By Jesse Morton – former Jihadist Recruiter
The ‘Unite the Right’ protests in Charlottesville this weekend surprised many, but not me. The nation was shocked on Saturday when a young 20-year-old member of the Alt-Right drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others. Unfortunately, I was far from shocked; I’d witnessed similar too many times before.
I was once one of the chief propagandists and recruiters for Al-Qaeda in the United States. I worked in tandem with other preachers to advance an ideology that inspired many to commit acts of terrorism. The organization I ran, Revolution Muslim, worked to restore a pristine and utopic caliphate, the Islamic State. We ran a website that served as a key hub in the jihadist online network. It immersed adherents in constant calls to global jihad, twenty-four seven. The doctrine and visions of the Alt-Right and jihadists may seem diametrically juxtaposed, but they are all too similar and feed off each other. The parallels with the jihadist movement that Alt-Righters so despise is uncanny.
The Southern Poverty Law Center explains that the, “Alt-Right is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their civilization.’ Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew ‘establishment conservatism,’ skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.”
One could easily concoct a definition for Jihadism as a, “fundamentalist ideology, held by disparate groups and individuals whose core belief is that “Muslim identity,” is under attack by multinational forces (the West) using “political ploys” such as “democracy and human rights” to undermine true-Muslims everywhere and “Islamic civilization” at large. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online propaganda, jihadists eschew “Muslim moderates,” skew young, and embrace unity under a pan-Islamic caliphate as a fundamental objective.”
Jihadist and white nationalist movements are dependent on ideologues. The term Alt-Right was coined by Robert Spencer, president of the white nationalist think-tank National Policy Institute. Spencer also runs AlternativeRight.com, a website Breitbart News has described as “a center of alt-right thought.” For all intents and purposes, he is the Alt-Right’s Don Quixote. “Unite the Right” organizer, Jason Kessler, is a relative newcomer to the white nationalist scene. His commitment to the Alt-Right dates back only a few years. There can be no doubt, however, that he will now rise to stardom. Protestors may have chased him away from a speech the day after the rally, but that will without doubt enamor him with regard to the white nationalist base.
This too, is not unfamiliar territory. Like Kessler, I became an instant acolyte and activist. Before becoming a preacher myself, I took crash courses from some of the key jihadists in the West. These included Omar Bakri Muhammad, Anjem Choudary, Anwar al-Awlaki and Abdullah Faisal, all charismatic figureheads that have espoused views that have terrorized the West, from inside the West, for several decades. I started Revolution Muslim under the guidance of my “sheikh,” Abdullah Faisal. It too was meant to serve as a ‘center of jihadist thought.’ I gained notoriety through controversial and inciting claims. When the U.S. government arrested me for threats against the writers of South Park, they described that I “used the organization’s websites to encourage Muslims to support Usama bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki, al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other Muslims engaged in or espousing jihad.” For many years, I didn’t affect my own well-being. Instead I inspired others to commit violence in the name of the ideology I espoused. In so doing, they only harmed themselves and sometimes innocent others.
Revolution Muslim was a gateway organization. We never plotted or engaged in violence ourselves. We never overtly told others to do so. It was implicit in the grievance, in the commentary. We portrayed the West as at war with Islam, and some of our key allies were those on the far-right. When it was alleged that U.S. soldiers had flushed the Quran in the toilet on Guantanamo Bay, we met on a public street and ripped the American flag. It generated tons of media. While many mainstream Muslims publicly denounced our actions, it appealed to a fringe base we were targeting for recruitment. Far-right, Islamophobic bloggers and pundits soon used us to document a ‘creeping shariah’- the idea that American Muslims had a subversive agenda, loyalty to the Quran over the Constitution.
My associate and Revolution Muslim co-founder, Yousef al-Khattab, was appointed to antagonize and agitate them even further. Eventually hostilities grew. We watched in pleasure as the country grew more divided with the election of Barack Obama. We celebrated more Islamophobic events such as a preacher’s burning the Quran, caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and public opposition to the building of a mosque close to the site of the World Trade Center. We claimed to hate the far-right and denounced them as psychopaths, but, in reality, they were our staunchest allies. And so, it should serve as no surprise that the vehicular attacks called for by ISIS, initially adopted in Nice, France and then copycatted elsewhere, were used in Charlottesville over the weekend.
ISIS-Supporters celebrate Charlottesville Protests on Telegram
When I started propagandizing violent Islamist extremism, most thought American Muslims would prove immune to the message, that they were much too affluent and assimilated. That assessment proved inaccurate. The notion that we will not see a similar increase in events like those that occurred over the weekend is as equally wrongheaded. We must be proactive and learn from the lessons several decades of dealing with organizations like Revolution Muslim have taught us.
In order to alter my own perspectives, I had to realize that the axioms upon which the jihadists built their worldview were skewed and twisted., that the ideology I espoused induced others to commit violence. Our jihadist views were essentially the same as our enemies. The far-right touts conspiracies about the Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG); we advocated Al-Qaeda’s anti-Semitic view that Zionists dictate U.S. foreign policy. The far-right rejects globalization and liberalism. We also advocated for pan-Islamic cultural and economic protectionism- totalitarian theocracy and authoritarian nationalism are not at all dissimilar. We justified terrorism and called for lone-wolf attacks against civilians, but ‘leaderless resistance’ has its origins in the writings of a Ku Klux Klan member Louis Beam. Beam popularized the method in an essay published in the 1960’s and revisited it later as a strategy for white nationalists against the U.S. government, a tactic to address an overwhelming imbalance of power. Therefore, we should expect more of the same.
In late June, the Department of Homeland Security released funding for domestic countering violent extremism (CVE) programs. Somewhat surprisingly however, the Trump administration halted the $400,000 grant originally allocated to Life After Hate, an organization that counters white extremism. 26 police and community organizations received over $10 million in total funding, all of them dedicated to addressing the threat posed by Islamist extremism.
In the same way that Trump failed to condemn the protests at Charlottesville as products of the far-right’s bigotry, we should not expect the president to openly condemn a voter block that played a large part in his election. Critics condemned the move and stressed that far-right extremists have been responsible for more violence than jihadists. However, removing the government from the CVE space may not be such a bad thing. Countering hate and extremism will never succeed if it is the result of top-down and bureaucratic decision-making and planning. Solutions must be community-led and decentralized, mirroring the way extremist groups operate.
Extremist movements are far too fluid, far too skilled at learning and adapting from efforts to challenge them. Instead, we must recognize that we are living in an Age of Extremisms, in the plural. We are witnessing a period of polarization unparalleled in the modern era. Combating hate and extremism is perhaps the struggle of our generation. We would do better were we to advocate the idea that we all share a responsibility to oppose hate and extremism wherever it exists, and to obstruct whoever promotes it. We will do much better once we realize that extremisms are a reflection of each other, that at the end of the day hate is hate, and extremisms are one and the same.