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The claim was made by Jesse Morton, an American convert to Islam who co-founded Revolutionary Muslim in New York City, a group which he says sought to “create a narrative that unabashedly supported Al-Qaeda’s views”. Mr Morton has since renounced Islamist fundamentalism and now runs Parallel Networks, a counter-extremist group which works to stop people being dragged into radicalism.
He also edits Ahul-Taqwa, an online magazine which works to counter violent Islamist narratives, and hosts the ‘Light Upon Light’ podcast.
In 2012 Mr Morton was imprisoned for eleven and a half years on terrorism related charges.
Whilst in prison he turned against his former beliefs and began working closely with the FBI and British intelligence services.
Speaking to Express.co.uk about the tactics of groups like Al-Qaeda he said: “Osama bin Laden was waging a war of attrition.
“He didn’t see himself as being able to combat us [the west] militarily, he saw himself as being able to induce a collapse from within our societies.
“The fact we’re now waging a struggle against internal far-right extremism, and indicators we are now transitioning into a level of far-leftist extremism, suggests that fragmentation and ability to render democracies inoperable.
“As far as jihadists are concerned they are only one economic downturn away from being able to ascend and take over the entire [Muslim] region.”
Before founding Revolutionary Muslims Mr Morton was involved with Al-Muhajiroun, a British based group founded by Omar Bakri Muhammad and later dominated by Anjem Choudary, which has since been banned along with a number of its aliases.
Mr Morton explained how personal trauma, including abuse, played a key role in his conversion to fundamentalist Islam.
He stated: “I think we’re learning more and more about those who are susceptible to extremism, and about the correlation between adverse childhood experience and the traumatised state of an individual being able to progress into the simplistic world view extremists offer recruits.
“I think that my case is one that therefore has to start in childhood where there was a lot of physical abuse in the home that led me to run away at the age of 16 and take to a sort of street life, the street criminality mentality that was very much opposed to the world I lived in, very willing to tear it down in order to build something up that was more conducive to my own self-interest.”
In his new life Mr Morton learned “how to peddle drugs” and was incarcerated at the age of 18.
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It was in prison, where he read the autobiography of Malcolm X several times, that Mr Morton first developed an interest in Islam.
He continued: “Then I started to read Islamic scripture.
“Shortly before 9/11 due to the fact I was still living the same lifestyle I was incarcerated again.
“A day after I converted to Islam officially I was arrested in Richmond Virginia and I was incarcerated with a veteran of the Afghan Soviet jihad and he took me through the Quran, taught me how to pray, taught me the five fundamental pillars of Islam.
“By the time George Bush said you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists I was so hateful of the country that I was born in, and largely impacted by the trauma that preceded it and my feeling like I belonged to a society that had betrayed me by not protecting me, that I adopted the mentality and began to search online in my own time for the narratives of Al-Qaeda.
“That led me to become a preacher on the streets of Harlem New York first calling people to oppose the Iraq war, calling them to adopt Islam, and then going forth to meet members of the Al-Muhajiroun network that were operating in New York City.
“I started my own organisation in Brooklyn. I thought Al-Muhajiroun was a little too soft in not openly advocating for the type of ideology that Al-Qaeda was espousing.”
Mr Morton, who founded the “first English language online jihadist magazine”, explained how his group used emotive and emotional content to attract supporters.
He asserted: “We knew that the long diatribes of Al-Qaeda ideologues in ‘caves in Afghanistan’ weren’t going to work with the western youth audience and so what we did was we would take the narrative but we made it like the English language jihadi magazine.
“We made it really image laden, very powerful, less text, more pictures and then those magazines and the videos that were associated with them would facilitate a connection back to the core hub site, the lectures and the recordings and to where you had a 24/7 echo chamber.
“Back in the day when we could rock on YouTube openly you could see the stuff that was substantive would have 500-1,000 views. The stuff that was emotional would have ten thousand, one hundred thousand views so we learned by doing.
“We would take the releases that were on the jihadist forums in Arabic and they would be like an hour and a half long, of some ‘martyr’ who blew himself up in Iraq, and we’d grab a really high-impact exciting clip, isolate it, translate it with subtitles and simply upload it. Those things would get hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views.
“We learned very clearly that what appeals is violence first. Violence first gets the person, opens them up, because its exciting and they want to find out more.”
Mr Morton noted he continues to deploy some of the techniques he learned as an extremist in his new counter-radicalisation work.
In particular his magazine, Ahul-Taqwa, replies heavily on powerful and emotive imagery.
Referring to his previous work he explained: “It’s very important to understand the methodology of extremist recruitment because everything we do to counter it is actually opposite ended so we didn’t target rational argumentation, not in the first stage, what we targeted was emotional and spiritual communication.
“Short messages, it was like Al-Qaeda on Madison Avenue if you will.”
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