As the nature of terrorism changes, the average “jihadi” in the United States is starting to look less like the type of person President Donald Trump wants to ban from the country.
A recent illustrative example is Damon Joseph, a 21-year-old Toledo man arrested by the FBI this December for pledging support to ISIS online, who was planning a shooting attack against a local synagogue. In conversations with an undercover FBI agent, Joseph, who is white, expressed sympathies for ISIS and repeated some of their common conspiracy theories and propaganda tropes. He also, however, expressed admiration for Robert Bowers — the white supremacist who murdered 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh this October — whose massacre also seems to have inspired Joseph’s own choice of target.
Discerning motive is always a difficult exercise, but the affidavit that accompanied the criminal complaint against Joseph gives the impression of a young man already deeply mired in a noxious brew of hatreds and conspiracies. In conversations with undercover agents, Joseph said, “I absolutely despise Jews — always have, even before being Muslim.” At another point during the investigation, Joseph was asked if he felt hate for any groups people in the United States. “Oh yeah definitely,” he replied. “The gays, the Christians, the Catholics, the Jews, you name it.”
Cases like this have become typical in recent years. Among other things, they seem to show a shift in emphasis in terrorism plots from foreign political grievances to personal pathology. A significant number of those implicated in homegrown plots in recent years — again, mostly ISIS-related — have had long histories of petty crime, drug use, and mental illness, factors that were already strong predictors for incarceration in the U.S.