with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 103: A former Al-Qaeda recruiter speaks (with Jesse Morton)

May 5, 2022

NOTE: When we published this episode a few days ago, we were unaware that Jesse had passed away back in December of 2021. We only just learned of this fact today when a listener reached out to inform us. We're saddened by this news, and we apologize for any possible confusion or hurt we may have caused by linking to his Twitter handle, email address, etc. We have removed those items from his bio but left the link to the Light Upon Light website since it contains many of Jesse's writings and information about his life's work.

What leads people to violent extremism? Is extremism a legitimate, rational response to trauma, hardship, and powerlessness? Do some holy books make it easier to justify violence than others, or are all violent movements equally capable of extracting justifications from their holy book? To what extent does recruitment to radical movements involve "brainwashing" or overriding people's beliefs versus hooking into, shaping, and strengthening their beliefs? Are cults and radical movements the same thing? What enables people to deradicalize? How can we most effectively interact with radicalized friends or family members?

Jesse Morton was once a jihadist propagandist (then known as Younes Abdullah Muhammad) who ran Revolution Muslim, a New York City-based organization active in the 2000s that connected Muslims in the west to al-Qaeda's ideology, creating English language propaganda and collaborating with the most notorious jihadist preachers of that era. He deradicalized in 2011 and has worked since to become a leading commentator, interventionist, and innovator in the prevention and countering of violent extremism, focusing especially on jihadist, far-right, and far-left extremism. Jesse was included in Foreign Policy Magazine's 2017 "Global Thinkers" listing and holds a master's in Middle East studies from Columbia University along with licensure in substance-abuse and mental health counseling. Find more info at

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Host / Director
Spencer Greenberg

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