Adam Gadahn, the first American to be charged with treason in fifty years, used to be big into death metal.
The 28-year-old is now Al Qaeda's top English-language propagandist, having converted to Islam at age 17, left his home in rural California, and trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Raffi Khatchadourian's Jan. 22 profile of Gadahn is full of rich ironies, like the fact that before he joined Al Qaeda, Gadahn (featured in all photos at right) rejected evangelical Christianity because he felt alienated by its “apocalyptic ramblings.”
Check out his thoughts on family:
“Allah warns the parents, siblings, offspring, and other relatives of the Muslim that their relation to him will be of no use to them on the day of judgment, if they have not themselves died as true believers.I can see how rambling turns him off. Everyone knows that succinctness gets you more bang for your psychotic-metaphysical buck.
So don’t be complacent, or let the Devil deceive you into thinking that your connections will intercede for you on that terrible day."
Death metal, as you probably know, is identified by downtuned rhythm guitars, fast percussion, and dark lyrics that focus, Elizabeth Kolbert-like, on nihilistic metaphors. What you may not know is that metalheads revere Cookie Monster and imitate his singing style.
'I forget—how exactly does Cookie Monster sing?'
Rocknerd explains why the growling and ümlaüts preponderate in heavy metal, but he doesn't have much to say about how young Americans "pick up the sword of the idea" and go on to attack their own societies, even martyring themselves if necessary.
In Khatchadourian's article, forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman provides a profile of "homegrowns," as they're called. He finds that, as with most cults, the ideology is just window dressing for new recruits. The chief appeal seems to be finding community within a "bunch of guys."
Once within that “bunch of guys,” the men become radicalized through a process akin to oneupmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of zeal.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you see a parallel to young men who electroshock their own genitals.
Apparently, ideology and political grievance play a minimal role during the initial stages of jihadi enlistment. According to Sageman, the common thread is that "the future terrorists were isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated.”
It won't be the last time I ask this: What happened to soft drugs and acoustic guitar?
(Extra reading: "My Year Inside Radical Islam.")
(Extra watching: Gadahn and Zawahiri appeal for your conversion.)