They're average, everyday, social media-savvy Americans — who happen to support the brutal jihadist regime slaughtering its way across the Middle East.
Vocativ on Wednesday took an in-depth look at American supporters of the Islamic State, and found a number of disturbing facts about "jihadis next door."
Here's some of what we learned.
1. There are plenty of American supporters of the Islamic State lurking online.
We’ve found dozens of Americans who openly support the militant Islamic group.
In many ways, they’re just like you. They post selfies on Twitter and Facebook, share memes, hang out with friends. They talk about their favorite TV shows, movies and music. They share news about their families.
But they’re also pledging support to the brutal regime seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East.
2. People can apparently like both "duck face selfies" and Shariah law.
American Islamic State supporters have varied interests and mix stereotypical American pastimes with their affinity for the rising caliphate:
A third American ISIS supporter we identified is a woman who lives in Minnesota. She has posted a number of ISIS propaganda videos, as well as pictures of Anwar al-Awaki, the American cleric and senior Al Qaeda operative who died in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. She also talks about mundane things like Nutella and duck face selfies, as well as her love of the movies Hunger Games,Twilight and Shrek. Plus, she’s a fan of her local WNBA team, the Lynx.
3. The Midwest is a relative hotbed of Islamic State support.
Of the four American supporters of the Islamic State Vocativ profiled in some depth, three live in the Midwest.
In particular, Dearborn, Michigan, has been a center of Middle Eastern culture in the U.S. since Lebanese auto workers (many of them Christian) began streaming into the city around the turn of the century, and the town is home to both the largest mosque in North America and the Arab American National Museum.
Dearborn is also home to fanatical Sunni Muslim Imam Ahmad Musa Jibril.
Well-known in law enforcement circles, Jibril is a 43-year-old imam based in Dearborn, Michigan. A decade ago, he was kicked out of a mosque for urging his followers to kill non-Muslims. He later spent six years in federal prison for crimes including money laundering, tax evasion and trying to bribe a juror. He was released in 2012.
What sets Jibril apart from other radical clerics is his sizable social following. He has racked up over 220,000 likes on his Facebook profile and more than 26,000 followers on Twitter, where he communicates with some of them (and their families) one-on-one. On YouTube, Jibril’s sermons average several thousand views each.
Jibril's sermons have reportedly incited hatred and violence, with one student at the University of Michigan at Dearborn telling Vocativ he was beaten by a group of men and sent to the hospital after disagreeing publicly with Jibril.
Another student said, “I don’t think I’ve met another speaker like [Jibril] who was trying to get into peoples’ heads.”
4. Sixty percent of the foreign fighters in Syria follow one American on Twitter.
Jibril is somewhat careful with his rhetoric.
Researchers at King's College in London noted that he “does not openly incite his followers to violence nor does he explicitly encourage them to join the Syrian jihad. Instead, he adopts the role of cheerleader: supporting the principles of armed opposition to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, often in highly emotive terms, while employing extremely charged religious or sectarian idioms.”
His approach is effective: Of the estimated 12,000 foreign fighters (from 80 different countries) in Syria, roughly 60 percent of them follow Jibril on Twitter, according to the researchers.
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter