Before recruits were sent home on Christmas Exodus, they were instructed not to shave or get haircuts, and to thoroughly scrub their social media profiles. A few weeks before, on November 30, 2014, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned members of the military and their families that ISIS sympathizers here in the U.S. could target them based on what information is on their social media.
“The FBI recently received reporting indicating individuals overseas are spotting and assessing like-minded individuals who are willing and capable of conducting attacks against current and former U.S.-based members of the United States military,” the bulletin said. This warning had teeth, as ISIS sympathizers in Canada had targeted soldiers just days before in an attack on Ottawa. Word quickly spread throughout the veteran community about this warning. Many veterans had changed their profile pictures to shots of themselves on deployment during the week of Veterans Day just a few weeks before the warning.
Extremists and their sympathizers also target writers and journalists, as we are currently seeing with Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In the days after the Ottawa attack, I wrote a piece for another publication, essentially calling members of ISIS “…lonely, alienated, and misguided individuals,” and compared some of their recruiting tactics to those employed by sex traffickers, drug dealers, and pedophiles. A few days later, I was one of those veterans who changed their profile picture to stand with my brothers and sisters in arms.
Then, in the middle of November, I received a few friend requests from people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen that I have never met before. Mind you, I have a few connections on social media with people I have met downrange, but I have never met these folks in my life, nor do we have any mutual connections. One can only wonder why they would want to connect with a “former U.S.-based member of the United States military” who has no issue at all voicing a strong opinion through the power of words.