American Dude Will Beat ISIS All By Himself If He Has To, Please Send Money

When Yr. Wonkette runs stories about our Liberty-loving pals in the militia crowd, who totally want to play soldier and keep America safe from Tyranny and Obama's plans to destroy America, someone in the comments usually asks "If these guys want to be in a war so bad, why don't they go to Syria and actually join up?" Now, the obvious answer is that most of them would rather defend Liberty from the comfort of their keyboard, with occasional camping trips to the Bundy Ranch or other flashpoints of federal overreach. But some guys actually do go Over There to start up their own little ISIS-fighting militias, and Mother Jones has one hell of a story about one of these wannabe Freedom Fighters, Matthew VanDyke, a guy who was born in Baltimore and is now making the rounds of rightwing media trying to raise money for an ISIS-destroyin' Christian army in Syria -- never mind that he may not really know what he's doing or that the whole operation may be in violation of U.S. law.

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VanDyke reads like a character out of a Graham Greene novel, or maybe an old issue of Argosy magazine, a genuine Soldier of Fortune who fought with Libyan rebels and was captured by one faction or another before escaping. His website describes him as a "Freedom Fighter," and a press release for his very own security contractor outfit, "Sons of Liberty International" (SOLI), says that during his six months in prison, his "Christian faith deepened, as did his determination to help freedom fighters in the region." And that's why he's raising money to train Christians from Iraq and Syria's Assyrian communities, who have been brutalized and driven from their homes by ISIS.

In February, VanDyke appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox News, asking for money to help the oppressed Christians of Syria fight back:

"We're really stalled right now, unable to really continue," he explained. "I've put about $12,000 of my own money in and I'm going broke doing this, so we really need donations from the public to help these Christians defend themselves and take the fight against ISIS."

As MoJo's Jenna McLaughlin details, even as VanDyke was asking Fox News viewers to give generously, his operation was in deep doo-doo: the head of the Iraqi Christian militia that he'd contracted to train said, no, VanDyke isn't really a leader of our group. Also, a bunch of American combat vets who had volunteered to help train Iraqis suddenly quit because they were worried that VanDyke was operating outside of U.S. law, which doesn't look especially kindly on ad hoc military adventurers training foreign armies, no matter how many spy novels those adventurers may have read.

About the best you can say for VanDyke is that he meant well -- after ISIS attacked Assyrians in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, VanDyke began offering Iraqi Christians help with forming a militia -- even though he has no formal military training himself, outside of whatever he picked up fighting in Libya. He recruited American military vets, including Michael Cunningham, one of the soldiers featured in the documentary Restrepo, and headed off to Iraq to set up a training camp for the militia, which calls itself the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU). It's not clear whether VanDyke actually got formal approval from the State Department under the Arms Export and Control Act to actually run his camp, although he kept reassuring Cunningham and others that he'd gone through all the proper channels.

As the Mother Jones article details, VanDyke's training efforts promised a lot, but may or may not have delivered top-notch training for the would-be foes of ISIS; he also found himself competing with another American nonprofit group -- the American Mesopotamian Organization (AMO) -- that was trying to fund training for the same militia, although that group wasn't conducting any training of its own. And then there was the matter of paying the American vets he'd brought with him to Iraq -- VanDyke claims they all knew that SOLI is a nonprofit contractor, not a money-making operation like Blackwater, and that the trainers were volunteers, fully aware they would not be paid, but Cunningham and two of the trainers say they were under the impression that VanDyke intended to pay them at some point, after his fundraising efforts paid off.

Of course, the group never actually got State Deparmtent permisssion; by January of 2015, Cunningham and the other trainers were worried that they were in Iraq illegally, and a month later, they all quit, leaving VanDyke begging for funds for trainers who were no longer with his team.

Just for that extra bit of Soldier of Fortune Tough Guy style, VanDyke reportedly threatened Cunningham for abandoning The Mission:

"I'll never forget: He says, 'I met with my [Kurdish secret] police friend and I told him about the situation between you and me, and he wanted to do something about it…You know [they] don't have the best human rights record. I tried to call it off.'" VanDyke denies threatening Cunningham and calls him a "disgruntled former associate."

Soon there was confusion about whether the NPU even wanted VanDyke's help; in late February, the group's military director sent him a letter saying, "Your services are no longer being employed in any capacity," and warning him not to use the group's name in any connection with his business. But later, the same leader emailed McLaughlin to clarify that the press release was only intended to "make clear that [VanDyke] is not a leader of NPU." Most recently, after AMO, the competing nonprofit, apparently convinced the NPU that VanDyke would likely do them more harm than good, the militia finally cut ties with him altogether and locked him out of their training camp, a move that VanDyke warns will leave them so poorly trained that they'll be unable to face ISIS, and "will likely result in the death of NPU soldiers." Nonetheless, he's still quite committed to helping any Christian militias in the region that will have him. He's also saying some pretty unkind things about the AMO.

Seriously, kids, go read the whole Mother Jones piece this weekend; It's a tale of high-minded fucking up worthy of a Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, or Paul Theroux novel, and we don't even mind that the headline -- "This guy from Baltimore is raising a Christian army to fight ISIS…what could go wrong?" -- sounds like it coulda been lifted from Yr Wonkette. Matthew VanDyke may never defeat ISIS, but his own half-assed attempts to do so would make for a hell of a good tragicomedy. Have the Coen Brothers made a war movie yet?

[Mother Jones]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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