A convert to Islam, Morgan was arrested at New York’s JFK airport last June for the illegal possession of a gun that he had been trying to sell online. He had travelled to Lebanon and on to Turkey from where he was planning on crossing the border to Syria. However, his plans went awry when authorities at the Istanbul airport sent him back to Lebanon.
Although he feared being arrested on terrorism charges, he returned to the U.S. last June. Morgan pled guilty and was convicted on charges of providing material support to the Islamic State and possession of an illegal firearm.
He was previously convicted of a felony for firing a weapon into a packed restaurant in 1997 in North Carolina.
Morgan’s radicalization appears to have been a self-process.
Ironically, the first part of his life reads like an all-American story. As a young man, he attended a military academy and eventually joined the National Guard. Later, he worked in law enforcement as a sheriff’s deputy.
However, he eventually fell into an opposite world — a world of partying, alcohol abuse and violence. A six-year marriage dissolved.
About a year after his divorce, he converted to Islam. A long-time acquaintance said that Morgan began keeping close tabs on the wars in the Middle East, stopped body building, was significantly less social and worked at unusual hours.
“(Morgan’s) Facebook posts were a bit extreme at times, and there were some volatile statements in there. Some things that he would say that would make me think, you know this guy was going to the extreme with this,” said Bryan Beaver, a co-worker of Morgan’s for 15 years. “Derogatory statements toward Israel, some statements about infidels. Things like that.”
In January, Morgan began to actualize those beliefs and tried to join the Islamic State in Syria. On Twitter, he changed his name to Abu Omar al-Amreeki and called himself a mujahid, a wager of jihad. Six months later, he had pledged his allegiance to the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi.
“I would not classify myself as a radical, but by Western definition, I would be classified as a radical,” Morgan said of his beliefs. “I just consider myself to be a practicing Muslim.”