As an al Qaeda recruiter known as Younus Abdullah Muhammad, Jesse Morton used YouTube and blog posts to inspire fellow extremists to try to fly explosives into the Pentagon and to kill a Swedish cartoonist, among other nefarious acts. It wasn’t until he was sent to prison in 2012 that he turned away from extremism—and into an FBI informant. Morton took a job this year at George Washington University, where he researches the terrorism he once propagated and explores counter-radicalization techniques. “As many people as may have traveled, or may have committed criminal acts, because of my words,” Morton told the New York Times, “I hope that I can deter just as many.” (Photo courtesy of Jesse Morton)
As a child, Morton says, his mother abused him. However, when he sought help at school, a guidance counselor failed to come through for him. “That’s where the whole us-versus-them personality comes in,” he told the New York Times, “with the perception that society—American society—is not protecting me.”
At 16, Morton ran away from home and followed a Grateful Dead tour.