During his deadly attack on a packed Orlando nightclub where he killed 50 people and wounded many more, Omar Mateen called 911.
On the recorded call, he pledge his loyalty to ISIS.
A day later, a terrorist outside of Paris, used Facebook livestreaming to pledge his loyalty to ISIS while stabbing a police chief and his wife to death.
What's going on?
The answer is that these pledges aren't simply expressions of loyalty, they are expressions of fealty, a much more powerful means of connection.
Fealty is something we haven't seen since the middle ages. ISIS became capable of employing fealty once it rebuilt a barebones Caliphate and it is using it to transform modern terrorism.
To understand this, let's dig into fealty a bit.
- Fealty is a strict, lifelong pledge of loyalty from a vassal to a lord. It's public and irreversible. (If you watch Game of Thrones, it's why everyone hates the Kingslayer, even if he was justified in his actions)
- Fealty obligates the vassal to act in the service of the lord, without any need for specific direction. It also gives the protection of the lord to the vassal (in a religious context, salvation and redemption).
- Fealty made it possible to build large, geographically segmented networks in a world without instant communications and rapid travel.
Fealty allows ISIS to get around some of problems of modern open source insurgency. For example:
- A potential terrorist shouldn't express fealty until the attack. Benefit: This prevents discovery during the grooming process.
- A public expression of fealty (FB, Twitter..) provides them with instant acceptance by the "lord" Benefit: this provides them spiritual protection for the attack and maximizes the publicity for ISIS
- A Jihadi, or their local network, shouldn't ask for permission, planning, or support. They should act on their own. The attack itself is a demonstration of loyalty. Benefit: this reduces chances of discovery and maximizes the innovative potential of the global network.
The more I think about it, fealty is an extremely useful way of harnessing and directing the power of an open source insurgency (aka, herding cats).