Secrets, Security and Propaganda – How Terrorists are Made


A British mother almost mad with grief begs her child who’s disappeared to, “Come home. At least let me know you are alive.” Americans from New York to Alabama are stunned to realize their children, raised in good circumstances, in often well-educated, assimilated households, disappear to join the ‘Jihad’.

The vanished young people are from all walks of life, but somehow lost. Somehow, some way, this vulnerability was discovered. Someone took the time to ‘recruit’ them to an apocalyptic, puritanical, yet nevertheless appealing cause.

The Islamic State, for example challenges a lost youth in ways ‘a pampered, decadent, meaningless’ Western life does not. Rallied by unknown enthusiasts online to a fight worth dying for, they leave as international volunteers to battle arch enemies of ‘true Islam’. A review of Islamic State social media reveals a worldview reduced to a simple, easily understood black and white. Young searchers are counseled they are less than good Muslims if they don’t make a decision: ‘Act! Don’t sit in coffee houses or McDonald’s and waste your lives. Fight the noble fight against unbelievers and apostates in Syria and Iraq. After all, to die killing those propped up by Crusaders and Jews leads to Paradise in Heaven. What are you waiting for? What are you doing just sitting in your mom’s basement? Be somebody! Defend your true faith and the wretched sufferers of Islam!’

How Islam Makes Propaganda Work

This, of course, is propaganda. Yet it works. And it’s not a new problem. It appeared in different guises throughout our history. Consider the youth not attracted by radical Islamic enticers, but white supremacists. The same appeal to young people without a handle on their identity, who are searching for some sort of truth, who want to find a clear faith, arrives in mysterious ways online.

They are bogus appeals to ‘pure Islam’ and a false ‘white purity’. Today’s jihadist appeals sound for all the world like superhero comic books of days gone by. Jihad is sold as the world’s coolest video game…only it is real. Likewise, online white supremacy recruitment sites appeal to the secretive tough guy, whose true world is far away from dull mom and dad’s influence. The all-virtuous jihadi who believes he is fighting for almighty God battles against the worldwide lies, wiles, and deceits of totally evil arch enemies. Likewise, white supremacist videos enhance this secret coolness by scenes of riflemen blasting away over walls, spraying ammo at lying race betrayers until the clip is empty. For both, bullets flash and evildoers fall, but never the hardy true believers.

Along comes the friendly deceiver, most often online, who whispers like Mephistopheles in his ear, “You can have all this, if you only act.” An understanding terrorist recruiter makes breathless vows before the ‘question is popped’. One recruiter of a Western girl to jihad began by sending flowers, then prayer cards, then scarves and even chocolates. No mention was made of jihad until long into the developed relationship. The recruiter who used this method himself now works for the West. He helps turn lost Muslims away from extremism. He explained that a compassionate, available, and truly hearing ear, an open heart, and yet a cynical purpose allowed recruiters to succeed over and over. They knew the language young searchers wanted to hear.

How Security Clearance Holders Can Help Those at Risk

What should security professionals do? Know what your children are watching online. I don’t only mean teenagers, but younger children. That’s where recruiting starts. Know buzz words that identify extremism. Someone ‘redpilled’ or watching 4chan should make you ask what that means. Open up permanent lines of communication with your kids. That way you’ll know if suddenly they become more and more secretive. Be sure they share with you concerns they might have, not just about drugs, but about others who hate people, share extremist views, or do extremist things.

Teen years are hard times for identity, rebelliousness, wondering and wandering. Share with young people your time, not just your money. Know what they do online. Know who their friends are, especially if you never see them. One could be a recruiter online. Secretiveness is something we clearance holders understand. When secretiveness becomes a way of life for your children, wonder why. Find out.

John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.

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