Ariel Bradley wasn’t even the only Islamic jihadi from Chattanooga, Tennessee. On July 17, 2015, a fellow resident of the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson, Mohammad Abdulazeez, murdered four Marines at a Navy base in Chattanooga. This delighted Bradley, who wrote: “Gifted this morning not only with Eid but w/ the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [non-believers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to Allah].” By that time, Bradley was far from Chattanooga; she was living in the domains of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, and was calling herself Umm Aminah, that is, Aminah’s mother, after her two-year-old daughter, Aminah Mohamad. Six years later, Ariel Bradley is dead, and Aminah is being brought back to a United States that is even more riven now by the divisions and confusions that drove her mother’s life so wildly off course than it was when her mother made her fateful choices.
Ariel Bradley grew up in Chattanooga as a member of the Pentecostal Church of God, and according to a man with whom she shared a home much later, her parents zealously endeavored to “keep her away from materials that would make her question Christianity,” even to the point of not teaching her to read until she was almost a teenager. Not unexpectedly, Ariel rebelled, running away from home when she was 15 or 16. Like so many Americans today, she ended up adrift, searching for an identity and a purpose. A friend characterized Ariel’s life as “a solar system without a star, without a sun.” She got pregnant and had an abortion. She got a lot of tattoos. She did a lot of drugs. She studied for her GED but never got it.
Ultimately she found the Left, and dived in wholeheartedly. According to a 2015 BuzzFeed profile, “When she wasn’t working, she was active in many social justice groups in Chattanooga, protesting and raising awareness of issues facing the city’s working poor and often traveling out of state to march in rallies for teachers’ rights or protests against America’s overseas military actions. In the biography of the Twitter account @LadyAppleSeed, which she created in May 2009, Ariel describes herself as an ‘activist,’ and friends say she considered that a huge part of her identity; they also said she called herself a feminist.” A photo of Ariel at a demonstration survives; she is holding up a sign emblazoned with the slogan “SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE.”
Leftism allowed Ariel to become more centered than she had been at any other time in her life, but it still wasn’t enough. In 2011, she got involved with a young Muslim man and ultimately converted to Islam. A woman who became Ariel’s closest Muslim friend recalled: “She was a very strict Muslim. She had to follow exactly what the Qur’an said, and the hadiths, the prophets and stuff, what they said.” She quickly married a devout Muslim, Yasin Mohamad, who made sure she lived a Sharia-compliant life in every detail, as Ariel’s Muslim friend recounts: “He wanted her to change the way she dressed. He did not want her listening to music. If we went to a restaurant and the waiter was a guy, she would not talk to him. She would make me order her food for her.”
Ultimately, she and Yasin and their baby, Aminah, went to Syria to join ISIS, which represented itself as the embodiment of true Islam. From Syria, Ariel would post on Instagram about the glories of Islam and jihad. One post features a photo of the Qur’an and a book entitled The Oneness of Allah and Divine Preordainment; Ariel wrote, “Start day well & End it the same..w/remembering Allah.” In another, she captioned a series of photos with “Bed, breakfast, bombs..my lovely view in Al Bab.”
In 2018, Ariel, Yasin, and their son Yousef were killed in an American air strike. Only Aminah survived, and she now is set to be brought back to America, where she will reportedly be put up for adoption. So that authorities will not be accused of “Islamophobia,” she will most likely be placed with a devout Muslim family. This is unfortunate in light of the fact that while not all devout Muslims are jihadis, all jihadis are devout Muslims; could such a placement reinforce things Ariel Bradley taught young Aminah in her early childhood? Can the possibility of that be dismissed out of hand? The problem that the little girl faces is that no one in the United States would dare, despite the trajectory of Ariel Bradley’s life, suggest that reinforcing a commitment to Islam in little Aminah might not be the wisest course of action. To suggest such a thing would be certain professional suicide nowadays.
Ariel Bradley was adrift in America after rejecting a form of Christianity, which had the effect of making it unlikely that she would consider other, less restrictive forms of the religion. In any case, few Christian groups in America today are making any serious efforts to appeal to young people who are adrift as she was, and the solidly anti-Christian slant of the popular culture makes the task of the groups that are making this effort all the more difficult. Ariel Bradley was adrift in a society where open mockery of its own spiritual and historical foundations is hailed as wise and courageous; it was no surprise at all that under such circumstances she would turn first to Leftist radicalism and finally to Islamic jihad. Those voices, unlike those of the Judeo-Christian tradition and classical liberalism, are full of certainty and confidence. It’s the certainty and confidence that is born of arrogance, propaganda and fanaticism, but it’s certainty and confidence nonetheless. It appealed to Ariel Bradley. It appeals to many others now. And it will continue to do so.