Buoyed by viewers flocking to see Daniels’s video, Funker530’s monthly traffic increased fivefold to about 25 million views in October. His advertising revenue surged, as well. A site such as Funker530, which has about 430,000 subscribers and averages 6 million to 8 million views a month, can take in as much as $150,000 a year in advertising revenue, according to analysts.
The proprietor of Funker530 said he served in the Canadian army in Afghanistan, but would speak only on the condition of anonymity because of what he said were concerns about his safety. He declined to answer questions about the video or how much money his YouTube channel generates. He said he donates a portion of his profits to veterans’ charities.
On Funker530’s YouTube channel, Daniels’s video plays alongside 300 clips from Afghanistan and Iraq. As Daniels screams for help, pop-up ads encourage viewers to “click here” to check their “criminal arrest record,” take online business-management classes or watch the trailer for the fourth installment of the “Evil Dead” horror movie series.
In November, Daniels was sitting in the small house he shares with an Army friend at Fort Carson. He had not watched the video for several weeks, but he had been replaying it in his head and reliving it most nights in his dreams.
He was sure that he had been muttering to himself when he stepped into enemy fire. “Jesus, I think I am going to die,” he was saying in the dreams.
Daniels located the moment that he was looking for about 45 seconds into the video. He paused and replayed the stretch a dozen times, cranking up the volume on his laptop speakers as loud as it would go. He could hear himself muttering, but he couldn’t make out the words.
The flood of commenters on the Funker530 site and elsewhere had changed the way Daniels saw the video. He had begun to wonder if his decision to step into enemy fire to free up his fellow soldiers was more foolish than brave. “It wasn’t the most tactically brilliant thing to do,” he admitted in an interview.
He grew embarrassed that the whole world could hear him in his most vulnerable moment screaming for help, and wished people could see what happened after the camera battery died. Daniels stopped yelling and scrambled toward the American armored vehicles parked about 350 yards away. A bullet ricocheted off his helmet. Daniels kept moving.
“I don’t know if I held it together, but I tried to,” he said. “I put my ass on the line for other guys. I still functioned even though I was scared to death.”
On a cold Wednesday morning last month, Daniels stood through a brief morning formation. He is currently assigned to Fort Carson’s medical platoon while he waits for the foot he injured in Afghanistan to heal. The assignment leaves him plenty of free time.
The sergeant dismissed the soldiers, and Daniels drove his truck, a 1995 Isuzu with a cracked mirror and crumpled bumper, to the mall where he and a housemate are trying to start a side business teaching self-defense.
The turnout was poor: two middle-aged women. Daniels hid his disappointment and showed a 62-year-old with stringy white hair how to execute a palm strike and break an attacker’s chokehold.
Online, he continued his never-ending battle with the Taliban.
“This is a real man trying to protect his squad,” wrote richsalemv93.
“Dumbass,” budmeister typed.
Daniels drove through the Garden of the Gods Park, stopping his truck to gaze at the 300-foot-tall towers of sandstone rock. “I used to think if I had died, what would it have been for?” he said. “My life would have meant nothing in the big picture of Afghanistan.”
His father called around 5 p.m. to chat. Daniels smoked a cigarette in his driveway and watched the sun dip behind the snow-capped mountains. He skipped dinner. “I have to be really careful about what I eat these days or I won’t make weight,” he said.
Daniels’s video still draws about 10,000 views a day from people around the world who tune in to hear his labored breathing and screams for help.
Daniels no longer watches the footage. “It doesn’t feel like me,” he said.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.