When FBI Director James Comey discussed on national television the massacre at an Orlando nightclub, he made an off-the-cuff policy decision not to speak the gunman’s name. “You will notice that I am not using the killer’s name, and I will try not to do that,” Comey said during the live news conference, the Associated Press reports. By then, the name Comey was refusing to say had already been known for nearly 24 hours: Omar Mateen. Forty-nine people were killed in the attack, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Comey’s pronouncement reflects a change in how federal officials discuss terrorism cases, and it opened the door to questions about whether the intense focus on terrorists since 9/11 has unintentionally glorified them.
It was also the latest turn in a renewed debate about the way politicians talk about terrorism. The same day, Republican Donald Trump urged President Obama to resign for refusing to use the words “radical Islam” in his response to the attack. Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton inched closer, using the term “radical Islamism,” but stressed action over words.
Obama dismissed such criticism as “yapping” and said focusing on the gunman’s Muslim faith, not his self-described allegiance to a terror group, “suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence.” The FBI director said his intention was to avoid contributing to the gunman’s infamy. The FBI said there has been no formal policy change, but Comey’s move was a calculated decision that reflects a growing concern among law enforcement that too much publicity for lone-wolf attackers will inspire more violence.