ISIS and the Age of Gig Terrorism

It seems that the gig economy has even reached the precincts of the terrorism industry. Maybe ISIS should be called Terror 3.0, if one considers the progression of modern terrorism from the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s. The likes of the Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof Group, and the FALN might be defined as Terror 1.0. The IRA and its 60s brethren used age-old terror tactics, setting off bombs from a safe distance and generally kidnapping and killing their victims discreetly in order to avoid capture. Then we saw al Qaeda innovate by adding the suicidal perpetrator factor, flying airplanes into buildings to inflict mass casualties. The latest contribution by the demonic murderers intent on making a political (or religious) point is facile use of the Internet and social media to spawn actions by “lone wolves.”  Thus, ISIS might be considered the third iteration in post-World War II terrorism.

ISIS (or “ISIL,” the variant our president bizarrely prefers) seems to have adopted a business model consonant with the times. Joining the likes of Uber, Airbnb, and Zipcar, the entrepreneurial jihadists are simply keeping up with their more productive peers in the West who actually create useful stuff. And why not? The Uber and Airbnb inventors build efficiencies into the services they provide by utilizing the incredible power of the Internet, smart phones and other communications devices. Shouldn’t the dealers of death and mayhem exploit those same efficiencies? defines a gig economy as “an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.” What an apt description of today’s Islamic terrorists. What is a more short-term engagement and temporary position than a suicide-embracing martyr in the cause of Allah willing to inflict horrific casualties on soft targets in the West (and, for that matter, everywhere else)? It seems that the Omar Mateens and Syed Rizwan Farooks of the world -- so-called “homegrown terrorists” -- are the natural byproduct of this new “independent economy.” So let’s call their brand “gig terrorism.”

It is interesting to note that both Mateen and Farook reportedly met their mates online. And in both cases (although at this point it is only alleged in the case of Mateen’s wife) these spouses were complicit to one degree or another in their husbands’ murderous plots. These purportedly self-radicalized terrorists use the Internet to satisfy even the romantic needs in their lives.

Uber often makes the point that it is not a taxi company, but rather a technology company that facilitates peer-to-peer transactions between people needing a taxi service and people able to provide that service. Uber simply furnishes the software to make those direct interactions possible. The company’s current valuation of over $60 billion after only five years of existence points up the tremendous value it created in the efficiencies it has produced. In much the same way, ISIS provides the infrastructure, or spiritual software, one might say, to animate disaffected youths far away from Iraq or Syria to exact Allah’s revenge on infidels. ISIS does not need to micromanage their actions, just as a taxi company does not need to closely oversee the Uber drivers’ services.  

But are these really “lone wolves” in the new terror paradigm? No more than Uber drivers are lone wolves. While commenting on President Obama’s recent speech about the mass shooting in Orlando, in which Obama characterized Mateen’s actions as resulting from the influence of the Internet, former Ambassador John Bolton astutely observed to Fox News that terms like “self-radicalization” and “lone wolf” falsely connote a sort of spontaneous combustion. They imply that a homegrown terrorist is a normal human being one day and then suddenly and inexplicably becomes a violent, psychotic killer the next, with no outside direction or overarching ideology influencing them. Bolton points out that Obama ascribing this “lone wolf” label to Mateen so soon after the attack and long before the FBI has had adequate time to gather evidence, seems to be an effort by Obama to divorce Mateen’s actions from the larger global Islamic ideology.

Of course, this effort to immunize Islam from the violence perpetrated in its name is folly. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear will think Obama a fool for trying. Or hopelessly naïve. Or even nefarious. It is just such efforts to deflect from the truth about the global jihad being waged by sizable elements of the Islamic umma that has given such political opportunity to Donald Trump. What even his detractors will admit is that Trump’s popularity has largely been fueled by his willingness to call it like he sees it. The American people have suffered through seven and a half years of being lied to about everything from healthcare options and costs under ObamaCare, to data about an allegedly “roaring economy,” to the supposed benefits of uncontrolled borders and an influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens. Now Obama tries to convince us that “Islamic State” has nothing to do with “Islam,” and that Omar Mateen was not directed by outside forces. We have had enough. We are thirsting for the truth, and Donald Trump, in his own inimitable style, is offering buckets of it.

These homegrown terrorists may be independent operators in the new gig terror environment, but they are still agents of the same ideology that has been waging war against us at an accelerating rate since the Iranians overran our embassy in 1979. If President Trump assumes office, he will need to find a way to deal with these homegrown terrorists. He might consider consulting with the new titans of our sharing economy for recommendations on how to limit the appeal of gig terrorism.

William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government and private sector for 30 years. Presently he is a Senior Investigator for Judicial Watch,Inc.