On June 3, 2017, a man boarding a bus in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland was recognized by one of the passengers as the perpetrator of an armed robbery that had taken place earlier in the day. The passenger immediately called the police, and officers intercepted the bus at a subsequent stop, blocking one of its doors, to prevent the suspect -- 35-year-old Blaine Robert Erb -- from fleeing.
Erb responded by drawing two semi-automatic pistols from his backpack and firing both in all directions. He was killed during the shootout, which was captured on surveillance cameras.
What was not covered by the press about the incident -- reported as yet another example of the wanton violence that has come to characterize Baltimore – was a description of Erb's attire and other aspects of his appearance. This is a significant "oversight": what the video footage reveals is that Erb was wearing a Muslim thobe and large skull cap, and that he sported a long, bushy red beard. This could indicate that he is among those coined by certain experts in the U.K. as "ginger jihadis" to denote "redheaded men and women ... replacing the ritual bullying of the playground with the ritual strictures of radical Islam, perhaps... as a result of the bullying and persecution they endure early in life."
Although it is not clear whether Erb was bullied as a child or ever converted to Islam, his extensive rap sheet is on record. Wanted for failing to appear in court on multiple DUI charges, Erb served jail sentences for various crimes, including assault, theft, robbery and possession of illegal weapons. According to a 2014 report in the Daily Caller, in 2006, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate committee that prisons were becoming a "fertile ground" for jihadis, who were indoctrinating and recruiting fellow inmates in the ideology of radical Islam. Erb could easily have been recruited behind bars. In April 2016, the New York Times reported that the number of convicted terrorists currently housed in American prisons is 443 -- a number that dwarfs the number of inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
This prison practice, in high gear across the West, sparked Britain to create three special "jihadi jails-within-jails," to keep the most dangerous extremists from having contact with, and then influencing, the general criminal population. A recent report in the U.K.'s Metro states that Michael Adebolajo -- one of the men who murdered British Army soldier Lee Rigby -- and the extremist Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary are thought to be among the prisoners transferred to a separate facility.
The American twist to Erb's story is its connection to another domestic terrorism problem plaguing the U.S. -- the growing number of jihadis targeting police officers. The case of ISIS supporter Edward Archer -- who confessed to gunning down a Philadelphia police officer "in the name of Islam" -- is but one example.
In Queens, New York, 32-year-old Zale Thompson attacked New York City police officers with a hatchet. Thompson, who friends claimed also espoused "black power" politics, had viewed a total of 277 websites promoting jihad, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and beheadings prior to launching his attack. He also had previously been arrested several times in California and charged with domestic violence.
Also in New York, Ismaayil Brinsley posted extremely pro-jihad Koran quotes and other such material on his Facebook and Twitter accounts before murdering two NYPD officers in December 2014. Brinsley, like Thompson, had connections to black supremacist organizations, including the Black Guerrilla Family. Brinsley most probably had made such connections while serving time in Georgia and Ohio prisons. Brinsley had already been arrested 19 times.
The Chechen Tsarnaev brothers set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, and then murdered MIT police officer Sean Collier during their attempted escape. The elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, began his criminal career as a low-level drug dealer who played a role in a triple-murder in Waltham in 2011.
In France, police have also been the victims of jihadi shootings and car bombs. Last April, a gunman with known ties to jihadi networks killed a police officer on the Champs Elysées. "Karim C" had an extensive history of moving in and out of jail.
According to Aaron Klein, author of Schmoozing With Terrorists, ISIS began to take advantage of racial tensions in America in 2015 by attempting to recruit disgruntled black Muslims in Ferguson and Baltimore. This was months after the Daily Mail reported that ISIS supporters vowed on Twitter to send militants to fight police in Ferguson if protesters committed to Islam.
The irony is that the more the West pledges to combat global terrorism and keep it contained militarily or through criminal justice systems, the more jihadists manage to spread their message -- on social media, in mosques and in prisons -- by infiltrating the hearts and minds of individuals and groups susceptible to it. Erb appears to have been such a person. His story should be highlighted, not buried.
(Image source: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)
Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer and author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.