The Making Of John Walker Lindh

How did a quiet, bright young boy from suburban America end up alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan? This is a story of love, loathing and an often reckless quest for spiritual fulfillment

  • Share
  • Read Later

(5 of 12)

Correction Appended: March 24, 2003

Music and the Internet would open a door to the spiritual world. His cousin Thomas Maguire says he and John first developed an interest in Islam from what Maguire described in a website posting as the "pseudo-Muslim murmurs within hip-hop music." John already had an inkling about the faith. His mother took him, then 12, to see Spike Lee's film Malcolm X, and she says he was moved by a scene showing people of all nations bowing down to God. By his later teens, John was a conspiracy enthusiast: his Web wanderings covered ufos, the "new world order," the Illuminati and the cia. He also sampled religions online and in the end was attracted to Islam. John frequented Islamic newsgroups and posted questions about the faith: Does the Koran forbid certain musical instruments? What would he have to give up to become a Muslim? ("Is it O.K.," he asked, "to watch cartoons on TV?") He tried to locate online hard-to-find books--on Islam, the Palestinian cause, the Freemasons. He sometimes signed off as "Brother Mujahid"; his e-mail name, apparently a play on hip-hop monikers, was Hine E. Craque.

Years later, after Lindh's arrest in Afghanistan, quiet, affluent San Anselmo would be described sneeringly as a place for overindulgent hot-tubbers who let their kids do whatever they want. Locals prefer to call themselves tolerant. So when folks at, say, Bubba's Diner on San Anselmo Avenue would see the tall, awkward, teenage John strolling the streets in Islamic dress, they did not get especially worked up. It was just another kid experimenting with his life, with his spiritual side, certainly nothing to fear or loathe. "He actually looked very lonely," recalls Elaine Scheeter, who owns Paper Ships, Books & Crystals, a store for spiritual pursuits. "I got the impression that he did not fit in."

But John was finding his place. He had become hooked on Islam and was searching for a place to pray. He visited the Redwood Mosque, a nearby prayer hall that sits on 22 acres of woodland grove. But he dismissed it as insufficiently orthodox. He later turned up at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley, a small mosque serving mainly South Asian immigrants on a tree-lined residential street not far from Highway 101. In late 1997 he was ready for commitment. He presented himself before two witnesses at the Mill Valley Mosque and declared the shahada, an affirmation of faith: "I declare that there is no god except God, and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of God." With that, he became a Muslim.

It was all foreign to the Roman Catholic Frank and Marilyn. They were attuned to matters of the spirit, particularly Marilyn, who was attracted to Native American rites. But they had little experience with Islam. Still, they were pleased to see that their son had found something that moved him. And at a time when other parents they knew were coping with their kids' experimentation with drugs, booze and fast driving, it all seemed fairly innocent. Marilyn would drop young John off at the mosque for Friday prayers. At the end of the evening, a fellow believer would drive John home.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12