On Thursday October 23, Zale Thompson, 32, attacked four New York Police Department officers with an 18 inch hatchet slashing one officer in the head and another in the arm before he was fatally shot by another officer.
Although New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton declared that the hatchet attack was a terrorist act by a self-radicalized Muslim convert it was widely reported that authorities were also trying to determine if Thompson had any history of mental illness. The axe attack was one month after Muslim convert Alton Nolen beheaded a co-worker and nearly beaded another woman in Moore, Oklahoma. Early reports in that incident suggested that Nolen may have suffered from mental illness.
One of the primary reasons law enforcement, the media and the public almost always interpret these inexplicable acts as a form of mental illness is that violence in American culture is understood in the context of a Western rational worldview that can only fathom bizarre aberrant acts as the result of a psychologically disturbed individual. Even after overwhelming evidence demonstrates that violent incidents are committed in the goal of jihad, the offender is still widely considered to be an emotionally disturbed person whose mental illness made him vulnerable to jihadist messaging.
It is simply too frightening to comprehend that beheadings and axe attacks are the result of a rational choice to kill designated enemies in the name of Islam. It is much easier to sleep at night if you assume that this is just two crazy disaffected loners instead of followers of an organized international religious movement comprised of thousands of true believers who are willing to kill and die on the orders of their charismatic leader, particularly when those orders are delivered via twitter.
Investigations into these crimes are hindered by justice department policies that ban the use of race, religion and ethnicity in profiling by law enforcement officers. In addition to these politically correct impediments, FBI profiling is inherently problematic. The field of psychological profiling is based on Western behavioral analysis theories that interpret criminal behavior as a form of psychopathology. Ironically, criminal behavioral analysis is one of the few academic fields that has not implemented culturally diverse methodologies. Behavioral analysis utilizes a Western outsider perspective that interprets offenders’ violence and motivations based on the premise that concepts of deviant behavior and personality traits and disorders are universal. Culture, race and religion are not primary necessary criteria for psychological profiling. Therefore Nolen and Thompson are viewed as disturbed individuals who were psychologically and socially vulnerable to bad influences, hence predisposed to violence and radicalization.
This is consistent with Western sociological theories of violence that attribute criminal behavior to economics, racism, poverty and other social injustices. Consequently, future threat assessments result in a lone wolf profile that focuses on psychologically or emotionally disturbed individuals, depressed loners and disaffected individuals who have withdrawn from family and society.
A politically neutral symbolic anthropological analysis of these violent acts produces a more specific offender profile. A symbolic anthropological approach utilizes interpretive methodologies that examine how offenders create meaning out of their own experiences uncovering their cultural beliefs, worldview and motivations for violent acts. This provides an alternative interpretation to standard behavioral science methodologies typically used in criminal investigative analysis. Instead of psychologically disturbed individuals, an interpretive symbolic analysis profiles Nolen and Thompson as true believers that made rational choices to commit ritual murders in the goal of social justice achieved through global jihad. Further analysis reveals that both Nolen and Thompson’s violent crimes were a unique manifestation of jihad that blends Black Nationalism with Islamic supremacism. Hence, the root cause of their violence is not psychopathology, it was culturally constructed.
Both men had a history of serious interest and identification with black supremacist ideologies prior to their radicalization into Islamic jihad. Alton Nolen’s alias Yah’keem Yisrael is derived from Hebrew, not from Arabic. On his Facebook page he talked about how African-Americans are the true Israelites. In his “about me” section he wrote,
“About Me -Im an Muslim from the Tribe of Judah who Was Pretty Much Raised In Killeen Texas. My Ancestors Who Are The True Jews Here In America Today Are Originally From Israel. They Were Bombed Outta Israel By The Roman Catholic Army So They Fled To Egypt And The Afrikans Sold Us To The White Man As Slaves Along With Any Other Black Person Here In Amerika Today Aka The True Jews From Israel. Our Ancestors Are Originally From Israel.”
His alias, writings and identification as a true Jew are all indicators that prior to being radicalized into Islam he identified with the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement which has spawned some violent extremist black supremacist groups. It is not unusual for spiritual seekers to mix and match different ideologies and religious beliefs. Nolen’s posts demonstrate that he also identified with the Moors, medieval Muslim conquerors. He posted a painting depicting Black African Moors in Spain and wrote,
“It inspires me to no end, to know that my illustrous ancestors who were black African Moors (boldly invaded white caucasion Europe and conquered the portuguese, Spanish Italian and Southern French). We black Moors enslaved white Europeans (long before we were enslaved) and also had white harems which pleasured us. Black Moors then civilized the white barbarians, graciously teaching the caucasoid cave-dwellers, Science, astronomy, geography, meteorology, botanics, cosmetics, culinary art and fashion and an Arabic numerical system that is still being used now, algebra and beautiful architecture that was and still is superior to anything that these caucasion savages had previously built.”
Nolen’s post reflects an attraction to Islamic Jihad and black supremacist revisionist history.
Similarly Zale Thompson combined black supremacist ideals with radical Islam. He was described by a classmate as a proponent of Black Power, a big fan of Malcom X and the photo on his Facebook page is an image of a 14th century Moor that is from the cover of the book, The Golden Age of the Moors, a popular book among Black Nationalists. Thompson posted a comment under a music video called ‘No white God’ that read,
“It’s ok for white people to draw pictures of a white jesus, and then colonize Africa, and enslave the negro in America, wipe out the native American, and invade the middle east. They call black people racist for rejecting the oppression they suffered from whites. Listen, when black people have colonized the entire continent of Europe, enslaved its people, and sold them into bondage to foreign lands, then you can call them racist..”
On his Facebook page he wrote.
“If you’re looking for ‘perfect’ muslims who never make any mistakes in their Jihad, then you will be looking in vain! If the Zionists and the Crusaders had never invaded and colonized the Islamic lands after WW1, then there would be no need for Jihad! Which is better, to sit around and do nothing, or to Jihad fisabeelallah!”
Even Zale’s father Ralph Thompson said that his son Zale wanted to kill white people. “He just said, ‘They have to pay for all their unfairness,’ ” the father added. “Unfairness for the way they treat black people.”
Both Nolen and Thompson were filled with Black Nationalist anti-American ideologies that fomented hatred, instilled anger and inculcated a sense of injustice that initiated their withdrawal from society. They became spiritual seekers searching for a way to alleviate their resentment, isolation and frustration. The Islamic State provided the perfect solution: a sense of identity and belonging that sanctions and glorifies vengeance against white oppressors.
On September 21, when the Islamic State called on its followers to kill disbelievers, especially police and military, it activated both men. They did not use guns, they chose a knife and an axe, the weapons of beheadings. There can be no doubt that Thompson was attempting to behead the NYPD officers. Historically an axe is one of the most prevalent methods of beheading, tactically it was more efficient than a small knife, symbolically much more provocative than gunshot wounds, it garnered much more attention to the cause of global jihad.
Black supremacist ideologies that blame slavery, colonialism and the white man’s oppression made Nolen and Thompson uniquely susceptible to Islamic State propaganda and violent attacks. Black supremacist ideology continually reinforces the idea that blacks have been shamed, humiliated and harassed by whites, often alleging police brutality. This new virulent strain of lone wolf attacks is the blowback from post-colonial, multicultural, anti-American theories that promote class warfare and foment anger and feelings of oppression.
The Islamic State offers what every Black supremacist movement has promised: vengeance against the white man, a way to restore black peoples’ honor, alleviate their shame and to die a heroic death in the goal of overthrowing America. A new breed of American jihad has evolved. U.S. cities and prisons are filled with disgruntled angry black supremacists who are ripe for recruitment and the FBI is prohibited from using race and religion in profiling future lone wolf terrorist attacks.
Dawn Perlmutter is the Director of the Symbol Intelligence Group and one of the leading subject matter experts (SME) in symbols, symbolic methodologies, unfamiliar customs and ritualistic crimes. She designed and developed Jihad-ID, a symbolic database of the signs, symbols and identifiers of global jihad.
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