On a desert-cold, moonlit night just over two years ago, Amir Taaki stepped off the Iraqi sand into a rubber dinghy floating in the Tigris River. The boat was just wide enough to fit his compact body next to the much larger American ex-Army machine gunner sitting beside him. Taaki and the dozens of soldiers waiting on the shore were part of a motley crew of Kurds and foreigners from as far away as Britain, Portugal, Canada and the US, and they'd spent the last two weeks waiting anxiously in a mountain camp of Kurdish guerrillas. As one of the Kurds silently rowed the boat away from the looming snow-covered peaks behind them and toward the high reeds on the Syrian side of the river, Taaki was headed into one of the world's most dangerous war zones. And he was elated.
"Something was finally happening," he remembers thinking. "I was going to find Rojava."
Taaki was already a notorious figure in the world of politically-loaded cryptography software and bitcoin. But that night, virtually no one in that world knew where he was. After years of preaching a crypto-anarchist revolution on the internet, Taaki had set out in secret to fight for a very real revolution—in Syria. The Iranian-British coder was headed to a state near the country's northern border with Turkey: Rojava, where an unlikely anarchist movement was fighting for its life against the Islamic State. And so a subversive idealist who'd until then confined his radicalism to building cryptography software and bitcoin tools would end up firing an AK-47 at jihadis.
"This felt like something I was dragged into," Taaki told WIRED shortly after returning to England last spring, after 15 months in the Middle East. "When I found out there was an actual anarchist revolution happening in Syria, I felt, 'I have to do that.' I was compelled to