Matthew VanDyke was known for his dangerously eye-opening and award-winning documentaries. This American from Maryland ventured to some of the most precarious areas of the Middle East to create amazing films. He produced “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution,” a doc that was made to bring international attention to the deadly Syrian Civil War. The film has won over 100 awards.
VanDyke collaborated with two-time Academy Award nominee Marshall Curry to produce “Point and Shoot,” Winner of the Best Documentary Award at Tribeca Film Festival. The film was comprised of footage from 2007-2011 that VanDyke had shot to chronicle the violent Libyan revolution.
VanDyke traveled to Libya to join the rebel force that was fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime. On March 13, 2011, VanDyke was struck on the head during an ambush in Brega and knocked unconscious. When he came to, he was in a prison being interrogated and told he would never see America again. However on August 24, 2011, the rebels took control of the prison and VanDyke escaped.
A few days after VanDyke escaped the prison in Libya, he stayed in a room with fellow American journalist James Foley at the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. The two quickly became close friends.
Then on November 22, 2012, Foley was abducted in northwestern Syria by ISIS. Sadly, Foley was beheaded in August 2014, becoming the first American citizen killed by Islamic State. ISIS uploaded a video of Foley’s grisly beheading to YouTube and titled it “A Message to America.” The terrorist organization claimed that his murder was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq.
American journalist Steven Sotloff was another friend of VanDyke. But in August 2013, Sotloff was kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria by ISIS. And like Foley, Sotloff was beheaded by ISIS and the graphic video of his murder was released on the Internet on September 2, 2014. VanDyke had dinner with Sotloff in Washington, DC just a few weeks before he was kidnapped in Syria.
Despite all of the turmoil that VanDyke had endured, the unnecessary and barbaric executions of his two friends was a life-altering moment, he explains his grief to Vice:
These were good friends and great men, and their deaths had a life-changing impact on me. I had been working on Syrian Revolution issues before their deaths, but after they were beheaded by ISIS, I focused my work on combating ISIS. Just as my personal friendships with Libyans had been the catalyst for my action in Libya, my friendships with James and Steven were the catalyst for my action against ISIS. It had become personal, in addition to ideological.
To combat the savage terrorist organization that has taken the lives of his friends and so many others, VanDyke started up his own private security firm called Sons of Liberty International (SOLI).
A description of this new fighting force from the SOLI website:
Sons of Liberty International (SOLI) is the first security contracting firm run as a non-profit. SOLI provides free security consulting and training services to vulnerable populations to enable them to defend themselves against terrorist and insurgent groups. The dedicated staff, volunteers, and funders of SOLI believe that all people have the right to self-defense and liberty regardless of their financial circumstances, and they strive to create a world in which the innocent are protected.
Besides the important training that SOLI provides, VanDyke believes that putting pressure on Western governments to intervene in these tragic conflicts. SOLI especially highlights the lack of international support for Assyrian Christians in Iraq. “We will step in where the international community has failed, reacting quickly to security crises and enabling local forces to defend their own communities,” states VanDyke.
SOLI is currently actively supporting those who can’t defend themselves in Iraq, and is in negotiations with a militia in Syria. The organization has also received requests for assistance in three other regions of the world.
VanDyke has a strong message to ISIS:
Anyone who kills friends of mine has made me their target. I won’t stop until ISIS is destroyed, and SOLI is going to do whatever it takes to help make that happen.
If you’d like to find out more about VanDyke or to make a donation, you can do so here.