The Islamic State’s conquests in Iraq and Syria– from the largest metropolitan areas to the most unassuming villages of both nations– have raised alarm around the world. And as the Kurdish forces on the ground lament a lack of resources necessary to finish the job, their call has summoned a broad coalition of Western military veterans using the internet to fund trips to the front lines of the war on ISIS.
Just as thousands of citizens of Western countries have abandoned their homelands to join the Islamic State, so too are Americans, Canadians, British, and other Western fighters who believe ISIS presents an existential threat to Judeo-Christian values sacrificing all to join Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria and take the fight to the Sunni terrorist group.
Many of those with the requisite military expertise to serve Kurdish military groups as valuable soldiers simply do not have the money to set off on the journey they have vowed to make, and have found an innovative new way to generate the income necessary to fight ISIS: online crowdfunding. Sites like Go Fund Me and IndieGoGo have become hubs for soldiers seeking a one-way ticket to Iraq or Syria, who use their pages to explain why they are prepared for such a fight and how a donor’s money would help combat Islamist terrorism.
This influx of Western fighters is not new to the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq, or the YPG/YPJ in Syria. In fact, so many Western recruits have attempted to join the Peshmerga that, in February, a Peshmerga spokesman began to discourage non-professional fighters from trying to join the war, as their need for training and weapons had become a burden on the army.
In contrast, the Kurdish YPG and YPJ, or People’s Defense Units, have not discouraged recruits. In fact, the high level of interest instead led them to form an official group for foreigners invested in the fight on ISIS, the Lions of Rojava. The group makes it easier for foreigners to meet upon arriving in Rojava, a region of Syria also known as Western Kurdistan, and uses a Facebook group to recruit interested parties. “Join YPG / YPJ The Lions Of Rojava Unit and send isis terrorists to Hell and save Humanity,” their Facebook group description reads.
In response to a high level of interest from fighters who have few resources to fund their trip east, a subsidiary page, “Volunteers for the Lions of Rojava,” was formed. It is through the popularity of this page that many soldiers looking to fight the Islamic State discovered the phenomenon of crowdfunding, in which an online audience is presented with a proposal, and donations pour in from those wishing to help the host finish their project or fulfill their mission.
“I will be providing support, training, and much needed medical assistance to the Kurds in the fight against ISIS as a volunteer, I get no pay, therefore financially supporting myself,” writes Isaiah Garvin on his Go Fund Me page, promising to use the money to buy cameras to document his experience online. “Every month, more brave warriors leave the comfort of their homes to hunt these terrorist savages down and put an end to their chaos,” writes Giovanni Col, a veteran from North Carolina, on his IndieGoGo funding page, “As a Security Force veteran that served for 5 years in the AF and coming from a strong military family, I promise I will do everything in my power to help stop them.”
Gabriel Weighous writes that he, unlike many on crowdfunding sites, seeks to join the Peshmerga, not the YPG: “The peshmerga are being supplied and supported by the US to fight ISIS in Iraq, so that’s where I’m going. My plan for now is to stay for one year.”
On his Go Fund Me page, John Gallagher writes that he has already purchased a ticket to Iraq, and needs only to buy equipment once on the ground: “No one is paying me or any of the other brave volunteers who are risking our safety. We are responsible for our own plane tickets, our own kit, and our own expenses.”
Speaking to Breitbart News via email from Iraq, Gallagher explains that he is a Canadian veteran, a trained soldier and not an idealist with rose-colored expectations of the battlefield. He overcame his financial challenges to reaching the battlefield in large part due to Go Fund Me, though it took “months,” he says, for some money to flow in. “I sold my car to raise money for the plane ticket, and once I had booked my one-way flight, I posted this news that I’d soon be leaving and was well-short of the funds I’d need to get here and back (in one piece at least),” he explains. “My friends took notice. My veteran friends were the most helpful by far, donating and sharing.” “Most of the men I’m with are American,” he says, “although there have been a few other foreigners, other Canadians, Slovaks, British in our unit.”
An American veteran known as ‘Ghost’ who has used online crowdfunding to generate the income necessary to join the Kurdish military in Iraq tells Breitbart News sites like Go Fund Me are the ‘go-to platform these days for financial assistance’ generally, and seemed the best way to fund his mission. He, too, says the veteran community has received the news of his mission best: “I feel the veteran and military crowd would have a better connection with me and my passion and drive behind this campaign.”
Three of the men using crowdfunding sites to prepare their trips told Breitbart News that a major challenge of the platform is the high risk of fraud. “The fraud issue is a serious one,” Gallagher writes. “I’ve never had anyone impersonate me personally, but photos of guys from our unit have been used without their permission and with none of that money coming to any of us,” he says. Ghost notes that the danger of fraud makes it much less likely that Facebook pages in support of Western trips to Iraq and Syria will promote crowdfunding pages, making it harder to reach potential donors. “There are some people out there trying to raise money for a fake cause,” he writes, “And these Facebook pages don’t want to put their moral standing with the public or their followers in jeopardy.”
Giovanni Col, a veteran raising funds on IndieGoGo, states in an email to Breitbart News that he, too, has seen “scam artists” use the war against ISIS generally to build fake pages that do not actually channel money to Syria or Iraq. “There have been some scam artists in the past that will use these tragic events to make a personal gain or pretend that they are going to help the victims of ISIS and then never go. It takes away from the people like myself who legitimately want to volunteer and help,” he laments.
The soldiers appear to share a similar passion that has driven them to choose to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan and fight the Islamic State: the belief that they have a personal responsibility to help eliminate the Islamic State. Col writes that the decision to join the Kurds was a simple one: “Everyday countless innocent men, women, and children are being killed, tortured, mutilated, raped, and enslaved because of ISIS and I am tired of not being able to do anything about it.” He adds that this is a continuation of a lifetime of military work: “I joined the military right after 9/11 to help my country, and after I separated I got my Masters degree to become a mental health Professional Counselor to help combat veterans suffering from PTSD and other struggles.”
Having served previously, Ghost writes that, to him, the fight is one of finishing the work his colleagues died to complete in the region to eradicate terrorism. “The main thing for me is the fact that so many people have died in the ongoing war against terrorism,” he writes. “Nations have come together in this fight. Military members across the world have died. And I owe it to my close friends, the ones I call brothers, that have died, to step up and take this fight to the enemy.” He notes that ISIS appears to have taken advantage of America’s withdrawal from Iraq, leaving him with no moral option but to go finish that war, “a war we sacrificed so much for. A war that we were winning.” “And when we get withdrawn from Iraq, ISIS takes those same city’s that so many of my military brothers and sisters gave the ultimate sacrifice for?” he asks. “Quite honestly, it’s like a slap in the face and it’s sickening.”
Whether the crowdfunding efforts meet the success they seek seems ultimately tangential to many of these men, however, who vow to find a way to the battlefield, no matter how difficult the journey. Those who served in the US military have already sacrificed much to combat the global Islamist threat, but feel their work is not yet done so long as ISIS remains a threat to humanity on any party of the globe. As Ghost writes, “I am a Christian man who is a veteran and an American. I won’t give in and I won’t give up. I will stand fast, stand tall, and fight the good fight.”