The evolution of online terrorist propaganda has been marked by targeted efforts to radicalize and recruit westerners, often encouraging them to stage attacks in the U.S. or join terrorist groups abroad. The influence of this violent propaganda, however, goes beyond its intended audience.
Alton Nolan, who allegedly beheaded one former coworker and stabbed a second last week in Oklahoma, did not have any apparent ties to terrorist organizations or appear to be responding to a specific call for attacks on behalf of any organization. But his actions can be viewed as a secondary effect of terrorist propaganda, which anyone can access with ease.
Nolan’s online activity suggests that his interest in extremist violence may well have informed his decision to undertake a beheading, rather than another form of violence. Some of his Facebook posts, for example, indicate an affinity to violent images commonly propagated by Islamic extremists. One post from March 2014 features an image of a beheading with text that justifies that form of murder in Islam, an image of a woman receiving lashes, and an image of a man holding a poster that states “Islam will dominate the world.” Nolan included a caption that stated “Sharia law will takeover (sic)…Cut the hands off the thieves…Islam is the true religion.”
In June 2014 he posted a screed against Father’s Day together with an image of a militant from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He also wrote multiple screeds against the U.S. and specifically the Statue of Liberty for allowing women to show their hair, selling pork in grocery stores, and allowing same-sex marriage.
In May 2014, Nolan posted two images of what appear to be frightened women alongside quotes from the Qu’ran about punishing “unbelievers” and the sentence “These piks aren’t qiute how their gnna be but jst sum piks. (sic)”
Such posts were interspersed with posts about UFOs, posts explaining why some people have blond hair, and posts about Black Moores enslaving “white Europeans” and keeping “white harems,” among others. Those posts are also signed “****InfoFromAMuslim****.”
In late 2013, prior to these posts, Nolan also had a series of posts suggesting that Blacks are the “true Jews” and discussing Hitler, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK.
An analysis of all these posts indicates that Nolan was apparently fascinated by the violence portrayed by Islamic extremism. He attempts to promote himself by preaching it. But he does not appear to have connections to radical extremism, and the core of his violent tendencies appear personally motivated.
These secondary effects of terrorist propaganda were similarly demonstrated in the case of a murder that took place in New Jersey in August. The accused perpetrator in that case, Ali Muhammed Brown, had a previous criminal record and is also accused of killing three individuals in California in June. In August, he was allegedly engaged in a robbery when he shot a man in a car. When apprehended, Brown claimed that the murder was revenge for U.S. actions in the Middle East.
This was not the first criminal charge against Alton Nolan, a 30-year-old former employee at a food processing plant in Oklahoma. He had previously been convicted on drug, resisting arrest and escape charges.
Nolan apparently converted to a radical version of Islam in or around the time he went to prison. In January 2014, he began signing his Facebook posts and comments with the phrase “****InfoFromAMuslim****.”