An American veteran and a jihadi share memories of Robin Williams

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: So, there's this terrorist wannabe named Abdullah and he likes "Mrs. Doubtfire." This is not a joke. This is just the sometimes very odd reality of the world we live in. You see, when Robin Williams died last week, a blogger named Alex Horton got into an online conversation with that young man and, Alex Horton, once you started chatting with him online, did you find out who this person is? Alex Horton: Not much more than his profile suggested, for very obvious reasons. This guy is an Islamic State supporter, so he's not too keen on letting the world know where he is and who he is. After a few conversations with him online, in the public, I had to reach out to him on direct message just to pry some more details out of him. Werman: What were you able to find out? Horton: I was able to find out through some conversations - it was sort of like a give and take - he knew that I was in the Army a number of years ago, he knew that I had deployed to Iraq in 2006, so there was a bit of a conversation about that. I had to give up some of that; what I thought about the war there, the escalating bombing campaign in Kurdistan. But I also found out that he was just a normal guy. He was from the West, just like me. He boxed when he was a kid. The funny thing that everyone seemed to like is he's a movie fan, just like I am. You talk about "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Jumanji" and these are films that I watched over and over again on VHS tapes as a young kid growing up in Texas. We started to find some things that we had in common, much less than things that we had in difference. Werman: And do you know where he was actually when you were communicating with him? Was he in northern Iraq and once was he done talking to you online, he was going to go pick up his gun and deal with some people out in the street? Horton: Well, he's one of thousands of what I call "Critical nodes" in the Islamic State system. They're not fighters on the frontlines. They're manning Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and other social networks to spread propaganda, whether that be a decapitated soldier in Kurdistan or a public works project in Syria, they're all about spreading the message. Abdullah, he's not a fighter. Personal matters, he told me, have prevented him from going to the frontlines but he wants to go there some day. But for now, he plays a very critical role in the way the world sees the Islamic State. Werman: It's interesting, some people allied with Abdullah clearly disagree with him on Robin Williams. I saw a woman in California sent you a tweet saying "You're tweeting with evil tonight, I see." So were their voices, other voices had a problem with you even corresponding with an Islamic militant? Horton: I really don't think they had a problem with me corresponding with the militant. I think it was more me personally, as an Iraq veteran. I think it was just this very strange view that if people who are aligned with the Islamic State or al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that they're simply monsters and it's not the case. They're very brutal, they have been killing civilians, they have been executing thousands of people and it's unspeakable violence that should face worldwide condemnation. But we're taking the wrong view of people that have backgrounds and they love Robin Williams and they laugh every time they hear the run-by fruiting scene in "Mrs. Doubtfire." These are the people that share the same backgrounds and same loves of arts that we do. So it's always been a mistake historically to underestimate your enemy or to see them in the light that's less than humane. They are our enemy and I've never strayed from that view but we can't view them as some kind of evil cartoonish force that's taking over Iraq. They're supported by some Iraqis for a reason. They’re supported by a lot of Syrians for a reason. This is another step in evaluating why that is and I think it will help, if we ever have to confront them on a larger scale, it will very much help to understand their motives beyond this evil taking over the world. Werman: One could look at your conversation with Abdullah as a random, odd melding of minds about Robin Williams but the way you're talking about it almost makes me want to ask you - could the conflict in Iraq come to an end through an appreciation of Robin Williams, of an appreciation of American pop culture. Am I fishing too far out there? Horton: Yeah, you're fishing too far out there. Robin Williams isn't going to bring an end to anything in Syria and Iraq but understanding that people have motivations beyond terroristic violence is one way to start because the message we're sending when we talk about the Islamic State as an unapproachable evil, you're giving them the power that they shouldn't have. So when we see them as people more than monsters, it takes away some of their mysticism, some of their power over us. They're taking territory and they're convincing people to join their cause because of the fear they produce. So if we take away that fear, that will be the beginning of the steps that we need to take care of this kind of extremist violence. Werman: Alex Horton is an Army veteran and a national security blogger. Thank you for your time, greatly enjoyed speaking with you. Horton: Thank you.