Denver man dies fighting ISIS in search of something more

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Jordan MacTaggart, far right, was killed earlier this month while fighting with the YPG against ISIS in Syria.
Courtesy Jordan MacTaggart

“If I’m about to die, I just want to say … I don’t know. If this is it, I don’t regret it. I did what I had to do. I believe in this… Don’t let it be in vain … Don’t let the revolution die.”
—Jordan MacTaggart, from a recording he made while lying wounded and under fire from ISIS snipers in Syria in 2015.

Jordan MacTaggart’s life was a self-fulfilled prophecy. To see his future, all you had to do was look at his hands where the words “born dead” had been carved into his knuckles and inked. The tattoo proved apropos, its fatalistic message outlasting the young man who wore it.

In December of 2015, Nicole McNulty profiled MacTaggart for Boulder Weekly in a story titled “Born Dead: From the boredom of Denver to the sheer terror of Syria.”

MacTaggert was 21 at the time and living in Denver as he prepared to return to the Middle East for a second time to fight against ISIS as a volunteer in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

He wasn’t Kurdish. In fact, he had absolutely no ties to the people or the region. He had merely watched the news reports of the conflict and made the decision to go and fight, and it wasn’t out of some sense of justice.

The truth is, MacTaggart simply found his life in Denver to be too boring and unfulfilling to bear.

He described his life in Denver to BW. “Every other day I woke up and I had to go to work, but it wasn’t a purpose. I woke up and didn’t want to get out of bed. [But in Syria] I woke up and was like, ‘I can’t wait to be bored and suffer because at least I’m doing something.’ Even though it was as bad as it was, it felt right. I liked it. I love being out there. It’s such a break from all this … I could live like that (war) forever. If you provide me housing, food and water and all I have to do is not get shot and kill those guys, I’ll do that for the rest of my life. I’m totally OK with this. It’s so much better.”

Until it wasn’t.

Jordan MacTaggart died a few days ago fighting alongside his companions in the YPG. His unit was part of the well-publicized assault against ISIS-held territory in areas around Aleppo that is still underway at the time of this writing. The details of his death are sketchy at best. All we know is that he was killed during an effort to free villages from ISIS control in proximity to the city of Manbij.

Was MacTaggart a hero, a freedom fighter? I wish I could say yes for the sake of his family and friends. But I think he was just a sad and confused young man in search of something more than what he saw filling the lives of the people he knew in Colorado. I don’t know what he was ultimately looking for and I am haunted by the fear he never found it.

In 2015, when he believed his death was eminent, he recorded the words “Don’t let it be in vain.”

When I went online to verify that he had been killed this past Sunday, the first website I came to announcing his death had 90 comments under the story. As I began to read them one after another, a dozen after another dozen, it became clear that they were all angry messages of hate being traded between Kurds, Turks and Syrians. None of them even mentioned MacTaggart except occasionally to say they were glad he had been killed. It all seemed in vain.

And then I found this lone comment buried amidst all the hate, the centuries worth of hate: “RIP hero! You defended the freedom of Kurds and humanity.”

Let’s hold on to that one and hope that it’s true — that somehow peace and rest and the need for fulfillment that drove him, have finally come for Jordan MacTaggart, a kid from Denver who just wanted something more.

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