Esteban Santiago
Esteban Santiago, the accused Fort Lauderdale shooter (Photo: Broward Sheriff’s Office, AP)

A Recent Interview

Recently I met a young veteran of the Iraq war at a party for a friend.  We engaged in the kind of conversation that makes others at a party uncomfortable.  I asked if he had seen combat; he said yes.  I asked if he had lost friends; he succinctly confirmed that he had.

In¬†any improvised interview, I ask the same depoliticized, seemingly harmless question: ‚ÄúAny thoughts?‚Ä̬† ‚ÄúI just don‚Äôt know why we were there,‚ÄĚ was his response.¬† Later we engaged in another delicate political discussion of what the conservatives would call the ‚Äėlaw and order‚Äô type.¬† He referred to the current punitive system as ‚Äúa tail-eating snake.‚Ä̬† The difficulties of the economy, the civil disobedience, the¬†occasional outrage and violence, the horrors of war, were all discussed.¬† Mumia Abu-Jamal, the incarcerated black revolutionary, in an interview with the Pulitzer-prize winning writer Chris Hedges, once referred to the prison system as America‚Äôs ‚Äúsolution to the economic crisis.”¬† This observation could be expanded to include anything a society wants to sweep under the rug.

Who Was the Fort Lauderdale Shooter?

Scene from Fort Lauderdale Airport (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post/Zuma Press)

The recent shootings in Fort Lauderdale were described by Florida governor Rick Scott as ‚Äėevil acts.’¬† The Governor explained¬†that the person responsible would be held ‚Äėaccountable to the full extent of the law.‚Äô¬† I have, of course, no objections.¬† But I wonder if Governor Scott, a self-described personal friend of Donald Trump, cared to observe the details of the case before mimicking the ‚Äėlaw and order‚Äô grandstanding of the much flattered president-elect.

The shooter, Esteban Santiago, is himself an Iraq war vet.¬† Before that Santiago served in the Puerto Rico National Guard, a territory of the United States.¬† By all accounts this was a normal young man described as ‚Äėpro-American‚Äô by his brother.¬†¬†In this light, Santiago¬†was¬†either eager to serve his country, or had few other options.¬† Given the current state of the Puerto Rican economy, this is very possible.

But according to¬†Santiago’s aunt, a relative living in New Jersey, who spoke only Spanish to reporters looking for information on the attacker, Santiago had come home from Iraq a changed man. ¬†He spoke to her of needless violence, of slaughtered children.¬† He began hearing voices in his head.¬† When he walked into an Anchorage branch office of the FBI, after being discharged from the Alaska National Guard for unsatisfactory performance, he complained that the government was forcing him to watch ISIS videos.¬† Santiago believed he was being persuaded to fight for the terrorist organization.

Analyzing Esteban Santiago

As this case unfolds, Santiago will likely be labelled a deranged gunman, perhaps motivated

Esteban Santiago in Iraq (Courtesy, Sun-Sentinal, Jan. 12, 2017)

by terrorist sympathies.  The American media depends on good-standing with their corporate pay-masters and their government sources.  Thus, an oversimplification of the socio-economic and political policies that might be at play in this tragedy is in their best interest.  But I won’t write off this tragedy without discussing what the media and narrow-minded governor are so willing to leave out.

Of course, given the state of the media and the few details being divulged, one has to speculate.  What is to follow could be interpreted as an attempt to justify this act of violence.  I assure anyone reading this that that is an obtuse reading. The author in no way condones violence.  I do, however, believe it is necessary to empathize with the criminal mind.  Otherwise, we could never properly evaluate the causes, nor the solutions, of criminal acts.

A criminal, any criminal, particularly one of such a heinous crime as this, must first feel isolated from the world around them before they can carry out the act.  So how did a combat decorated soldier of the United States become so isolated from his country-folk?

Esteban Santiago’s Possible Motives

The Puerto Rican debt crisis could have contributed to it, as the Puerto Rican economy has been spiraling for years.  Many, including Americans here in the States, believe that colonial policies over the territory have contributed to this spiral.  Those who own the island’s debt are mostly hedge-fund and vulture-fund owners, who heavily lobby Washington to get favorable terms.   Austerity threatens Puerto Rico as a result.  Perhaps Santiago felt his prospects in life were undercut by rich white men in and around a far off capital.  Perhaps he felt his family and friends were being exploited.  Many Americans feel this way.  Only time will tell if he was one of them.

Another contributing factor could have been the increasingly acceptable racism we’ve witnessed over the last year in America.  How much harassment might his Spanish-speaking aunt receive, when we see increasing attacks on non-English speakers?  A particular segment of the population now feels more at liberty to rip the hijabs off of Muslim women in broad daylight, and even public officials make racist remarks aimed at our estimable First-Lady.  Again, one can only speculate.

I can only imagine what it was that he saw in Iraq.  What were the details of the events he mentioned to his aunt that had such a clear impact on him?  How did the visions of slaughtered children play with his unstable mind, particularly after the birth of his own baby boy mere months ago?  Did he, too, wonder why he was there?  Was he perhaps witness to some of the horrific atrocities that get carelessly overlooked in some of our military units?  Did he take part in the dishonorable games described by Matthew Cole in his recent article, documenting the atrocities of the fabled Seal Team 6?

The Future

With all that was going against Santiago, it wouldn’t take much for his young mind to become unhinged.  For many of those who grow up with all the hope and pride we all have in this great nation, it’s easy to become disillusioned by the realities.  The realities of recent months are particularly eye-opening, where underlying American anger and resentment has come out in full-force.  I don’t believe we’ll come to any solutions any time soon.  Criminal isolation was bad in past administrations, but the cold truth is that the isolation will only increase for many.  And with it, the increased likelihood of more violence.  Trump’s policies and persona are opening a Pandora’s Box, one we have agreed to face at our peril.

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