‘Crazy’ has nothing to do with terrorism, psychiatrist says


By Mark Ellis

Dr. Michael Welner on CNN
Dr. Michael Welner on CNN

Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist known for his research on criminal evil, said it is a mistake to describe Islamist extremists as “crazy.”

“Crazy has nothing to do with the terrorism we see,” Dr. Welner told the Clarion Project.   “The infrastructure assembled by large-scale Islamist organizations—Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and others, speaks to the very rational actors, thinkers and planners involved,” he notes.

Dr. Welner observes their skill level is noteworthy. “They have succeeded because of highly functioning, very organized individuals with exceptional people skills and capable management, administration and military strategy.

Unfortunately, their talents are misdirected toward evil. “Islamist terrorism is cold-blooded violence. It is proactive and planned, as opposed to a hot-blooded violence that is reactive and impulsive. The attacks are carefully crafted. The leaders are selected based on how their planning resonates with those who finance them,” he told Clarion Project.

Dr. Welner believes those recruited into terrorism within the U.S. are following a different course than those overseas.

“In America, a high proportion of those implicated in Islamist terror plots are either converts or recently became devout. Part of what drives this psychologically is that the newer conscript feels the need to prove his bona fides, just as do newer conscripts in hate groups like white supremacists.”

He says this makes the U.S. prison population vulnerable to radicalization. “Radical Islam connects with those who are already alienated from the host country that incarcerated them. For those ensnared and leave prison as disenfranchised ex-cons, violence is not as taboo as it would be for less-hardened peers.”

Dr. Welner notes there are many more sympathetic followers of terrorist organizations on social media than will actually participate in terror.

“So the challenge becomes, who among the devout goes the terrorism route?”

He describes the process of radicalization is an “intimate” one. “It reflects one’s personal relationship with one’s spirituality. In some instances, a cleric may be involved, but many self-radicalize because of their own curiosity and find fellow travelers online.”

Sadly, radical Islam’s dehumanization of non-believers propels their cause and warped sense entitlement to brutalize.

“This mindset demands that the only understanding we reach is submission, just like all fascisms before it and since,” he told Clarion Project.

Dr. Welner says the spectacular nature of their crimes is rooted in high expectations of themselves for greatness, but they are often painfully aware of their underachievement.

“The ideology they choose is the bromide of their disappointment; the enemy they choose the projection of their shortcomings; and the terrorism they leap into a transcendence they would never otherwise achieve.”

ISIS recruits often harbor idealistic dreams. “What ISIS’ recruitment in the U.S. and elsewhere has achieved is the seduction of idealistic young recruits drawn to utopian religion. The recruits feel good about themselves, in some cases pursue the ISIS dream with their spouses and want to be a part of something greater.”

“These are a whole different group from the hardened, angry, dead-ended ex-cons who have violent histories and, often, previous drug problems that we’ve seen implicated in terror plots. The San Bernardino massacre was the birth of ISIS in Americana, reflecting the organizational signature of how far a couple would go for their faith—indeed they would die together — and leave their baby an orphan.”

To “treat” someone involved in terrorism or “de-radicalize” them is problematical. “Like cult treatment, terrorist treatment is difficult because the patient does not accept treatment willingly. And how can you “treat” a belief that is shared by one’s physical or social media peer group?

“Psychiatric treatment for cult survivors requires isolation from other influencers. Isolation is impossible when you’re dealing with a widespread community of believers, as is the case with radical Islam.”

“The results of deradicalization programs are still actively debated. High-profile failures demonstrate that the programs can be gamed by the terrorist “patients.” There are some success stories, however, but not enough transparency is available to allow us to become fully informed as to whether terrorists have reprogrammed themselves ideologically, become pacifist or simply matured to other passions,” he told the Clarion Project.

Dr. Welner responded to the claim that the more we kill Islamist terrorists, the more hate will exist and terrorism will grow. “The claim that the “more we kill, the more they hate us” is vacuous, as if the Islamists were Tibetan monks set upon by Chinese occupiers. We are at war because our enemy has acted to murder us and to eliminate a way of life different from its own.”

“If the enemy uses a religious ideal to justify killing us, if we do not eliminate that enemy, that ideology will use its very survival to claim God’s will to protect it in order to continue to kill us.

“No matter how we as a nation pursue the Islamist threat, the United States will be portrayed as a devil deserving of destruction. Therefore, the ‘more we kill, the more they hate us’ premise is irrelevant; we are hated not because we kill, but because we exist.


For the complete story on the Clarion Project, go here