Thank you to the 1,000+ Minnesotans who came out to fill the beautiful Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis last night. I'll say a little more about the evening itself later in the week, but it took place in the shadow of the deadliest single-shooter mass murder in American history less than 24 hours before, and John Hinderaker, appropriately, began the night with a moment of silence for the 59 dead and more than 500 injured.
In my own remarks, I also addressed the carnage. As often in America, it was met with a great deal of heroism by ordinary men and women rising to the occasion: There was, for example, an Englishwoman in a wheelchair who'd been seated on a raised platform so she could get a better view of the concert. If it were every man for himself, it would have been easy to leave her there, trapped on the dais, exposed to the gunman. Instead, as everyone fled, those around her nevertheless carried her to safety and raised her wheelchair over the fence they scrambled over. There were many stories like that throughout the day, far outweighing the grotesque Tweets glorying in the slaughter of presumed Trump voters. Twitter is an idiotic medium, but not, happily, a representative one.
I had thought by last night we would know more about Stephen Craig Paddock. By now the usual social-media non-paper trail and petty-crime police records and mental-health issues should have emerged. Instead, nothing has - except some bizarrely distinctive details: He wasn't a loner, but lived with his girlfriend - an Australian citizen currently in Japan, but planning to return to the US today. He was not the usual loser, but a multi-millionaire. He had no apparent interest in guns and no military training, but he demonstrated remarkably lethal proficiency, either with semi-automatics he modified or with a genuine automatic he somehow acquired, a weapon that has been used in precisely three crimes in America since 1934. He didn't "snap", but instead calmly planned his act, identifying and securing the perfect corner suite in a massive hotel and then discreetly moving in dozens of weapons over four days and constructing platforms in front of those two windows.
Some of these quirks do not appear to be particularly consistent, and the Aussie in the adjoining room, for one, says there were "multiple shooters" and "they killed a security guard on my floor". On the face of it, "multiple shooters" would seem more plausible than Isis' claim that Mr Paddock had converted to Islam and changed his name to "Abu Abd Abdulbar al-Ameriki". But, pending any further revelations, it may well be that a wealthy retiree with no interest in guns got sufficiently interested sufficiently quickly to pull off America's all-time deadliest single-shooter massacre: An old dog taught himself a new trick, on a spectacular scale.
As I said on stage at the Guthrie Theatre, I had intended to talk about other matters - about the weekend's latest "vehicle attack" in Edmonton, Alberta, by a Somali immigrant (with an Isis flag on the seat of his car), who stabbed one policeman and ran over four people at Commonwealth Stadium; and about the two young women fatally stabbed (one with her throat slit) at the main rail station in Marseilles, by an illegal immigrant from the Maghreb; and the seventeen-year-old from the northern Caucasus who's just gone on trial in Oslo after being found with a bomb the day after the Stockholm jihad-motorist struck. But all these events, by fiercely committed ideologues in multiple jurisdictions in service of a global civilizational struggle, were all but forgotten, banished to the in-brief sidebars at the foot of page 37 by one apparently non-ideological American retiree who, unlike the aforementioned, was extremely good at killing large numbers of people.
I confess to a certain resentment at this. I regard the Albertan, French and Norwegian stories as far more relevant to where our world is heading. It is not a small thing when a young Frenchwoman can have her throat slit in broad daylight at a major public venue in a European metropolis, notwithstanding that the Mayor of London and others tell us we have to accept that it's now part and parcel of life in a big city. Yet in a certain sense these events are ineffectual - as the corpse count of a Stephen Paddock reminds us. And every Stephen Paddock makes it easier for all those who want to brush off Islamic supremacism and retreat to all those lame-o lines about how you've got more chance of being killed by a toppling household appliance than by a terrorist, and anyway, even when the shooting starts, half-a-dozen Isis cells can't match one white-male gun nut. Why didn't the Somali guy, the North African, the Caucasian jihadist figure out what one 64-year-old from a Nevada retirement community did? That all over the map there are soft targets with large numbers of people penned into small, tight, open-air spaces - and right across the street tall hotels whose upper floors offer easy opportunities for a bloodbath.
We have been, for the most part, very lucky. The foot-soldiers of the jihad are mostly dimwit Mohammedans: they have youth and energy and ideological fervor, but they are also largely stupid and unimaginative. The old guys are less energetic, but also less stupid: if Isis were right and there really were Islamic Stephen Paddocks - 40-50-60-somethings, worldly and full of low cunning - things would be very different.
Consider this year's two pop-concert atrocities: at Ariana Grande's in Manchester, 23 people died - in the cause of the new global caliphate; at Jason Aldean's in Vegas, 59 died - for no reason at all. It is a glum thought, but Paddock's all-time record will likely not stand for long. America's four deadliest single-shooter mass murders occurred in the last decade. Only one of them - the Orlando nightclub massacre - can be said to have a political or ideological component. The rest seem to be a peculiarly contemporary form of narcissism - that, when my life heads south, the only way to give it meaning is to take large numbers of people with me. There is no cause, no fealty, no "Allahu Akbar!" - because pointless slaughter is the supreme triumph of amoral will: Who needs Allah? You're your own Allah. Unlike Manchester or Nice or Paris or Berlin or Brussels, there is no meaning: Indeed, the only meaning is the meaninglessness; that is the point - the black void at the heart of the act.
To reiterate, I regard that Somali guy in Alberta as more relevant to the day after tomorrow, and a man like Paddock as peculiarly depraved, decadent and self-indulgent. But there's no arguing that (even with due allowance for the easier access to weaponry) the latter seem to be far more effective in their evil. In May, Isis called for attacks on Las Vegas - surely an iconic target for Islamic supremacists, but apparently not one they were capable of striking. So it was left to a retired accountant to do it for himself. I wrote in After America that, given the USA's open southern border, the best investment the jihad could make would be to try to convert three or four per cent of Mexicans to Islam. (There's some evidence they're doing that in parts of Latin America.) By the same token, imagine if Isis could really make good on their boasts and convert to Islam a few cool, cold, middle-aged men who over four days calmly walk multiple golf bags across the lobby and press the button for the 32nd floor...
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