Raleigh, North Carolina
The Shadow Lakes subdivision, about 30 minutes south of Raleigh, is seamlessly surrounded by the trees and tobacco fields of Johnston County. God and country are conspicuous here. American flags hang from porches. Nevertheless, at the time of his arrest as the ringleader of an alleged jihadist plot, this is where Daniel Patrick Boyd was living.
Boyd, two of his sons, three other young men, and another adult were indicted on July 22 on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to murder, kidnap, and injure persons abroad. An eighth suspect is being sought in Pakistan. At the time of Boyd's arrest, his truck and home contained gas masks, 26 firearms, and 27,000 rounds of ammunition. The charge that a jihadist plot was centered here sent shock waves through Shadow Lakes.
In the course of nearly a week investigating the Boyd case in this area, I was struck by the contrasts in how the man is perceived. His neighbors have rallied around him, saying the indictment is inconsistent with the Boyd they knew; one called him "the best neighbor I've ever had." Spokespeople for some Muslim organizations in the area also quickly came to Boyd's defense. Yet others saw a different side of Boyd, a man who embraced Islamic militancy and spoke often of jihad.
Boyd, 39, is a convert to Islam. He was on a state high school football championship team in Virginia, and he remains a towering presence. He is known among local Muslims for his tales of fighting the Soviet Army beginning in 1989, when he was just 19. Though he was indeed in South Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his account of this period is exaggerated: Boyd arrived in Pakistan only after the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, and some of his stories (including one about a 23-day Soviet siege of a mujahedeen training camp) do not stand up to scrutiny.
In Shadow Lakes, Boyd lived with his wife Sabrina in a two-story mocha-colored house near a glittering pond. A few doors down, I spoke briefly with a neighbor, who was wearing a cross. Apparently on the verge of tears, she said the Boyds showed "nothing but total acceptance and empathy" and described them as "the best welcoming committee" for anyone new to the neighborhood.
Boyd's neighbors generally seemed unfazed by his religion. "The only difference between him and me is that he's a Muslim," said a skinny young man with shaggy blond hair who lives across the street from the Boyds and introduced himself as Jeremy.
His admiration for Boyd was evident as he fidgeted his way through a couple of cigarettes. He described Boyd as the neighborhood "advice-giver" for young people. "He would always have an unbiased opinion," Jeremy said. "He'd give you a different perspective on anything you wanted to talk with him about, saying that maybe you could look at it in a different way." Without much prodding, he added, "The first time he met me, he tried to convince me not to run away from home. It didn't work."
Jeremy was certain of Boyd's innocence, describing the evidence against him as "circumstantial." "I can't wait for this case to be over," he said, "so they can be out."
Boyd's neighbors were unaware of the time he'd spent in Pakistan/Afghanistan until it was reported in the media and said he didn't speak with them about hot-button political issues such as Israel or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Not everyone who knew Boyd had such a positive impression. Ramona McWhorter owns the Community Thrift Store in Garner, which occupies the space where Boyd once operated an Islamic shop. When I visited her there, the Muslim influence was apparent in the interior architecture and design, including four archways near the back. McWhorter complained that Boyd illegally entered the property and stole a number of storage shelves shortly before his arrest, an account corroborated by the owner of a store in the same strip mall. McWhorter suspected that Boyd had kept a key.
Larry Schug, a superintendent for Crawford-Dunn General Contractors who hired Boyd as a subcontractor, spoke to me on the porch of his red brick house in Zebulon. Schug was frustrated by Boyd's poor communication, complaining of unanswered calls. When Boyd did respond, he apparently preferred to phone Schug's brother or boss rather than Schug himself.
More interesting than this relatively minor complaint, Schug was aware of Boyd's militant orientation. Schug said he always assumed Boyd had been in the Special Forces, in part because of his enthusiasm for guns and apparent survivalist streak. This didn't bother Schug, an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment; in the past he discounted one electrician's suspicion of Boyd, dismissing the electrician as "an anti-gun liberal."
But the reservations these acquaintances expressed about Boyd do not begin to capture the other side of the man.
A few Raleigh-area Muslims had spoken to the press before my visit, prompting the News & Observer to claim that "anyone who knows Boyd in the context of his faith agrees that he was extreme." Bosnian immigrant Jasmin Smajic told the paper Boyd "often talked of jihad."
I interviewed at length one active local Muslim who knows Boyd well. "It's hard to dispute anything in the indictment," this source said.
The reverence with which Boyd's neighbor Jeremy spoke of him brought to mind the claim in the indictment that some of the defendants had "radicalized others, mostly young Muslims or converts to Islam, to believe that violent jihad was a personal obligation on the part of every good Muslim." The Muslim source with whom I spoke extensively confirmed that Boyd was quite sociable and liked by young people. Noting that the young men indicted along with him came from "dysfunctional homes," this source said they developed a bond with Boyd and saw him as a father figure.
The source, moreover, saw much more of Boyd's political views and religious ideology than his neighbors did, describing him as having "very strong feelings" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "He believed in jihad," the source said, adding that Boyd's time in Afghanistan was his "entry card," something he would use to gain street cred in certain circles.
The source's view of Boyd aligns with some of the statements he made while under investigative surveillance, as revealed in the government's exhibits during his detention hearing. Boyd was recorded speaking of the need for jihad and claimed that Muslims who "think it is all right to just sit here, chill in America, make some money" are "tripping and have left Islam." This is the takfiri view: that those with a different opinion of armed combat have left the true faith and become apostates.
Boyd's exhortations to jihad are scattered throughout the government recordings that have been made public. Ironically, he told one government witness that "if you live amongst the kufar [nonbelievers] and they are comfortable with you, you have left Islam."
If Boyd held extremist beliefs, that does not make him a terrorist. Nor is holding such beliefs illegal. The government's surveillance does reveal plenty of suspicious behavior: The defendants tried to ensure that their conversations were not being monitored, spoke in code, discussed their desire to rob banks and support the mujahedeen, and implied that they were on the verge of a great mission. But the indictment does not make clear what actions they actually planned. The News & Observer reported that FBI Special Agent Michael Sutton, when cross-examined at the detention proceeding, could not name specific targets.
The government always faces a dilemma in terrorism cases: When to make an arrest? If it waits too long, the suspects may strike. But if it apprehends suspects in the talking stage of a plot, they "can claim that they were only talking and never had serious intentions," wrote terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins in his Unconquerable Nation. Expect to hear that argument from the defense if the Boyd case goes to trial.
Perhaps in part because of concerns about this defense argument, the government also brought a number of lesser charges against Boyd, including firearms violations and false statements to federal authorities. As the case proceeds, it will be interesting to watch the government's theory unfold as to what Boyd and his cohorts were planning--and to try to discern why the authorities decided to move in July, rather than waiting to gather more evidence. Given his neighbors' trusting attitude, Boyd probably thought he was in little danger of being found out.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the director of the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is a coauthor of Terrorism in the West 2008 (FDD Press).