How FBI Groomed Teenager With ‘Learning Disability’ To Become A Terrorist

Paul Ventura, father of 18-year-old Mateo Ventura, explains how the FBI groomed his teenage son with a learning disability to become a terrorist.

Paul Ventura, father of 18-year-old Mateo Ventura, displays a photograph on his cellphone that shows what he describes as a photo of himself and his son Mateo, on June 8, 2023, in Worcester, Mass. Photo: Steven Senne/AP

LAST WEEK, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of a teenager in Massachusetts on allegations of providing financial support to the Islamic State group.

A flurry of reports picked up on the arrest of Mateo Ventura, an 18-year-old resident of the sleepy town of Wakefield, echoing government claims that an international terrorist financier and ISIS supporter had just been busted in the United States. The Department of Justice’s own press release on the case likewise trumpeted Ventura’s arrest for “knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources that he intended to go to a foreign terrorist organization.”

The only “terrorist” he is accused of ever being in contact with was an undercover FBI agent who befriended him online as a 16-year-old.

The only problem with the case and how it has been described, however, is that according to the government’s own criminal complaint, Ventura had never actually funded any terrorist group. The only “terrorist” he is accused of ever being in contact with was an undercover FBI agent who befriended him online as a 16-year-old, solicited small cash donations in the form of gift cards, and directed him not to tell anyone else about their intimate online relationship, including his family.

The arrest has shaken his family, who denied allegations that their son was a terrorist and said that he had been manipulated by the FBI. Ventura’s father, Paul Ventura, told The Intercept that Mateo suffered from childhood developmental issues and had been forced to leave his school due to bullying from other students.

“He was born prematurely, he had brain development issues. I had the school do a neurosurgery evaluation on him and they said his brain was underdeveloped,” Ventura said. “He was suffering endless bullying at school with other kids taking food off his plate, tripping him in the hallway, humiliating him, laughing at him.”

Contrary to the sensational narrative fed to the news media of terrorist financing in the U.S., the charging documents show that Ventura gave an undercover FBI agent gift cards for pitifully small amounts of cash, sometimes in $25 increments. In his initial bid to travel to the Islamic State, the teenager balked — making up an excuse, by the FBI’s own account, to explain why he did not want to go. When another opportunity to travel abroad arose, Ventura balked again, staying home on the evening of his supposed flight instead of traveling to the airport. By the time the investigation was winding down, he appeared ready to turn in his purported ISIS contact — an FBI agent — to the FBI.

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