From the outside, life as a terrorist seems pretty simple. Grow a crappy beard, start shouting hateful slogans and then spitefully kill some innocent people. Easy, right? Wrong. Far from living out their lives as the bad guys in an action movie, it turns out terrorists have to do a whole lotta grunt work to keep themselves relevant. In a weird way, keeping an organization like al-Qaeda going is almost no different from running an extremely murderous business.
10. It’s All About the Branding
Let’s say you were planning to set up a deadly terror group. You’ve got your insane goals in mind, a bundle of illegal weapons, and a hankering to kill some infidels. All you need now are recruits. So, just find some other nutcases with similar leanings and convince them to take up arms, right?
You couldn’t be more wrong. Apparently even potential terrorists think like regular jobseekers. Most of them loathe the idea of joining an unknown ‘company’ with no solid brand identity. Like talented employees to a business, terrorists are attracted to big name global brands. Guys like al-Qaeda and ISIS put an insane amount of effort into building their name-recognition, in the hopes of attracting more educated, wealthy candidates. By contrast, less well-known groups mostly have to build their armies out of bumbling nincompoops.
Having a brand identity is so important that terror groups put insane amounts of thought into it. According to analysts, everything from the color of the logo to its typeface are designed to evoke a group’s mission; with ISIS’s black flag presumably being the jihadi equivalent of McDonalds golden arches.
9. Recruitment is Key
What do you think would happen if you tried to join al-Qaeda? Most of us would probably assume we’d be taken to a remote mountain and handed a gun (or possibly kidnapped by the NSA). The reality is quite different. When marines raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound in 2011, they discovered something wholly unexpected: recruitment forms.
Apparently, CV writing skills were essential for joining the jihad movement. Alongside questions about education and weapons training, potential martyrs were asked to fill out details of their hobbies and answer essay-style questions about their personal development goals (presumably, ‘kill a lot of people’ was an acceptable answer). Essentially, it was the same process as when you apply to any company, from Wall St to Walmart, only with no penalties for scrawling ‘death to the West!’ in block capitals.
But the craziest question of all came last. Where most companies ask for contact details in the case of an emergency, the al-Qaeda version politely enquired “Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?”
8. Competing for Investment
One of the most-exhausting aspects of starting a new business is drumming up capital. Schmoozing venture capitalists or just getting excited young investors onboard for the long haul can be tiring. Terrorists understand that pain. Far from solely funding their nefarious plans through kidnapping and drug running, many of them are forced to seek out wealthy investors with an interest in mass murder.
One example of this is al-Qaeda sucking up to rich Saudis to bankroll their reign of terror, seeking out the jihadist equivalent of venture capitalists. But the IRA also used to go on fundraising drives; sending Republican dissidents to the US to solicit donations. In Latin America, Colombia’s FARC are said to schmooze with rich Venezuelans, seeking the collapse of a neighbouring state as return for their investment.
The ability to get financial backing can float or sink a terror group as easily as a start-up. One of the main reasons al-Qaeda are a spent force is because ISIS is so much better at getting investors onboard.
7. Recruitment Ads
Successful business recruitment ads have a simple playbook. They aim to present working culture in a positive light, show the benefits of joining up, and convey exactly what sort of person they want. They usually achieve this through lots of pictures of people smiling, and meaningless slogans like “proud to be working for our future.” They’re not the only ones. This exact same model has been copied by ISIS.
We kid you not. Islamic State have a well-funded advertising department that’s constantly churning out ‘inspiring’ photo essays about life in the Caliphate. Rather than focussing on innocent civilians being beheaded, most are pretty cheesy. There are smiling pictures of people picking grapes; of guys going fishing at sunset; of parents playing with their kids in the local swimming pool. You half expect an American voiceover to come on, saying “at Islamic State, we care about our employees’ future…”
Amusing as this is, it’s also kind of sinister. By stealing techniques from corporate advertisers, ISIS have managed to pull in more recruits than nearly any other group on Earth.
6. Outreach Recruiting
A fixture of modern businesses are outreach recruitment days. Although not every company does it, a good number take the time to tour campuses and even high schools, giving presentations on their work. And guess what? If you want to bring down civilization, you’re gonna have to do the exact same thing.
In Colombia, Marxist revolutionary rebels FARC tour the rural parts of the country, actively giving recruitment presentations in high schools. Students are given a talk and some reasons for joining, and then get a chance to sign up with the Earth’s third best-funded terrorist organization. Surprisingly, plenty leap at the opportunity. Less openly, but still pretty brazen, extremist groups in the UK are known to recruit through university societies. Rather than go through shady parts of the dark web, they simply sign people up on campus during study time.
5. Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is big business’s way of saying “we care.” By taking interest in climate change and CO2 reductions, or by organizing a bit of charity work, corporations can show they’re more than just soulless multinationals. That they care about the world we live in. Oddly, it works the same way for terror groups. Guys like al-Qaeda have previously gone out of their way to combat climate change.
For an organization that revels in the deaths of thousands, worrying about the future safety of their fellow humans seems like an odd one. But that’s the beauty of the terrorist mind set: it doesn’t matter if your positions are contradictory because everyone knows you’re freakin’ nuts. In a letter to their members way back in 2011, the group implored fighters not to cut down trees without planting new ones. It also asked them all to be conscious about the environmental impact of their actions, such as (we guess) from setting off gigantic explosions. It was like one of those memos your boss sends out about not using too much photocopier paper… if your boss spent his working time planning indiscriminate attacks on faraway civilians.
4. Social Media Presence
If you want to grow your business, social media’s a necessary evil. Facebook competitions, interacting with customers on Twitter, and pinning cheesy photos of your employees’ teambuilding day on Instagram are all considered essential in our modern tech-dystopia. You might think a bunch of medievalist murderers who want to recreate the worst aspects of the 8th century would shun such Western decadence. You’d be wrong.
ISIS are so enamoured with social media that they have their own dedicated media center. They have active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and advertise like any socially clued-up US company. There are people who spend all day sat in a room in Mosul, rewriting famous memes so they carry the ISIS brand. Others tweet informal pictures of jihadists hanging together after a hard day’s genocide, going on fun days out, or even posing with cats. It’s like they looked into the dark heart of social media advertising and decided to turn all the stuff we love into an evil mirror image of itself. Like a tech-savvy business, this model is driving ISIS’s western recruitment numbers through the roof.
3. Employee Days Out
Ask any business owner the key to their success, and they’ll say ‘keeping their best employees happy.’ That means stuff like perks, bonuses and recognition of hard work. It also means organizing things like company days out, where your workers get to bond over a spot of bungee jumping (or whatever). If you want to keep your future martyrs happy, you better do that too.
Group bonding days are the same in terror groups as they are in any company. The Leeds-based cell that orchestrated the London bombings used to take its future-martyrs white water rafting. Because we all know there’s nothing like a spot of extreme sports to get the jihadi juices flowing. In rural Colombia, FARC run excursion days into the jungle, where recruits can make camps and practice what to do in case they get hit by a government airstrike. And that’s before we even mention that hilarious old photo of far-right psychos the KKK having a fun day out at the fair together that we just used for this entry.
2. Training Courses
The flip side of fun employee days out are training days. If you’re running a good business, you need to be stumping up that cash to make sure your guys are at the top of their game. Sending them on courses to learn new skills, sending them off on weekend retreats to brush up on their management expertise… these are all things a company should be doing. Want to guess who else does this?
If you said ‘terrorists,’ congratulations. You’ve figured out how this thing works. Murderous psychopaths need as much training to stay on top of their game as anyone. This means their bosses need to pay the money to send them away to training camps. Once there, they can pick up new skills like bomb making, using snipers or hijacking airliners. Some organizations even run ‘conferences’ where a whole lotta bad guys can get together to swap techniques. The IRA used to travel to Libya to train with Islamic extremists. FARC used to get together with Basque separatists ETA to build up one another’s skills.
Finally, in our increasingly globalized world, many companies are taking advantage of outsourcing. If your business needs something doing and there’s no-one in house to do it, why not simply hire someone with the expertise to do the job in your name as a one off? For terrorists too incompetent to carry out their own attacks, this has been a popular method.
In the 1970s, the Japanese Red Army Faction basically ran their group as a kind of terrorist consultancy firm. Other organizations handed over jobs to them, and they went out and killed people. Famously, the Palestinian Liberation Organization hired them to attack Lod Airport in Israel, killing 26. At other times, they were hired to hijack airliners.
Islamic groups looking to outsource frequently hire in fighters from al-Qaeda and ISIS, who are always willing to have their ‘staff’ help in any form of jihad. Plenty of old Chechen terror cells now work almost-exclusively as guns for hire. They may have different goals, but terror groups have more in common with businesses than you think. Only with, y’know, more murdering and stuff.