A 22-year-old Oakton High School graduate who converted to Islam as a teen and pleaded guilty last year to terrorism-related charges, represents the future of online Islamist radicalization, according to a report to be released Monday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The report includes copies of four letters handwritten by Zachary Adam Chesser from prison and sent to committee staff, and coincides with his own apparent return to the Internet last week. A four-part screed signed by Chesser and posted online on Feb. 20 outlines some of the ways he says he was wronged by the U.S. justice system.
Chesser, whom the report describes as the son of a U.S. government contractor, is incarcerated in Marion, Ill. The facility is one of two high-security penitentiaries in the United States with “Special Communications Units” sometimes referred to as “Guantanamo North” because they contain a high percentage of Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges.
A gifted student who was, according to the report, briefly a Buddhist, Chesser converted to Islam in high school after dating a Muslim girl. But his radicalization appears to have taken place almost completely over the Internet, where he found like-minded people after local Islamic leaders disagreed with his views.