the only shooter who felt deep despair about the US-lead drone strikes. Remember the San Bernardino shooters? Farook was born in the US but his family was from Pakistan. Malik was born in Pakistan. Pakistan is bombed relentlessly. Reports claim they were “radicalised” but no evidence is conclusive as to what it was that they were specifically angry about. Mainstream news likes to blame the religion of Islam but Christianity and Catholicism are also violent religions. Religion is violent. Teaching tolerance works better than creating a false narrative that pits different ideologies against the other.

This is mere speculation but how many Pakistanis were killed in drone strikes that were friends and family of the San Bernardino shooters?

These are the questions we need to be asking but instead Establishment news goes to talking points, like religion, to keep everyone fighting instead of questioning.

Is gun control important? Yes.

Is teaching tolerance and acceptance important? Yes.

Is access to mental healthcare important? Yes.

So why is there a discconnect when it comes to what Americans think about their country’s foreign policy? When will we start holding ourselves and our government accountable for what it does with our tax dollars? Don’t forget, Americans, that your tax dollars fund this war. Your tax dollars fund drone striking weddings and funerals. Your tax dollars fund killing of innocent women and children. What if it is you who has blood on your hands? You pay for this war without dissent.

Congress is said to have “blood on its hands” when it doesn’t legislate for better gun laws before more shootings occur. If you turn a blind eye to destructive and unnecessary drone strikes, can your hands remain clean? Does it have to come down to your life being threatened by a radicalised man, who easily got a gun in America, who was grieving the loss of friends and family for you to have to call your representatives, protest, organize, or become a conscientious objector?

The Orlando massacre came to fruition because of a combination of problems but Obama’s drone program has good place in this discourse. Yes, there were issues with propensity for violence, hatred, unresolved issues of sexuality, and lack of common-sense gun control… but more and more homegrown Islamic terrorists seem to be appearing. It’s time to have the drone talk.


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