Lone Nut

The Muslim Convert Behind America’s First Workplace Beheading

Alton Nolen decapitated his co-worker and tried to kill another on Friday. How did he go from cocaine felon who triggered a 2010 manhunt to an amateurish obsession with jihad and ISIS?

09.27.14 10:45 AM ET

The annals of American violence include countless workplace shootings.

The workplace in question being the Oklahoma food-processing plant where 30-year-old Alton Nolen labored until he was fired on Friday morning.

Nolen proceeded directly from human resources to the front office. He barged inside with one tattoo of Jesus Christ across his chest, another of a praying hands on his right arm, then two more bearing the name of deceased friends on his left.

There was also a newer one on his abdomen—a traditional Arabic greeting that marked his conversion to Islam and his recent efforts to persuade his fellow employees to do the same.

“AS-SALAAMU ALAIKUM,” this one read, translating to, “Peace be unto you.”

Nolen is said to have still had the knife he used to cut up produce and he allegedly employed it to behead a 54-year-old woman he had never met named Colleen Hufford. The result was much like in a photo of a beheading he had posted on his Facebook page in March.

“This do we find the clear precedent that explains the particular penchant of Islamic terrorists to behead their victims, it is merely another precedent bestowed by their Prophet,” reads the caption, which adds a citation from the Quran, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers; smite ye about their necks.”

With this heinous act, Nolen may have been seeking to convince himself, if nobody else, that he was not just an ex-con who was once again out of work. He could imagine himself an Islamist avenger like that masked monster in black who appears in the ISIS snuff videos.

In his frenzy, Nolen reportedly sought to decapitate a second woman and only stopped when he was shot by the chief operating officer of Vaughan Foods, who is also a reserve cop.

Nolen survived his wounds. The FBI joined the investigation and no doubt took interest in the Facebook page he keeps under the name Jah’Keem Yisrael. The page has a picture of armed jihadis as the cover picture and numerous shots of other Islamist fighters, including black-clad women with automatic weapons.

“SOME OF MY MUSLIM SISTERS!!!! ALAHU AIKBAR,” Nolen wrote.

Another photo includes a red-bearded jihadi who looks very much like one of the military heads of ISIS.

“SONME OF MY MUSLIM BOTHERS,” Nolen wrote.

But Nolen does not, on first inspection, seem to have direct links to a terrorist organization. Any connection to ISIS is apparently psychic, fantasy made real with the blood of an innocent.

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But to call him a lone wolf is an insult to wolves.

He is just another lone loser. He will now have a murder charge added to a criminal record had that includes a felony cocaine bust and a wild flight from custody that resulted in an overnight manhunt involving helicopters and dozens of cops.

On the evening of Oct. 1, 2010, Nolen was driving a white Chevy Impala on State Highway 33 with his 29-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son. He was pulled over by Trooper Betsy Randolph of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for having what she judged to be a fake paper license plate. She asked for his driver's license.

“He advised me that he did not have his license on him,” Randolph wrote in her affidavit. “I asked him if he had a valid license and he admitted that he did not.”

Randolph asked Nolen to come back to her car.

“The defendant told me he did not want to go back so jail,” the affidavit says. “So I asked him if he had warrants somewhere and he said no.”

Randolph needed only a moment at the computer in her patrol car to learn that Nolen have multiple felony warrants, including one issued after he failed to make a court date on the cocaine charge.

“The defendant also saw my computer readout and began to tell me how he did not have warrants anywhere, that they were all taken care of,” the affidavit reports.

Randolph received a radio message confirming that Nolen was wanted and she moved to place him under arrest. Randolph got a handcuff on his right wrist and he took up his cellphone his left hand to call his girlfriend, who was still in his car. The trooper twisted the cuff on his right wrist and pushed on his right shoulder

“The defendant finally put the phone in his pocket and grabbed his identification card off my computer and by these actions I knew the defendant was either going to fight or try to escape.”

The trooper reached with her right hand for her expandable baton.

“But before I would get it unholstered the defendant jumped out of the car, pushed me backward hard with both hands to my chest, violently pulled and jerked with his handcuffed right hand. All the while, I was saying, ‘Don’t’ and ‘Stop.’”

Nolen broke free and fled between two houses, with the trooper in pursuit.

“I stopped and yelled on my handheld radio for help,” the affidavit reports.

The result was what Nolen might have predicted.

“After a massive manhunt involving four law-enforcement agencies, two helicopters [that] lasted 12 hours, the defendant was arrested. And brought back to me at the command post, where I placed him back in my patrol car,”

Nolen was sentenced to six years on the cocaine charge as well as two years for escape and another two for assault on a police officer. He ended up doing only two years in total. And six months of that was in a halfway house.

“Feelin So Gud 2 B N Da City At Da Halway House…. At dis moment im walkin round wit my shirt off,” he posted on Facebook.

Prison records list his Arabic tattoo among his “body marks” and his Facebook profile confirms that he had converted to Islam long before he left the halfway house in March 2013. His postings speak enthusiastically of starting a new life.

“Interview Went Well… Got The Job…” he posted. “Anotha Day Of Wrk Jst Getn Off… Bossman Alrdy Say He Liking Me and My Wrk Skills And Me Asking Him For Overtime.”

But for whatever reason, his postings about Islam became increasingly strident. Photos of Osama bin Laden and the burning Twin Towers and various jihadis began appearing.

“With killers and boom,” he wrote.

On another day, he wrote simply, “Jihad. Jihad. Jihad.”

He posted photos of a woman being flogged Sharia-style and of a placard reading, “Islam will dominate the world. Freedom can go to hell.”

At Vaughan Foods in the town of Moore, he reportedly sought to bring others to Islam.

“He recently started trying to convert some of his co-workers to the Muslim religion,” Sgt. Jeremy Lewis of the Moore police told a press conference on Friday.

The sergeant did not report exactly why Nolen was fired. But Lewis could describe what transpired in the minutes that followed.

“He drove to the front of the business, running into a vehicle, exited his vehicle, entered the business, where he encountered the first victim, Colleen Hufford, and began assaulting her with a knife.”

Lewis added, “He did kill Colleen and did sever her head.”

Nolen might have done the same to 43-year-old Traci Johnson had Mark Vaughan not shot him.

“This was not going to stop if he didn’t stop it,” Lewis said of Vaughan. “It could have gotten a lot worse.”

But Vaughan had not been able to save Hufford.

And the town of Moore was no longer known just for the tornado that devastated it a year ago.

America now had a workplace beheading.