We are deeply saddened by the tragedy of the premature death of an emerging amazing peacebuilder, Jesse Morton. It is a testament to his potential that in the fifteen months over which we had the opportunity to work together, Jesse left a deep and indelible mark on all those he came across, on those who had the opportunity to hear his story that he shared so generously. Jesse’s was an incredibly complicated life, touched as it was by darkness and light. He would have been the first to acknowledge the complexity of influences that impacted him, and to share the hope he found in the human spirit. We will remember his love and laughter, and hold the image of him rocking his baby on his lap as he shared his ideas for building resilience and connectedness in communities.
Obituary written via Twitter by Mitch Silber @MitchSilber
It has been just over 24 hours since I learned of the shockingly premature death of my friend. His loss has triggered an outpouring of condolences and grief that I find myself being the recipient of. Here’s a short obituary for him and those who knew him. From 2006-2011, Younus Abdullah Muhammad (aka Jesse Morton) was one of the chief nemeses of the NYPD, FBI and United States government, having created an organization (Revolution Muslim) that existed as a “bug light” attracting Americans to al-Qa’ida’s ideology and mission. As U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride noted in 2012, “Jesse Morton operated Revolution Muslim to radicalize those who saw and heard his materials online and to incite them to engage in violence against those they believed to be enemies of Islam.” The RevMuslim network was connected to almost 20 American and British terrorists, of which, several attempted to leave the United States to fight for al-Qa`ida Core and al-Shabaab between 2007 and 2011, and some joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during 2013 and 2014. Jesse’s arrest on a dusty street in Casablanca, Morocco, in 2011 capped a six-year international investigation that began in NYC but touched four continents and ironically was the beginning of his movement out of jihadism and towards making amends for his support of terrorism. After cooperating with the FBI to help it identify Americans who had gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, his sentence was commuted, and he soon became America’s “First Former” hired in a gutsy move by George Washington University’s fledgling Program on Extremism. It seemed as if he had really turned his life around. https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/30/health/gw-hires-former-islamic-extremist/index.html However, progress is not linear, and Jesse lost it all when he had a “breakdown” and was arrested for drug use that as he told me, demonstrated that he had never really dealt with the underlying psychological issues that led him to extremism in the first place. Following another stint in prison, public humiliation, being fired by GWU and therapy, I reached out to Jesse in 2017 with an idea for an article about NYPD’s six-year battle with Revolution Muslim. At this point he was radioactive to the policy world. Given what an elusive foe he had been, believed his input and insights into the article would be illuminating and help me better understand what made this “pied piper of wannabe American jihadists” and worthy archenemy tick. https://ctc.usma.edu/nypd-vs-revolution-muslim-inside-story-defeat-local-radicalization-hub What started as a singular writing project turned into a partnership and then the most peculiar friendship. Jesse was trying to get his CVE NGO – Parallel Networks off the ground and funded. Jesse’s vision was that Parallel Network’s mission was to prevent radicalization and help other former jihadists reform themselves. It ultimately gained financial support and went to work. wsj.com/articles/the-mJesse created a magazine to try and challenge the Islamic State’s message https://www.wsj.com/articles/i-invented-the-jihadist-journal-11559602751 and wanted to try and reform the post-prison process in the United States for former violent extremists, presenting his ideas on Capitol Hill and in well-received report. He led the charge writing “When Terrorists Come Home” because it was personal and because he wanted to make a difference. In recent years, Jesse and his effort won international acclaim (and some enemies) and significant Department of Homeland Security funding as well as funding from other very respectable sources as he began to focus on other types of extremism. https://www.wsj.com/articles/homeland-security-to-grant-millions-to-groups-to-combat-white-supremacists-and-other-extremists-11601726400 Maybe most importantly, @_JesseMorton actually helped people turn around their lives. As one journalist emailed me today, “I personally know of so many former extremists who found their way largely because of Jesse. And then, he dies. It’s really so sad.” No doubt Jesse was a complicated individual with his own set of flaws and challenges to overcome. However, following what could have very well been a dead-end path he found a way to turn his life around. There is still much we don’t know about his passing, but for those who helped Jesse along the way, this obituary might serve as a tribute to Jesse as well as to all of those who were willing to give him another chance in the name of making the world a better and safer place.