The President did acknowledge that terrorists can be rich like Osama bin Laden, who was the son of a Saudi construction magnate who attended the top high school and the best university in Saudi Arabia. It's hard to imagine someone with more opportunities. Think the Trump family Saudi-style, minus the bling, and throw in a deep admiration for the Taliban.
But in fact Osama bin Laden is more the rule than the exception. Take Mohamed Atta, the son of an Egyptian lawyer, who had worked on a doctorate in, of all things, urban preservation at a German university and who led the 9/11 attacks. Or the present leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, a surgeon who comes from a leading Egyptian family that counts ambassadors, politicians and prominent clerics amongst its ranks.
Nearer to home we can also point to the Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was not only an officer in the U.S. Army and a psychiatrist, but is also from a comfortably middle-class family in Virginia.
Let's also add to the mix Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up a bomb-laden SUV in Times Square on May 1, 2010. He had obtained an MBA in the United States and had worked as a financial analyst for the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics company. His father was one of the top officers in the Pakistani military.
These are not the dispossessed. They are the empowered.
"Who becomes a terrorist?" turns out, in many cases, to be much like asking, "Who owns a Volvo?"
Indeed, New America has studied the backgrounds of some 250 U.S.-based militants since 9/11 who have been indicted in or convicted of some kind of jihadist terrorist crime. They are on average middle class, reasonably well-educated family men with kids. They are, in short, ordinary Americans.
Similarly, in his important 2004 book "Understanding Terror Networks," psychiatrist Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer, examined the backgrounds of 172 militants who were part of al Qaeda or a similar group. Just under half were professionals; two-thirds were either middle or upper class and had gone to college; indeed, several had doctorates.