I’m back in the office after spending most of last week in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I investigated firsthand the alleged Islamic terrorist cell that was broken up there last month. From the outset, several details about the “North Carolina Jihad” case have intrigued me: from the rural setting to the shadowy background of the cell’s accused ringleader, Daniel Patrick Boyd—a white convert to Islam. But news coverage and the indictment against Boyd and his followers seemed to raise just as many questions as they did answers. So I decided to dig deeper and get on the ground in and around Raleigh, talking to Boyd’s neighbors, co-workers and fellow Muslims. In doing so, I was able to uncover exclusive new details about Boyd that have yet to be reported elsewhere.
1) Was Boyd a thief?
On my first day in Raleigh, I visited a strip mall in nearby Garner, NC, where Boyd once owned and operated a Muslim store. According to one local newspaper, “Young Muslim men would come into the store for traditional Muslim garb and meat slaughtered according to Islamic law. They would stop by for fellowship with Boyd.” Nevertheless, Boyd’s store was not successful, and he shut the doors last fall after being open for less than a year. A thrift shop now operates at the location, but Boyd’s presence is still felt. The thrift shop's owner, Ramona McWhorter, told CBN News that she believes Boyd stole several storage shelves from the property months after he had sold it to her.
According to McWhorter—and corroborated by an employee of a neighboring business who witnessed the incident firsthand—Boyd entered the property illegally through the back entrance sometime in July and loaded several storage shelves into his truck. He then drove away. McWhorter suspects that Boyd had kept a spare key and was thus able to gain entry to the store when no one else was present. Both she and the eyewitness say the theft occurred about a week before Boyd was arrested by federal authorities on terrorism charges. Whether there was a direct link between the stolen shelves and Boyd’s plans for jihad is obviously unclear. What does appear clear is that Boyd readily broke U.S. law.
2) Boyd the Neighborhood Pied Piper?
Since news of the arrests of Boyd and his two sons broke in late July, several neighbors have gone on record to defend the Boyd family. For a time, a couple that lived next door even showcased a sign on their lawn that read: ”We Support the Boyds.” The consensus in the neighborhood seemed to be that the Boyds were model neighbors, and that their arrests were a complete and utter shock—if not an outright case of mistaken identity. I spoke to some of Boyd’s neighbors during my trip and found that the positive view of the Boyd family largely still stands in their rural subdivision. One told me that Boyd’s family was the picture of “empathy” and kindness, and that the Boyds formed “the biggest welcoming committee in the neighborhood” when others moved in. Other than their Muslim faith, which, according to neighbors, they did not promote, the Boyds seemed much like any other family in the area. Daniel Boyd obviously was able to ingratiate himself into the fabric of the local community and was careful to hide any jihadist aspirations.
But one conversation I had with a younger neighbor was striking. He was more adamant than others that the Boyds were innocent. He said that young people considered Boyd the neighborhood “advice-giver,” a father figure type who they could confide in, trust and seek advice from. The young neighbor added that Boyd never wove his Islamic beliefs into these chats or tried to convert anyone. Then again, it was obvious that he deeply admired Boyd. Therefore, he may not have been completely forthcoming on some details. The “Boyd as Pied Piper” angle is one I’ll return to shortly.
3) Boyd the Difficult Employee?
While in Raleigh, I also interviewed Boyd’s former boss, Larry Schug. Boyd worked for Schug for about five years as a subcontractor, hanging drywall. Schug says he and Boyd butted heads and did not have a good working relationship. The main problem was Schug’s inability to reach Boyd. He says he would call Boyd repeatedly and leave messages, but that Boyd would not call back. The lack of communication grated on Schug. When pressed for an explanation, Boyd would say that he left his phone in his truck and did not know Schug had been calling. Eventually, he began bypassing Schug altogether and began calling other management figures when he needed to communicate about work issues. Schug says that despite their poor relationship, Boyd did work hard and knew his trade.
He described Boyd as “rough,” tall and well-built, a gun enthusiast with somewhat of a survivalist/militiaman type persona. Schug says Boyd spoke often of his family’s military lineage (his father was a U.S. Marine decorated with four Purple Hearts). He assumed that Boyd had also served in a U.S. Special Forces unit given his tough exterior and time overseas (which was spent waging jihad in the name of Islam, unbeknownst to his co-workers). Schug was surprised to learn that Boyd had never actually served in the U.S. military.
Incidentally, Boyd’s well-kept North Carolina home once belonged to his father. Boyd and his family relocated to the Raleigh area to take care of the elder Boyd when he became sick, and moved in for good after he died.
4) How Much Did the Local Muslim Community Know About Boyd?
This is the key question. We know that Boyd apparently split from his local mosque because its views were not extreme enough. We also know that at least one man who frequented the mosque had concerns about Boyd’s views—concerns which he says were ignored.
I spoke at length, off the record, to a Muslim who is very plugged in to Raleigh’s Islamic community. This Muslim gave a troubling portrait of Boyd, saying that he spoke "openly" and frequently among fellow Muslims about the need to wage violent jihad. The source described Boyd’s views as “very strong,” particularly concerning the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Boyd was a “charismatic” figure, according to the source, and his experience in the Afghan jihad in the late 1980’s and early 90’s gave him “street cred” among young, impressionable Muslims. Like the neighborhood kids, young Muslims gravitated towards Boyd and looked up to him—especially those from dysfunctional backgrounds. Some of the young men who were indicted along with Boyd reportedly fit this description.
Boyd talked about his Afghanistan experiences “all the time” and was very social. “He liked to talk,” the source said. Whereas Boyd’s neighbors expressed shock at his arrest, the Muslim source—who knew Boyd’s theological views and passion for jihad well-- said that “it is hard to argue with anything that is in that indictment.”
Lastly, the source supplied a few intriguing details about Boyd’s family. His two sons—who were indicted along with Boyd—were described as “serene” and “devout.” They revered their father. The younger son, Zakariya, had been attending college but abruptly dropped out and moved back home sometime before his arrest, a decision that the source found “strange.”
Boyd’s wife, Sabrina, also possessed “rigid” views of Islam, according to the source, although she did not speak openly of jihad. “That was his thing,” the source said.
In short, the radical Islamist, pro-jihad worldview of Daniel Boyd was no secret among Raleigh’s Muslims. He wore it on his sleeve. Boyd’s views led to theological arguments with some Muslims who disagreed with them. But at the end of the day, according to my source, American Muslim communities are very insular and all too often have a “code of silence” when it comes to their own. It is unclear whether a local Muslim or Muslims assisted authorities in the Boyd investigation. I suspect that was the case, and if true, that is obviously a very positive thing. But the fact remains that Boyd was able to build an eight-member terror cell that was allegedly training for attacks overseas and quite possibly on U.S soil as well. And Raleigh’s Muslims can’t say they were not warned. The signs were certainly there when it came to Daniel Boyd.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my colleague, terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who accompanied me on the trip to Raleigh and provided invaluable insights throughout. Daveed is vice-president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in D.C., where he recently compiled a must read report on homegrown terrorism in the West. You can read it here.