Monday, September 05, 2016

FIGHTING EXTREMISM - The Path of Jesse Curtis Morton

"An extremist's path to academia — and fighting terrorism" PBS NewsHour 8/29/2016

NOTE:  I have made two changes from the original transcript to clarify which persona is talking.


SUMMARY:  Jesse Curtis Morton begins work as a counterterrorism researcher at George Washington University this fall.  But his path to the position was highly unconventional:  until 2012, Morton was Younus Abdullah Muhammad, a Muslim extremist who founded a radical Islamist website.  His decision to go undercover and assist in counterterrorism efforts while in prison changed his trajectory profoundly.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Across the country, students are heading back to school.  As on many campuses, today is also the first day of class at George Washington University.

This summer, a think tank at the school made one of the most unique hires in academia.

The “NewsHour” has a broadcast exclusive interview with a man who was once convicted of terrorism-related charges, and is now a researcher on campus.

I caught up with Jesse Curtis Morton recently.

This is Jesse Curtis Morton.  In 2010, he went by another name, Younus Abdullah Muhammad.

YOUNUS ABDULLA MUHAMMAD:  We will fight you and destroy you if we have to, but we prefer that you come home and pack it up.  Stop killing our innocent men, women and children overseas.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Born in the U.S., he grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but Morton became a Muslim extremist.  This was him on the streets of New York.

YOUNUS ABDULLA MUHAMMAD:  There will be no peace with Israel until Israel is in pieces.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Morton (aka Younus Abdulla Muhammad) also helped found Revolution Muslim, a Web site that the FBI says encouraged Muslims to support Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and other violent jihadi groups.

The Web site threatened violence against the creators of the Comedy Central show “South Park” for a 2010 cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed.  In 2012, Morton was sentenced to more than 11-and-a-half years in jail for using the Internet to threaten bodily harm.

But here we are four years later.  He's a free man with a decent-paying job at a George Washington University think tank in the nation's capital.  Morton is out of jail early because he cooperated with authorities in the U.S. and overseas.  He worked undercover to gather intelligence on those who still trusted the man they saw in those videos.

He helped train law enforcement to recognize people on the path he was on, and helped analyze the behavior of suspected terrorists with insights only someone like him could have.

You're on camera now.  Your face is going to be out there.  And you're going to be walking around a college campus, as someone who has been convicted of supporting al-Qaida.

JESSE CURTIS MORTON, George Washington University:  Yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  There's 10,000 sets of parents who might be a little concerned that someone with a target on their back might be walking around on the same campus as their students.

JESSE CURTIS MORTON:  Well, there has been an extensive security plan put in place by a very competent security team at G.W.  And we have assessed the risk with the law enforcement community, federal, local, and some state agencies.  And there is very, very, very little risk at this point.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Getting to this point, Morton says, has been a long road through radicalization and then de-radicalization.

JESSE CURTIS MORTON:  I came from a very tumultuous childhood, where there was very severe abuse.  And when I reached out to my society and tried to get assistance to stop that abuse, the school, my family, and the society around me didn't prevent it.  And so, at a very young age, I rejected American culture and the American way of life, so to say, and sought a new identity.

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