Now, as news spreads about Matson—mainly by the Kurdish forces he went to help—he’s made a name for himself in the world’s bloodiest war. A war in which Syrians have been slaughtered daily for years and the last images of Americans ended with their beheading. But even with the attention drawing a target on him and the Kurds alongside him, Matson may be more valuable to Kurdish allies as a source of media attention for their plight than as a frontline fighter.
Other Americans have gone to Syria and fought in the civil war there, but Matson may be the first white Christian to do so. In late 2013, a British think tank and defense consultant IHS Jane’s estimated that a few dozen Americans were fighting in Syria. The fear for the government and intelligence community is that Americans will return from Syria to carry out attacks inside the United States. Already, Americans have been charged with planning to join the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front. Matson is a different case and it’s not clear how he will be treated by U.S. authorities if he tries to return to America. While the State Department didn’t decline to address the specifics of Matson’s case, in the past Secretary Kerry has invoked “the authority to revoke the passports” of any American citizen who travels to Syria to join armed groups.