"If you ain’t from Texas this ain’t the place to be because we’re burning this motherfucker down!” shouted Doughbeezy, the otherwise relentlessly friendly Houston rapper, at a recent show. He looked out over the crowd before him with the steady, combative gaze of a practiced performer. He was playing a larger, South-centric showcase called “Welcome to tha South” at South by Southwest, a time when the music industry as a whole fills Austin with the desperate sprawl of corporate sponsorship and mindless networking. Despite the presence of outsiders, there was a surplus of UT burnt ochre and hands throwing up the state’s longhorn symbol. And a lot of people seemed to know his songs. Like, maybe more than for Que or Ty Dolla $ign, artists on the bill with national radio hits. Most of the people there might have been from Texas—a mixed blessing given the setting.
How to Kill a Wolf: An Undercover Report from the Idaho Coyote and Wolf Derby
The best way to fatally wound a wolf without killing it instantly is to shoot it in the gut, preferably with armor-piercing ammunition. Unlike soft lead-tipped bullets, which mushroom inside the body cavity and kill quickly, heavy-jacketed AP ammo pierces the target and blows out the other side.
This has two advantages: The first is that, especially with a gut shot, the animal will suffer. It will bleed out slowly, run a mile or so in terrified panic, and collapse. Then it will die. The second advantage is that, if you’re hunting illegally (out of season, at night with a spotlight, or on land where you shouldn’t), there is little forensic evidence for game wardens to gather. No bullet will be found in the cadaver. Most importantly, the animal will have traveled some distance from where it was shot, so that tracing the site of the shooting is almost impossible.
I gleaned these helpful tips from a nice old man at a saloon in Salmon, Idaho, which last December was the site of the first annual Coyote and Wolf Derby. I had come to this rural town—population 3,000—to enter as a contestant in the derby. Over the course of two days in late December, several hundred hunters would compete to kill as many wolves and coyotes as possible. There were two $1,000 prizes to be had, one for the most coyotes slain and the other for the largest single wolf carcass. Children were encouraged to enter, with special awards for youths aged 10–11 and 12–14 listed on the promotional flyer. The derby’s organizer, a nonprofit sporting group called Idaho for Wildlife, advertised that the event was to be historic: the first wolf-killing contest held in the US since 1974.
How to Burglarize the FBI: The Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI Did It Back in 1971
For most of US history, spies didn’t have rules—even when they were targeting US citizens. The spymasters and their agents did whatever was necessary: blackbag break-ins, illegal phone taps, telegram and mail intercepts, plus the usual lying, stealing, and killing. But in late 1970, a collection of ordinary citizens became so outraged by illegal government spying that they began to meticulously plan a daring mission: They would raid an FBI office.
On March 8, 1971, a group of activists calling themselves the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an office outside of Philadelphia, stole nearly all the FBI’s own documents, and mailed them to Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger. This leak led to massive reforms of the rules of surveillance. Any limits on NSA and FBI actions inside the United States are thanks in part to these daring citizen burglars. They kept their story a secret for 43 years. Meet the men and women who burglarized the FBI.
Their secret planning began with a spaghetti dinner. A pair of college professors, several university students, a social worker, a daycare worker, and a taxi driver gathered around a homey dinner table, children underfoot at a three-story stone townhouse in Philadelphia. Some of the guests were on edge, while others laughed like old friends. Their leader William “Bill” Davidon, a physics professor at nearby Haverford College, was the oldest at 43. He leaned back, quietly observing the crew that ranged in age down to 20. Several of the members had been arrested in earlier actions. But this operation was on a different scale of danger. Even sitting at the table slurping spaghetti and discussing plans was enough for conspiracy charges, perhaps up to ten years in Federal Prison. If the FBI catches you in the act, a friendly lawyer warned, you might be shot.
1 On April 1, Malcolm L. Shabazz was arrested at a bar in South Bend, Indiana, where he was visiting friends. “America is eating me alive,” he told his imam.
2 He returned to his hometown in the Hudson Valley and flew to Los Angeles to meet his friend Miguel Suarez.
3 Miguel, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant and labor organizer, was deported from Oakland on April 18. Malcolm met him in Tijuana, hoping a trip south would inspire him to live up to his legacy as Malcolm X’s grandson.
4 Miguel and Malcolm took a two-day bus ride to Mexico City. They dreamed up a plan to unite black and brown people in Mexico and beyond.
5 On May 8, their plans—and Malcolm’s tumultuous life—were cut short after a bar scam they fell for went horribly wrong near the Plaza Garibaldi.
If it was a time for anything, 2013 was a year that saw the Snow Fall(ing) full-bleed layout solidify itself as the du jour template for longform non-fiction storytelling on the Internet.
Inside the Heroin Epidemic Sweeping Through Vermont
One Saturday afternoon this fall, the two of us drove toward Burlington, Vermont, on a narrow highway that snakes through the Green Mountains. Rolling fields gave way to hardwood forests, maple trees aflame with red and orange leaves—the kind of bucolic scenery that brings in nearly 14 million tourists and $1.7 billion of their money every year. Our destination was a small farm in Colchester that looks like something right out of a postcard: a red barn, a sign that said “Community Pig Roast,” even chickens and dogs running around in the yard.
Josh was waiting for us at a table on the porch in a flat-brim hat and hoodie. He’s a Vermonter born and bred, a 23-year-old with an easygoing stoner charisma familiar to anyone who grew up in the area. The stories he told, on the other hand, sound like they could have come out of the worst drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods of a big city.
He’s run heroin to Vermont from New Jersey six times in the last 18 months. His suppliers hand Josh 25 bricks of the stuff and tell them it’s his responsibility until he gets to Vermont and to “hide it good.” Heroin is much cheaper in the big cities to the south than it is in the Green Mountain State, and Josh takes full advantage of this—he can make $600 off of $10 worth of the raw he buys. He doesn’t have much in the way of professional ethics. “I’ve ripped people off by throwing hot cocoa in an empty bag,” he told us. “Scoop a little dirt off the ground and throw that in there, dude.”
Black Gold Blues: The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Controlled Syria
Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s sixth-largest city, is also the country’s oil capital. For four decades, the al-Assad regime (first run by Hafez, and now by his son Bashar) struck deals with Western oil companies like Shell and Total that resulted in the extraction of as much as 27,000 barrels of black gold from the sand every day. A pittance compared with other Middle Eastern countries’ production, but it made Syria a bona fide oil-exporting nation. At least this was the case until international sanctions were imposed in 2011 in response to the regime’s crackdown on the antigovernment protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war.
Located in the middle of the desert and less than 100 miles from the Iraq border, Deir ez-Zor dominates the eastern portion of the country and has had a long, fruitful relationship with the petroleum industry: before the war, its 220,000 inhabitants often worked for oil companies as engineers, technicians, and laborers.
Downtown Deir ez-Zor is still home to many modern glass-walled buildings erected by Western firms, but in the past two years, they’ve been largely abandoned as the battles between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces, each of whom hold portions of the city, have left them pockmarked, windowless, and scarred.
When I visited Deir ez-Zor in September, there were snipers lurking on roofs as combatants exchanged fire from Kalashnikovs, mortars, and heavy machine guns below. Beyond the city limits the suburbs give way to the mostly empty desert where the oil wells are located and where the rebels—most of them hard-line jihadists, and many of them with ties to al Qaeda—are in complete control. It’s a very different place than it was prerevolution, but it is still an oil town, albeit one of an entirely new sort. Instead of multinational corporations, it’s now the Islamist rebels who are providing jobs to the locals.
Unaccompanied Miners: Down the Shaft with Bolivia’s Child Laborers
In 1936, George Orwell visited a coal mine in Grimethorpe, England. “The place is like… my own mental picture of hell,” he wrote of the experience. “Most of the things one imagines in hell are there—heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space.” Orwell was a lanky guy, 6’3” or 6’2”, and I am too. So I was reminded of his comparison recently while crawling through a tunnel as dank and dark as a medieval sewer, nearly a mile underground in one of the oldest active mines in Latin America, the Cerro Rico in Potosí, Bolivia. The chutes were so narrow that I couldn’t have turned around—or turned back—even if I’d wanted to.
Orwell wasn’t the first to equate mines with hell; Bolivian miners already know they labor in the inferno. In the past 500 years, at least 4 million of them have died from cave-ins, starvation, or black lung in Cerro Rico, and as a sly fuck-you to the pious Spaniards who set up shop here in 1554 and enslaved the native Quechua Indians, Bolivian miners worship the devil—part of a schizophrenic cosmology in which God governs above while Satan rules the subterranean.
As an offering to him, miners slaughter llamas and smear blood around the entrances to the 650 mineshafts that swiss-cheese this hill. Near the bloodstains, just inside the mine, a visitor can find beady-eyed statues with beards and raging boners—a goofy caricature of Satan known as El Tio, or “the Uncle,” to whom workers give moonshine and cigarettes in exchange for good luck. Before entering the mountain, I’d offered a small pouch of coca leaves to one of these little devils, requesting a bendiga, a blessing for my safety.
A few hours later, I was hundreds of feet underground, shambling through three-foot-tall tunnels, bony knees bruising over hard rock. My guide, Dani, a miniature man with the strength and temperament of a donkey, had burrowed so far ahead that he’d disappeared into the darkness. I called out to him. When he didn’t reply, my photographer Jackson turned to me and coughed. “I’m freaking out,” he said, and we soldiered on, trying to trace Dani’s path through the hot, sulfur-stinking tunnel.
The Boxer, the Murder, the Fall from Grace
The argument started over gas money. It escalated to the point where a man got shot in the testicles. And it finished with one of the participants murdered and the other—a professional boxer with 20 victories to his name—in prison.
The dead man’s name was Raul Bennett Sambola, and I’ll get to him, but it was the boxer’s involvement that made the argument and its aftermath famous up and down Nicaragua’s poverty-stricken Atlantic coast. Evans Quinn was a 28-year-old heavyweight at the time of the February 2012 murder; just nine months earlier he had been in Nevada fighting Seth Mitchell. That bout ended with Quinn getting knocked out in the first round, after which he returned to his hometown of Bluefields. But before that humiliation, before he got involved in a feud, killed Sambola, went on the run, and was finally thrown in prison, Quinn was already a local legend, beloved by the people of Bluefields because he was one of them. As he came up through the boxing ranks, they imagined he’d make it to the top and show the world that the people in this poor but lively region are fighters and winners.
“God gave Evans Quinn the ability to rise up the people of Bluefields,” a local pastor told me. “But he threw it away.”
It’s hard to describe Quinn without using words like “potential” and “ability.” He was charismatic as hell, handsome, successful, and able to make whoever he talked to feel like he was the most important person in the world. He claimed to have seven wives (“I’m Muslim,” he told me) and surrounded himself with friends, drugs, women, and guns. But he could also be dangerous—if you crossed him, he wasn’t afraid to use his immense physical talents to show you who was boss. Like when he punched that pastor’s son in the mouth just because the kid was at a nightclub with a girl Quinn thought would be better off with him.
“He was crazy, but he could have done great things,” the pastor said. That’s how eager many in Bluefields were to look the other way when Quinn did something most people would be hated for. That was the influence the boxer had once had here. Today Quinn is still a legend, but now that he’s in prison, his glory days long burned away to ash, his story is now one about wasted potential, or a cautionary tale about what happens when a man takes justice into his own hands. If you’re willing to forgive his excesses and his ugly violent streak, he could even be a folk hero who got thrown in prison by cops with a grudge against him.