Adam Gadahn may be dead. That was the gist of a September 12, North County Times article about the al-Qaida propagandist who was raised in remote Winchester, California, and possibly met his end in Pakistan’s distant Waziristan region. The absence of an annual September 11 video message from Gadahn was taken as another clue that he might have been killed in a January airstrike.
So how did a lad who grew up in Riverside County come to join an Islamic terrorist group and find himself, in 2006, charged with treason by his native country? Or, as the aforementioned article put it, how did “a shy and intelligent boy who played Little League baseball and attended area Christian home schooling support groups” become “Azzam the American”?
The answer to that mystery isn’t as farfetched as the misleading references to Little League and Christian home schooling suggest. In point of fact, the apple didn’t fall that far from the parental tree—as an extensive January, 2007, New Yorker magazine piece demonstrates.
If Adam Gadahn changed his name and rejected his roots, he was only following in the footsteps of his father (the son of a prosperous Santa Ana physician) who dropped the name Pearlman for Gadahn and took very seriously the utopian rhetoric of the 60s counterculture.
If Adam immersed himself in “death metal” music—a subculture in love with its own offensiveness—he was largely reprising his father’s passionate attachment to psychedelic rock during his long-haired days at U.C. Irvine.
If Adam adopted a radical stance toward American society, he was affirming in a different way his father’s decision to reject professionalism and to choose for his family a near subsistence life on a goat farm by the San Jacinto mountains.
If Adam converted to Islam in 1997, the elder Gadahn experienced his own awakening to eco-spirituality in 1975—a self-fashioned religion that the “happenings” musician described in an album called “Relatively Clean Rivers.”
Finally, if Adam’s spiritual journey led him to embrace an uncompromising ideology that saw unbelievers as benighted evildoers, he was only exhibiting a virulent version of his father’s outlook. According to acquaintances, the elder Gadahn, though gentle, was an inflexible perfectionist attracted to people who were “exactly the same (as) he was.”
Adam’s pre-conversion views, summarized by a friend, reflect a similar mind-set: “Most of the people around me are brain-dead, nobody cares about anything that’s going on, we’re wrecking everything that’s good, all the trees are disappearing, everything is being turned into suburbs. I feel like I’m the only one who notices this.”
Only thematic key-shifts are required to change the tune from 60s counterculture to eco-fanaticism, from psychedelic rock to death-metal, from self-serving contempt for those who disagree to ideological solidarity with terrorists.
By contrast, Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence urges a “decent respect (for) the opinions of mankind.” Such humility is absent among ideologues of every stripe—whose opponents are invariably portrayed as liars and fools.