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Motivation and Justification in the Las Vegas Massacre

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Ever since the Las Vegas massacre, investigators have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what Stephen Paddock’s motive was in killing all those people. So far, they still haven’t come up with an answer, but they are still trying.

What I find fascinating about this process is that no one in the mainstream press or, for that matter, anyone else, has accused the investigators of being justifiers. That is, no one is accusing the investigators of trying to justify Paddock’s murder of all those people.

That’s not the way it was with those of us who were talking about motive after the 9/11 attacks. Back then, here at FFF we pointed out that motive of the 9/11 attackers was clear: They were retaliating for what the U.S. government had done in the Middle East, including the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with U.S. sanctions, the stationing of U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands, the support of brutal dictatorships, and the unconditional support of the Israeli government.

The reaction among American statists? They went ballistic. “You’re a justifier!” people screamed. “You’re justifying what the terrorists have done! You hate America. You love the terrorists!”

It almost seemed as if all sense of rationality had disappeared from the United States. I have never received so much hate mail in all my life.

What was fascinating was that all that we were talking about was motive, just as investigators today are doing with Paddock. Figuring out why someone has committed a crime doesn’t mean that you’re defending the act or justifying it. It simply means that you’re trying to figure out what motivated the person to commit the act.

In fact, while prosecuting attorneys are not required to establish motive in criminal cases, most of the time they do anyway so that the jury can more easily see that the person had reason to commit the crime. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, that doesn’t mean that the prosecutor is defending or justifying the acts of the accused.

One of the most publicized examples of this phenomenon occurred in the 2008 race for the GOP nomination for president. It was during a presidential debate between the Republican candidates, including Ron Paul.

The subject of the 9/11 attacks came up during the debate. Paul brought up motive. He said that the 9/11 attackers came over here to kill us in retaliation for the U.S. government’s killing of people over there.

All hell broke loose. Ron’s opponents went ballistic. The debate moderators went ballistic. The GOP audience went ballistic.

They all toed the official line — that Ron was justifying or defending what the terrorists had done and was blaming America for the 9/11 attacks when, in actuality, all that Ron was doing was pointing to what had motivated the 9/11 attackers to do their dirty deed.

Why was there such an enormous outcry when we libertarians pointed toward U.S. foreign interventionism as the motivating factor in the 9/11 attacks?

First, the federal government has come to hold an exalted and even holy position in the hearts and minds of many Americans. The government is their everything. It provides them with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, subsidies, and other welfare. It also protects them from the communists, terrorists, drug dealers, illegal immigrants, Muslims, ISIS, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other scary creatures. The federal government is their provider, their disciplinarian, their parent, and even their god.

Second, many people are unable to draw a distinction between the federal government and the country. In their minds, they are one and the same thing. Therefore, when we libertarians pointed to U.S. foreign policy as the motivating factor behind the 9/11 attacks, some people viewed our observation as one directed at America rather than one directed at the federal government. Their conflation of the federal government and the country was what caused them to conclude that we were “blaming America,” when in fact we were simply pointing out the role that federal interventionism abroad had played in motivating the terrorists to retaliate.

Third, interventionists did not want people to be focusing on U.S. interventionism abroad as the motivating factor behind the attacks. If people started looking in that direction, they might conclude that foreign interventionism wasn’t worth the cost of ever-increasing terrorist retaliation, along with all the infringements on civil liberties that come with a “war on terrorism.” They might demand that the U.S. government bring all the troops home from everywhere.

Nonetheless, sixteen years after the 9/11 attacks I get the feeling that most American have come to the realization that U.S. interventionism abroad generates terrorism “blowback” here at home.

The question that Americans need to decide is: Is the foreign interventionism worth it in terms of the terrorist retaliation it spawns and the loss of liberty that comes with it, not to mention the out-of-control federal spending and debt that is threatening our nation?

Moreover, as I have also been pointing out in my articles (see, for example, “U.S. Violence Abroad Begets Violence at Home” and “Charlottesville and America’s Death Machine“) I contend that what appear to be irrational acts of mass violence in America are also rooted in the U.S. death machine abroad. If I’m right, then Americans have to ask themselves whether these unexplained acts of mass violence, along with terrorist blowback, along with out of control federal spending and debt, are worth an interventionist foreign policy.

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The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.