The Central Intelligence Agency published a trove of materials Wednesday seized from al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed in May 2011. The collection — which is currently unavailable “pending resolution of a technical issue” — includes photographs of bin Laden’s journal and hundreds of gigabytes worth of video and audio files obtained from computers and hard drives found at the residence.
The stash is full of gems that reveal a family with wide-ranging cultural interests. There are copies of “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Final Fantasy VII,” “Charlie Bit My Finger,” 138 “Tom and Jerry” clips, 12 episodes of the Japanese anime “Detective Conan,” one episode of “Mr. Bean,” and 28 crochet tutorial videos.
Among the needlework training vids, one name pops up six times: “The Art of Crochet by Teresa.” It appears someone in the bin Laden household was (is?) a big fan of fiber arts YouTube veteran Teresa Richardson, also known as Teresa Warrior.
Richardson, 54, lives on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. “I think we’re in Savannah,” she told me over the phone Wednesday night. “Originally our zip code was Pooler but then it’s changed to Savannah. So I’m not quite sure. It could change again.”
Richardson started uploading crochet instructionals on YouTube in 2006. After decades of working temp jobs and earning a mid-life associate’s degree in multimedia marketing from Iowa Central Community College, she joined the website’s partner program when it launched in 2007 to build a career online. One decade later, Richardson still posts daily videos for over 360,000 subscribers. “YouTube is the best paying job I’ve ever had,” she said. “Absolutely nothing will compare.”
When I called, Richardson had already heard that her videos were in the bin Laden files. She sounded surprised, but also proud. She’s not sure the truth about 9/11 or Osama — stories from her oldest son, an Army veteran who served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, disillusioned her — but she’s confident about the power of crocheting. “It’s worldwide fun for everybody,” she said.
How did you discover that Osama bin Laden’s compound watched your videos?
I got actually a couple of comments, two or three comments. First someone said, “Shout-outs to Osama.” I was just like, okay, shout-outs to Osama. That’s what they were putting on my videos. I was thinking, people write things all the time. Then someone says, “The CIA released some files and they said your crochet videos were on there.” I’m like, okay, cool. I didn’t think of it in a negative way or anything like that.
Ironically, before they found him, I remember sending crochet hooks to a young girl, probably 18 years old, in Pakistan. I can’t imagine that it would’ve been connected in any way. You never know.
How difficult were the six tutorials in the files?
So they must’ve been left-handed. [ed note: Osama was left-handed.] They’re all actually pretty easy things that would be things that just about anybody could do. Easy, beginner-type. The flower, the popcorn stitch, which you would make a blanket or a hat or something with that.
When and how did you start crocheting?
I started crocheting maybe around 19, 20. I was expecting my oldest son, and I was on bedrest for a little bit. My mom showed me how to crochet a snowflake. I wanted to learn how to make the doilies and the thread. That’s what I was really passionate about, learning how to make the thread. This has kind of evolved from there.
What did you first like about it?
It was challenging. I guess that was the fun thing. There were things that were easy and there were other things, like the doilies, that were challenging. You didn’t always have to make the same thing. It is an art, expressing yourself in different ways. Some things are quick and easy. You can do them right away. So you can have a couple projects going. You can do something quick and easy and you can have a long-term project going too.
What was your experience on 9/11?
This is the strange story about that. I remember exactly where I was at because I had been in college for four days. I was a non-traditional student. I had just been in college for just a few days. I remember it being really, really hot.
We had gone for a break to go to the bathroom. I’m coming back, and this girl says the World Trade Center has been bombed and blown up. I said, Really?
So we go in [to class]. It’s multimedia marketing. Immediately our teacher says, See if you can find some information on the internet about it. We start looking up pictures and things. The thing that comes to my mind is, Let’s see if we can find video. But I’m thinking, back then, I know there’s not gonna be much video because the internet’s really, really slow.
I didn’t think that it would get to the magnitude that it did. I didn’t think much about it until I got home and then looked at the TV and then saw everything happening. The TV gave a narrow view of what was happening. See, with the internet now, I didn’t think that maybe I was being steered towards thinking things in a certain way, but with the internet, though, and the things that I’ve seen since then, I think completely differently.
What do you mean?
Things can be masked. I’m suspicious that it could’ve been a failed real estate development. Because it’s like, If someone from Afghanistan did this, why did we end up in Iraq, which is over oil? And in Afghanistan, it’s poppy seeds. It just kinda seems like, a lot of people call it a false flag.
The full truth should come out of what it is. I think the people can handle it. If we’ve been lied to, we’ve been lied to. I guess that’s the thing for me that’s most frustrating — knowing that we’re just told one thing, when other people know the truth of what happened. This is just my little piece that I’ve put together from various videos and things that I’ve watched. And I realize that a lot of people could be telling stories, but I think the truth is in there somewhere.
And it’s unfortunate to blame somebody for doing something that they didn’t do. That’s the worst part of all is to blame someone for something that they didn’t do. I think that’s terrible. A lot of people have said that they don’t think that Osama bin Laden did it.
You’re skeptical about bin Laden’s role?
I actually think that he was a scapegoat and got blamed for something that he may not have even done. Most of it doesn’t make any sense. The pieces just don’t fit together at all. So there’s too many holes in the story that they told us initially. I don’t even think Osama bin Laden had anything to do with it. I don’t know who did. I have no idea who did.
But I think it was something that was done for various reasons to go over to those other countries for some big corporation. These corporations wanted to use our military as security guards. That’s my personal feeling. They wanted to use our military as security guards for their private businesses.
Are you suspicious about the official story of what ultimately happened to Osama?
The interesting part about that is we were on a cruise ship when that story came out. I thought it sounded kind of phony. For me, I was thinking deep down, I don’t like the idea of war to begin with anyway. People call me a bleeding heart when it comes to compassion for other people. I kind of had compassion — I felt like I did — for Osama bin Laden. A lot of people were talking about it by then. They were saying they really didn’t think he had anything to do with it, but yet he’s getting blamed for it. So when that story came out, well, it looked kind of ridiculous.
He could be [alive]. He very well could be.
Do you think crocheting is a good hobby for someone living in political exile?
Oh gosh, it would be an excellent hobby for someone in political exile. That’s what I thought about. When they started putting the comments on there, I was thinking, Well, that makes sense. If you had some folks like his family and his children, if they’re in the compound, and they are hiding out, then, you know, then it would be something that they would be doing. That really makes a lot of sense to me right there.
[screen shot: Teresa Warrior]