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Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring:

Jesse Morton

Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

11:00 AM EST

August 19th, 2020 

Terrorist propaganda and recruitment has been studied extensively by academics, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda and ISIS have been particularly notorious for their professional-quality recruitment materials, including videos and magazines. Significantly, much of this material is available in perfect English, extending the terrorist groups’ reach into the Western world. Some of the most widely known English-language propagandists include Anwar al-Awlaki, Anjem Choudary, Abdullah Faisal, Samir Khan and Ahmad Musa Jibril. Many other lectures and written material have also been translated by al Qaeda and ISIS supporters from Arabic into English and other Western languages to make them more accessible to Western audiences. Who are the people who carry out these translations and what are their motivations for spreading terrorist hate? How is terrorist propaganda made understandable to Western audiences and what are the hooks to bring Westerners into these groups?

On August 19th, we met a professional at doing just that. Jesse Morton ran Revolution Muslim from New York City in the 2000s and translated al Qaeda propaganda into English, disseminating it to Americans. At ICSVE’s seventh Zoom event, Jesse Morton joined Dr. Anne Speckhard to discuss his own process of radicalization and the impact of that prior childhood trauma often has on radicalization, his actions that radicalized many others, and his journey out of violent extremism since his arrest in 2011 as well as his current activities fighting terrorism with Parallel Networks and LightUponLight.  

Jesse Morton was once a jihadist propagandist (then known as Younes Abdullah Muhammad) who ran Revolution Muslim, a New York City-based organization active in the 2000s and connected to a number of terrorism cases. He connected al-Qaeda’s ideology and transformed it for America, creating English language propaganda. Morton deradicalized in 2011, following his arrest in Casablanca and then incarceration in the U.S. He currently consults on international projects and runs Parallel Networks, an organization he cofounded with the former NYPD official that monitored and ultimately incarcerated him. Morton also runs LightUponLight, an online ecosystem that utilizes a transdisciplinary, network theory dedicated to combating, polarization, hate and violent extremism in the American ambit by providing the same sense of identity, meaning, significance and camaraderie extremist provide their recruits. He holds certificate licensure in substance-abuse and mental health counseling, is widely read in Islamic theology and jurisprudence and holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Columbia University.  

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has interviewed 245 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 200 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to TerroristsBride of ISISUndercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website

Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the seventh discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The first panel, “Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID,” can be reviewed here. The second panel, “Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?” featuring Redouan Safdi and Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The third panel, “Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?” can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The fourth panel, “Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System,” can be reviewed here. The fifth panel, “Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out,” can be reviewed here. The sixth panel, “Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand,” can be reviewed here.

Chat Log

10:53:56 From harjit.sandhu : Hello Molly and everyone. Greetings from Harjit

10:55:17 From Paul Sutliff : Hi Molly and all!

10:56:12 From Alikhalil : hello everyone

10:56:29 From Dansturgis : Good Morning from Toronto.

10:57:59 From Dete : Good evening from Indonesia … Hello everyone …

10:58:15 From Francesca Sawalha : Good evening from Amman, Jordan

10:58:45 From Attafi : Good evening from Germany

10:59:00 From harjit.sandhu : Hello Anne.

10:59:13 From Maha Ghazi : Hello everyone from Morocco. 

10:59:25 From Paul Sutliff : NY here

11:00:04 From Remington Whiteside : Greetings from Texas

11:00:09 From Dr. Zoe D. Fine : Hi everyone!

11:00:11 From dete : Hello Prof. Kruglanski … nice to meeting you again .. although through online. Hope you still remember me, we met in Kuala Lumpur last year 

11:02:20 From Molly Ellenberg : Here is the link to ICSVE’s event page:

This is ICSVE’s YouTube channel:

The event link for today will be sent out later, but you can also access it from the general events page posted above!

11:02:23 From Gary Dunnagan : Hello everyone, greetings from the UK.

11:04:41 From Molly Ellenberg : The link to ICSVE’s YouTube channel is posted above. Here is the link to the counter narrative videos on ICSVE’s website:

11:05:40 From Molly Ellenberg : Here are some of our recent reports on our Facebook and Instagram campaigns:

ISIS and the Militant Jihad on Instagram:

Delegitimizing ISIS and Militant Jihadist Ideologies May Also Require Addressing Anti-Western Biases:

Anti-ISIS and Anti-Western: An Examination of Comments on ISIS Counter Narrative Facebook Videos:

Look out for more scholarly articles that are currently in press or under review!

11:05:50 From Molly Ellenberg : Spontaneous Deradicalization and the Path to Repatriate Some ISIS Members:

11:07:13 From Molly Ellenberg : The lethal cocktail of terrorism: the four necessary ingredients that go into making a terrorist & fifty individual vulnerabilities/motivations that may also play a role:

11:08:28 From Molly Ellenberg : The Making of a Martyr: Chechen Suicide Terrorism:

11:10:27 From Molly Ellenberg : Understanding Suicide Terrorism: Countering Human Bombs and Their Senders:

Defusing Human Bombs: Understanding  Suicide Terrorism:

11:12:09 From Molly Ellenberg : You can find the case of the female Palestinian would-be suicide bomber in Talking to Terrorists: Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & “Martyrs”:

11:13:06 From Ahmed Patel : understanding martydom terrorism by Dr Lewis Herrington. a book I’m currently involved in.  

11:14:37 From Molly Ellenberg : Taking on the Persona of a Suicide Bomber: a Thought Experiment:

11:15:59 From Ahmed Patel : If i may introduce myself..i am unfortunately the brother in law of the ringleader of the 7/7 London bombings of 2005. with many mainstream media interviews as well as providing input to many students and researchers over the years

11:16:48 From Besir Wrayet : Not related with the Terrorist Profiles studied today, however what about Ted Kaczynski’s Terrorist Roll perhaps impacted by Milgrams Study , where he was a human subject?

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Indeed Kaczynski was extremely upset by how he was treated in U.S. government funded experimentation during his time at Harvard which was aimed at breaking his beliefs down and he was ever angered at the U.S. government as a result. I don’t believe Milgram’s study was involved however.  Not sure on that.

11:17:00 From Turn6for9* : ahmed patel, kindly share your email id

11:17:20 From Ahmed Patel : i hope i can talk about my brother in laws many personal issues here.Also posted on my Linkedin

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Ahmed I am sure you have a great deal to say about your brother-in-law but unfortunately I can’t let you present its details in any great length today as we gathered here today to discuss Jesse and his case and there is not enough time.

11:17:57 From Ahmed Patel :

11:18:06 From Viveen Brosnahan : Hello Ahmed.  Could I have your email also please?

11:18:48 From Ahmed Patel : Im on Linkedin with that email

11:22:00 From Viveen Brosnahan : Hi Ahmed, yes we are connected. 

11:25:53 From 554 881 2600 : hello mr. Ahmed 

11:26:26 From 554 881 2600 : its me unnikrishnan please do share your experience if you get a chance 

11:26:53 From Ahmed Patel : I will if I get the opportunity

11:27:23 From 554 881 2600 : I hope 

11:31:16 From Nizar Farsakh : Apologies all, need to run to another meeting, please feel free to connect

11:31:25 From Nizar Farsakh : Nizar Farsakh

Lecturer – Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University

11:31:47 From 554 881 2600 : sure

11:45:05 From Maha Ghazi : Mr. Jesse Morton, I would love to know more about your experience in Moroccan jail (Sale). Was it during the revisionist initiatives of self-deradicalization of prisoners?  I am a Moroccan researcher working on deradicalization, disengagement and rehabilitation issues. 

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Maha, sorry I saw your question but there was not enough time to get to these details today.

11:50:08 From harjit.sandhu : Great presentation and a wonderful will power to come out of all this, Jesse Morton. Hats off to you!

11:50:23 From dete : Mr. Jesse Morton, may I use your story, the pathways you join radicalism and finally deradicalized, as an example for my presentation if I do presentation to the Indonesian audiences or international audiences. I am Dete Aliah, from Indonesia, working on PCVE Issue 

11:51:05 From Ahmed Patel : So many similarities to my brother in laws personal issues and toxic relationships. black sheep, shame, then the need to become some faux hero 

11:51:46 From Turn6for9* : One question for Jesse,

you mentioned that you had students. What was the unique anchor point in recruiting these students?

11:54:41 From Laith El Nasser : I have to step out for another call. Thank you, Mr. Morton, for sharing your story and the opportunity to learn more about the process of radicalization.

11:55:54 From Ahmed Patel : something i’ve called messiah saviour syndrome

12:00:28 From Besir Wrayet : was Juhayman al-Otayb’s invasion and killings in Mecca was used by he propagandists after 9/11?

12:05:36 From stephen : Mr. Jesse Norton. Deep respect that you have managed to generate the energy to not only step out of the scene but to learn from it and then follow it up in a positive way. For the benefit of the community!

12:08:20 From Ahmed Patel : Thanks Anne

12:09:12 From Besir Wrayet : Borrowing from what you’ve said Anne deploy a special program within Peace Corps with the same goal?

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Great idea Besir!

12:09:30 From Rikki Risatti District Representative, they/them : Does Mr. Morton have any response about motioning direct democracy to petition for Municipal Currencies Referendums as part of Anti fascist, decolonizng, and decentralization movements? 

12:15:49 From harjit.sandhu : Finsbury Park Mosque in London can be used as an example of how radicalization was allowed to be carried out from there. Moderate Muslims approached Scotland Yard and Intelligence agencies to stop that, but the law enforcement agencies looked the other way around saying that Abu Hamza had broken no local law. He was recruiting suicide bombers and sending them all over. I had the chance to see some of the radicalization material used by them much later when finally the place was raided sometimes in 2003.

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Bob Lambert was working with some of these moderates and Abdul Haq Bakr started STREET but they were at Brixton mosque and also could not stop many of these folks but they stopped some!

12:17:17 From Ahmed Patel : As well as Anjum Choudhry constantly on mainstream media Harjit.

12:26:55 From Ahmed Patel : Great points Jesse.Thank you.

12:27:43 From harjit.sandhu : We need a two-pronged strategy: deradicalization and at the same time making efforts to prevent radicalization.

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – so true.

12:28:01 From Ahmed Patel : agreed Harjit

12:28:23 From Besir Wrayet : Jesse You are Fighting the Fight, True Warrior elevating the Human Condition. Thank you.

12:29:03 From Gary Dunnagan : Thank You Anne and thank you Jesse. It has been fascinating.

12:29:11 From Nixon : is there a way to re-listen to this? There is so much good stuff to take in, would be great to be able to revisit it

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Thank you and yes you can watch the video of the event on our ICSVE website under events.  It should be up the day of or day after each time.

12:29:12 From Saad Shaheed : Thank you for sharing your experience Jesse. Very enlightening. Thank you ICSVE for arranging these Meetings.

12:29:24 From Alison Watts : Thank you Jesse, such an interesting story and an inspiring story for young people

12:29:24 From shamsun : This was so informative. Thank you so much for sharing Jesse

12:29:26 From Molly Ellenberg : The video will be sent out later today!

12:29:26 From Besir Wrayet : Thank you ICSVE.

12:29:26 From Nixon : thanks so much for sharing”

12:29:27 From Fran : Thank you Jesse, very enlightening

12:29:35 From Viveen Brosnahan : thank you for being so open Jesse

12:29:40 From H. Colleen Sinclair : Yes thank you so much for your story and insights

12:29:40 From Agatha Tocchio : Thank you very much, this was very interesting!

12:29:40 From Sally : Thank you that was fascinating

12:29:41 From Rebecca Cataldi : So appreciated your sharing of your incredibly powerful story Jesse.

12:29:42 From Jesse Morton :

12:29:44 From royce : Thank you, Jesse

12:29:44 From Jocelyn Belanger : Great conversation – thank you!

12:29:45 From Tom  : Thank you. This was really interesting!

12:29:46 From Dr. Aleks Nesic : Thanks for organizing this Anne. Thanks Jesse! 

12:29:49 From Catarina Abrunhosa : Thank you Mr Morton

12:29:49 From Jesse Morton : 202-486-8633

12:29:55 From Noellynn Slaughter : This is a fascinating discussion! Thanks Jesse!

12:29:56 From Agnes Netter : Thank you Jesse and thank you Anne

12:30:01 From Erin Docherty : Thank you so much Jesse. This was phenomenal. I would echo and ask if there is a recording available at all?

12:30:18 From Faye Hussain : thank you for sharing your story.

12:30:21 From HRoberts : thanks for sharing

12:30:25 From Jane Murphy : Thank you very much…so thought provoking

(Added after the event) Anne Speckhard – Thanks so much for attending and participating in the chat and supporting Jesse in sharing his story and supporting him as he ventures out on his new adventures of recreating for good and healing a better version of what he created in the past out of hurt and anger.  Please support him if you can!

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