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Why Do Americans Join Terrorist Organizations


In America it is often thought that citizens are what define what their country stands for. Most Americans believe that their country stands as an unprecedented symbol of freedom for other countries to follow, however, not everybody shares the same mentality. Although it is unclear, at least 180 Americans have attempted to travel to the Middle East to preserve a cause America is fighting to end (Payne).  The first American to step on foreign soil and die under the ISIS flag is Douglas McArthur McCain, or ‘Duale Khalid’.  Shortly after McCain, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, became the first American suicide bomber to die for this terrorist organization. These two, among others, are blemishes on what it means to be an American. While more and more recruits leave this country to fight this country, it brings one to question why do Americans join terrorist organizations?

To answer that question, one must first look at the psychological traits that breed modern extremism. The underlying theme in extremism comes down to the search for self-identity (DeAngelis). The struggle of self-identity is something every person must face regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Some Americans join activities such as sports or Greek life to help them figure out the age old question of who am I? In the search for self-realization other Americans take the easy route and turn to terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, Army of God, and ISIS. More often than not, these troubled young  people feel angry, victimized by government or social issues, and disenfranchised with their current political involvement (DeAngelis). These reoccurring traits are what fundamentalist recruiters prey on. Recruiters paint vivid pictures of adventure and heroism but seem to leave out the harrowing reality of violence and sectarianism. While the idea of joining a terrorist organization may seem attractive to certain individuals, it is absolutely inexcusable to use violence against innocents to further a political platform.

Once all the conditions for radicalization are in place, terrorist organizations put recruitments into motion. The Washington Times reported that since 2008, at least 40 people in Minneapolis alone; among those was Douglas McCain (Kelly). The Twin Cities seem to have become a hot spot for al-Shabab recruitment due to its large Somali community. A majority of Somalians in Minnesota migrated to the United States as part of a refugee relief project set up by the United States government. Since so many came to a foreign place, having no connection to the new land, they are prime candidates by recruiters based on their disenfranchisement of their new country. While this is in no way endorsing recruitment, one has to admit that these recruiters are intelligent in their systematic attempts to guide troubled kids into extremism.

There are a number of tactics organizations like ISIS use on potential recruits to unite them in their cause.  Among them is the creation of pro-jihadi websites, using cartoons, communicating through streaming video, and even video games. The most successful of these tactics is the use of social media such as Twitter and YouTube. Social media allows two-way communication between recruits and recruiters regardless of the distance. The internet provides “how to” websites that give vivid details on topics such as how to join organizations, how to carry out attacks, and how to create homemade explosives. Essentially giving potential recruits the opportunity and encouragement of self-radicalization, a relatively new phenomenon arising in different areas of the world. The idea that an extremist can be bred in the house next door without ever leaving should scare Americans. It is heartbreaking to think that American citizens can be influenced into hating their country by something as simple as a message board in an online chat room.

The reality of American citizens joining terrorist organization should be a major concern on the government’s agenda. This country has to do more to prevent the continuation of indoctrination, starting by addressing the psychological conditions that allow the opportunity for radicalization. More must be done for groups like the Somali population through projects that help foreigners assimilate better. The American government has to find a tangible way to minimize terrorist organizations’ access to youth. In cases where the radicalization has already occurred, the government must fund initiatives to de-radicalize these individuals rather than just sending them into a prison cell.

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Current summer intern at Shia Rights Watch, the world’s first independent organization dedicated to define and protect the rights of Shia Muslims around the world. SRW is a non- governmental, not-for-profit research entity and advocacy group headquartered in Washington D.C., U.S.A. Shia Rights Watch holds a 501(c) status, as well as holding a Special consultation status (ECOSOC) with the United Nations. Shia Rights Watch aims to draw the international attention where Shia rights are violated; the aim is to give a voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. S.R.W. achieves its objectives through strategic investigations supported by targeted advocacy in order to bring about informed action. Originally from Miami, Florida I am a third year student at Florida State University majoring in Public Relations and International Affairs with the intent of working in human rights and global politics.


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