The death of American citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain while fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this weekend may further attest to the impact of ISIS’ sophisticated use of social media and online propaganda.
ISIS, an Al Qaeda inspired terrorist organization operating in Iraq and Syria, encourages its supporters to share its messages on social media. McCain appears to have responded.
Between May and August 2014, McCain regularly shared ISIS tweets and propaganda materials. For example, he retweeted the English translation of a speech by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. In June, he shared an image praising martyrdom with the caption “Shuhada [martyrdom] in Jannah [paradise] with there (sic) souls in green birds. flying.”
He also tweeted statements indicating pro-ISIS viewpoints including, “If your (sic) a Muslim and you vote, please let me know so I can unfollow and block you” (indicated anti-democratic sentiment).
His own tweets may also indicate that he had begun thinking about dying. On May 14, he wrote, “Ya Allah when it’s my time to go have mercy on my soul have mercy on my bros.” On June 9, he Tweeted to an an alleged ISIS fighter: “I will be joining you guys soon.” Later, he retweeted: “It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS.”
Before May, McCain had not been active on Twitter for about a year, and before that he did not regularly tweet about extremist issues.
McCain’s Twitter account and Facebook profile (he had recently changed his name to "Duale ThaslaveofAllah" on Facebook) reflected a man with a diverse mix of non-extremist interests. McCain’s "likes" on Facebook included the Chicago Bulls, Pizza Hut and the TV show Chappelle’s Show. He expressed considerable interest in street fighting and ‘liked’ several pages promoting it.
Some "likes" on Facebook also suggested some potential interest in extremism as well. For example, he liked the Facebook page belonging to Musa Cerantonio, an extremist Australian preacher who maintained an active Twitter account that posted and translated ISIS propaganda materials until his arrest in the Philippines in July 2014. He also liked a page called The Black Flag that references Islamist militancy and regularly posted links to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
According to his Twitter account, McCain converted to Islam in 2004, well before he stopped posting about rap, sports and his friends and family on social media.
McCain is the second American identified as having been killed fighting with a terrorist organization in Syria in 2014. In May, Moner Abu Salha of Florida was identified in a Jabhat al-Nusra (al Qaeda in Syria) video as having participated in a suicide attack. In addition, an apparent American using the pseudonym Abu Dujana al-Amriki was portrayed in a video posted online as having been killed fighting with ISIS in 2013.
Over 100 Americans are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fighting, and increasing numbers of those Americans are choosing ISIS as their organization of choice.
McCain was born in 1981 in Illinois. He later moved to the Twin Cities and then to San Diego. He graduated high school and, according to his Facebook profile, studied at San Diego City College.