The Chattanooga shooting, in which 5 Marines were killed by the deceased Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, is starting to seem like a sad tale of a radicalized, young, American boy. After spraying bullets at from an AK-47 style weapon at a Navy recruitment center, he attacked a Naval reserve center, killing 5 victims. The 24-year old didn’t appear a likely candidate for such a crime; friends and acquaintances described him as kind, funny, and intelligent.  Why did this man, an engineer by schooling, decide to commit a heinous act of terrorism? How do we prevent this from happening again?

“An All-American Kid”

According to his MMA coach in high school, Mohammad showed no signs of being anything but an “all-american kid.” This view is corroborated by the numerous sources that claimed to have been part of his life. In his high school photo, he joked, “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?” While those that knew him described him as religious, there were no signs that Abdulazeez was radical or in the process of being radicalized. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, he held several jobs, most recently one for a wire and cable manufacturer. Previous evidence notwithstanding, there may still have been a path to radicalization.


The Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen took a trip to Jordan from April to November 2014. This is a red flag when determining why he decided to commit this act of terrorism. If Abdulazeez found the Islamic State or another terror group online, this might have been the time in which he was radicalized. It is hard to get into his mindset before more detailed information is released, but an extended visit to the Middle East may have acted as a catalyst.
After returning to the United States, he kept a low profile until being arrested for a DUI in April. He was described as being under the influence of alcohol and marijuana while having a white powder under his nose. Abdulazeez told the officer that it was from crushing up caffeine pills. Noticeably, he had a full beard, a departure from his usually clean-shaven face. This bizarre incident in the context of his otherwise normal life may be an insight into a departure from his former self. His court date was scheduled for July 30th.

Domestic Terrorism

His motives and how they potentially link to Islamic extremism will become clearer in the coming weeks. This incident, influenced by Islam or not, is part of a growing problem: domestic terrorism. Coming on the heels of the James Holmes verdict, another act of domestic terrorism, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the Chattanooga shooting has become part of an unfortunately familiar narrative. Small-scale, lone-wolf terrorism stemming from radical Islamic beliefs, white supremacist ideas, or insanity, is a growing concern. Preventing radicalism is a difficult task, especially with the perceived success of the Islamic State.
All these recent, horrible examples of successful attacks, and the foiled plots, show that the real problem may be inside the United States’ own borders. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars coupled with the continued use of drone strikes intend to slow down the spread of extremist Islamic thought. However, if the United States fails to understand the often disenfranchised radicals from within its own borders, it risks a rise in terrorism from its own citizens. The publicity of the Islamic State has only helped to push more into radicalized, violent Islam. According to CNN, in 2015 alone, 49 ISIS supporters have been charged by authorities relating to domestic terror plots. These distorted viewpoints, far from the peaceful attitudes taken by the vast majority of Muslims, push apart the nation at the seems while endangering its citizens.

Finding a Solution

Promoting an integrated society through information and inter-culture outreach is a good place to start. At the end of the day, most of these attacks, whether by an anti-Muslim white supremacist or a jihadist, stem from an ignorant and flawed mindset. These individuals often entrap themselves in dangerous cycles, limiting their intake of information to the beliefs that they agree with. This has the tendency to push those views in the extremist direction. ISIS, for example, has been active in its recruitment through Twitter. Once the young men learn more about the Islamic State, they are sucked into underground websites, losing the free exchange of ideas found on a site like Twitter. From there, indoctrination begins, giving recruiters a chance to eventually immerse the budding jihadists with a trip to an jihadist camp in the Middle East. The cycle is not exclusive to jihadists; this entire process can be repeated with white supremacy organizations.
Of course, preventing at-risk individuals from getting their hands on extended clip automatic weapons will also temper the violence they can inflict upon society. But in Abdulazeez’s case, there were not any significant issues that would have prevented him from legally obtaining a weapon. Solving the root problem, ignorance, is a much more lasting solution. The views many of these lone-wolf terrorists espouse look ridiculous, but when that individual is cordoned off from society, suddenly his views may seem very reasonable.
Developing open dialogue amongst groups in the United States is a necessary prerequisite if the country wants to avoid a steady increase in polarization and extremism. However idealistic it is to say, building a safer country must go beyond changing gun laws; it must encompass a paradigm shift in how the different groups of America interact with each other.
What do you think? How do we best combat the rise of domestic terrorism? Let us know in the comments.