tv Caught on Camera MSNBC April 3, 2016 3:00pm-4:01pm PDT
if it's sunday, it's meet the press. 2016, terror strikes brussels. isis claims responsibility. months earlier a string of attacks across the globe. san bernardino, california, a husband and wife with a baby daughter launch a deadly assault at a work holiday party. in paris more than half a dozen heavily armed men carry out a series of attacks across the city claiming 130 lives. in mauli gunmen open fire in a
hotel killing 22. in southern bay rut two suicide bombers kill 143 and wound 29 others. why are more people taking this turn toward armed radicalism. for many it comes online from the internet. >> this is giving them the idea that anyone can be a rock star. >> now western countries are locked in a new conflict. >> as the internet erases the distance between countries we see the terrorists poisoning the minds. >> ironically the west in this space is outnumbered. >> a cyber battle for hearts and minds. >> in terms of recruiting, in
terms of getting their message across, islamic state is walking away with a ball. isis and the internet. it may be difficult to understand this concept, for you at home watching on tv and for me here in the studio what motor motivates someone to become a terrorist. in the case of isis the answer may be as close as your computer or smartphone. isis propaganda is being produced at an alarming rate. this is a disturbing but critically important topic. the subject matter can be intense and upsetting. isis terrorists attack innocent civilians in public and excute
hostages to share and shock and inspire. in this program we will not show you the most graphic sequences, but this is an issue that needs to be closely examined because experts say the key to defeating isis is in winning the battle of hearts and minds of the next generation and to do that it is necessary to understand how isis recruits people to not only become killers, but to give up their own lives in the process.
august 21, terrorist. a gunmen boards a high-speed train to paris. in the moments before taking action, he locks himself in the bathroom and prepares. he gets out his weapons. loads his assault rifle and pulls out his phone. his final act to prepare for his attack, to go on the internet and watch footage like this. and though the assault will be foiled by passengers, including three americans, it's one of a growing number inspired by videos that call for jihad.
media operations is just as important as jihad operations on the ground. >> they have aligned their information warriors with their actually warriors. >> once you have a populations' hearts and minds their limbs the follow. >> they bring a new level of expertise in video production, approaching a return to religion with 21th century technology. this is cutting edge. this is hollywood stuff. it's just as effective as anything that the u.s. government puts out or any other government puts out. and the sheer volume is surprising, dozens of media units within isis from iraq to north africa have been cranking out a stead stream of
propaganda. >> there are videos released every single day. you have dozens and dozens of videos released on a monthly basis. > >> it's clear that the folks that organize these types of attacks were forced to rely on western media. >> there are six -- >> you could blow up a bunch of airliners in the desert and they could cover your stuff or not cover your stuff. >> when bin laden declared a jihad against the west, he relied on the media. >> the media wing of al qaeda was in sorry shape. it was a beat up van with some
vhs tapes and players. >> the internet and computer technology changed everything. groups began to connect directly with their audience with increasingly polished videos they produced themselves. >> fast forward to islamic state, they went on steroids. they got the professional editing equipment. >> now jihadists groups are releasing ever more so sophisticated months after months. in the 1990s this man was one of those people. >> for me i'm a young kid. i'm 14, 15 years old. i'm not going so well in school. i keep telling myself that i can't be a good muslim living in this infidel society so i'm
already setting myself up for failure in that sense. i can't get a normal job because i might have a jew or a woman or some other infidel as my boss so i can't lower myself. >> attracted to the cause he watched the earliest videos like this and saw how they progressed. >> for somebody growing up in the west the appeal to the concept of jihad, it really comes down to the deficit of heros that exist in the muslim world. and these militants, they're seen as heros, heros that will save the muslims from oppress n oppression. >> for these videos the main recruiting technique is emotion. >> you're sitting there and you're watching a video of my people suffering, being humiliated. i suddenly feel i need to do something about this.
>> it's a carefully calibrated appeal targeting centuries of oppression real and perceived in th . >> this is children being hurt, murdered living the horrible life that they have. >> primarily the videos are about the suffering of the sunni muslim community particularly in syria and iraq and they play on the heart strings of the young muslim men and women in order attract them to come and protect the community. >> leading the rescue, the jihadi a dark horseman on a dark horse. >> isis likes to present itself in these two separate yet connected ways. >> they are always playing the part of victim and the part of
savior simultaneously. >> not just underdogs, but winners. >> for jihadists who are inclined that way watching this, i'm going to see these videos and i'm going to think, yeah, they are winning. you have how many coalition countries trying to fight them and they can't defeat them? they really are the victorious group. >> the look draws attention to these videos. this is jihad hollywood style. improvement of these videos has been a function of westerners traveling to these conflict zones bringing with them advanced technology, laptops, software and the skills. >> while their faith forbids
them from using western music isis turns to these religious folk songs to energize the videos. the point behind this and the under lying for all the videos is what they're selling, the dream of building a religious nation they call the caliphate. >> the jihadist community has long promised the reestablishment of god's kingdom on earth. this they have built a state and it's electfied the people in the community. >> it's a message that's simple to understand. these are golden days and you don't want to be on the sideline in these golden days of building the caliphate. you want to be part of it. >> what they're also selling is the lure of adventure. >> it's the kind of stuff i was
interested in as a young man. having an adventure, fighting for a noble cause. >> here you see the fighters taking you from the point of view from the gun from the camera point of view taking you through the trenches. it's almost like a -- it's like halo. you're in this game. >> in fact they have a recruiting poster and the isis guys say this is our call of duty and we respond in paradise. >> this is like the movie 300. what they're telling you is you can be part of this, you can be the super star of this game, the super star of this movie in real life. >> how successful is this online recruiting campaign? u.s. government officials say almost 30,000 recruits have traveled to syria and iraq from
more than 100 countries around the world. >> that's a huge number. it's a lot more than the number of foreign fighters for example that went to afghanistan to fight in the jihad in afghanist afghanistan. >> according to experts the videos play a big part. >> the evidence is extremely powerful. we have testimonials left behind by kids who travel from london and other western capitals in these places and when law enforcement goes through their computer systems, guess what they find? they find tons and tons of these videos. this is what's motivating them. this is what's giving them the idea that anyone can be a rock star in the world of violent jihad. coming up, western governments strike back. you've finally earned enough reward miles on your airline credit card. now you just book a seat, right? not quite. sometimes those seats are out of reach, costing an outrageous number of miles.
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if isis recruiting videos seem to be everywhere, it's because they've mastered the use of the internet. >> what isis was able to do is distribute videos around the world with a couple of clicks of a button. >> isis takes advantage of the open architecture of the internet. funneling videos first to anonymous sites and hosting services like daily motion, just paste it, youtube, and from there, to twitter and out across social media to the world at large. every time a site or video gets pulled down by authorities, it pops right back up somewhere else. for internal communications, isis turns to encrypted sites on the dark web, the sites that google doesn't even find. according to web experts, a reported 90% of the internet is not even visible on most search engines. and that's where isis has made a home. >> communicating and distributing in the shadows of the web.
>> with extremists staking out this turf online, western governments have decided to strike back. >> these terrorists were feeling the ungoverned spaces of social media. places where they could put out whatever they wanted, they could say whatever they wanted. and somebody needed to go in and challenge them. >> the american team fighting the battle for hearts and minds is the u.s. state department's center for strategic counterterrorism communications. the cscc. >> cscc is a small operation that was founded under the impetus of secretary clinton in late 2010, to look for ways to fight propaganda of terrorist groups, specifically al qaeda. >> then we realized that isis was even more sophisticated than any other extremist group. >> cscc didn't have one camera. you know, isis has combat cameras, has television
stations, has editing suites, has, according to one scholar, has 50,000 twitter handles. we had six. >> with fewer than 100 employees, the cscc is trying to stop isis' flow of recruits. >> ironically, the west, in this space, in this narrow space, is outnumbered. >> whether you speak to folks inside of the u.s. government or outside, there's a fairly bleak perspective in terms of how effective our efforts have been, thus far. >> one of those efforts, borrowing isis footage, is the cscc video, "welcome to isis land." >> "welcome to isis land" was something that we threw together very rapidly after the fall of mosul. we wanted something that was edgy, that was sarcastic, that
would be mocking. >> we tried to do something that was outrageous. that was the idea. >> the grim parody runs into a hailstorm of criticism from online pundits to "time" magazine. >> one of the things that we realized is that, it was ironic, it was snarky, and to me, you know, the u.s. government doesn't do snacker and doesn't do irony. >> the idea behind "welcome to isis land" was to try terrify people by showing the terrible things that happens in isis-controlled territory. the problem with this philosophy is that, isis is proud of what they accomplish. they're not trying to run away from this stuff. >> government videographers face an extra challenge. >> let's be honest, a government is often the worst messenger for its message. it's a good message, but a lot
of people simply don't trust us or don't believe us, they don't believe the west, they don't believe america. so no message from the state department is going to persuade a young man or woman from going to syria. >> it's not just that isis is winning the battle of social media, from instagram to twitter, from kik to sure spot. but in a war of narratives, some wonder if the u.s. government counterargument is clear. >> i would suggest that we don't have a very strong message. and until we figure out what we want in syria and iraq, we won't have a message at all. that resonates with anybody. >> there isn't a countermessage. the alternative to this apocalyptic utopian vision of a perfect state is, what, the regimes in the middle east is your humdrum routine life. not much of a countermessage, is it? >> for the state department, the
most powerful tool so far seems to be the words of former jihadis, recruits who decided to leave. >> what we have found to be the most effective is where we just try to disabuse people of the things that so-called isis is telling them, that the caliphate is a paradise, that you'll find a husband or a wife there, that you'll find meaning there, that there's even plumbing or electricity there. >> recently, we did a defector's campaign. people who left to say, it wasn't what it was cracked out to be. i was cleaning latrines, i didn't find a wife, i was rejected by all the local communities and it's very powerful. the tide is shifting and the amount of counter-daesh, counter-isis content is increasing. and eventually, i believe, we'll drown out the content that they produce. >> according to the state
in the arsenal of terror, videos are not just recruiting tools. they're also used to frighten and intimidate. in the aftermath of civilian attacks from paris to beirut, a series of long-distance warnings have popped up from isis and its affiliates, with sweeping death threats across the world. the threats are aimed at targets from russia -- to washington -- to france again, with a collapsing eiffel tower lifted straight out of the movie "g.i.
joe: the rise of cobra." they say to regular people, islamic state is everywhere. we could come and blow up your school or your work or your politicians, and you can't stop us. we're everywhere. >> obviously, that is not true. but they want you to see that it is true. >> it is very common for isis and its affiliates to use that kind of language or threat in their videos. it is meant to show they are a strong group, they are able to head butt with crusader forces, superpowers around the world. but it's also meant to get some airtime. >> while some experts see many of these threats as posturing, in a post-9/11, post-paris 2015 world, any targeting of civilians has to be taken seriously. like this one. earlier in 2015, a 76-minute tirade appeared online from a somali-based extremist group, al shabaab. >> what if such an attack were
to occur at the mall of america in minnesota? >> the message, they're targeting a handful of shopping centers around the world, including the mall of america in minneapolis, the biggest mall in the united states. the fbi and homeland security downplayed the threat, saying they're not aware of any credible plot. but this group, al shabaab, does have a history of assaults on so-called soft targets. just two years earlier, in september 2013, the upscale westgate mall in nairobi, kenya, was attacked by a team of armed assailants. suddenly, panic, as frantic shoppers tried to flee to safety. gunmen with assault rifles weren't holding any hostages. their intent was simple. shoot to kill. as security forces moved into place, police inside did their best to save as many people as they could. >> it was heart wrenching to see civilians targeted in any case. to see them in such deep shades
of fear with no hope of leaving in the near future was deeply impactful. >> meanwhile, the gunmen talked on their cell phones and took turns to pray. the siege dragged on over four days, ending in a series of explosions, as 67 people were reported killed. it was a terrible tragedy in nairobi, but two years later, why isn't the al that bob threat to minneapolis seen as credible? terrorism experts say it's because that threat comes not from a position of strength, but weakness. >> a lot of this has to do with how much the fight is going wrong at home. >> once the dominant force in southern somalia, al shabaab, suffered a series of losses to african union peace keepers in recent years. >> if something's going wrong at home, you quickly distract them with something else. al shabaab had a number of setbacks in the field and they released the call for the attack
on the mall of america, which seemed like an attempt to stay relevant. >> al shabaab's not just losing on the home front, they're also losing the pr battle with other terror groups. >> as they're being swept through the forest and they see islamic state, islamic state, islamic state, islamic state on the news, they would love to get a little bit of that publicity themselves. >> in the politics of terror, not all jihadi groups work together. in fact, they often target each other. al shabaab is lined up with al qaeda, sworn enemies of isis. >> it's a very attractive idea to think that al qaeda and isis are part of some axis of evil. the reality is, is that they hate each other's guts. they hate each other's guts. they do not get along, they do not cooperate. in fact, they are murdering each other right now. >> these days, isis is attracting more recruits, more attention, and more money, all around the world. >> behind the scenes right now,
there is a vicious battle taking place between al qaeda, isis, and other groups, that are scrambling to try to recruit people. and it's particularly between al qaeda affiliates like shabaab and isis. there is a sense that al qaeda is losing the battle. >> and according to a recent video, high-ranking members of al shabaab may have already given in and decided to join isis. coming up, the video that helped take over a city. ahh... ah. you probably say it a million times a day. ahh... ahh! ahh... ahh! but at cigna, we want to help everyone say it once a year. say "ahh". >>ahh... cigna medical plans cover one hundred percent of your in-network annual checkup. so america, let's go. know. ahh! and take control of your health. cigna. together, all the way.
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democratic side. the poll has bernie sanders up by two points, both of those results within the margin of error. now back to isis and the internet. isis videos are effective for more than recruiting. some are also used as a tactical weapon of warfare, to instill fear. for that reason, these are among the most disturbing of the videos. again, we will not show the most graphic portions, produced by terrorists for their shock value. but it's all part of a strategy that military scholars call psychological preparation of the battlefield. >> more cities have been taken in history through information warfare, where they open their gates to the conquerer.
>> isis uses this footage as an actual weapon. a tool to beat down enemies. like the story of the video that conquered a city. may, 2014, mosul. iraq's second largest city is guarded by some 30,000 army and police forces. isis has fewer than 1,500. that's when they release this video, the clanging of the swords number four. beyond the flashy drone shots, it shows footage shot just a few months earlier. >> when the islamic state helped take over fallujah in early 2014, it shot videos of its soldiers going around town, rounding up police and security forces. >> this video was an
particularly effective form of psychological warfare, of psy ops. >> a nighttime raid, a band of soldiers appears at the door, but they're not really soldiers. >> burst into a person's house is maybe the iraqi police or the iraqi military. i'm here to arrest you, you're with the rebels and the guy says, no, no, no, i'm one of you guys. i'm with the government. here's my government i.d. and they realize, as he's talking to this guy, that actually, he's talking to isis. and he's basically, he's convicted himself in front of them. he's been punked and he's going to be killed for it. it's chilling. if you're a policeman or a soldier in mosul stuck in some lonely police station or in some barracks, would cause you to think twice about staying and fighting. >> the video is released and heavily downloaded just a few
weeks before the mosul invasion and though they are outnumbered more than 20-1, isis prevails. >> the number of the military and the security forces ran away because they had seen these videos and they didn't want to stand and fight. >> beyond the battlefield, isis videos began to evolve into staged, stylized, set pieces, increasingly violent, increasingly glossy. in one video, a row of isis executioners appears, leading 21 captives along the beach in libya. >> things weren't going quite so well with the islamic state at the time, so they needed to draw attention away from themselves. and then up pops the first libyan execution video. it's all lavishly produced, all color-coordinated, with isis in black ninja gear, but several things are unusual about this video.
>> the executioners appear to be 7 feet tall and the hostages appear to be 5 feet tall. it's in order to show power. >> msnbc will not broadcast the most graphic parts and the real-life executions in these videos. but the content is still disturbing, even if it's doctored. >> they promise that the oceans will be stained in blood and they show you the ocean turning to blood. this is a classic horror film technique, that it's very easy to do color saturations on things as nominal as your cell phone, to create this effect. the islamic state doesn't release a single execution video without it being completely staged, rehearsed, planned. this is like a big-budget hollywood film, in many ways. >> they draw on a series of hollywood generas from action to spy movies to horror. >> and we have this flashy beginning background.
so that's classic horror film, the blood splatter. the sound is critical here. it reminds you of the anticipation of any horror film that you've ever seen. >> they're setting people on fire, they're having people sit on explosives and then blowing them up. they're drowning people in cages. you know, and then they try to find some kind of obscure islamic justification for it. but it's actually being driven by clickability. >> there are even executions via rpg, although we won't be showing them to you. >> that made me sick to my stomach. but it also made me glued to my seat, to see what will happen next. >> another group is killed in an elaborately staged scenario in a swimming pool. >> they are filmed from multiple angles by multiple cameras. then the cage is submerged underwater, until the individuals in the cage can't breathe anymore. what isis wants to do is that,
that image, that horror, it will stick in your mind for the rest of your life. >> these almost have a james bond villain-type quality to them. >> that they were willing to kill them in such a bizarre and kind of scary, almost like a super villain sort of way, suggests that they are thinking about the media, the media effort that's actually going to happen afterwards. >> one often-asked questions is why the victims meet their death so calmly. >> they rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. so after a while, it becomes boring and routine. why should i suspect that this time is going to be the time that i'm going to get my head cut off? >> isis continues to turn out these videos, but some believe that after so much carnage, the impact may be dwindling. >> the grisly ones have become even more violent, even more graphic, which we actually consider a sign of desperation, because they have to keep defining their deviancy downward in order to get an audience.
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>> we say, look, these terrible monsters are destroying these artifacts. and they say, absolutely, because we're trying to create a new society and this old stuff has to go. >> they're smashing ancient statues, some almost 3,000 years old. >> and you've actually seen this in a lot of dystopian and utopian societies, where they try to destroy things that does not suggest their new society. >> wiping out these statues, buying out these heritage marks, it is cultural genocide. >> in a war of ideas, isis wants its ideas to be the only ones left standing. >> they're trying to destroy history. and once you destroy history, then you can say, the only history that exists is the ones that we tell you exists. >> the video of destruction is released in late february 2015. the reaction is immediate. shock and outrage from around the world.
the director general of unesco, the u.n.'s cultural agency, convenes an emergency meeting. the group passes a resolution, calling for the preservation of iraq's heritage. while there is great loss, some of the statues are later reported to be replicas with the originals moved to baghdad for safekeeping years earlier. but the campaign of demolition is much broader-based than just toppling statues. as sunni muslims, isis soldiers also destroy entire buildings, monuments, sites of other muslim sects. here, they're planting explosives in opposition of shia shrines, clearing the way for the caliphate. >> the mere fact that they have stood there, some of them, for thousands of years, isis decided that this is too sacrilegious for us. >> while isis portrays tearing down cultures it wants to
eradicate, the terror group also distributes other videos that shows the state they claim is being built. >> the thing people don't understand is more than half of the videos they're doing now present an appealing, altruistic vision of the caliphate rather than the videos that more westerners are used to. chopping off heads and kids shooting. >> the overwhelming majority of isis videos are state-building videos. they're people going about their daily lives, of, you know, people paying their taxes, the harvesting of crops, the administering of justice. >> the islamic state wants to demonstrate that it is a normal, functioning state that does more than war. the videos for all of their unreality, some of them show a functioning government, which is terrifying. the point of those videos is to show, and it is a myth, that they're a functioning state.
that they're a governing territory, that there are traffic cops, that the sewers are working, that there's electricity. and actually, there is no electricity. the toilets are not working. the traffic is horrendous. it's not a functioning state. >> one video promotes isis hospitals, like a medical drama. another heralds their newly announced currency, the gold dinar. it condemns, quote, satanic banks and features the gold coin it says will wipe out the dollar. >> it's an astonishing dollar. how much do isis true believers care about the gold standard in bringing down the dollar. >> i don't think anyone actually uses these coins. they still use local tender. >> in fact, no one's sure the coins are even real currency at all. >> people in the isis caliphate are not being paid with gold dinars. >> but that's not the point. >> the question is not really whether or not there is a gold dinar.
the question is perception. that's what's important. >> through their videos, they're trying to create the aura of a country already built. >> in a way, it's this field of dreams approach. if you build it, they will come if you declare it a state, if you portray it a state, it will actually be a state. coming up, isis, the next generation. is it becoming a better professor by being a more adventurous student? is it one day giving your daughter the opportunity she deserves? is it finally witnessing all the artistic wonders of the natural world? whatever your definition of success is, helping you pursue it, is ours. t-i-a-a.
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in isis' plans and its propaganda, its leaders seek to prove they're in it for the long haul, building a so-called state that will last centuries. and that's where children come in. they call them the cubs of the caliphate. >> what isis wants to do is to essentially create a new generation of caliphate soldiers. it's a vision that goes on for generations.
>> october 2013, a family from kazakhstan migrates to syria and joins isis. >> one of the first to bring their whole families. it was no longer a tourist jihad. there's no longer individual jihad. this was a family jihad. so you bring over your wife, your children, your babies. >> isis released a video in 2013, where they were guests at a house. that housed 150 member families from kazakhstan. it's a big family, fathers, mothers, cousins, daughters, so on. >> the video introduces a kazak youngster named abdul seated alongside his father. >> we see this young, very innocent child, who's brought into this conflict in syria. and from the likes of isis, he's going to become a cub of the caliphate. >> over the next year and a half, videos track his progression. november 2014. isis puts out a video called
race towards good. as in many other videos, the narrator speaks english in an effort to reach a larger audience. >> it shows a training camp for kazak fighters and about half of that video is the fighters who are essentially the cubs. the 16 and younger individuals. he is featured in that video. he is learning how to fight, how to conduct martial arts, how to gain physical agility, but also how to use weapons, how to dismantle and assemble ak-47s and so on. and in the video, he reiterates what isis message has originally been, which is, we're going to come for the infidels. >> january 13th, 2015, isis releases a third video, featuring the kazak boy. >> approximately five months later, we see him in a video with another individual, an adult, likely his mentor. this is the culmination of these
three videos. he came as a newcomer, he was a nobody, he later trained, went through their training camp, learned their ideology, learned their way of life, adopted their beliefs. in this third video, we see two individuals who are alleged russian spies. these two alleged informants, they are kneeling down. >> the video gets graphic. we will not show you the shooting. >> you don't see any kind of facial expressions on his face. you don't see any expressions of being taken aback. we see abdullah kind of slowing approaching those two individuals. >> the child is very calm and very confident at what he's about to do. and the child looks at the gun and squeezes the handle with intention and purpose. >> the two alleged spies are killed. in less than a year and a half, abdullah has gone from a kid to an executioner. >> i felt horrified. as if they sunk to new lows that i'd never imagined they could do.
>> the more isis is able to control schools in syria and iraq, the more this indoctrination becomes possible. >> it's absolutely a type of brainwashing and it's absolutely effective brainwashing. once they pull the trigger, they can't go back. >> the global recruitment and military use of children under the age of 15 has been labeled a war crime by the u.n. human rights council. and abdullah isn't the only one. as of september, 2015, there have been nearly 30 child executioners documented in isis propaganda. the jihadis are trying to cultivate the next generation, but what does the future hold for those young fighters and for isis itself? >> they are not, you know, unstoppable. this is not a huge army. isis is, it's impressive what it's been able to accomplish, but it's not 10 feet tall, either.
>> this is one of the myths about isis winning the immediate war. even by the top-most estimate, they've recruited maybe 30,000 foreign fighters. that represents 1/1,000th of 1% of the muslim population of the planet. i wouldn't calling that winning. >> i have to ask anyone who says that isis is losing the propaganda war, how? in what way are they losing? because according to what we see, they seem to be winning. >> it's a global struggle for hearts and minds. to attract people like muddin sheikh. extremists initially won him over. >> i felt angry at the world before i left. i felt a lot of hate against islam, especially after 9/11. didn't feel like i belonged. i wanted nothing to do with an infidel state. i wanted to go happily ever half in the utopia that had to be out there. >> but when he traveled to the
middle east to study his faith, his path changed. >> i wanted to study my religion properly. and after two years of really intense study, i had a complete deradicalization. i discovered my religion, in a better way. the real religion, what it really is. it's noble and it's just. and it's not angry. >> he returned back home to canada, back to the place he started. but now he sees the world and the videos very differently. >> once you have that cognitive switch, your outlook is completely different. it's a new prescription for your glasses, basically. i can still look at those videos with that hat on, that proverbial hat, of the extremists. i can look at it and say, i see how this appeals to somebody, because i remember how it appealed to me. but, the effect is gone, though, now. now, of course, i see them for what they are.