North Texas

Ex-Wife of Highest Ranking American in ISIS Speaks Out Against Extremists of All Kinds

Tania Joya is a mother of four children, and the ex-wife of the highest ranking American in ISIS. She now lives in North Texas and speaks out against extremist views of all kinds.

"The last time I spoke to him was the end of 2016," Joya said of her ex-husband, John Georgelas, a native Texan who converted to Islam, radicalized, changed his name to Yahya al-Bahrumi and joined ISIS as its lead propagandist.

"It first started off with John not having a healthy relationship with his dad and then wanting to rebel, and then that went way too far."

Joya said she did not grow up in a radical home, but became radicalized through a cousin she admired and friends in the working-class London neighborhood where she lived. 

"It was a group-think mentality," Joya said. "Because at 18 years old, I was so insecure with making decisions on my own that I really thought I want the highest, most superior being to think for me, and I was quite happy just being a sheep, being a slave to God."

Joya said she met her ex-husband online. The couple ended up living in Egypt, and then Syria.

"I was one of the few lucky people that got out before ISIS exploded," Joya said.

She moved to North Texas, got a fresh perspective and deradicalized her thinking. She said she sees parallels between what she lived and what is happening today in America.

"Extremism grows in toxic environments," Joya said. "What they have in common is the fear factor. Muslims are afraid. White supremacists are afraid. And they don't know how to channel their anger peacefully."

Now Joya speaks openly about her experience. She is an advocate for the Preventing Violent Extremism Program, organized by the nonprofit Clarion Program.

"So that when they hear a different message that says, 'Destroy the world, destroy the non-Muslims, destroy this, destroy the Hispanics,' then they'll already have a good foundation to say, 'Hold on, this is bogus and it's inhumane and I don't want to be part of it,'" Joya said. "If I can change one person, I can change more people."

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