In an ISIS-controlled territory of Syria two weeks ago, a 29-year-old woman raised in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson who most recently tried on ISIS as a new cult, saw on Twitter the news of the July 16 attacks killing U.S. servicemen here. She then posted her own celebratory tweet.
"Gifted this morning not only with Eid but w/ the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [non-believers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to God]."
Ariel Bradley, like the attacks shooter Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez (another Hixson-raised young person) is a sign of the times — the times of lost, drifting, disaffected young people searching for a new gang, a new cult, a new family and a purpose different from what each grew up with.
Bradley, initially home-schooled and Pentecostal, seems to have tried quite a few already, according to reporting and two different stories by Times Free Press reporter Joy Lukachick Smith and BuzzFeed reporter Ellie Hall.
Friends told both reporters that Ariel ran away from home early and then defined herself through her relationships.
"She was definitely always looking for love, always looking for that sense of belonging," one friend told Hall. Another said, "When I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim. As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in, so if she meets a guy that's an atheist then she's an atheist, falls into that for a year. Then the guy leaves and she meets somebody new, and it starts all over again."
Friends told the Times Free Press they called her "vanilla ice cream" because she went with everything so easily.
Bradley once worked with Chattanooga Organized for Action in 2010, a group that pushes for racial equality, fair housing policy and empathy for the poor. Then she became interested in The Twelve Tribes, a religious sect that owns and runs the Yellow Deli restaurant and lives communally. Later, working at a different restaurant that was a gathering spot for local Muslims, she became infatuated with a young Muslim man. She began writing about the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. "At some point, she converted," wrote Smith in a Page 1 story Sunday.
Like many converts to a religion or belief, her views also became extreme, her friends told Smith. "It seemed even the Muslim Americans she befriended weren't truly following Allah. Online, she began to search for a husband." And she found one. According to friends and Bradley's own social media comments, she is the wife of a ISIS member and the mother of his children.
Ariel Bradley's story seems almost a textbook example of how easily manipulated our lost and spiritually desperate children — even adult children — can be.
Experts say the propaganda-savvy groups like ISIS are attracting Americans and other Westerners from across the globe to join their fight. And what is the fight? It seems to be an absolute — a no-gray version of black or white religious subjugation.
Much as some other religious extremists want to interpret the Bible so literally as to believe that only God can treat a rattlesnake bite, ISIS apparently seeks a world governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. To further that, extremist groups like ISIS — no more mainstream in the Muslim community than snake-handlers are in the Christian community — ply the Internet trolling for lost seekers, playing on their already disaffected psyches with messages that America is morally bereft.
Unfortunately, we Americans seem to be helping, with some of our own fire-and-brimstone-like voices of continual doom stoked in political dogmas. By using megaphones instead of thoughtful conversations to wall off rather than unify our religions, religious interpretations, political parties and communities of color, nationality and ethnicites, are we complicit in helping our lost children become even more lost?
The answer may be a horrifying yes.