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May 06, 2013

Michael Moynihan: My Week As an Online Jihadi-Wannabe

He went trolling around FaceBook and other social-networking platforms, using a pseudonym with a Salafist backstory.

His conclusion:

The constant on my feed—the thing that made me long for the Facebook where high-school friends squabbled about the efficacy of gun control legislation—was ceaseless images of dead children, mostly killed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Everywhere I clicked, there were piles of murdered children; their limbs twisted and bloodless faces staring past the camera. With every login, there were dozens more, blurring into one easily recalled composite dead child. I took to squinting at my laptop, deliberately blurring my vision; when the fuzzy contours of a child appeared, I jerked my head away from the screen and kept scrolling. But when my eyes returned, another lifeless kid was always waiting for me.


After my week among the online jihadists, it seemed unlikely to me that their corner of the Internet could immediately capture an undamaged soul. There were no appeals to reason here, and the content seemed intended for the already converted.

Which is to say: it seemed implausible that the Web had somehow made Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into jihadists. But it did strike me that the world of online jihad could have had another effect on the Boston bombers: it might well have inured them to violence. The further I crawled down the extremist rabbit hole and the more caved-in skulls and headless corpses I saw, the more I found that my natural revulsion, usually an uncontrollable instinct, was easier to suppress.

Well, it's Murder Porn, isn't it?

One other point he makes, in passing, is that his experience made him more paranoid. He encountered a bunch of screen-names which he felt were too over the top to be real. He suspects, or perhaps just fantasizes, that the monickers belong to counter-terrorism agents sitting in an office in Berlin.

Likely, some of them were indeed infiltrators.

I imagine that paranoia helps feed the jihadis' fantasies, their grievances, their sense of being part of a bloody brotherhood.

It occurs to me as I write this that this observation may be taken to suggest "So then we shouldn't monitor them and have our own agents posing as them." No, I don't mean to suggest that at all. I'm just offering the observation itself, not that conclusion, which would be silly. Of course we have to monitor these guys and of course we need infiltrators among them.

I just mean that it's a well-known dynamic that as a fringe group becomes more fringe, the beliefs of that group tend to harden even further, and anger and resentment towards the non-fringe majority grows. An ego-protecting mentality takes hold and the fringe belief is infused with heroism.

Deeply disturbed persons can accept one of two propositions: Either they are deeply disturbed, or they are Heroes, and their lunacy, hatred, and bloodlust are actually virtues. Of course, the overwhelming majority will choose the latter approach.

One thought that strikes me: Pretty much any person pushing this sort of thing is already a terrorist, if in spirit if not in deed. Moynihan may be suggesting that (or perhaps I over-read him) when he says this sort of thing is not intended to proselytize to the pagan, but to fill the already-converted with murderous zeal.

Were I King of America, then, I wouldn't have any hesitation about deporting any of these guys, or jailing them for the maximum sentence permissible for any infraction I found them to have committed.

They have already revealed motive and means; only opportunity awaits them.

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posted by Ace at 01:20 PM

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