Are you bored? Is the latest gadget not anymore attractive? Has your girlfriend just left you for your best friend? Are you addicted to the Internet so much that you are now unemployable? Well, do not worry, you can become a member of Vigil, a cyber-crusader group which hunts web-terrorists! Fun is guaranteed and you may even become one of the greatly esteemed ‘Knights of the Beeb‘. Yes, we are speaking of grown-up children playing something like cyberspace “Cops and Robbers”. But let me start from the beginning.
The story is quite simple: radical preachers and organizations are using the Internet to evade the new legislation that prohibits the glorification of terrorism. Yet I am surprised to discover that these Vigil members are infiltrating groups, conducting undercover operations and possibly disrupting serious investigations. What I am even more surprised about is that the BBC has taken this group of cyber-crusaders seriously.
Vigil claims the UK authorities have been slow to deal with the broadcasts.
One academic, who is a member of Vigil, contacted the Metropolitan Police’s anti-terrorist hotline saying he had more than 100 hours of material from a chatroom only to be told to contact his local police station. “The anti-terrorist office showed no sense of urgency to get this information,” he said.
But who is this adventurous, intelligent under-cover (or over-covered since the BBC does not mention his/her name) academic? Well I decided to investigate Vigil, which with its childish undercover actions are threatening not only serious security investigations (when and if they are serious) but also academic research in this field. Being an anthropologist working on these topics, I see this undercover approach to extremist groups as endangering vital field research and possibly, in some extreme cases, anthropologists’ lives.
After a using some of the most sophisticated cyber-investigations (Google) this is what we know about Vigil; the official order of online crusaders. In late 2005, a certain Dr. Jeremy Reynalds started a campaign to hunt the cyber-mujahidin, many of whom comfortably chat and hypertext from their living room, drinking Cola instead of following a mystical- anchorite lifestyle alike our favourite anchorman of the HinduKush, Bin Laden. Self-named executive director of the non-profit organization is Dr Jeremy Reynalds. Dr Reynalds guarantees us that his Vigil, and its incredible expertise in Islamic extremism and terrorism, “will ensure that the terrible events of July 7 2005 will never again happen in the U.K”.
Now as any good Vigil crusader knows, one of the rules of the cyber-fight is to always seek out the core website, which is in this case www.joyjunction.org. What do you find? The largest emergency homeless shelter in New Mexico. Yes, you are reading correctly. What does Vigil have to do with a homeless shelter? Nothing, or actually everything. Probably both are businesses that make money from behind a noble façade. Here is a self description of Dr Reynalds from his archive of articles,
Jeremy Reynalds was born in England, emigrated to the United States in 1978 and married Sylvia in 1979. They have five boys. Jeremy gave his life to the Lord in 1976 and currently attends Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque. He became an American citizen in 1998 and voted in his first general election in 2000.
Jeremy founded and directed a small homeless shelter in Santa Fe, New Mexico from 1982 through 1986, resigned that and started “Joy Junction”, now New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, in Albuquerque in August (www.joyjunction.org). They do not accept government funding of any type and are not United Way members.
A freelance writer, he has published two books: “Homeless in America” (Huntington House, 1994) and “The Walking Wounded” (Huntington House, 1996). He also contributed to another book in 1999 that dealt with how the media portrays the homeless.
Jeremy holds a BS undergraduate degree with a concentration in Journalism and an M.A. in Communication from the University of New Mexico. He also holds a Ph.D. in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles, CA. His hobbies & interests include church, reading, writing and filling in for vacationing radio talk show hosts in the area.
I can understand how a committed right-wing Christian can decide to save the body and souls of homeless people, and possibly start a business which saves his pocket at the same time. However, his credentials as an expert on anti-terrorism and Muslim extremism is surely homeless and needs a definite rescue. Yet our charismatic leader will demonstrate his academic credential in his new book: War on the Web, Fighting the Online Jihad
Now I wonder whether the ‘fisher of homeless’ has decided to exploit a better and more lucrative sea: the anti-terrorism terrorism business and the advising of increasingly distressed and distrusted governments. I smell rotten fish here. So Back to the BBC.
How much did the BBC pay Vigil and its Executive Director Dr Reynalds (notice the corporate language Dr Reynalds like to use) for its two Fox-News style programs? Why did the BBC decide to present Dr Reynalds and his organisation, Vigil, as serious academics, when of course they do not appear to have the appropriate credentials on this topic? Why does the BBC (and many other broadcasters and mass media) prefer the advising of sixteen-seventy mountebank style ‘anti-terrorist’ advisors rather than serious research? Why does the British government pay attention to unprofessional research and sensational programs rather than serious academic scholarship that is not lacking. Well the answer could be found here. I leave you the task of reading it.