Russ Baker: Don’t Rush to Judgment in Orlando Shooting

Omar Mateen
Omar Mateen as seen in a documentary film.  Photo credit: James Varty / The Big Fix / YouTube

Somewhere between the rush to judgment that is the neatly packaged mainstream version of events in Orlando, and the wilder memes making their way around the Internet resides the truth.

In this week’s podcast, Russ Baker shares  his thoughts about some the questions that he and his team will be raising in the weeks and months ahead.

Talking with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman, Russ ruminates on the FBI’s still murky history with Mateen, about the similarities between the Orlando massacre and the Boston Marathon bombings, and about the links between both events and reported efforts by the Bureau to recruit Muslim informants.

Is Orlando another such operation that went tragically off the rails? Reports have circulated that Mateen wanted to join law enforcement or the US military. Had he applied? If so, why was he turned down and where are those records?

Russ also talks about the security firm that Mateen worked for, whose lineage traces back to the disgraced and troubled Wackenhut, a power-player in the anti-Communist hysteria of the Vietnam era.

This conversation is a look inside the way a story begins to be investigated and to unfold.

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Full Text Transcript:

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio Whowhatwhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

Our understanding of the events in Orlando are still unfolding, both on an emotional level and on an informational one. In these first few days, the information is often contradictory, the reports incomplete, and the full scope far from understood. While others immediately draw conclusions and rush to judgement, others take the long view, believing that real knowledge is more than just random facts. One of those is Whowhatwhy’s founder and editor Russ Baker, and we’re going to spend some time talking with Russ today about his reaction and his questions about the events in Orlando. Russ, thanks for being here.

Russ Baker: Oh, it’s great to always do this, Jeff.

Jeff Schechtman: Well, it’s always good to talk about these things. Talk a little bit first of all, in terms of your own kind of emotional reaction to this because as I said in the introduction: it’s been two things in terms of people’s reaction. One, the emotional level; and two, getting beyond that to really digging in and trying to understand what happened.

Russ Baker: Yeah, I mean on the emotional level I suppose I’m not any different than anyone else. Just the utter horror and shock, no matter how many times these things happen, the revulsion. But pretty quickly my investigative reporter’s mind clicks in and I start trying to focus my energy on understanding, but really understanding. You know, they use that term understanding, very, very loosely. They all say we need more understanding, we need more love and so on. But that has nothing to do with this, and I don’t think love has anything to do with this either. We’ve got to figure out what the heck is going on, and I hear so little talk about that. What happened in this particular case now, perhaps in this conversation you and I will get into that. I’m starting to form some at least lines of initial inquiry, but I think we’ve got to do that. The fact that these things happen all the time, and with increasing frequency, that there are more and more dead and injured each time; we can’t just treat these things as something to find horrible, despicable and not to work on as a problem.

Jeff Schechtman: You mentioned that you’re beginning to develop your own lines of inquiry about this. Give us some insight into that process for you. You heard about this as we all did on early Sunday morning. Talk about how you began to think about it; some of the early questions that you had and how that line of inquiry that you’re going down started to evolve.

Russ Baker: Well, you know, the name of our organization is Whowhatwhy, and those are the questions, there are other questions, but those are a very good start. So, you know, who is this person? I wanted to understand that. I wanted to know what exactly, and I think we’re still trying to piece that together, what exactly happened. Both that day, and that night, and also what happened to him and why. So that’s kind of where I’m going. I’m surprised in these cases…  You know, we did a tremendous amount of research on the Boston Marathon bombing. I’m surprised that other news organizations aren’t troubled by the fact that we never had a why there. We never had a why, particularly this younger brother, but really even the older brother, the Tsarnaevs. We never got an explanation of why they did it and if they did it, and we’re still not sure of that. And in this case, it’s the same question. Now here are some things that have just gotten my attention. As in some of these other cases, this fellow was not a radical Muslim. We don’t think he was anti-gay, or may have been a gay element himself. We don’t know that he had any particular animosity towards those people or that club. And despite the fact they’re making a big deal about the fact that he once was rough with his girlfriend, I don’t think that’s that uncommon and I don’t think that necessarily leads to this kind of mass murder. So the question of how somebody turned into the person who could do that, I think is a very big one. I think it’s a profound one.

Now one of the things that just happened which I find very, very interesting is this footage that this Omar Mateen was a private security guard with this company. A lot of these private firms, these mercenary firms have changed their names, but was at one time Wackenhut, which had its own very interesting history with a lot of scandals, including Iran-Contra, and which was involved with all manner of national security state skullduggery. And so when I see a company like that employing him, my radar goes off and I want to know more. Now, the latest development, – and of course this depends when you’re listening to this podcast, – but as of this moment, is that he was a security guard at the scene of the Gulf Oil Disaster, on the New Orleans, on the coast here, on the Gulf Coast. It just so happens that I’m in New Orleans today, Jeff, at a conference of investigative journalists. I’ll be interested to see if any of this even comes up at all. But he was a security guard, and the people who made this film, The Big Six, whom I know, and I’ve just been in touch with them, they had sent somebody with a hidden camera to the scene of where these companies were cleaning up the spill and trying to hide the extent of the damage. And they hired this same company to basically keep people out; to keep nosy people out. And so here comes this crew making this documentary, and they were using a hidden camera, and they speak to a guard. And the guard says ‘Oh, they don’t want anybody in here, they don’t want them to know what’s going on. They love a good disaster.’ And I’m paraphrasing here, I have to go back and listen again, but that fellow was the one who shot up this club in Orlando. Now to me, that’s tremendously significant. First of all, you watch him; he’s a clean scrubbed, young fellow, he seems pleasant, he seems rational. There’s nothing about him that’s ISIS-like, or fundamentalist. He’s just a young, American kid working as a security guard. And his comments strike me as very rational and thoughtful. And so here he is, and he’s seeing what these big corporations and these security models can do in an instance like the Gulf, where they really were never held as accountable as they should have been, where they hid the extent of the damage in order to minimize their payouts. And that’s the same fellow, and then he somehow goes on to commit this horrific act, so I’m deeply intrigued by that and I’d love to know more.

Jeff Schechtman: To what extent do you begin to put all of these pieces together. Oftentimes when we hear about mass murders – even before the era of terrorism – there would always be this story, somebody like Ted Bundy, ‘oh he was such a nice boy, he helped grandma cross the street’. At what point do these pieces start to fit together? Talk a little bit about that process.

Russ Baker: Well, it’s so hard to know. There’s a zillion experts out there, so called experts on psychology, people who flip out and so forth. I don’t think we understand these things, and of course, readers of Whowhatwhy know that we’re interested in other causations that do not get discussed. For example, there is a lot of systemic, psychological abuse of people. And for example, people who are inducted into research programs, people who are tested. In the past couple of months, we’ve done a number of articles, you’ve done a podcast on Whowhatwhy about the CIA’s MKUltra program of mind control research, where they were taking unwitting people and bombarding them with substances like LSD. They used hypnosis, they used all types of things to see whether people could resist those things, whether they could be programmed to kind of a Manchurian Candidate and so forth. And this is part of our documented history of this country. The fact that the media just reflexively stays away from all of this, it doesn’t even consider whether something may have happened in these cases, I think speaks to how poor it is, and how afraid it is to ask tough questions. We live in a time where “conjurative terms” used about people who want to ask deeper questions, those terms are so strong that they make us afraid to dig, they make us afraid to become pariahs, and so we all choose for the superficial explanation. But with a history of that kind of thing, and a fellow like that, I also remember a hearing, a reading somewhere that he had wanted to go into law enforcement or perhaps the military, and of course if he applied, he then goes through a process. And they create files, and they see psychologists, and I’m not suggesting that something like the US Military or the CIA or the police department would want to see something like this happen, but they are always looking for people, whether they’re for subjects in experiments, or for people who can do black-jobs, as they call them, like they do with the Special Forces and so on. They’re always looking for people for example, who can remorselessly slit someone’s throat. I mean, you can’t get into those units unless you’re willing to follow orders and not ask any questions. So, did he apply? What happened when he applied? There was the same thing with, as I recall, the Colorado Theater shooter, I’m sort of blurry on this one, but I think he had applied to be in the military. They always say, well we rejected the person. Well, what percentage of people do they reject? What’s the process through which they evaluate them? And is there any possibility that those they reject, that those files nevertheless go somewhere? There are people who are involved with these kinds of research, who want to take a look at those who are not deemed a fit character perhaps to be in the mainstream of those organizations.

Jeff Schechtman: What should we make of the fact that the FBI was so aware and had had contact with him?

Russ Baker: Well, this really bothers me, because as you know, in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, we had the exact same instance. We had the older of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was on the FBI’s radar. They investigated him, and not only did they investigate him, but they visited with him on a number of occasions. They were fully aware of him, and I would urge everybody to go back to our extensive investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing to look at parallels. This was a fellow who, they knew that he was traveling, that he had connections to Chechnya and other parts of the former Soviet Union with terrorist links and they knew that he was traveling there. He was on a watch list. I mean both of these guys, Mateen and Tsarnaev were on watch lists. And by the way, there’s an Orlando connection with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. His good friend lived in Orlando, and that fellow, Todashev is his name, and that fellow was brought in by the FBI a number of times. And I don’t know if you recall this, Jeff, but they ended up executing him. They shot him to death in his own apartment when they were purportedly interviewing him. They claimed that he rushed them. It’s a very odd story, most people find it very dubious, even most people in law enforcement I’ve talked to. What did he know? And why was he killed? And what about him being in Orlando too? I mean it’s been an amazing week for Orlando certainly, but we got to look at all of these links.

Jeff Schechtman: Also the fact that Mateen made reference to the Tsarnaev brothers in this 911 call. I mean he could have referenced anybody.

Russ Baker: Well, that’s right. That’s very, very interesting. And just to go a little further on the FBI situation. Even mainstream organizations like the New York Times have been reporting increasingly about the role, the extent of the FBI’s use of so-called, potentially radicalized Muslims as informants. And of course they don’t really mean informant as in just telling them things, they mean active operatives whom they send into various venues, including mosques, seeking to tease out those who may be inclined towards terrorism. Now I understand the need for that sort of work, but of course the risks are very, very high because they are instructed to go to people and encourage people to do things. And they’ll tell them that their informants will go in and say ‘hey, have you thought about making a bomb?’ I mean, again the fine line between law enforcement and entrapment or encouragement. And then the case of the 1993 attempt on bombing the World Trade Center, where it was an FBI person who was working with those people. We saw it with a plot to bomb the United Nations, again, with that same person, was the one who was supposedly going to make the bomb – and he was an FBI person. And so, he himself, I’ve communicated with him, he’s very disturbed with this whole trend. And so, we don’t know whether this Mateen had been in contact with the FBI, whether he was inducted into that same, rather vast program and encouraged to try to tease people out. And if something went horribly wrong there, and of course if it did, you could be sure that the director of the FBI is not going to call a press conference and say ‘Boy, did we screw up!’

Jeff Schechtman: Which really begs the question, how will we ever know? How will we ever know, given that it is also the FBI that is conducting the investigation and releasing the information that we’re hearing every day?

Russ Baker: I mean, we’ll never know if we wait for those agencies to come clean. We’ll probably never know if we rely on elected officials. We’ll probably never know if we rely on mainstream, or even alternative journalism. My only hope is that Whowhatwhy and other outfits, if there are any other – I can’t think of any – who will take these kinds of things on, can put in the resources, they could sort of play an old song here. We’d love to recruit and put more skilled journalists on this and on other stories. Unfortunately, the public won’t pay for it. I’d say it’s probably one-tenth of one percent of all of our regular readers ever send us any money. We’re nonprofit, we don’t accept any ads, we’ve worked only in the public interest. But if people would step up and say, darn it, I do want these things solved, I could afford to give ten dollars a month to this thing, or twenty bucks, or whatever it is. Some people could give a lot more. We could dig into these things. You know, I’m ready to jump on a plane and go down to Orlando if I’ve got the resources to do it. And I think these things can be investigated because, Jeff, there are an awful lot of people who are uncomfortable with the way things are going in this country. This trend with more and more violence, more and more state power, more and more surveillance, more and more loss of our privacy and our liberty – these are not things to trifle with, these should be a grave, grave concern. And time could be running out on our basic liberty and our freedom. We’ve got to move forward and we’ve got to look into these things, and we’ve got to figure out what’s going on. We have to inform the public, which then I believe an informed public is a public that knows what to do.

Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about the danger in addition, that often times with these stories, once the public narrative is created, I mean and you certainly saw it with the Boston bombing, once the narrative is created by the mainstream media, the first rush of information that’s out there, it’s so difficult to get the public to look at any alternative explanation.

Russ Baker: Well, that’s right. There’s this kind of lock-step that falls into place, certainly right after 9/11. The tragedy itself is so all-pervasive, it filters into our very pores. The appropriate response, and I think people who are socially adept understand the appropriate response is sympathy and expressions of horror and commiseration. And that’s what the president did, that’s what the governor did, that’s what the mayor did, and so forth. Those are the first steps. And that’s what the media does. The first steps are just ‘Oh my God this thing happened’. What could we learn about it on a most basic level? But there certainly is a sense at that moment that you don’t start asking deeper questions. And then as the days go by, there are more questions being asked, but I still think there is this kind of sense of a need to conform to the will or the consensus of the crowd. And that’s a very powerful thing, and it afflicts all kinds of people in all walks of life. It certainly afflicts investigators and journalists. And those who go in another direction become very, very unpopular.

Jeff Schechtman: Talk about it in terms of Whowhatwhy’s coverage and how you envision this story being covered and unfolding going forward from here, Russ.

Russ Baker: Well, what I’d like to do is look into all of the things that I’ve talked about on this call. I’d like to not rely on the police or the FBI to do all of the research and also talk to people we could talk to. I mean, in my research over the years of the John F. Kennedy assassination, I was staggered at the poor, poor job that law enforcement did in investigating that. They didn’t talk to many of the key eye witnesses, they browbeat people to stay with a consensus narrative, and so we are, I think, maybe the best equipped to go in with an open mind, without a dog in the fight, and just track a lot of people down and talk to them and try to piece together what exactly happened to this fellow. And of course, parts of this include the employers he worked for. I think obviously we need to talk to the spouses again, and to the father, and so forth. The father is an interesting figure because he’s from Afghanistan, and as I understand it he was involved with an Afghan political group, which again takes you back into the sphere of family members who were involved in some way, with the US military industrial complex, with the Tsarnaevs. Their uncle was married into the family of an extremely powerful CIA official interested in that region. So you get these kind of geopolitical pieces of this puzzle that I feel Whowhatwhy is almost uniquely suited to look into because through our group, we’ve got the intellect and the historical background and the desire to reach more broadly for context, with context so often being missing in news reporting.

Jeff Schechtman: Russ Baker, Russ, I thank you so much for talking about this and certainly everybody can look for continued coverage on

Russ Baker: Thanks very much Jeff.

Jeff Schechtman: Thank you. And thank you for listening and joining us here on Radio Whowhatwhy. I hope you’ll join us next week for another Radio Whowhatwhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

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