I haven’t seen the new video by Azzam The American — the al-Qaeda propagandist formerly known as Adam Gadahn. But Leah Farrall watches it and proclaims it a new milestone for al-Qaeda’s descent:

I have to say that this video is the worst production I have seen come out of al Qaeda. It’s awful. He can’t even read from his flash cards. It’s stilted, stumbling and clearly rushed. Al Qaeda would have been far better off releasing this as a statement.

Al Qaeda used to have a very sophisticated media apparatus. If this is the best it can do, it just leads me to conclude that as I suggested earlier its media capacity has seriously gone pear shaped over the past 18 months or so.

Leah says she’s seen good Gadahn videos in the past. I’ll take her word on that — she surely studies this much more closely than I do — but I watched a 2005 or 2006 era one that I can’t seem to find on Google and was struck by how bad it was. Quavering voice, seeming lack of conviction, hectoring tone. The point of Adam Gadahn is so al-Qaeda can show an American white boy speaking about jihad in English to simultaneously intimidate U.S. elites through the demonstration of takfiri reach and to maybe persuade future Gadahns to come on over to the glorious world of austere and backward religious fanaticism. But al-Qaeda’s recruitment of Gadahn violates rule number one, a rule that all Brooklyn punk rockers learned in the 1980s and early-mid 90s after seeing our friends tromp to L’Amours or the Limelight. al-Qaeda trusted a Heshen.

I didn’t really get to go into this as deeply as I would have liked in my 2005 piece about American Muslim non-radicalism, and the New Yorker ultimately did it much much better. But here’s a slice of what I found:

Jon Konrath, a friendly acquaintance of Gadahn’s from his metal years, considered him somewhat disgruntled. “He was into the ‘sick’ sort of horror-slasher death metal, like Cannibal Corpse,” Konrath remembers. “So he was anti-social in the sort of Evil Dead-fan way, but nothing specific about America.” In 1995, Gadahn posted an account online of his conversion to Islam that drips with self-loathing: “I eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. … I am sorry even as I write this.”

This is not a man you want to assign to such a crucial propaganda operation. The fact that Gadahn could be as prominent in al-Qaeda as he is goes a long way to explaining this organization’s decline. al-Qaeda is not a world-historical force. I am increasingly convinced that even containing it in the Pakistani tribal areas will mean, once and for all, the actual end of this absurdly-conceived “long war” once and for all, and on our terms. Because Adam Gadahn probably isn’t the only fucking heshen in al-Qaeda. al-Qaeda, below the bin Laden/Zawahiri/Abu Yahya al-Libi level, is probably a network of heshens.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman