MUST READ:: The Making of a Homegrown Terrorist

Written by Peter A. Olsson, MD


The best salespersons get their customers to seek them out to buy the product. Terror group recruiters from ISIL and Al Qaeda mushrooming franchises have many new and effective group membership sales techniques. They are sophisticated brainwashers and seducers. Internet advertisement is popular, even hip, for terrorist recruiters. Charismatic Imams use fiery anti-American sermons at mosques to attract young men. These potential recruits are “in-betweeners”: in between jobs; in between relationships; in between their family homes and their own marriage; in between schools; or in general, in between young adulthood and adulthood.1

Recently, terror cult recruiters such as the sinister, now deceased American Imam Anwar al-Awlaki have mesmerized and recruited young adult Americans into the cadres of violent Islamist Jihad. These so-called homegrown terrorists are the source of great concern for US Homeland Security experts. These “homegrowns” are very familiar with American culture and thus more difficult to detect before their acts of terror. In this article, psychodynamic psychology is applied toward the understanding of and recognition of homegrown terrorists.

“In-betweener” countries, communities, and youths

Like “in-betweener” individuals, countries and communities can sometimes become “in-betweeners.”2 Such places are vulnerable on a larger scale to terror cult recruitment, particularly their late adolescent and disaffected young adult populations. For countries in transition, such as Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation; Iraq after the defeat of Saddam; and unstable Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, there are extended periods of vulnerability to the recruitment efforts of terror cults such as ISIL and Al Qaeda franchises.

The spiritual/religious sermonizing and discussions draw many young people toward the idealistic pursuit of social justice or the utopian causes embedded in Jihadist propaganda. The exciting study of weapons, military tactics, physical fitness, and bomb-making technology appeal to youths. They prefer Jihadism to the mundane, boring vocations of their fathers. And, jobs are scarce in many Muslim countries because of the global economic recession.

The appeal of ISIL and Al Qaeda is their unique ability to magnify and expand normal rebelliousness of adolescents and their search for independent identity. What is normal adolescent rebellion and protest for many becomes terrorist identity and actions for some through the tutelage of malignant leaders such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In other words, ISIL recruiters, by intuition, design, or mere favorable location, take advantage of a normal adolescent stage—young Americans who can’t find jobs or vocations are vulnerable to recruitment.

Radical Islamists recruit by using personal charisma and manipulating the Koran. These manipulations of the Koran form attractive mixtures of theology turned into starkly articulated radical political action ideology (see Adam Gadahn history, below). In fact, many ISIL followers seek the Islamists out via their own adolescent identity searching and idealism.