What drives Coloradans to become foreign fighters?

Posted at 9:26 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-10 23:26:38-04

DENVER -- Following the recent deaths of two Colorado men who were killed while fighting ISIS is Syria, Denver7 wanted to find out what drives these young Americans to become foreign fighters.

"[They do it to] Ensure that their life has some sort of meaning to it beyond simply just living a normal Coloradan life," said Nader Hashemi, with the University of Denver's Center for Middle East Studies.

Hashemi also added these young men are often driven by idealism, solidarity and a desire to fight for a cause that's bigger than them.

Colorado ranks in the top three states for the most foreign fighters, according to the British investigative journalism site Bellingcat.

During a review of social media accounts last year, the site found six people traveled from Colorado to Syria to fight ISIS.

Hashemi said the decision to become a volunteer foreign fighter comes with serious risks and does raise questions about an individual's motives.

"What, actually, can one individual from Colorado accomplish in any substantive way in terms of waging a war on ISIS?" he said.

The two Colorado men who were killed had both joined the Kurdish People's Protective Unit or YPG.

Jordan MacTaggart's parents confirmed his death on Tuesday. He was just 21.

In a statement, his parents said, "Jordan admired the Kurds from afar and grew to love them, their cause became his."

Levi Jack Shirley, 24, from Arvada, was also killed while fighting for the same group and in this YouTube video describes a similar motivation.

Hashemi said it's hard to know for sure why more Colorado men are joining this cause, but he believes our culture may play a role.

"A certain sense of patriotism and a certain gun culture is much more prevalent," he said.

Hashemi said he also hopes these tragic deaths will serve as a cautionary tale.

"An individual without a military background I think is really putting themselves at risk," he said.

Sidney Seymour went to high school with MacTaggart in Castle Rock. She said he didn't have any formal military training other than what was provided by the YPG upon arrival.

"He had this deep seeded affinity for helping others and for true justice. He took the horrors of the world personally and was very well researched about everything he was passionate about," said Seymour. "He just stood for what he believed in regardless of any personal sacrifice. He didn't regret his decision or complain about how uncomfortable it come be. It made him feel whole."


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