While much about what prompted Chesser’s transformation remains a mystery, he illustrates a growing phenomenon in the United States: young converts who embrace the most extreme interpretation of Islam.
Of the nearly 200 U.S. citizens arrested in the past nine years for terrorism-related activity, 20 to 25 percent have been converts, said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. More than a quarter have been arrested in the past 20 months. The center provided The Washington Post with saved copies of Chesser’s postings, most no longer available on the Web.
“Many of these converts are basically white kids from the suburbs” in search of a community, said Segal, whose group has produced numerous papers on those arrested, including Chesser. They are overwhelmingly male, frequently in their 20s and eager to “become something more than they are, or be part of something greater,” he said.
Their militancy is not a product of the alienation that has sometimes prompted Muslim-born young people in the United States and elsewhere to embrace extremism, particularly in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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