Screen grab from the video below. 

This is no regular jihadist recruitment video. While it’s just as shockingly violent as the kind of videos the Islamic State organization regularly posts online – indeed, it uses some of their footage, as well as footage from news outlets – this video takes a mocking tone to try to steer potential recruits away from joining the group. Its makers? None other than the US State Department.

WARNING: This video contains extremely disturbing images, including severed heads, crucifixions, and acts of torture.

While it may at first seem hard to believe that the US government is distributing a video showing such shocking scenes, this video is in fact part of a State Department effort that has been going on for more than a year and a half. “Think Again, Turn Away” is a programme that targets English speakers that may be vulnerable to jihadist recruitment drives. The State Department employees who run the programme try to discredit jihadists’ claims through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages, all of which are clearly labelled as belonging to the State Department. They also engage directly with jihad supporters on social media, trying to convince them not to join the ranks of the Islamic State.

With jihadist groups increasingly fighting their propaganda war online, the US is trying to counter them on the same terrain, using similar methods. Dramatic music, choppy video editing, gory close-ups: all the elements commonly found in the Islamic State’s videos are used in the State Department’s own propaganda video. Some commentators, however, have wondered whether trying to discourage potential recruits by showing them graphic images will really work, as violence may be what motivates them in the first place, more than ideology.