Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin
Psychoanalyst & Counter Terrorist Expert

Douglas McAuthur McCain – The Twisted Radicalized Mind

Times of Israel, the New York Times and Al-Jazeera among others, carried today’s story about Douglas McAuthur McCain, the 33 year old convert to Islam jihadi who was killed in Syria. He hailed from New Hope, Minnesota. Yet again we have another jihadi in the drama of the return of the radicalized repressed, often coming from the county jail.

The FBI knew about him. He was on the watch list. Yet experts still have difficulty understanding the “nice guy next door” radicalization syndrome.

I interviewed a series of African Americans along with Somalis and Sudanese who were in the Hennepin County Jail in Minneapolis Minnesota. I predicted at Rand Santa Monica 2008 that there would be problems. They demonstrated to me, especially the former Nation of Islam African Americans who “upgraded” as one told me, to Wahhabi Salafi Islam as having a developmental attachment disorder, disorganized attachment because they lacked insight, empathy, broke the law, had had addictions and were full of rage. Their need to hate was fierce and palpable to the trained eye and ear. It was also an indicator of a highly paranoid mind.

According to the Al Jazeera report, allegedly “every tool” is being used to disrupt the radicalization and travel of American jihadis:

“We were aware of U.S. Citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain’s presence in Syria and can confirm his death,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “We continue to use every tool we possess to disrupt and dissuade individuals from traveling abroad for violent jihad and to track and engage those who return.”

I beg to differ. There has been no effort on the part of the government to tell the story like it is — that the problem is very early developmentally before the age of three. There is a striking paradox among experts who deal with radicalization. They begin looking in the teens for the problem while it has lain dormant since early childhood. These jihadis have what I have outlined in my most recent book The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi* as the volcanic iceberg mentality. They are always described in the media and by their family and friends as “nice.” These jihadis have merely been able to camouflage their long standing unconscious murderous rage, a rage which exceeds murder itself (to wit the beheading of Foley) which had simmered below the surface like a volcano.

The ideologies of Islam act as a girdle for a very fragile personality. However, neuroscience has revealed that the personality is essentially formed by age three. Unfortunately due to the unique splitting of the world into black and white by Islam such as the religion of peace vs. jihad, this binary and splitting fit like hand and glove with a paranoid mind. Moreover the unspoken sadomasochism which courses through Islam as detailed by the Tunisian sociologist Dr. Abdelwahhab Bouhdiba in his book Sexuality in Islam is attractive to a twisted mind.

The New York Times reported that because McCain had lost his father, “his anchor,” this is what unglued him. Obviously many people at some point lose their father but they don’t take up jihad. What this superficial news story did not relate is that his relationship with his mother was not optimal enough to serve as back up. By no means do I blame McCain’s mother. Undoubtedly there was a lot of deprivation.

As I have written, the absent father is a symptom of the underlying problem of the devalued female in a shame honor culture as well as in what I call “Western/American shame honor families.”

Yet the female is key in the developmental attachment process as she builds the brain of the baby in utero through age three. The brain quadruples in size. If the neurons are not activated, it is going to be difficult to turn on the switch for empathy. There can be, what I can “pseudo” empathy, when jihadis care for their own, their “brothers” while raging against the infidel. They can fake empathy.

We can surmise that Douglas McAuthur McCain is a prime example of what probably went wrong during early childhood. Unrecognized by many, he had a significant chink or “hole” in his personality armor which went undetected along with minimizing his bad behavior. This “hole” facilitated some charismatic leader in fantasy or reality, to hook into him as he propelled himself toward jihad. McCain self-destructed while he murdered others fil sabil Allah, fighting in the path of Allah. Islamic suicide terrorism with an American radicalized twist.

We have more tools which can be used in order to stem the tide of this epidemic of radicalization. However, it is urgent that we deal with its reality and speak honestly about the nature of this jihadi beast. Addressing early childhood development will be key.

*I was invited by Jason Aronson, M.D. one of the leading publishers of psychology and psychoanalysis to write on any subject of terrorism for his special book project. The Maternal Drama of the Chechen Jihadi is available as a free download at

About the Author
Dr. Kobrin made aliyah in 2010 and is an internationally renowned counterterrorism expert and psychoanalyst holding a PhD in Islamic literature, aljamía 16th c. Author of five books. She has conducted prison interviews, a former military contractor with an academic appointment as external expert at La Universidad de Granada. She is a senior research analyst for The Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism Center. She also works in citizen diplomacy. In August 2020 she was the first Israeli to be live-streamed from Islamabad.