In February 2015, Judd Carroll from Tyler, Texas decided to start a fundraising campaign to help Christian refugee children in northern Iraq and then deliver the material aid himself. Not only did the fundraising effort fail but, despite harsh criticism from family and friends, he spent his own money to fly to Iraq to bring both baby food and military equipment to local Christian militias. In this 30min interview, he explains his motivation and why he wants to join these Christian militias fighting the Islamic State.
The interview was filmed at the headquarters of the Christian Assyrian militia Dwekh Nawsha (‘The Sacrificers’).
- Judd Carroll, from Tyler (Texas), 37 years old [0:00:00 - 0:00:20] Judd: Coming here was the right thing to do. I am happy to be here. My family is freaked out, they don’t understand. I think my wife finally understands. Jounalist: How did you make her understand? What was your core argument?
- [0:00:20 - 0:02:16] Judd: I am doing it for our son. I saw this thing in Istanbul. I saw a refugee, mother and child. The child maybe a month old, certainly dead by now. I kept walking, eyeballing the situation, but I kept going. I am on vacation, right? That was hard and the rest of my holidays it just stuck in my head. This baby, I could not stop. I haunted me. Then in October, my wife and I gave birth to our sun and I keep seeing my sun’s face on that child. And that’s a terrible feeling. I told my wife I need to do something. I said, I am going. I didn’t tell you this but my wife is Korean and we have 13 Korean children living with us. We take care of them. Their parents pay us to help rear their children and get them into good schools and discipline and manors. So, I’ve got a soft spot for children, I taught in Korea for several years. So, anyway, I started to collect some money to buy baby formula. That was a failure. I’ve put probably 10.000 of my own dollars into this. I was expecting some other funding which didn’t come through but that’s fine.
- [0:02:16 - 0:03:54] Journalist: Did you ever try to go the official way and try to put pressure on politicians or get organized with other people to get help and support here? Judd: No, I didn’t. Frankly, no. It is the first time, I have ever done anything like this. It’s been a real learning experience. I bought things I didn’t need to buy, I didn’t buy things I should have bought. Things I could have bought here, I bought in the US because I just didn’t understand where I was going. And that was my wife asking: ‘Why are you going?’ I need to come here to understand the situation what people need. If I am just blindly sending things - that’s a waste of effort and money, I think. Plus, I needed this for me. Again, my family asks: ‘How can you go when you have a son? He is five months old.’ I am going here because I have a son that is five months old. You know, not until I was a father did I understand. I am 37 years old and I have never cared about hardship. I cared about my world. So thing have changed. Anyway, I have come here to provide some baby formula, baby medicine.
- [0:03:54 - 06:17] Journalist: When you say, things have changed, do you already know what they are going to be in one year? What is your role in this conflict? Judd: Continued supply, money raising. I think, I can raise some money. I live in East Texas. Which is the pride of the bible area. We did not start selling alcohol in my city until two years ago. Amen. So, I was sure that if I go to these local churches - megachurches with big budgets - they would contribute. And they all want to know what church you belong to? ‘What is your denomination?’ ‘Oh, sorry, we don’t have budget for that.’ I called churches in California, Nevada, I was in Nevada, went all over East Texas. So it was about 50 churches, all of them rejected the idea. One of my gay friends knew what I was doing. And he felt very emotional about it because gays are being killed and gays understand persecution. So they give. The gay community in San Francisco stepped up. I would really love that Christian zone in Texas to look at themselves in the mirror. They need to ask themselves: ‘What do I really believe in?’ You know, to them these are you a bunch of ragheads killing each other. Fuckin’ Muslims killing each other. That’s what they do. They don’t understand the Assyrian people are living pretty quiet lives over here. And they’ve been here - like 2000 years of Christianity. Without the Assyrian people here, there is no Baptist Church in East Texas. They don’t understand that. If they do understand that, then shame on them.
- [0:06:17 - 0:06:42] Journalist: And you fear all this cultural, religious background will be lost if people don’t invest here, work here? Judd: Oh my gosh, these churches - 1900 years old - are being destroyed. I guess you could rebuild it. It’s not the same.
- [0:06:42 - 0:09:41] Journalist: And the guys from San Francisco they gave you how much? 2.000 dollars? Judd: Yeah, they all collected. 100 here, 200 here, 50 here. One friend gave me 500. 20 dollars. I bought baby formula, some minor supplies for the soldiers. Some night vision that is currently at the customs office in Erbil. That I get back next week hopefully. I spent all of that money and then 7.000 of my own and that is not including airfare and all of the other stuff. My wife was not very happy with me spending so much of our money. However, I’ll be honest. I’ve been having some depression problems in the last year and a half. And I think it’s because I have a very nice Audi car. I’ve got four cars, a large home. I bought land in Colorado. I’ve got all the material shit. And it’s not helpful. It does nothing for me. I was buying more expensive toys to bring some happiness to myself. Which was only making me worse. I then I finally said ‘Judd, you’re not helping people’. I have 13 Korean children but their parents are paying me to raise their children - it’s my job. I just wanted to get out of myself. These children need help. And it brought me pain, coming here has been very stressful. Family members I haven’t agreed with. But when I see the people here - they still smile. I have met so many nice people that come from tough situations. These older men here are amazing. I’ve read, many of the Western soldiers coming here actually have some depression problems. And I think, people with some depression come here because it brings joy. I think, we’re all missing something. I think there was a time in history when men left their families to go help out in big caused. Die for causes.
- [0:09:41 - 0:11:39] Journalist: In Islam there is the term Jihad and at least in Christian history there have been Crusaders as people who went abroad to do deeds for your faith. Is that a term that might be adequate for you? Judd: As a personal crusade. I am not particularly Christian myself. I protested the anti-gay marriage laws. I am not gay but I believe in civil rights. I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms. I am not Christian. I believe in a god. The divinity of Jesus is not my thing. You know, but that’s their right to believe that. Infants being killed because their families are Christian. If they were Jewish, if they were Buddhist, I don’t care. A child is a child. Men can kill themselves all day long but leave the infants and women out of it. I have been very disturbed. It’s very disturbing, it’s disgusting. And the fact that more Americans are not coming over here or giving - I question the morality of my fellow Americans. I hate to say that. I hate to say that because I love America. But I think we’re so absorbed in our Audis.
- [0:11:39 - 0:12:51] Journalist: You don’t go to the frontline, do you? Judd: I go. Journalist: You have been there or you want to? Judd: I will go. It will happen. Because... as I was saying earlier: I care about the children. I want to help the children and I want to punish. I want to be involved in the damnation of Daesh [the Islamic State]. I want to be involved in punishing what they’ve done. It can’t go unpunished. And we can’t say someone else will do it. It’s important to me that I get my opportunity to do... not that I... I don’t hunt animals. I am not a fighter. I am an undersized man. But there is something of rage inside of me with what is happening to the children. And that’s why I am here.
- [0:12:51 - 0:14:11] Journalist: Do you have the impression local militias here are welcoming foreigners wanting to fight - even if, you said you don’t have a military background? Are they willing to train foreigners? Are they willing to accept them into their ranks? Judd: I would say, accepting into their ranks is maybe a bit of an overstatement. But I’ve been very welcome here. The term militia in the United States has a very negative background and feeling to it. But this is a pure militia. These are people that come up to defend their lives, their villages, their families. Again, as a husband and a father, I can’t think of anything more important than that. My child will never lose its head intentionally. My child will not starve. So I feel very fortunate that my son will be taken care of. My son is financially secure, his life is secure. These children don’t have it.
- [0:14:11 - 0:16:30] Journalist: Do you understand the cause for the rise of Daesh? Judd: Yes, I do. I do understand. Journalist: So, how do you understand it? Judd: I understand the importance of Saddam Hussein having been in power here. I understand that American democracy does not work everywhere. They’ve got their own models. I understand that democracy doesn’t necessarily work everywhere - I hate to say that, you know. It’s come from the American presence, I think or the Western presence here. It’s what created the al-Qaeda movement. I would take it back to Afghanistan and the Soviet Union where we created some monsters. And those monsters have come back home. I mean, killing Bin Laden created this. I don’t even know what’s next. I do wonder - and that’s just my thinking - who is behind this ISIS movement. Because if the rumors here have any truth to them that maybe Turkey or the United States are assisting, I have to think: ‘Why the hell would they assist?’ If it’s for oil - that’s just dirty. But I think it’s been a magnet to bring the radicals here. I almost think it made America a little bit safer because it’s taken our radicals and sent them here. Now they can get killed on a battlefield. Does that make sense? I don’t know.
- [0:16:30 - 0:18:53] Journalist: If you don’t think of ISIS fighters and leadership but average Sunni population in cities like Kirkuk, Mosul or Raqqa for instance in Syria. How do you imagine their position towards ISIS? Judd: ISIS claims to be the pure Muslim. They follow the Quran to the word. They have extreme dislike of the Shia population. Why? Because they are almost like the Catholics of the Muslim world. They have some candles and pray and do some things that are not in the Quran. If you’re following the Quran to the word, ISIS may be right. I think these are the literalist, the Sunni. I don’t understand some of the social elements. ISIS is bringing some prices down - it’s almost communist. They want the prices low, you don’t have to work but you can work. This whole region has been a storm for so long that if they come in and say ‘I can provide some stability’ - that resonates with people. They want to hear: ‘I can bring you stability. I can lower your crime rates. I will punish those people in our area who insult Islam’. To the text of Islam, this is nothing new. This has been a historically accepted punishment for ages. So, when I see it, it’s shocking but it doesn’t overly get my emotions. But now I wonder that ISIS is now going above and beyond in their punishments if they don’t lose more Muslim support.
- [0:18:53 - 0:21:14] Journalist: Have you met many foreigners here? Judd: I’ve met surprisingly many foreigners. Journalist: We spoke to many people from the Christian community over the last couple of days. We’ve met the Bishop of Kirkuk for instance. And they always mentioned a couple of - not many - but maybe a dozen of foreign fighters being here, working here. Does that counterbalance the influx of Chechen fighters, of people from all over the Arab world fighting on the Daesh side? Judd: You know, it’s funny. America has like 2.000 fucking ISIS fighters. 2.000 Americans have come here to join ISIS. I want to say the number is like 200 Americans have come to join the fight against ISIS. What a wow statistic. If you look at American support of ISIS against American support of those fighting ISIS - it’s shocking. Now, you can say, the people on Facebook, they’re clicking like. They probably have more than 2.000 likes. And that’s another thing that got me - if I can go back for a moment. When my wife and I had our baby in October, we had zero guests. Nobody came to the hospital. It was heartbreaking. My family was not there, my friends were not there. Why does nobody care about my wife and I? We have friends and family. And then I look on Facebook and we have like 150 likes. To me, that is everything. We are a people today of curing cancer by pouring ice on our head, we are a nation today where a social movement is how many page likes you get. Because somebody else is taking care of it - I am just going to click ‘like’ while these likes magically solve the situation. I think, you’re going to see more of this happening in the future. I think, you’re going to see more apathy. Because more people have social media to just: ‘Oh, that’s a good cause.’ Click.
- [0:21:14 - 0:23:15] Journalist: You said, you’re going back to the US to collect more money and then come back. Are these your current plans? Judd: Yes, absolutely. I am going to be here about a month, a month and a half. And when I go back, I need to be very nice to my wife - and continue. As long as I am here and can get media, my own pictures or video - get it to people in East Texas. Maybe people will care if they see something shocking. That’s like the SPCA commercials; when they are raising money for dogs. They show dogs that are dying. Because when you tell people ‘hey we need money’, they don’t give. They have to see the dogs dying to give. Hey, people in Africa need help. Ehh... Ok, here’s a picture of a child with flies around its head. Oh, here’s money. So I feel like, I have to come here. I try to be classy. I try to use soft images. And I got no response. No response. When I started showing slightly more emotionally disturbing pictures, I think the support started bumping up. My page likes went from like 20 in the first week, the second I got 700. Then I just closed my page because people were only clicking like and they weren’t giving anything. I had zero comments on my page. 750 likes. So I am disconnected from Facebook. Social media has failed me.
- [0:23:15 - 0:24:09] Judd: The bright side, the silver lining to social media is, the United States cannot come into a religious war. Germany cannot come to a religious war. This is a fairly religious war. The US can’t come and say ‘hey, we’re going to defend the Christians in Northern Iraq’. Can’t do it. Social media though... people can say ‘you can’t do it - but I can do it’. And so I think, social media on that aspect - if I were an ISIS terrorist right now, I would be telling you how great social media is. It’s been a success. Facebook has been the greatest thing for terrorism since...
- [0:24:09 - 0:27:22] Journalist: Amnesty International is criticizing some Peshmerga forces for destroying Sunni houses and committing war crimes out of revenge against ISIS. Are you afraid that you might somehow become part or involved in this process? Judd: No. On the legal side of it all, ISIS is not privileged to Geneva Convention protection. They’re not a nation, they’re a terrorist organization. They’re using chlorine gas. Do you think they care about going to an international court? Two wrongs don’t make a right. But turning your cheek and not getting your hands dirty? I think it’s necessary. It’s ugly. You guys know this, the history of war. There is no clean war. The Velvet Revolution in Poland perhaps? People will get their hands dirty. Now, Peshmerga - I’ve seen the videos. I know what they’ve done. But 20 Peshmerga were just burned to death. So, if they lose their house - I think, it’s just. It’s ugly. Maybe it creates more problems in the future and continues the cycle. But I think they’re right in doing it. Amnesty International has a job and their job is to highlight atrocities in the world and they should bring attention to it. That’s their job. It’s like a lawyer defending a murderer. It’s their job, I understand. A murderer deserves representation. I don’t like that but that’s life. That’s the way it should be. I know the Iraqi Special Forces just got in trouble for doing some things. It doesn’t bother me. You know, if you’re concerned about poverty - cutting a child’s head off does not help your case. Kidnapping or selling women off - unless you’re using the money from selling the women to help your people’s poverty situation, I don’t know how it could be justified. There is no justification. I understand the poverty aspect and I understand where it came from. It means nothing to me.
- [0:27:22 - 0:28:46] Journalist: Looking at your family, are you ready to die for the course of the Iraqi Christians? Judd: (long pause, visibly shaken) That goes back to my son. My five grew up without a father. Oddly enough, he was killed in Libya. I don’t want to my son to grow up without a father but as far as being scared to die... I feel bad to my wife and child. It’s pretty selfish of me, but no. If you have one side where people are not afraid of death and another side where people are afraid of death, you know who’s gonna win. And what are the consequences of them wining? More destroyed Christians, more destroyed Yezidis, more destroyed Shia, more destroyed moderate Sunnis. It’s ugly, isn’t it. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Sadly.
- [0:28:46 - 0:30:56] Journalist: And from government side you have... Judd: Nothing. Journalist: Also no hope, that some more action will come. You know, Germany is sending weapons. Judd: I guess, if you’re a larger force, you’re taken care of. If you’re Peshmerga, you’ve got nice weapons. Our countries have done a good job, I think. I don’t expect the United States to help out the Assyrian Christians. But I expect Christians around the world to contribute to the preservation of their fellow Christian brothers. Which I have not seen happen yet. But it’s coming. Good things come to those who wait. Yeah, right? I am happy to be here. Like I said, I’ve dealt with some emotional things in the past year and I felt like I have not been doing enough for the world. And I can’t think of anything greater than coming to the aid of the helpless. I always thought the helpless were dogs, I always wanted to help the dogs. I care so much about dogs. But this is a time, I don’t know if I’d go to war for dogs. But I would not think twice to fire against somebody that... I tell you, in the United States, people have done some disgusting things to children. And those people get killed in prison. You don’t survive prison. I hope, I get my chance. They can come to hell with me.
- 2 minutes of Judd showing what he brought from the US to help the refugees.