In March 2010, two American women, including one who named herself Jihad Jane, were arrested in a number of high-profile arrests in Waterford, Ireland, which were trumpeted by the US attorney’s office as "the new face of terrorism". However, the truth was far more bizarre...
Settling into 'Jihad Jane', you get the sense that for something this potentially explosive, you're going to get something a little bit anticlimactic. After all, the ingredients are there - but you begin to wonder why none of this seems vaguely familiar. Is it simply a symptom of constant news-cycle fatigue that this has been blanked out of our minds?
I'll admit, as I was watching this documentary, I stopped every so often to try and wrack my brain and recall if I heard about a terrorist cell operating out of an apartment in Waterford. None of it clicked. Yet, as director Ciaran Cassidy nimbly explores, there's a reason why you never heard of it.
Truly, what makes the titular 'Jihad Jane' - real name Colleen LaRose - such a bizarre interviewee is that while she wears a full shroud over her face, speaks of wanting jihad and desperate to fight, she is a middle-aged white woman with no particular sense of awareness about herself. As she talks about her double life behind a computer screen, it becomes clear that there is something not only strange but deeply sad about her story, and that of her compatriot, Jamie Paulin Ramirez.
Cassidy's questions and his examination of the "terror cell" in Waterford don't precisely probe anything of value because, well, there is nothing of value to be gleaned from it. What you're left with is the sense that these were all deeply misguided people who had no real understanding of what they were letting themselves in for, and were so desperate for connection that they found themselves together.
One of the truly oddball moments of the documentary comes towards the end, where the titular character proudly declares that she likes Donald Trump, that "he means what he says", but adds that she didn't like what he did with the Israelis and the Palestinians. That surface level of understanding betrays more about her than anything else in the documentary and really speaks to how brutally sad both of these women are.
The documentary doesn't vilify them, but it certainly doesn't let them off the hook either. More than a few times, both the women make it clear that they were intent on following through with their actions - but it was all so haphazardly followed, so absurdly benign, that nothing ever came of it.
Truly bizarre, 'Jihad Jane' is a fascinating examination of the lost souls of the internet age, and the dark alleys they often find themselves in.