Atlas Mugged: How a Libertarian Paradise in Chile Fell Apart
It was a good idea, in theory anyway. The plan was to form a sustainable community made up of people who believed in capitalism, limited government, and self-reliance. The site was already picked out: 11,000 acres of fertile land nestled in the valleys of the Chilean Andes, just an hour’s drive away from the capital of Santiago, to the east, and the Pacific Ocean, to the west. Residents could make money growing and exporting organic produce while enjoying Chile’s low taxes and temperate climate. This was no crackpot scheme to establish a micronation on a platform floating in the middle of the ocean (a common libertarian dream)—this was a serious attempt to build a refuge where free marketers and anarcho-capitalists could hole up and wait for the world’s fiat currencies to collapse. They called it “Galt’s Gulch Chile” (GGC), naming it for the fictional place where the world’s competent capitalists flee to in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
The project was conceived in 2012 by four men: John Cobin, an American expat living in Chile who once ran unsuccessfully for Congress in South Carolina; Jeff Berwick, the globe-trotting founder of the Dollar Vigilante, a financial newsletter that preaches the coming end of the current monetary system; Cobin’s Chilean partner; and Ken Johnson, a roving entrepreneur whose previous investment projects included real estate, wind turbines, and “water ionizers,” pseudoscientific gizmos that are advertised as being able to slow aging.
That initial group quickly fell apart, though today the principals disagree on why. Now, two years after its founding, the would-be paradise is ensnared in a set of personal conflicts, mainly centered on Johnson. Instead of living in a picturesque valley selling Galt’s Gulch–branded juice, the libertarian founders are accusing one another of being drunks, liars, and sociopaths. GGC’s would-be inhabitants have called Johnson a “weirdo,” a “pathological liar,” “insane,” a “scammer,” and other, similar things. Some shareholders are pursuing legal action in an effort to remove him from the project, a drastic measure for antigovernment types to take. Johnson, who remains the manager of the trust that controls the land, claims all the allegations against him are false. So what happened?
VICE Reports: Pink Panthers, Part 1
Everyone thought the Pink Panther gang would vanish—especially after the 2012 arrest of one of its leaders. Instead, the jewel thieves have started training new recruits as a way to take revenge on a world they feel has robbed them blind.
The group, hailing from former Yugoslavia, has stolen more than $350 million worth of jewelry in the past 15 years from the world’s most exclusive jewelers, according to Interpol. Now, VICE takes you inside the Pink Panthers’ secret world to learn their history and see how the jewel thieves train new recruits.
Getting Drunk at America’s Finest Chain Restaurants
Perhaps it’s my advancing age, my predilection for playing the sourpuss, or merely my growing disinterest in ceremony of any sort, but I’d rather eat in the shit end of a strip mall than get gussied up for a night on the town in the kind of genericly chic hotspots that now litter America’s cities. The lamentations of my colleagues as far afield as London over the insidious creeping dread of gentrification are now as familiar to journalism as Beyonce think-pieces, pointless aggregation of Daily Show clips, and Oxford commas.
We’ve bitched about gentrification’s florid fare and prentitious air of exclusion, but what’s the alternative? The aggressive gourmet flatulence of trendy urban neighborhoods makes me long for the affordable, bland, but comforting chain restaurants of my youth. I’m talking about the kind of place where the ads implore you to “let your hair down,” “unwind,” and “be family.”
Those sentiments seem trite, but are actually what we crave the most, especially here in America. We want to belong, we want to be accepted, and we want to get drunk on cheap liquor. Those aren’t virtues anymore when fancy gastropubs charge $17 for a burger and $8 for a pint of beer. We are being robbed of the one thing that makes us American: our love of inexpensive, generic bullshit.
The first Denny’s in Manhattan opened last week, and features a $300 version of their popular Grand Slam meal that comes with a bottle of Dom Perignon. We can’t even pray at the altar of the classic American diner without being reminded of what we don’t have. Are well-heeled day traders in Manhattan going to pop in for bacon and eggs, with a side of champagne? What’s next, a Happy Meal that comes with an XBox?
Reveling in popular culture, while also suckling at the sweet, sparkling teat of opulance is de rigueur these days. Restaurants sell gussied up versions of comfort food and charge through the nose for it. But what about just having normal comfort food? Can’t I just pleasure myself on top of a greasy plate of “grub” while knocking back a few discounted Happy Hour beverages? Thatbeautiful disaster exists solely in the safe, sanitized vortex of the suburban chain restaurant.
Florida Teenagers Got Caught in a Snapchat-Fueled Robbery – This Week in Teens
Summer break sounds amazing in June, but by August the teens have grown restless. They’re broke, they’ve got all these hormones that they can’t properly act on, and Mom’s at work. Today’s teens are left at home with little more than technology and other teens to keep them company. It’s with this sense of boredom and the possibility of danger in mind that we turn to our top story This Week in Teens.
A 15-year-old boy in Florida got a Snapchat of his cousin holding a stack of cash, so he and four of his friends decided to rob his cousin’s house. They would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for his cousin’s pesky dogs, and the fact that the rest of his family was home. The teens ran from the house, taking a laptop with them, but were caught by police—because that’s what happens when your aunt sees you robbing her house. This story is truly a perfect encapsulation of the way teens live now. The traditional teen traits of confusion-fueled idiocy and responding to the pressures of capitalism with petty crime are compounded by technology. Snapchat, an app that’s wildly popular among young people, is being valued at around $10 billion. Teens are an instrumental part of the app’s success, so there’s a certain poetry in the idea that the app is inspiring them to commit crimes for cash.
Check out the rest of This Week in Teens
Meet the Man Behind London’s Biggest ‘Elite’ Sex Parties
Chris Reynolds Gordon is kind of like Britain’s answer to Dan Bilzerian. Only, where the latter made his name playing poker, throwing naked women off roofs, and rapidly becoming Instagram’s most-followed misogynist, Chris has managed to get where he’s at without any of the awkward social media machismo of his American counterpart.
He’s been a millionaire; he’s gone broke. He’s owned property around the world; he’s been homeless. He was a junior national 800 meters champion; he’s met with Vladimir Putin about trading rough diamonds. Now, before hitting his 30th birthday, he’s turned his and his friend Eva’s “Heaven SX” concept into one of London’s most popular “elite” sex parties.
In light of the Killing Kittens group—probably the UK’s largest sex party brand—recently inviting Heaven SX into its fold, I thought I’d catch up with Chris to find out his thoughts on how he makes his money.
VICE: Hey, Chris. So, first off, run me through what happens at a Heaven SX party.
Chris Reynolds Gordon: It’s like going to any normal bar or club—you have people dressed up looking nice, chatting, laughing, getting to know each other. Then, a little bit later on—at about 12:00 or 1:00 AM, when the mood’s right—the girls will go and get changed into lingerie. It’s a bit of an awkward moment, with all the guys chatting and sitting with each other, then all these girls come in looking super hot and the atmosphere changes and people start disappearing.
Why do you call it “elite”?
I went to quite a lot of parties in the past, and everyone was calling them elite. But then you’d see, like, 50- or 60-year-old people who weren’t that attractive. Not that there aren’t attractive people in their 50s and 60s, but these weren’t people you’d stereotypically think of as attractive. It’s really quite a shallow thing, though, because what is good looking? Basically, the hottest [people] we wanted to play with just got together—everyone who was a 10 on the hot chart. The average age is also quite young. There’s nothing else like it.
5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry
The worlds of academia and incarceration are closer than you may think.
Professional Poo Diver
If you break life down into a series of activities, objectively, a lot of them don’t make sense. Like diving into a vat of raw sewage. Why would someone do that? To find out, we’re asking people doing weird things why, to get an insight into their world.
This is Brendan Walsh’s world. He runs a Melbourne company called East West Dive and Salvage, which basically involves diving in all sorts of no-air environments. One such environment includes sewage, so I caught up with Brendan to find out what necessitates this foul job, and why he does it.
VICE: Hi Brendan, why are you doing that?
Brendan Walsh: I’m doing it because in Australia, we don’t process our sewerage with chemicals. We get bacteria to break down the solids by aerating it with big stirring machines, twenty-four hours a day. It’s a very aggressive environment and moving parts constantly break.
So what’s broken here?
One of the motors. The motors are all in the ponds and there’s no other way to access them without getting in. And it’s completely black down there, so we have to do everything by feel. Sewage farms take thousands of photos of their site, before they fill up the ponds, so we look carefully at the photos before we get in. The diver then makes the repairs in the dark by talking to the guys above the surface. The dive suits are all connected via radio so we can provide directions in real time.
That all sounds like a design flaw. Shouldn’t there be an easier way?
Ah, you’d think so, but then it gives me a job. Got to earn the ex-wife money somehow.
So what is it like when you’re down there?
It’s completely black and you have to more walk than swim. There’s no smell though. All your air is bottled, so it’s actually worse for the guys who have to decontaminate you when you get out.
Do you ever get claustrophobic?
No, I wouldn’t do it if I did. You need two years of training to become a diver and that weeds out anyone with claustrophobia. Also we can pipe music through the suits radio system. We’ll play the guys whatever they want to hear. It keeps them happy.
A German Guy Wants to Give You a Bunch of Money for Doing Nothing
What would happen if we didn’t have to worry about making a living anymore? Would people just sit on their asses all day or actually do something meaningful with their lives? Michael Bohmeyer, a 29-year-old founder of a tech startup in Berlin, wanted to find out.
After he stopped working earlier this year to live off the $1,300 he makes from his startup each month, Bohmeyer says his life has radically changed. So he started “My Basic Income”, a new initiative looking to raise enough money to pay someone $1,300 a month for a year, no strings attached.
Through crowdfunding, the initiative has already raised more than the $16,000 goal. On September 18, they’re going to announce the lucky winners of that wad of cash at a party in Berlin.
I spoke to Bohmeyer to find out what he hopes will come of this and how his life has changed now that he doesn’t need to work.
VICE: Would you say you’re a lazy person?
Michael Bohmeyer: I’d say that, but I don’t think being lazy is necessarily a bad thing. Other people probably wouldn’t call me lazy. I work a lot—even more so now that I don’t need to work for money. I even discovered a passion for washing the dishes.
You said that having an unconditional basic income has radically altered your life. How so?
After I stopped working earlier this year and started living off the approximately $1,300 I get out of my company, I just wanted to put my feet up and do nothing. Instead, I found a crazy drive to do things. I had a million new business ideas, I take care of my daughter, and I work for a local community radio. I buy less shit, I live healthier, and I’m a better boyfriend and father.
Because you have more time for your girlfriend and daughter?
Because I’m more laid-back. The pressure is gone. My working conditions were great even before, because I was running my own company and could pretty much do what I want. But making money was tied to conditions. Now, I do everything I do because I want to—and all of a sudden it’s twice as much fun.
The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue was primarily sponsored by two competing children’s whiskey brands. The other one was Detention.
This Guy Will Organize the Perfect Robbery for You
Fixers are the consultants of the criminal underworld. Paid to organize crimes without actually getting involved in any of the hands-on stuff, they’re capable of earning large sums of money purely for advising the bank robbers and smash-and-grabbers who employ them.
A couple of years ago, while trying to make a name for myself as a writer, I ghost-wrote a number of true crime autobiographies. One of the people I wrote for was a guy named Colin Blaney, a former member of a Manchester, UK gang called the Wide Awake Firm, who introduced to me a highly respected fixer. “Mr. C” was responsible for organizing a wide variety of crimes, and agreed to talk to me on the condition of anonymity.
VICE: What exactly is the role of a fixer?
Mr. C: A fixer is a person who can influence or set up a time and a place for the perfect robbery. He can organize a person or group of people so they get the job done, so it happens as planned, so it goes off to a tee. The term applies in the same way in the drug world; it’s somebody who’s behind the scenes, organizing the movement of drugs. Drug cartels will trust the fixer to plan how they move the drugs, how the money is laundered, when the product’s coming through, how much of it is coming through, which countries each bit’s going to, and so on.
Talk me through the process of fixing a robbery then. What does it entail?
Well, I’ll give you an example. I know of a job that was done where a load of expensive watches were stolen. The guys had a car and a motorbike stolen in advance. On the day of the robbery they went into the shop, took all of the high-priced watches out and bagged them up. They knew that they only had a certain length of time before the helicopters scrambled, so they did it quickly and then jumped into the car, knowing it would be spotted right away and the police would be looking for it. They then drove to a set of bollards. A motorcycle was positioned there. The police can’t go through bollards, so the robbers could escape that way.