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The Internet Jihad

Zach Chesser's how-to guide.

Illustration by Sean McCabe for FP

American suburban kid-turned-jihadi-propagandist Zachary Chesser is just one of many al Qaeda converts to embrace the Internet as a battlefield — but he might be one of the only ones who grew up loving the early seasons of South Park in his middle-school years, well before he indirectly threatened to kill its creators a decade later. Coupling his inside knowledge of American culture with an extreme sense of his own new-media brilliance, Chesser declared himself an expert on the U.S. counterterrorism system and began laboring over long lists of dos and don’ts for his fellow would-be jihadi proselytizers. Here, summarized and paraphrased, are Chesser’s top 10 most effective ways to wage the Internet jihad:

1) Anytime the United States does anything that can be perceived as a success in its war against al Qaeda, bury it. Whenever al Qaeda operatives are killed or captured, for example, flood the airwaves with discussions about their replacements.

2) When it comes to online articles and videos, each one needs to have a clear bias. Use derogatory phrases like “5 Western pigs sent to Hellfire in sha’a Allah” to make it clear whose side God is on. But always publish the truth because lies can backfire.

3) Spread videos of dying Americans because images of death dehumanize them in the minds of jihadists.

4) Publish statistics of how many Muslim civilians have been killed by the Americans, using the highest credible estimates.

5) Calibrate your messaging strategy according to the level of sympathy for al Qaeda that a target audience already has. Do not show a video of al Qaeda mowing down Americans, for instance, to a Muslim with a Barack Obama sticker on his or her backpack.

6) Anytime an American does something wrong, emphasize it, whether it’s a silly statement that makes the person sound dumb or an intentional attack on civilians. Whenever you can use an embarrassing photo of an American, do so, just as the Americans only use the beardless and disheveled image of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he was arrested.

7) Emphasize noncontroversial jihadi actions. Show images of them handing out zakat (charity). Mention that al Qaeda is not really against girls’ schools and that the organization actively works to build them. Use positive images.

8) Exacerbate diplomatic rifts between the enemies of al Qaeda. When Israel does something against U.S. interests, publish it. Likewise, encourage the disunity of Western political parties.

9) Publish and comment on U.S. counterterrorism research reports. The best propaganda, outside the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, can come in the form of revealing what Americans say about how al Qaeda is waking up the sleeping Muslims.

10) Embrace online tools. Twitter is an incredibly easy way to approach young people who aren’t active users of al Qaeda websites. Although Facebook bans jihadists from time to time, it is a good way of reaching large numbers of people — even if the senior jihadi clerics haven’t been convinced yet.

American suburban kid-turned-jihadi-propagandist Zachary Chesser is just one of many al Qaeda converts to embrace the Internet as a battlefield — but he might be one of the only ones who grew up loving the early seasons of South Park in his middle-school years, well before he indirectly threatened to kill its creators a decade later. Coupling his inside knowledge of American culture with an extreme sense of his own new-media brilliance, Chesser declared himself an expert on the U.S. counterterrorism system and began laboring over long lists of dos and don’ts for his fellow would-be jihadi proselytizers. Here, summarized and paraphrased, are Chesser’s top 10 most effective ways to wage the Internet jihad:

1) Anytime the United States does anything that can be perceived as a success in its war against al Qaeda, bury it. Whenever al Qaeda operatives are killed or captured, for example, flood the airwaves with discussions about their replacements.

2) When it comes to online articles and videos, each one needs to have a clear bias. Use derogatory phrases like “5 Western pigs sent to Hellfire in sha’a Allah” to make it clear whose side God is on. But always publish the truth because lies can backfire.

3) Spread videos of dying Americans because images of death dehumanize them in the minds of jihadists.

4) Publish statistics of how many Muslim civilians have been killed by the Americans, using the highest credible estimates.

5) Calibrate your messaging strategy according to the level of sympathy for al Qaeda that a target audience already has. Do not show a video of al Qaeda mowing down Americans, for instance, to a Muslim with a Barack Obama sticker on his or her backpack.

6) Anytime an American does something wrong, emphasize it, whether it’s a silly statement that makes the person sound dumb or an intentional attack on civilians. Whenever you can use an embarrassing photo of an American, do so, just as the Americans only use the beardless and disheveled image of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he was arrested.

7) Emphasize noncontroversial jihadi actions. Show images of them handing out zakat (charity). Mention that al Qaeda is not really against girls’ schools and that the organization actively works to build them. Use positive images.

8) Exacerbate diplomatic rifts between the enemies of al Qaeda. When Israel does something against U.S. interests, publish it. Likewise, encourage the disunity of Western political parties.

9) Publish and comment on U.S. counterterrorism research reports. The best propaganda, outside the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, can come in the form of revealing what Americans say about how al Qaeda is waking up the sleeping Muslims.

10) Embrace online tools. Twitter is an incredibly easy way to approach young people who aren’t active users of al Qaeda websites. Although Facebook bans jihadists from time to time, it is a good way of reaching large numbers of people — even if the senior jihadi clerics haven’t been convinced yet.

Jarret Brachman, an assistant research professor of security studies at North Dakota State University, is the author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice and the former director of research at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center. He blogs at www.jarretbrachman.net.

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