A Veteran Reflects on ISIS: We’re Too Late

L.B. is a resident of Austin, TX and a nine-year Army Veteran.

July 15, 2016

No sleep for me last night. I’ve had too much on my mind concerning all of the recent terrorists/ISIS attacks. I keep thinking back to 2013 when I spent a few months trying to understand the (unconcerned) crisis in Syria via Twitter and in doing so, I unknowingly discovered an endless amount of ISIS accounts. The images and content I saw and translated were completely unnerving and gruesome. What was more shocking was that no other media outlets in the western hemisphere were at all concerned or aware of it. Even then I would tell K that this movement was going to turn into something big very soon. It took another eight months before I finally heard the evening news break about ISIS.

What worried me the most were not the actual ISIS members themselves, they didn’t seem that concerned with the US at the time, but with the unwavering support, they received from people all over the world, e.g. mostly Indonesia, the Philippines, areas in Europe, Africa and frightening enough, Canada.

So when Europeans and Americans shout behind their smartphones and podiums and say the borders should be closed to Muslims or Middle Eastern (looking) citizens, or that we should just attack and wipe them out completely… I ask where do you want to attack and who exactly do you plan on keeping out? It’s not a religion you should be afraid of. These enemies are extremists, idealists, and deluded copycats who not only look like 70% of the rest of the world but are already and unfortunately closer than you think.

I’m completely grateful I was able to “safely” travel around the world as much as I did but today I sincerely feel dumbfounded and emotionally exhausted over how our free world will one day fully overcome these random attacks and suppress this new enemy. I honestly just don’t how we’ll overcome.

With technology and social media developing and spreading at such an exponential rate, it’s simply surreal how inadvertently we’ve become connected with the enemy. We could use this either for or against them and yet, this is all so new, we simply don’t know how to supervise it or if we even have the right to. That’s what I find to be the new variable in this age old equation, making it almost impossible to devise a way to defeat the enemy. We all now have a window to the world, a platform to speak on, and a instant way to be influenced by whatever you like. How do you defeat that?

This article [Pro-ISIS Online Groups Use Social Media Survival Strategies to Evade Authorities] is completely true. Unfortunately, they only began to log this sort of activity in 2015. Back in 2013, in realizing what I had possibly found, basically a terrorist group that the rest of the world was unaware and unconcerned with, I would allow myself to fall into these nightlong wormholes of scrolling through their twitter feeds, following their hashtag trails, and translating their messages via Google. Basically, once I knew how to find it, it was shockingly easy to follow their message.

I knew what I was doing could be considered dangerous and at times I wondered if it was somehow illegal because I was an American and I shouldn’t be concerning myself with this sort of online community. There were times I imagined I’d have the CIA banging down my door because my Twitter activity was being tracked or that I’d find myself on some sort of terrorist watch list. I was ready to tell authorities that I was not a sympathizer but merely a citizen doing my own research because no other government agencies, journalists or news outlets were doing it for me. My thought process was simple; When that hate finally made its way over here, if the media wasn’t ready to tell me who or where to be wary of, at least I might have an idea where their next car or suicide bombing would take place. It was that visible on their accounts. But nothing ever happened and in the oddest way, it made me mad that it was so easy for me to go as deep as I did into these social accounts, find hundreds of images of readied car bombs and carried out mass executions, and yet still it was never newsworthy. It just didn’t make any sense.

I witnessed their nest grow for about five months and in those five months, I had to mentally and in a way patriotically prepare myself for those Twitter “dives.” It got to a point where I began to understand their inner structures, who was whom among their ranks, and see others rise when their leaders were “martyred.” And still, I heard nothing on air or online from either the US or the UK. As it got more serious, I studied who their Twitter followers were and found quite a few in France, Belgium, England, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Canada, and even the US; however, I hoped that the US followers were people like myself who were simply onto them. A few months later, it personally became dangerous when about a dozen of them requested to follow me. At that point, I cleaned my feed and blocked every account possibly associated with ISIS or Syria. Insanely enough, just a few days later, Anonymous released records showing the thousands of Twitter accounts who were possibly deemed as ISIS sympathizers. Luckily, I was not on that list.

I don’t regret following it the way I did but I left it alone once the news broke about ISIS but even then I knew that we were too late on addressing this group as well as completely arrogant at thinking that our invisible borders would keep its supporters at bay. Three years later and unfortunately I realize was right all along.

We didn’t see it coming, at least we didn’t know who or what to expect in time. We took our freedoms (and invincibility) for granted. Now, we’re fighting, once again, a new and indelible kind of enemy that I’m sorry to say isn’t as easily detectable. I can’t agree on a perfect solution. For nearly the last 15 years, I’ve constantly felt like the worse is yet to come and although I refuse to become numb to it, it’s suddenly exhausting.

I see no foolproof solution; one that doesn’t continue to shun the hundreds of thousands of helpless (and hopeful) victims from Syria, or one that doesn’t make us as hateful or as deadly as ISIS in turn. In 2013, I would tag US government agencies in these horrific tweets, even the ones that showed solidarity from ISIS supporters in Canada, hoping to get their attention. We focused on this dilemma years too late.