On JihadJane, Homegrown Terror, and Virtual Surrealism

Screen shot of deleted MySpace page for Jihad JaneScreen shot of deleted MySpace page for Jihad Jane

I have been reading with a substantial degree of bewilderment the wire stories about Colleen Renee LaRose, also known as JihadJane and Fatima LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman accused of participating ina plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. It seems Vilks unleashed a firestorm of protest in the Islamic world when he drew a picture of the prophet Muhammad in the likeness of a roundabout dog, which was an urban art fad in Sweden for some time.

LaRose, 46, is charged with attempted murder, conspiracy to provide support to terrorists, making false statements, and attempted identity theft for her alleged role in the plot.

The MySpace page of Colleen Larose, since deleted but available via archives, is a part of the government's case. There are messages (also deleted and currently unavailable from archives) that allegedly demonstrate LaRose's willingness to participate in the scheme with her co-conspirators. LaRose also posted at least one YouTube video about how she was "desperate to do something to help." The federal indictment of LaRose contains dozens of examples of electronic messages between JihadJane and her alleged co-conspirators.

It is obvious that LaRose approached her activity with a level of earnestness, as she even traveled to Sweden as part of her preliminary planning for the alleged plot. Yet I somehow cannot take seriously the threat in this case, even with what appears to be clearcut rhetoric about intent to kill.

Former neighbors of LaRose in Pennsburg were equally puzzled. One woman described how she used to do laundry with LaRose in the apartment building's laundry room, observing that the terror suspect "looked like an everyday housewife."

Mug shot of Colleen LaRoseLeft: mug shot of Colleen LaRose

My gut reaction is that this is a person filled with a measure of religious and ideological zealotry who lived in an online fantasy world, and who probably did not have the temerity to actually carry out the plot. At some point, however, this obsession with Lars Vilks morphed into actions that can quite easily - and legally - be interpreted as terrorism, and at this point it looks like this woman will be serving many years in prison.

After all, websites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube are hardly the most secure means of transmitting details of terror plots. I think the only way LaRose could have been more obvious about her intentions would be through the purchase of a billboard next to her house with a large arrow and text that reads "TERRORIST HERE."

"Unsophisticated," "ignorant," and "buffoonish" are the three words that first come to mind when I think of Colleen LaRose. Unfortunately, her clown-like efforts at global jihad will probably send this would-be terrorist away for a long, long time.