A Conversation with a Former Extremist

On September 26, 2016, the Program on Extremism hosted an event highlighting the experience of former extremist Jesse Morton. He spoke with Dr. Jessica Stern, a Research Professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, about his former role as a recruiter for al-Qaeda and as the chief propagandist of Revolution Muslim.

The discussion began with Dr. Stern exploring the roots of Jesse’s radicalization, how it led him to delivering sermons on the streets of New York and recruiting outside of mosques. Jesse described how he ultimately came to cofound Revolution Muslim, a New York City-based website and organization active in the 2000s, through which he disseminated his interpretation of the Salafi-jihadi narrative.

The conversation then turned to Jesse’s subsequent arrest in Morocco. Together, Dr. Stern and Jesse examined how his interactions with an empathetic FBI agent further unraveled his bifurcated perception of the world, a process that began when he relocated to Morocco and removed himself from his U.S.-based network. Jesse described de-radicalization as a process, not an event, one that he was able to continue when he assisted law enforcement officers with terrorism-related investigations, and one that he is able to reinforce through his work as a Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism.

The event ended with Dr. Stern taking questions from audience members. Jesse was asked for his input on the current tools available to the law enforcement community in terms of fighting domestic extremism, which he believes can be greatly improved. He emphasized that he saw intervention and de-radicalization initiatives as the most promising aspects of the countering violent extremism (CVE) arena. Last, Jesse expressed his opinion on threat assessments and how to better monitor and understand jihadist networks.