The story of El Chapo’s escape from prison in a laundry cart and his triumphant return to Sinaloa

A book cover shows a colorful painting of El Chapo beneath the title, in bold white letters
The cover of El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord

In early 2001, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug trafficker better known as El Chapo, decided he didn’t want to be in prison any longer.

El Chapo had been at Puente Grande, the maximum-security prison outside of the city of Guadalajara since 1995, locked up for his role in a bloody shootout in 1993 at the Guadalajara airport. And he’d been doing alright at Puente Grande, had enjoyed many of the same creature comforts during his years in Puente Grande as he had on the outside-good food, women, volleyball-and unlike his life on the outside, he even got to sleep in the same place every night. Much of this was thanks to his patronage of Dámaso López Nuñez, who’d taken over as deputy director of security in 1999 and had proved even more pliant than his predecessor in seeing to it that all of El Chapo’s needs were met. When Dámaso arrived, El Chapo immediately began to shower money and gifts on him: ten thousand dollars in cash here, a house there. When one of Dámaso’s children was injured in an accident, it was El Chapo who paid the child’s medical bills.

“When I needed anything, I would ask and he would give it to me,” Dámaso said years later.

Unfortunately for El Chapo, Dámaso had left Puente Grande in the fall of 2000, under a cloud of suspicion amid drastically belated efforts by the government to investigate corruption there. And on January 18, 2001 everything changed for El Chapo when the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the United States could extradite Mexican prisoners such as El Chapo, as long as the death penalty was taken off the table. His worst fear, an American prison cell, was suddenly much closer to reality.

A woman in a cramped shop holds up a shirt that reads "Who do you trust" with a picture of El Chapo.
A vendor in Sinaloa state, El Chapo’s birthplace in Mexico, shortly before he was sentenced in 2019.

So the next day he left, smuggled out the door tucked into a laundry cart, rolled to freedom by a guard known as El Chito. And nobody saw fit to stop him.

In the book Narcoland, journalist Anabel Hernandez argues that the laundry cart story was a tall tale cooked up in the wake of the escape to hide the real story: that El Chapo had simply walked out the door. Others have joined Hernandez in speculating that the laundry cart story was a fanciful tale ginned up to cover up a more mundane escape made possible by systemic corruption. (Years later, when El Chapo was finally put on trial at a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn, the laundry cart theory was retold repeatedly by multiple former accomplices.)

Regardless of whether El Chapo was rolled out, or walked out in a stolen guard uniform, it was his ability to buy the right people that allowed him to escape.

El Chapo was back. Within days, he was holding a series of meetings with his partners, including the man who in the ensuing years would become his most steadfast ally, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García. At one of the first meetings at a lieutenant’s ranch, El Mayo made it clear that he was backing El Chapo to the hilt.

“I’m with you one hundred percent,” El Mayo said. “I’m going to help you with anything you need. And any kilo of coke that I receive from Co- lombia, I’m going to give you half. So for now, just take care of yourself, stay in hiding.”

Two police are seen standing in the back of a vehicle and facing a prison complex, seen in the distance.
Mexican federal police patrol the surroundings of the Puente Grande State prison.

But the question was where. El Chapo was travelling with a hard-to-conceal entourage of armed men, and his face was plastered across televisions and newspapers all over Mexico. Where could he lay low without attracting attention?

El Mayo had an idea.

“Let’s go to Sinaloa,” El Mayo said. “Let’s go back to your native lands.”

“El Cielo”

Perched atop a peak that looms over La Tuna, a ring of cypress trees sits like a crown, blowing faintly in the breeze. From below, across the valley, the trees are all you can see of “El Cielo,” or the Heavens, the home El Chapo built for himself.

It’s a sanctuary he never got to truly enjoy, but which he visited from time to time, sneaking back into his hometown to throw a party or visit his mother.

A man is seen wearing a grey winter coat and looking tentatively to the side.
El Chapo is pictured on July 10, 1993 at La Palma prison in Mexico after being apprehended.

It sits unoccupied now. With El Chapo serving a life sentence at a supermax federal prison in Colorado, it’s unlikely he’ll ever set foot here again. (But don’t tell his mother that-the family once threw out a television reporter who had the temerity to ask Doña Consuelo directly how she felt about her son spending the rest of his life in prison.)

If he were to get out of prison, however, he might want to head to this mountaintop retreat. Indeed when he escaped from Puente Grande prison in January 2001, it was to El Cielo that El Chapo returned, to plot his new empire-and to see his mom.

Things were looking good for him then. He was free, back in the mountains in which he had grown up and gotten his start, where much of the population loved and supported him, and where the remoteness and the rugged terrain provided a natural defense that allowed him to move about with relative ease.

He was moving coke again, and marijuana and heroin as well-there was always more money to be made in cocaine, but the local economy of his sanctuary still relied heavily on the production of those two trusty cash crops, the hills dotted with red poppy flowers and redolent stalks of cannabis.

By purchasing these drugs from local farmers, he could make a handsome profit, prop up local business, and buy an enduring base of support. Who’s going to turn on the guy who pays wholesale for their crops?

Among the farmers El Chapo bought from in those days was a man named José,* an affable father of three, born, raised, and still living in a small town just off the highway. (Names marked with an asterisk are pseudonyms.)

An elderly woman is seen seated in a car and looking out the window.
Maria Consuelo Loera, El Chapo’s mother, leaves the US embassy in Mexico City in 2019 after applying for a visa to visit her son.

Like El Chapo, José and his neighbors learned how to grow weed and opium from their fathers, using tried-and-true methods to grow the crops on little plots of land in the hills above their village. In the early 2000s, José was working an area of land roughly equal to the size of about five football fields. The area was under the protection-or the control-of El Chapo, to whom José and other growers paid a 30% tax in exchange for protection from the soldiers who might otherwise raid the area, burning crops and sending months of work up in smoke.

For several years after the escape from Puente Grande, José did not meet the man to whom he paid taxes. But that finally changed in 2005, when, short on funds, he decided he wanted to make a proposition. A friend agreed to make the introduction, and they drove together up the highway, onto the dirt road, and on to La Tuna. When El Chapo received them, José made his proposal: What if El Chapo covered the expense of planting, and then they split the eventual profit fifty-fifty?

El Chapo readily agreed; that’s just the kind of guy he was, José recalled.

“He was a very simple man, and very natural,” José said. “You just felt like talking to him, never found him to be aggressive.”

The relationship between trafficker-strongmen and the people who grow opium and weed is rarely an even one, and can sometimes be downright feudal: Growers rarely have much choice in whom they sell to, so the people buying are able to set the asking price. The exchange is one of constant negotiation, and often features a certain degree of coercion-whether through the direct threat or deliverance of violence, or through the local boss withdrawing his protection and opening the farmer up to the full fury of a state that is, technically, dedicated to wiping out the farmer’s livelihood.

A small white and red church is seen in a lush and hilly stretch of land.
A cemetery known for the many prominent narco-traffickers who are buried there sits on a hilltop in Santiago De Los Caballeros, in Mexico’s in Sinaloa state.

Until very recently, small-time, self-employed farmers like José formed the backbone of the opium and marijuana industries. (This status quo has been upended in recent years as widespread legalization of marijuana in the United States and the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into the heroin supply have caused prices of both crops to plummet.)

As in any good capitalist system, farmers did most of the work, and were exposed to the most risk at the hand of the state. It pays well, better than most legal work; but by the time a stamp of heroin or a dime bag of weed has been sold on the streets of New York or Philadelphia, only about 1% of the total profits find their way back to the farmer.

The real profits, the billions of dollars that flow from the street sales to the money launderers to the front companies and bank accounts of traffickers, don’t trickle all the way down to little villages nestled in the mountains of Sinaloa or Guerrerro, or to the streets of the border towns through which the drugs pass on their way north. But it’s on the heads of these small-timers that most of the violence of the drug war falls.

Origin stories of the drug trade in Sinaloa often highlight the region’s legacy of upheaval, banditry, and rebellion. But early drug-trafficking clans of Sinaloa were hardly treated as outlaws.

The Mexican sociologist Luís Astorga writes that early Mexican drug traffickers emerged from within the state power structure, rather than as actors outside of it. They came along at a time when that power structure itself was just taking shape, and managed to negotiate for themselves a cozy little cubby within it, one that worked for the state, for the wealthy elite, and for the drug traffickers and cultivators. To a more limited extent, it also worked well for the poor peasants living in areas like Sinaloa.

There is a proud tradition of independence and autonomy in the Sierra, and the drug trade allowed the people of the Golden Triangle to continue to fend mostly for themselves without posing a true threat. The drug traffickers who came before El Chapo acted as local power brokers, playing a key role as unofficial intermediaries between the government and the people of the Sierra. The government allowed them to get rich trafficking drugs as long as the traffickers kept a relative peace in rural areas and made sure the local peasants showed up to vote for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

A man faces the camera wearing a black button-down short.
The author Noah Hurowitz

José and others in the highlands of Sinaloa talk of those years right after El Chapo’s escape as something of a Golden Age, when you knew who ran things and you could look the boss in the eye, make a deal with him, and then have a pleasant chat. As this went on, El Chapo would often pay José, who played in a band in his spare time, to perform at his parties. It felt good to hang out with a guy like El Chapo, José said, to be in the presence of someone regarded in these parts as a great man.

“He is a legend, truly, a legend,” José said. “It was a privilege to speak with him, to have a friendship with him like I did.”

Even if José was giving the sanitized-for-gringo-reporters version, many people in the mountains of Badiraguato knew only this side of El Chapo, the magnanimous local chieftain. This area of Sinaloa was, for many years, spared the violence that the drug trade-and the war on drugs-wreaked on other areas of Mexico. And when violence did arrive, it usually came in the form of the heavy hand of the state, rather than the cruelty of narco hit men.

But even as El Chapo was spreading his goodwill around his hometown and surrounding villages, he and his allies were inflicting violence elsewhere. For when El Chapo arrived back in La Tuna in 2001 and began to rebuild his empire, he was a man hell-bent on revenge.

* * *

Excerpted from El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord, published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2021 by Noah Hurowitz.

Noah Hurowitz is a journalist based in New York City. He covered the trial of El Chapo for Rolling Stone.

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Jeff Bezos offers a vision of flying through space colonies with our own wings. But is that the best way to save the human race?

Jeff Bezos gesturing towards a space lander, which looks like an orb with four legs.
Jeff Bezos unveiling the “Blue Moon” lunar lander on May 9, 2019.

  • In 2019, Jeff Bezos posed the question: “What happens when unlimited demand meets finite resources?”
  • Bezos sees space as a place where the weather could be like “Maui on its best days” and, without gravity, where people would “fly with their own wings.”
  • Is the billionaire Amazon founder the best person to be lecturing about overconsumption in a world of finite resources?
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jeff Bezos has been warning us for years that humans can’t sustain our current rate of consumption.

“What happens when unlimited demand meets finite resources? The answer is incredibly simple: rationing,” Bezos said in a 2019 speech, where he announced that his space travel company Blue Origin had developed a lunar lander. “It would lead to the first time where your grandchildren and their grandchildren would have worse lives than you did – that’s a bad path.”

Bezos may not be the best person to be lecturing about overconsumption in a world of finite resources. His wealth ballooned by $86 billion during a global pandemic, reaching a current net worth of $212 billion. He owns the Washington Post, a $65 million private jet, and so many homes-in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Washington State, and Texas – that he’s the 25th largest landowner in the United States.

Perhaps the tycoon of unprecedented proportions would be more concerned about solving Earth’s imminent shortages – or even his own excesses – if there wasn’t another world ripe for profligacy; a place where, Bezos argued in that 2019 speech, “for all practical purposes we have unlimited resources.”

On July 1, Bezos stepped down as the CEO of Amazon, though he is still the company’s executive chairman. With that changing of the guard so recently behind us, and with Bezos readying for his maiden voyage out of the Earth’s atmosphere – a 10-minute trip alongside his brother and a Dutch teenager – it’s worth unpacking Bezos’ vision.

It’s one of the few times Bezos has addressed the public at all, and it’s probably his longest public explanation of why he calls Blue Origin “his most important work.” (Blue Origin denied a request to interview Bezos before the July 20 launch.)

“The earth is finite and if the world economy and population is to keep expanding, space is the only way to go,” Bezos said, reading a line from his 1982 valedictorian speech from his Miami high school. Back then, he was already billing himself as a “space entrepreneur” who was going to make the world “peaceful and affluent.”

Jeff Bezos speaks with his lunar lander hovering in the background.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin’s newly developed “Blue Moon” lunar lander in 2019.

Bezos sees space as a place where the weather could be like “Maui on its best days” and, with the absence of gravity, where people would “fly with their own wings.” There would be no rain, or storms, or earthquakes, he says. It’s a world where humans could flit from colony to colony and back to Earth as they please.

On these O’Neill Colonies, named for the American physicist Gerard K. O’Neill who first conceived of them in the 1970s, humans could manufacture worlds – more realistic, Bezos says, than colonizing far-off planets – and set up national parks and cities that are very much like the ones on Earth.

When I reached out to Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium and Co-Founder of the JustSpace Alliance, to better understand how realistic Bezos’ vision really was, they said: “It’s a little hard to comment on the feasibility of something that has not only not been done at that scale,” and is unnecessary.

“O’Neill colonies were futuristic and science fictional when O’Neill thought of them, and they remain that way today,” they said.

Even the most enthusiastic proponents of space habitation (including Bezos) admit that anything like this vision won’t happen for multiple generations, at least. Meanwhile, within 50 years global warming is expected to have displaced one to 3 billion people, with another billion displaced for every additional degree of warming.

A sign marks the "Blue Origin launch spot"
The sign outside of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin operations in West Texas.

There are also other practical matters to consider, too, like the fact that our muscles melt in outer space, with astronauts losing as much as 20 percent of their muscle mass in under a week. Space travel also crushes our optical nerves, can cause permanent organ damage– even our cognitive abilities deteriorate.

“Part of what I find troubling about questions of resource allocation when it comes to billionaires blasting themselves off the surface of the Earth is that Jeff Bezos in particular has a direct influence over human scarcity,” Walkowicz said. “It’s often said that going into space is a waste of resources but I would argue that Jeff Bezos himself is a waste of resources.”

Population anxiety

Some of these ideas, of course, don’t originate with Bezos. And while Bezos talks about space travel in perhaps admirably optimistic terms – a billionaire’s tribute to his lifelong obsession with StarTrek and the science writer Isaac Asimov – there is a troubling history here, too.

The belief that exponential population growth would outpace the earth’s capacity to support humanity and cause mass famine and suffering was pioneered by late 18th Century economist Thomas Malthus. He argued against government food aid for Britain’s poor, positing that poverty derived not from how resources were distributed, but from unsustainable population numbers and because, he believed, impoverished people reproduced too quickly.

Malthusian ideas went on to inspire a host of eugenicists, including Adolph Hitler and Mussolini. It was also used to push coercive population control, including the forced sterilization of a third of women of reproductive age in Puerto Rico from the 1930s to the 1970s and 20,000 Californians between 1909 and 1979, most of whom were disabled or women of color. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the world was gripped by another population panic incited by Paul Erlich’s book “The Population Bomb.” This period spurred another wave of coercive sterilizations around the world.

Meanwhile, in 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth, followed by John Glenn a year later. Then, on July 20, 1969 – 52 years to the day before Bezos’ planned launch – Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. For those preoccupied with population panic, space seemed to offer the promise of an answer.

A man in a military uniform waves.
Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin arriving in London for a Russian trade fair in 1961.

“I believe we have now reached the point where we can, if we so choose, build new habitats far more comfortable, productive and attractive than is most of Earth,” O’Neill wrote in 1974.

Jeff Bezos is, of course, not advocating for population control. He would probably argue that his goal is the exact opposite.

In space, Bezos says, “we could have a trillion humans in the solar system and it still wouldn’t be crowded.” There could be “1,000 Mozarts” and “1,000 Einsteins,” he says.

“It’s warp time!”

Of course, at a moment when billionaire men Elon Musk and Richard Brason are also competing in this space race of sorts, Bezos may also be motivated in part by the simple fact that he’s a lifelong, devoted Trekkie.

His dog is named Kamala, after his Star Trek hero’s love interest. He has a holding company called Zefram LLC, which is named after the character whose warp speed flight leads to human’s first contact with aliens. He even got a cameo in “Star Trek: Beyond.”

When tracked down by reporters, his high school girlfriend reportedly said the reason Bezos had worked so hard to get rich was so that he could go to space.

A woman photographs another person in front of a mural showing Jeff Bezos and a space launch.
Two El Paso residents view a mural one day before Jeff Bezos’ scheduled space launch on July 20, 2021.

“Most mortals eventually jettison teenage dreams, but Bezos remains passionately committed to his, even as he has come to control more and more of the here and now,” wrote journalist Franklin Foer in The Atlantic.

There is a more cynical read on the timing: Maybe Bezos is focusing on another realm because Amazon’s dynastic growth and his own accumulation of wealth is what’s really driving the Earth to become increasingly uninhabitable.

Indeed, Bezos is rocketing out of the atmosphere just a few short weeks after stepping down from the top job at a company increasingly plagued by various lawsuits accusing illegal price control, racial discrimination and sexual harassment, illegally firing workers for criticizing the company’s climate change impacts, and failing to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, much of the breathless coverage of the Blue Origin launch has perhaps distracted the public from the world Bezos is leaving behind. While Bezos has pledged to spend $10 billion protecting the planet through the Bezos Earth Fund, many experts consider this a drop in the barrel.

In his 2019 speech – shortly before a behemoth glowing purple orb suspended on four legs was dramatically unveiled on the stage behind him – Bezos ticks through the immediate problems we should work on, in addition to space travel: “poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, overfishing in the oceans, there is a very long list of urgent and immediate problems.” The speech also hit on what Bezos described as humanity’s biggest looming problem: running out of energy on Earth.

But while Bezos cited trips to the hospital, transportation, entertainment, and medications as examples of the culprits, he did not mention the company he founded in 1994.

A man is seen in a blue spacesuit receives cards from a crowd of boys.
Richard Branson at Spaceport America in New Mexico on July 11, 2021.

In 2020, Amazon emitted over 44 million metric tonnes of carbon while the entire country of Denmark emitted just under 55 million). Or a person who travels on his own private jet, for that matter: a 2021 study in Europe found that a four hour flight on a private jet emits as much carbon as the average person does in an entire year.

Moreover, one third of Amazon employees in Arizona are on food stamps, while one in ten in Pennsylvania and Ohio rely on the government program to get enough to eat. Amazon’s hometown of Seattle has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country, which many housing experts blame on the fact that the city’s population has swelled by over 40 percent since Amazon’s founding, contributing to an increase in housing prices by 70 percent in just five years. Despite pledges to work towards carbon neutrality as the planet is projected to hurtle past temperatures that will likely cause mass death, the company’s carbon emissions increased by 20 percent in 2020.

Back on Earth

The pandemic might have been a breaking point for Bezos’ public image.

For a man whose founded a company that controls over 40 percent of e-commerce, 42 percent of physical book sales, a cloud computing service (Amazon web service) that stores almost a third of the information on the internet and the data of the American government’s Central Intelligence Agency, there’s increasing concern about the degree to which Amazon, a private company, is controlling our lives.

Jeff Bezos is seen in front of a background covered with stars.
Jeff Bezos unveiling the Blue Moon lunar landing module at an event on May 9, 2019.

There’s also a growing outcry that Bezos has cultivated a world where it is increasingly difficult to survive on Earth, particularly if you’re not a member of an increasingly small, white, ultra-wealthy group of Americans.

A change.org petition to “not allow Jeff Bezos to return to Earth” currently has over 160,000 signatures and counting. Memes reading “Bezos rocket explodes… crowds cheer” have been circulating on social media.

Chris Smalls, a former Amazon employee who was fired after organizing a work stoppage to protest their lack of protective gear and hazard pay during the pandemic, is now working to unionize Amazon employees from the outside as he pursues a lawsuit against the company.

“He’s taken over the world. This company started off in a garage and now they’ve got their hands on anything and everything and they can’t be stopped,” he said.”You don’t make $88 billion in the middle of a pandemic without putting profits above people,”

For his part, Smalls has a different take from the online petitions.

“I hope he returns safely, because I want to hold him accountable,” said Smalls, “I want workers to see that it’s okay to speak up, that it’s okay to fight back.”

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Airlines and regulators turn to eye-poking flight attendants and eye-popping fines amid sharp rise in unruly passenger incidents

As a row of woman look on, a female trainer demonstrates how she gets out of the restraints of someone lying beneath her and holding her down. l
Frontier Airlines flight attendants study self-defense at a training in Denver in 2007.

  • Airlines and federal regulators are scrambling to contain a sudden uptick in unruly passengers on planes.
  • The FAA has received 3,420 “unruly passenger” reports in 2021, and 3,000 weapons have been seized at airports.
  • Under zero-tolerance policy, fines are larger than ever, and some are pushing for federal prosecutions for in-flight assaults.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In undisclosed locations near airports around the country this month, flight attendants are receiving training in aggressive self defense moves that are specially designed for close-quarters.

Flight attendants learn the double-ear slap, the eye-poke, and the groin-kick. They learn tricks to swiftly disarm passengers with sharp weapons, and how to use items readily available aboard a plane for defense.

The moves are designed to de-escalate and quickly subdue passengers because in the words of former trainer Scott Armstrong, “you don’t want to get into a long, drawn-out fight.”

This is, as they say, not a drill. Just last week, the training was famously put to good use, when a female passenger on an American Airlines flight to North Carolina attacked and bit several flight attendants and tried to open the plane’s door mid-flight.

Resourceful flight attendants grabbed a roll of duct-tape, and the woman arrived at her destination, subdued and bound tightly to her chair. It might not have been standard protocol but it was effective and American Airlines later applauded its crew.

It’s not just your imagination; there really has been an extraordinary amount of mayhem in the skies recently.

Last month, an off-duty attendant on a Delta flight to Los Angeles from Atlanta overpowered flight attendants and took charge of the PA system. Passengers had to step in to help subdue him.

A video of a woman attacking a Southwest flight attendant and knocking out two of her teeth before another passenger stepped in to help recently went viral.

The annual flight attendant training, which the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) started in 2004 and paused due to Covid19, resumes at a time of record-breaking reports of delays due to passenger misbehavior on commercial flights.

Three flight attendants restrain fellow flight attendants in a training drill.
A Korean Air flight crew demonstrates a mock anti-terrorist drill ahead of the 2002 World Cup.

During a year when many travelers stayed home due to Covid-19, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has received 3,420 reports of “unruly passenger” incidents on planes as of July 13. More than three quarters of those incidents have been related to passengers refusing to abide by the federal mask mandate.

With five months left in the year, the average number of reports has already been surpassed roughly threefold, and the FAA has set up a new special task force to investigate.

There are also more firearms being discovered during routine x-ray screenings of carry-on luggage, according to the TSA. As of mid-July, roughly 3,000 weapons have been intercepted so far in 2021, and 85% of them were loaded, the TSA told Insider in an email.

Over the 4th of July weekend, 70 guns were discovered at airport checkpoints. This month, six firearms were seized at airports in Oregon over a single 10-day period, an “astounding” number, according to the TSA. Nationally, the TSA says we are on-trend to double the yearly average for weapons seizures.

Flight attendants are on the front lines, and say the self-defense training is sorely needed.

Sarah Nelson, the president of the International Association for Flight Attendants (AFA), believes the training should be made mandatory. In a town hall posted on YouTube, she said that flight attendants have become “literal punching bags” for the public and that many had left their jobs.

“This should send a message to the public that these events are serious and flight attendants are there to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the plane,” Nelson told the press.

Nelson’s group says it received over 5,000 responses to its fact-finding survey on unruly passengers. According to an AFA spokesperson, more flight attendants than ever have been requesting support and advice from the union.

What can be done?

And yet, in the face of all of this, the options that are available to airlines are limited.

There are not necessarily enough federal air marshals – officials who dress in civilian clothes and are tasked with protecting against the most extreme in-flight scenarios – to be aboard every flight, and their responsibilities have never covered keeping the peace for fellow travelers. For security reasons, the TSA does not disclose the number of federal air marshals or discuss their specific duties or routes.

Regulations say that cabin safety is the responsibility of flight attendants.

A flight attendants with a cart carrying cups and juice boxes smiles at an unseen passenger
An American Airlines flight attendant serves drinks to passengers.

Meanwhile, unruly behavior in the skies has traditionally been met with warnings and relatively small federal fines, as well as bans imposed by individual airlines. When an arrest is made, it is generally by state law enforcement.

Nick Calio, the CEO of Airlines for America, an aviation coalition, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland in May to urge swift action against unruly passengers, and proposed that the FAA refer the most severe cases to the Justice Department for federal criminal prosecution.

Looking for new ways to shame travelers into exhibiting better behavior, the FAA has broken with its usual protocol and began publishing details about the incidents. The FAA has previously kept this information private but, a spokesperson explained, figured the details might make people think twice before acting out on a plane.

Also, the FAA has chosen to get creative.

The agency has tweeted jocular memes, including one featuring Brad Pitt as part of a public awareness campaign.

In another campaign launched in early July, adorable kids starred in a public service announcement that lampooned poorly-behaved adults. A wise, winsome toddler cautions that grown-ups can go to jail if they keep “doing that stuff.”

“They should know better if they’re, like, adults,” another child says – quite reasonably – while swaying past the screen perched in a swing.

A woman throws a punch at a second woman, who blocks it, during a training.
An Air Tran Airlines flight attendant learns how to deal with a knife-wielding attacker in a self-defense course at the company headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.

Since January, the FAA has had in place a zero-tolerance policy, which did away with warnings and made it possible for fines – which accused passengers can contest in court – to be larger than ever.

When FAA’s chief administrator Steve Dickson announced the policy in January he cited the events of Jan. 6, when supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, but more recently incidents have been tied to the mask mandate. Passengers deciding to bring alcohol aboard flights was another common thread to the incidents.

That policy will be reviewed in September, when the mask mandate is set to expire, and there is some discussion of making it permanent.

As a result, in-flight misbehavior has become increasingly expensive. Under zero-tolerance, the FAA has handed down a whopping $682,000 in fines year-to-date against 84 passengers, many over $10,000.

The steepest fine proposed so far this year was $52,500 for a Delta Airlines passenger who, last December, tried to open the cockpit door, assaulted a flight attendant, and was subdued and cuffed with the help of passengers. The woman, who was flying from Honolulu to Seattle, then freed herself of the cuffs to assault the flight attendant a second time, and was met by law enforcement upon arrival.

Another fine of $21,500 went to a Frontier Airlines passenger who argued about the mask policy, drank alcohol not served by the airline, and argued with a nearby passenger before striking the passenger in the head.

And a woman in Indianapolis was fined $18,500 because she argued with the captain of the plane, and punched a nearby passenger in the back of the head, while the passenger was holding an infant.

Because of the enormous caseload, the task force has not yet processed fines for the incident involving the flight attendant who lost teeth.

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The WNBA is more popular than ever, but watching the games on League Pass is an absolute nightmare. ‘It sucks being a fan’

A basketball player shoots as she leaps above multiple hands trying to block her.
Guard Jazmine Jones of the New York Liberty shoots defended by guard Erica Wheeler of the Los Angeles Sparks on June 20, 2021.

  • The WNBA is more popular than ever. During any game, Twitter is overtaken by complaints about the league’s steaming platform.
  • WNBA League Pass has myriad problems that frustrate even the most ardent fans.
  • Highlights reels often favor white players, while the announcer regularly mispronounces players’ names.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The WNBA is in its 25th season and more people are watching than ever.

But fans say that WNBA League Pass – the WNBA’s streaming platform and app – is not doing the sport any favors.

Local games are blacked out so that, without a cable subscription, such that fans in New England, for example, can’t watch the Connecticut Sun. Users have to repeatedly sign in to use the platform, sometimes multiple times per game, and can’t be logged in on more than one device at a time. So, if someone logs in on their phone to check a score, it will log them out on their AppleTV app.

The volume of the highlight packages played during commercial breaks is so poorly balanced that it’s 10 times louder than the broadcast itself. And the highlights don’t automatically update, so – for first month of the season – fans were stuck watching the same few highlights. Those clips heavily featured New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu, a white player, reinforcing the league and the media’s tendency to over-promote white players at the expense of the Black players, who make up the majority of the WNBA.

During any game, Twitter is overtaken by complaints about the platform.

“Hey @WNBA your league pass audio levels are a hot mess,” a Minnesota Lynx fan account tweeted on July 3. “Every commercial break is twice as loud as the game. This has been an issue since the season started over a month ago.”

“Between the Sabrina highlights and the jersey reveal, WNBA League Pass I am tired,” another user said. “I can recite it at this point.”

“I shouldn’t need a subscription to Amazon Prime, CBS Sports, Bally Sports, and whoever else to watch all the games ‘in my region,'” a fan from Houston told Insider.

For anyone who cares about the WNBA, which has long fought against sexism to be seen as more than playing second fiddle to the men in the NBA, the problems that plague League Pass speak to a larger issue. The league is exciting, the players are fun, and the quality of play is superb; there are a lot of reasons to love this league, but you wouldn’t always know it based on the way it is promoted and supported.

This season, which runs from May to September, over 100 games will be nationally televised-the most in league history. For the first five games aired on ESPN this year, viewership was up 74% over 2020 and up 45% from 2019, while, on ABC, numbers are up 28% from last year.

A basketball player stands open-mouthed as players stand to her either side.
Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun reacts to a play against the Washington Mystics on June 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The remaining games, which are not airing on a national platform, are available on League Pass, which costs $16.99 for the season.

Just before the start of the season, League Pass relaunched a huge redesign: fans could watch up to four games at once, statistics appeared on the screen, and there was a library of games going back to 2015.

But the overhaul failed to address several key user experience issues, including volume balance.

There’s also evidence of sloppiness: The version of the app that runs on AppleTV app displays a lot of the old Cyclone font branding and even the old Seattle Storm logo – both of which have been retired by the league. “Things like that, which are as simple as an artwork asset swap before an update, feel like sloppy oversights,” said Eric Schwarz, an Indiana Fever fan from Indianapolis.

When Schwarz complained to customer support about the volume isse, the response was less than satisfying: “We ask to please bring the volume to low when the game is about to go on break.”

For a sport that is desperately trying to grow the game and garner the respect it deserves, the quality of League Pass is a glaring oversight.

“The fact that nothing gets fixed, how do you expect to keep your new fans if every time they watch League Pass they are locked out, their screen goes black, they get signed out, or they have an issue where they can’t watch the games?” WNBA writer Drew Ivery said on a recent episode of the Leading With The W podcast. “If I were a new consumer, it would be hard to keep me.”

Two basketball players wear black t-shirts that read, respectively, "Say her Name" above a picture of Breonna Taylor, and "Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor."
Alysha Clark and Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm wear t-shirts honoring Breonna Taylor prior to Game Two of their Third Round playoff against the Minnesota Lynx on Sept. 24, 2020.

On its website, Turner Sports – which owns NBA Media Ventures and League Pass, and is a division of WarnerMedia and AT&T – says it is “giving fans the best content and experiences on the best platforms in sports.”

“WNBA League Pass is an integral part of the WNBA’s multimedia landscape,” Phil Cook, WNBA Chief Marketing Officer, told Insider. “As it relates to our digital footprint, we have a longer-term road map to transform our digital offerings and to continuously improve the fan experience.”

The league declined to answer specific questions about who is responsible for managing League Pass and addressing user issues, or how large the team who works on the platform is. A source within the league acknowledged that the league is aware that “the commercial break highlight experience could be improved” and also said the WNBA is working “with the appropriate resources” to create more highlights and to fix audio issues.

The viewing experience is so bad that some fans said they’ve stopped watching games that air on League Pass – or they’ll wait until the games are available on-demand.

“I have a disorder that comes with a sensitivity to sound, so if I have a game on and I don’t get to the remote in time, I get overstimulated and overwhelmed pretty much immediately when those loud commercials come on,” said Christine Salek, a freelance sports writer. “This season especially, if I see a game is on League Pass, it’s gotten to the point that I’ll just not watch. It ruins the experience for me to have to be on alert at all times just to watch a game unscathed.”

And it’s not just that the highlight packages are too loud; they’re also incredibly repetitive.

For the first month after the season kicked off on May 14, fans were subjected to the same few clips over and over again, all from the first two weeks of the season. Fans that wanted to relive the six buzzer beaters in the first month of the season were left watching multiple clips that focused on a single player, Ionescu.

A basketball player hold the ball over her head as another player reaches out her arm to block her.
Forward Nia Coffey of the Los Angeles Sparks handles the ball defended by center Kia Vaughn of the Phoenix Mercury on June 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

This might have simply been frustrating, but Black players are routinely promoted and written about at a lower rate than their white teammates. According to an analysis published in May in the Sports Business Journal, Black WNBA players won 80% of postseason awards, including Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, and make up 80% of the league. Yet the three players most mentioned in media coverage are all white.

After the first month, League Pass did switch up the highlight packages, featuring a much larger and more diverse range of players, but the same package plays back-to-back.

The announcer who reads League Pass’ “Top 5” countdowns regularly mispronounces the players names-one recent clip bungled the names of both the Dallas Wings’ Satou Sabally and the New York Liberty’s Betnijah Laney. It’s bad enough when the mispronunciations come from broadcasters; it’s even worse when it’s happening on the league’s own streaming platform.

Despite the major user experience issues on the streaming platform, there are a lot of things fans like about the service. The flat rate of $16.99 is a huge selling point, making it accessible to more fans.

Fans and media members are doing what they can to make sure League Pass is available to the ever-growing fanbase. Subscriptions to The Next, an independent newsroom dedicated exclusively to women’s basketball, comes with a League Pass subscription.

One basketball player is seen diving over another as she holds the ball.
Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics and Candace Parker of the Chicago Sky dive for a loose ball on May 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Terrika Foster-Brasby, the espnW Around the Rim podcast host, teamed up with Alexis Robinson, the owner of One Brand Agency, on a “pay it forward” campaign to give away League Pass subscriptions to fans who couldn’t afford it. As Foster-Brasby told ESPN in May, “people find it hard to find or access the games” and “would watch more WNBA if they knew where the games were airing.” In the end, they gave away over 350 subscriptions.

Some fans mentioned they’d be willing to pay more for a better quality app, or other features like a way to stream games on AT&T U-Verse, like they can for NBA games, or on other apps or consoles like X-Box, Roku, or Firestick-which NBA League Pass is also compatible with, and would make it easier for fans to watch the games on a TV rather than a computer or tablet.

“The WNBA could definitely attract more eyes if they made it easier on us,” Travis Ostrander, an Indiana Fever fan living in North Carolina. “Furthermore, I’d be able to entice friends to watch if I just had it on the TV during game nights or cookouts.”

At this point in the league’s existence, fans are ready for more.

As Schwarz, the Indiana Fever fan, puts it: “I’m getting a little sick of the ‘well, it’s great they’re being broadcast’ attitude that some fans have. With the player name misspellings, mispronunciations, using the wrong photos, it just makes it seem like no one running the whole thing actually watches the games.”

“And, it sucks being a fan who cares and I would hope the people getting paid also care.”

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The interpreters who say they have been left for dead in Afghanistan as U.S. and U.K. troops pull out after 20-year war

A soldier walks with his arm older the shoulder of his interpreter
A U.S. soldier walks with the unit’s Afghan interpreter in Laghman province in 2014.

  • Thousands of Afghans signed on to work with U.S. forces during the 20-year war, including many who risked their lives and being branded as traitors.
  • As the U.S. withdraws the last of its troops, thousands of Afghan interpreters say they fear for their lives.
  • Some war-time interpreters say they have been blocked from seeking asylum even though they face reprisals from the Taliban.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Aazar had just turned 18 back in 2013, when he signed up to work with Western forces in Afghanistan, perhaps not fully understanding that it would place a clear target on his back.

For 11 months, Aazar – a pseudonym we are using to protect his identity – worked as an interpreter for U.K. troops in Helmand Province. But when he later sought asylum, believing he could fall prey to a vengeful Taliban that saw interpreters as traitors, Aazar learned he was ineligible because the asylum threshold required that Afghan interpreters had worked for at least one year. Aazar fell shy of that by a single month.

He managed to find refuge in New Delhi, India, but he still holds out hope of getting to the U.K. He says the asylum rule is arbitrary and unfair. “If I work one day, [the Taliban] will cut my head,” Aazar said in an interview. “If I work 10 years, they will cut my head.”

Since the start of the US-led war two decades ago, the Taliban has targeted anyone it sees as “stooges” or collaborators. People like Aazar.

Now, as the last American and Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan – President Joe Biden set a deadline of Sept. 11 – Afghanistan’s security forces will soon be on their own.

Taliban fighters have meanwhile taken almost 20 districts over the past two weeks and staged increasingly audacious attacks across the country. A spate of targeted assassinations have killed dozens of journalists, rights workers, academics, religious leaders and other prominent figures over the last year. The majority of these attacks have gone unclaimed, but the Kabul government believes the Taliban are behind most, if not all, of these killings.

Prince Harry, seen in the Afghan desert, points his arm as three men look on.
Prince Harry speaks with two men in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2008 with the help of an Afghan interpreter.

Interpreters fear that they could fall victim to such killings, and the effort to evacuate Locally Employed Staff, or LECs, who worked with foreign forces, has grown increasingly desperate.

In an unusual statement released earlier this month, the Taliban said that Afghans who had committed “treason against Islam and the country” would be left alone as long as they express remorse, and could “return to their normal lives.”

Sayed Jalal Shajjan, a Kabul-based researcher who has been studying the fate of Afghans who worked with foreign forces, says the statement will do little to reassure any of the Afghans who fear for their lives. “It’s not a clear statement. It just further problematizes everything. How exactly should someone show remorse, whom should they approach, and how would they provide adequate proof? A statement alone is not a guarantee.”

On June 4, a bipartisan group of US representatives, many of them veterans, sent a letter to President Biden, calling for the immediate evacuation of all Afghans who worked with American forces to the US territory of Guam, where their asylum applications could be processed in safety.

“If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan, it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation,” the letter concluded.

Around 10 men hold signs about the safety of Afghan interpreters in front of the U.S. embassy
Former Afghan interpreters protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Kabul on June 25, 2021.

Earlier this week, Biden said, “Those [Afghans] who helped us are not going to be left behind,” but offered few details as to how he would evacuate thousands of people in a two-and-a-half month period.

In April, the British government introduced a new policy making it much quicker, and easier, for former interpreters to claim asylum. But, again, not everyone is eligible.

Similar cracks exist in the US asylum scheme. Only Afghans who served with American forces for at least two years can apply, leaving many out in the cold.

Last month, a number of global charities, led by the International Refugee Assistance project, released a joint statement. “With the ongoing withdrawal, NATO member states must act urgently to guarantee the safety of present and past Afghan locally engaged civilians,” it read. “Time is running out.”

Time, is of course not on their side. As Shajjan, the researcher, points out, the process of vetting and physically evacuating people usually takes up to nine months.

“That amount of time is no longer feasible.”

“Was he working with the infidels?”

Afghanistan has been plagued by conflict since the communist coup d’etat of 1978. Four decades of war and violence have left a permanent imprint of millions of Afghans who, like Aazar, were born into war.

By 2001, the country, and its citizens had already seen a communist coup, Soviet occupation, a jihad, civil war and five years of Taliban rule. Then, just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a coalition of 40 nations, including the UK, Germany and Australia, invaded the country to topple the Taliban, whom they accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaeda.

A soldier, accompanied by an interpreter, speaks to a number of men, seated on the ground.
With the help of an interpreter, a U.S. soldier in 2002 speaks to locals about hidden weapons and equipment left by the Taliban.

In 2014, the vast majority of foreign forces withdrew from the country and those that remained moved from a combat role to an advisory one. Since then, more than 26,000 Afghans, and their families, have been granted asylum in the US. But at least 18,000 LECs who worked with the Americans remain in Afghanistan.

The group No One Left Behind says it over 300 interpreters and their family members have been killed because they worked with U.S. forces.

It was around that time that Aazar managed to leave the country.

While still in Helmand Province, he got worrying news from his father back home in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. A distant cousin, who was believed to be linked to the Taliban, visited the family home, claiming he had seen Aazar on the frontline. “He came to my father, and he was asking, where is your son?” Aazar recalled. “Is he alive or dead? Was he working with the infidels?”

Fearing for his life and that of his family, Aazar resigned his post with the U.K. forces and returned to Kabul, where he worked briefly as an English teacher. “I was very afraid,” he said. “I would not go directly to my home. I would change my way. I would be looking back to see if they were following me.”

Soldiers kneel with guns drawn while an elderly Afghan men speaks to a US soldier and his interpreter.
An elderly man is questioned through an interpreter by US soldiers during a morning operation in 2012.

After a close friend who had worked as an interpreter was found dead, Aazar said he fled the country.

Shajjan, the Kabul-based researcher, says people like Aazar, most of whom were young men trying to provide money for their families, are easily identifiable by the Taliban.

“It’s the nature of their work, they are the ones standing next to the foreign troops and telling them everything that’s being said. They are highly visible and extremely vulnerable,” said Shajjan.

Adding to the dangers is the fact that these translators were also present – though their faces were concealed with masks – during the highly controversial night raids into people’s homes and the interrogations conducted by foreign forces.

“All these activities on behalf of the foreign forces made them easily recognizable to people in the community and even easier to pick out and track by the Taliban,” Shajjan said.

“Falling through the cracks”

As a Muslim refugee in India, Aazar’s position has been precarious, even desperate.

Before the pandemic hit, Aazar was working 18 hours a day in a restaurant, sometimes sleeping on tables between shifts. He says he is often underpaid for his work but he has no one to complain to. To Aazar, it all seems like a pitiful reward for his frontline service.

“I’m not blaming the Indian people,” he says. “But it’s very hard… You can’t even get a home, landlords won’t rent to you, because you are a refugee… you can’t get jobs, because you are a refugee.”

An Afghan man, wearing white, speaks to a crowd of US soldiers
Village elders speak with a U.S. Marine through an interpreter in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan in 2008.

“I haven’t seen my family – my father, brother, mother, sister – in eight years,” he said.

In the meantime, he is getting support from the Sulha Alliance, a group founded by U.K. veterans of the Afghan war. Its representatives confirmed elements of Aazar’s story.

Dr. Sara de Jong, a professor of politics at the University of York and one of the group’s founding members, said too many LECs have “fallen through the cracks of the relocation policy.”

“The fact that the government failed to have an appropriate policy in place earlier cannot be a reason to exclude these guys,” she said.

But Aazar could be one of the lucky ones.

Farwan – also a pseudonym – is another LEC working with the Sulha Alliance, and he is still in Afghanistan. “I cannot go outside,” he said in an interview, “because if I go outside, I will be targeted by my tribe, targeted by the Taliban; I will be killed.” His voice is half a whisper over the phone.

Farwan was also working in Helmand, and he was dismissed from the military for fighting with a fellow translator. Because of this disciplinary breach he’s not able to claim asylum in the UK.

A helicopter flies overhead as soldiers run with their full gear in the desert.
U.S. and Afghan soldiers during an operation in Paktika province in 2012.

“I was an interpreter in a patrol base,” he says “I had a fight, one fight, with the other interpreter… then they told me my contract was terminated.”

Last month, near his home in Laghman Province, in eastern Afghanistan, the Afghan National Security Forces managed to repel an attack by the Taliban, and Farwan said he lost his property.

The threats that sparked the war in Afghanistan remain, but methods of dealing with them have changed. Increasingly, the U.S. and other countries rely on local forces to combat extremists, instead helping to train and arm them. In Iraq and Syria, for example, troops from across the world trained local forces to fight the Islamic State.

But without relocation policies in place, the plight of local staff in Afghanistan is showing that working with the international community can have dire consequences.

“These are guys who have had to put bits of people in body bags,” Dr. de Jong said. “We also need to ensure that these people can build up a meaningful life. It’s not just about staying alive. It’s about the right to a life.”

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Remembering Kid Yamaka, the telegenic star and proudly Jewish boxer

One boxer is seen aiming a swing at another boxer, who is seen blocking his face.
Zachary Wohlman punches Alonso Loeza during a Welterweights fight at Staples Center on November 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Loeza would win the fight.

  • Zachary Wohlman, a boxer known as Kid Yamaka, died in February at 32.
  • Wohlman survived a nightmarish childhood in Los Angeles to become a promising welterweight and telegenic media star.
  • The writer Alex Halperin explores Wohlman’s legacy as a celebrated Jewish athlete, and what Wohlman meant to some of those who knew him best.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Late in February, mourners gathered at Zuma Beach in Malibu to remember Zachary Wohlman, a boxer who had recently died at 32. In the billion dollar sunshine, they stood around a wreath of white orchids, the flowers Wohlman tended when he wasn’t bloodying his opponents.

Wohlman’s movie star good looks had survived a broken jaw, a textbook pugilist’s nose, and multiple other facial traumas. One eulogist, a longtime sparring partner, boasted about kicking Kid Yamaka’s ass.

Some of the bereaved wore jackets embroidered with Wohlman’s tag line, “All class.” His young widow gave out t-shirts for Kid Yamaka’s “retirement party.” Some grievers wore wetsuits. Others went shirtless. They embraced and stood close, mostly wearing masks.

Wohlman had survived a nightmarish childhood in the Valley to become a promising welterweight and telegenic media star. He had hoped to fight for a world championship.

However realistic the dream, his ongoing struggles with addiction, made it less so. “I’ll just be honest,” he said in the Emmy-nominated docu-series, “Why We Fight.” “I have a problem with opiates.” Yet for a time he was able to overcome his illness to express himself as a fighter and as a man with an enviable capacity for love and empathy. “There’s nothing more therapeutic than being of service to somebody,” Wohlman had said.

As one mourner said: “He often helped me when I should have been helping him.”

“If you make a living getting hit in the face, something went wrong,” Wohlman said in a short film directed by Matt Ogens. But keep listening and unarmed combat sounds less like a job and more like a calling, the purest distillation of the human condition. Boxers say you don’t know someone until you fight them, and maybe they’re right.

Jews have a special reverence for our tribe’s great athletes, perhaps because there are so few of them. Wohlman wasn’t observant, but he cared about his heritage. He got Bar Mitzvahed at 20 and had an attachment to Jewish stars, whether diamond encrusted or massive and tattooed across his belly – “FAITH”.

A magazine cover has an illustration of a soldier in boxing gloves under the title "The Ring"
The March 1943 cover of Ring Magazine with an illustration of boxer Barney Ross.

He was conscious of himself as heir to an endangered tradition of Jewish boxers. In the first half of the 20th century, when big bouts resonated far beyond the ring and Jews had a much more tenuous position in American life, quite a few found glory in the ring. In 1933, Max Baer wore Star of David trunks when he defeated Hitler’s favorite fighter and former heavyweight champion, Max Schmelling, at Yankee Stadium. (Baer’s victory led to an affair with Greta Garbo. Schmelling later defeated Joe Louis and then lost to him in a 1938 title fight dubbed the “battle of the century.”)

One of the most celebrated Jewish fighters was Barney Ross, a tough Chicago kid, the son of a murdered rabbi, who held world championships in three weight classes, including welterweight. Later, Ross enlisted in the Marines and earned a Silver Star for valor fighting Japanese soldiers at Guadalcanal. While recovering from his wounds, Ross became addicted to morphine. There’s a 1957 movie about him called “Monkey on My Back.”

Ogens’ film juxtaposes Wohlman wrapping his hands for the ring with wrapping tefillin. With the phylacteries, a rabbi tells him, “Your arms become instruments not of destruction but of God.” Wohlman shadow boxes across the old city of Jerusalem, a Rocky sequel that never got made.

A more memorable sequence, to my mind a more Jewish one, comes in the first episode of the docu-series “Why We Fight.” Wohlman travels to Tijuana, for an easy fight to juice his won/loss record and with that his prospects for a higher profile bout back home.

Wohlman scores a first round TKO against a tomato can named Roman Mendez. After the fight, he visits Mendez’ barrio to meet the boxer’s family and see the pig Mendez buys with his prize money. Wohlman meets another fighter, a candy hawker by day, and encourages him to train harder, and to be faithful to his wife.

Two men wearing grey suits stand side by side, as one pumps his fist
Zachary Wohlman (left) and Freddie Roach, the legendary Hall of Fame trainer, attend Smash Global II in 2016 in Los Angeles.

A later episode distills the grim economics of bloodsport even more starkly. In Cambodia, Wohlman meets a 10-year old prize-fighter and his trainer/promoter, the self-described “Don King of Cambodia,” who both cares for and profits from pre-pubescent fighters. “I want [the 10-year old] to be wealthy and whatever his version of successful is,” Wohlman said. “But I don’t think what I hope he’ll become and the reality will meet.”

Wohlman didn’t just perform concern on camera. For the last two years of his life, he directed Ring of Hope, a boxing program for at-risk kids in Dallas. He’d hoped to open a branch in L.A., hinting at a life he could have led once his dreams of glory subsided.

Instead the people who loved him gathered on the beach to say goodbye. After the tributes, the singing and the crying, two guys in wetsuits bore the wreath out to sea. As the waves enveloped it, the crowd applauded.

“High-speed miserable chess”

I first heard of Wohlmann a few years ago from my friend Vanessa Adriance, a corporate litigator who became one of his closest friends. A serious amateur jock, Adriance had been cardio boxing for a couple years at an L.A. gym when he showed up.

Wohlman introduced himself as an acolyte of Freddie Roach, a legendary Hall of Fame trainer whose gym, Wild Card Boxing, is on the second floor of a Hollywood strip mall. Wohlman began to teach real boxing, how to throw a punch, how to dodge one, not anything Adriance had to worry about when she was just getting sweaty whaling on a bag.

Adriance found Wohlman “magnetic” and, with her marriage falling apart, she was open to new experiences. She and another woman decided they wanted to box each other. Wohlman wasn’t interested in supervising them, but he offered to spar with Adriance. He wouldn’t knock her out, but he’d punch her and she could punch back.

Adriance started going to every class he taught, pestering him for months until he told her to get a mouth guard at the Sports Authority. He found some dusty headgear lying around the gym and rubbed her face with vaseline – “greased” her – to reduce the damage from his punches.

Two people wearing casual exercise clothing are seen sparring in a boxing ring.
Vanessa Adriance (left) sparring with Zachary Wohlman.

“It doesn’t feel good to get punched of course,” Adriance said of that first day of sparring but the pain didn’t overwhelm her. “What I remember is being disoriented.” It felt like she was underwater and didn’t know which way was up. For some people, Wohlman said, throwing the first punch is harder. Not for my friend. “I don’t know what that says about me,” she said. She thinks she landed a sloppy jab or two.

She also found it intellectually engaging, like “high-speed miserable chess,” litigation in the raw. As she describes it, Wohlman indulged her, like a father driving with a toddler on his lap. But she refused to let go of the wheel. After three rounds she felt overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush, “Something about hard sparring cleanses your brain,” she said “It will rinse you clean or it will break you emotionally, whatever dam is holding it together.”

As she got to know Wohlman, she learned his story. (Wohlman’s widow didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.) His mother, he has said in interviews, changed the locks on him when he was 15 and he went to live with his father. They committed crimes and did meth together, he has said, until a police raid one morning. Wohlmann flushed money and drugs down the toilet and the cops told him his father was going to prison.

When Wohlman got fired from the gym, she followed him to the hallowed and intimidating confines of Wild Card. She felt the pull of the gym’s “weird, fast intimacy.” People whose names she didn’t know would wipe up her blood or reach into her mouth to pull out her guard. It seems she’s spoken about little else since.

Wohlman won the Los Angeles Golden Gloves in 2010 and then went pro, stringing together a professional record of 10-3-2 according to the site BoxRec. No brawler, he had an old-school fighting style and cared about technique. “He was a lot tougher and meaner and angrier than his boxing style almost allowed him to be,” Javier Calderon, a longtime sparring partner said. “He was willing to take a shot to give a shot.”

Calderon, who describes himself as “a gainfully unemployed artist,” sparred with and mentored Wohlman for about 12 years. “I beat his ass until he got better.” Wohlman lacked a “concussive” punch but he was accurate. Calderon thinks Wohlman may have been responsible for tearing his retina, an injury that needed surgery. “His jab was working beautifully and digging into my eyeballs”

A man is seen listing his shirt to reveal his chest tattoos
The boxer Kid Yamaka attends SKEE Live at The Conga Room at L.A. Live on November 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

“One of his love languages was sparring,” said Eli Cobillas, who knew Wohlman in Dallas. He had a “slick, crafty” style and liked to put on soul or jazz before he started punching.

Eric Brown, a celebrated trainer who named Wohlman Kid Yamaka, said Wohlman liked to humiliate his opponents by standing right in front of them while somehow remaining untouchable.

Calderon is a tee-totaller who says he was never around Wohlman when he was high. Rather he emphasized Wohlman’s drive to improve himself. “I knew that even when things were going good, it’s a balancing act, a tightrope walk,” Calderon said. “There were times when he faltered and faltered hard.”

In December Wohlman came back to California and went to a rehab facility in the desert east of LA. It was the first time he was really sober since he was 19, he told Adriance, our mutual friend. In rehab he learned to play chess, which reminded him of slow-motion boxing.

On January 29 he posted a picture of a 60-days sober key chain on Instagram.

Adriance last spoke to Wohlman two weeks later, on the Friday before Valentine’s Day. He said he was coming out of a meeting with someone he’d met in rehab.

He died the next day. His body turned up at a gas station bathroom.

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Photos show the ‘bathtub ring’ along a parched Los Angeles reservoir, as California’s drought grows more dire

An aerial view of reservoir tucked in between a mountainous landscape under a bright sky.
Aerial view of the reservoir nestled in the San Gabriel Mountain Range.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 California counties, representing 30% of the state’s population.
  • Reservoirs across the state are running dry.
  • Photographer Ted Soqui captured the dramatic “bathtub ring” at the San Gabriel Reservoir, just outside Los Angeles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The three-mile-long San Gabriel Reservoir, nestled in the mountains above Los Angeles, is running dry.

California saw significantly less rain and snow this year, and drought conditions this summer have left much of the state increasingly parched.

Across California, many reservoirs and lakes are experiencing a “bathtub ring” phenomena: Declining water levels expose white rings around the edges of these bodies of water – the result of calcium carbonate and other minerals attached to the rock. The more rings that are visible, the lower the water level.

Photographs of the San Gabriel Reservoir offer a hint at how severe the drought could get in Southern California.

Rings are seen along rocks above a reservoir, showing where the water line once was.
Aerial view of the “bathtub ring” phenomena around the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A close-up of the rings that form along the rocks, showing where the water line once was.
Detail of the newly exposed “bathtub ring” phenomena on the side of the San Gabriel Reservoir as it dries out.

In May, California Governor Gavin Newsom expanded the state’s emergency drought declaration to cover 41 counties, representing 30 percent of the state’s population. The governor’s office attributed the situation to especially hot temperatures brought on by climate change, as well as extremely dry mountaintop soil that absorbs water that would otherwise flow into the state’s water collection systems.

“Extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May separate this critically dry year from all others on California record,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The giant reservoirs in Northern California – Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville, and Shasta – are also seeing low water levels after less snow and rain runoff came down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A bald eagle is seen resting on a leaf-less tree amid a parched landscape.
A Bald Eagle rests near the reservoir.

An aerial view shows the bottom of the reservoir.
The bottom of the reservoir becomes exposed as it dries out.

Most of Los Angeles’ water is pumped over the Tejon pass from northern California. The water from the San Gabriel reservoir, which holds more than 54 million cubic meters of water when full, mostly serves the San Gabriel Valley.

Significant rain and snow fall is not expected until November.

An aerial view of the reservoir shows a swirl of patterns.
Rorschach-like patterns now appear on the newly exposed bottom of the San Gabriel Reservoir.

A wide aerial view of the reservoir dam area.
Wide view of the southern area of the reservoir’s dam area. The reservoir is now almost empty with a sliver if water running through it.

The barren, dry landscape is seen around the reservoir.
The terrain around the San Gabriel Reservoir is now fully exposed.

Ted Soqui is a photojournalist based in L.A. See more of his work here.

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I needed more than my second Moderna shot to be ready for this OnlyFans orgy

A woman dressed in black is seen surrounded by scantily clad women dressed in pink négligée.
Alina Ratuska surrounded by performers dressed in their kinky bunny looks.

  • The Kinky Rabbit Club has emerged as one of L.A’s most exclusive sex parties as Hot Vax Summer roars to a start.
  • The club’s founder partners with sex workers who post exclusive content from the party on their OnlyFans accounts.
  • Journalist Heather Hauswirth donned a green and gold speckled catsuit to see what it was like.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A crowd of 30- and 40-somethings, mostly semi-nude women, hungrily prowled about the six-million dollar Hollywood Hills mansion dressed in “disco kink.” The theme, Studio 69, was an homage to the legendary 70s playground Studio 54.

I had just watched a buff, brown-haired alpha guy in gold short-shorts and white varsity socks – he told me later he was a researcher at a local university – being pleasured by a man in a shiny speedo and a woman sporting matching metallic star pasties, all in front of a pink Kinky Rabbit statue, the club’s logo. A fluffle of onlookers applauded.

“A mouth is a mouth,” the man told me a few minutes later, stroking my hair behind my ear while we chatted on a damp sofa.

That was pretty much the ethos at the Kinky Rabbit Club, one of L.A’s most exclusive sex parties, emerging from the ashes after a year in Covid lockdown.

A dozen feet from me, another live performance was getting started: a blonde and brunette in tassels and beaded lingerie were scissoring in a glittery bathtub, drenching each other in Champagne. When the bottle popped, it squirted me right in the eye – which was not wide shut. Meanwhile, hand-made pink nipple clamps circulated as party favors.

Two women kneel over a golden bath tub in glittery beaded lingerie.
Only Fans star Kenzie Ann (right) and another performer who calls herself Ashley.

“It’s the golden age for sex workers,” Miss Kenzie Anne, the blonde in the bathtub, had told me while getting her hair and makeup done hours before the debauchery began. Well known in the adult film and in the OnlyFans world, where strippers, adult film stars, and cam girls post their X-rated content behind a subscription-based paywall, Kenzie Anne was the star attraction that night. This was her first live performance outside of her own bedroom, she told me.

Founded by sex club impresario Alina Ratuska, Kinky Rabbit brands itself as a “female-empowered” sex club. Most of the performers were not paid directly but are compensated with something they say is even more valuable – the free use of content created during the party that they would later post and monetize on their OnlyFans accounts.

The platform exploded in popularity during the pandemic, especially after Instagram banned sexual content. Parties like this offer fresh content to help keep their subscribers engaged, they say.

Ratuska said she preferred to work with performers who have OnlyFans accounts because it allows her to cut out the middle men who manage sex workers. “Whatever people want to do, I talk to the girls and make it their thing,” she said. “I make sure the girls feel comfortable and super hot and super empowered.”

A women dressed in a low-cut bodysuit stands in front of a rabbit sculpture.
Alina Ratuska, founder of the Kinky Rabbit Sex Club awaits a night of erotic debauchery.

I came here with a hard-headed plan to do a story about sex workers emerging from the pandemic. After a year of isolation, I – straight and single – was vaxxed, waxed and ready for whatever the hell “hot vax summer” was going to be. But I had no idea what I was in for.

For the occasion, Ratuska had loaned me a green and gold speckled catsuit with a black leather waistband and plunging V-neck that she designed herself. It fit like a latex glove–latex being a popular fashion choice with this crowd. I could barely breathe.

Party-goers drifted to the open bar where they could order drinks like a Kinky Mule or the Fifty Shades of Greyhound.

“I’ll have two shots of anything,” said my new friend, the researcher in gold disco shorts, as he wiped his sweaty brow and flirted with the shirtless bartender. Around us, a few people critiqued his performance. “I’m not sure he got it up the first time,” suggested a woman standing next to me in black bell bottoms, a lace bralette and purple wig. “But they did a good job covering him.”

It was all what you might imagine a wild sex party looks like: attractive people, predominantly women, in outlandish costumes, wontonly frolicking around to a fun and flirty theme. This being 2021, there was an “honors system” that everyone present was fully vaccinated against Covid. No cell phones were allowed. Everyone could be refreshingly straightforward about what they were there for: a night of hot in-person sexual thrills. “I’m over online. This is so much better than a sex party on Zoom…trust me, we’ve tried,” said a woman, wearing shiny disco flairs and a Jimmy Hendrix jacket.

VV
Only Fans star, Vanna Bardot, wore an outfit designed by Ratuska.

After a string of erotic performances set the mood, a cluster of glittery, glistening bodies climbed a stairway.

On the next floor, in the largest of three bedrooms, a black St. Andrews Cross (a 7-foot wooden “X” graced with binding straps) was center-stage. Beyond it, a sliding door led to a balcony overlooking a pool. Below, people were smoking what I could only guess were postcoital cigarettes.

There wasn’t the usual party small talk that warms people up to strangers. It was all very direct; not a lot of foreplay.

“As a bi woman, I find it hard to meet girls who like other girls,” a busty brunette with bright blue eyes in a silver dress told me. “But this party is a place where everything is on the [table]. Where else can you get f**ked by your boyfriend and then have a girl eat you out while you are tied to a St. Andrews Cross? Now I get to have my cake and eat it too, and don’t need to worry about offending anyone–because we all know what we’re here for. Sex.”

A buxom woman, shrink-wrapped in a black minidress with orange lingerie glowing from underneath, looked fetchingly at me as she held a cat o’ nine tails. I walked over to her, and she led me to the Cross. My new friend then made me an offer. Maybe it was the Champagne residue in my eye, or the orgy churning away on the bed behind me, but I acquiesced to her invitation: to flog me on the cross.

A woman is seen wearing a low-cut sparkly catsuit and heels.
The author, Heather Hauswirth

“Let’s tie your wrists,” she said. “Sorry, I haven’t done this in a while,” I quipped. I turned my head to watch her strap my wrists and ankles to the cross, turning my body into a giant “X marks the spot.”

She started to flog me, and she was merciless. I had always thought of myself as a wannabe pain slut, but the leather straps were smacking my thighs instead of my ass. I kept offering my buns, but she never hit the mark. Another woman beelined in my direction, and we locked eyes. She touched my hair, then went in for a kiss. I turned away. It was sensory overload.

I get how such extreme sensations unhinge the mind from pedestrian concerns, not to mention the pent up stresses of a tough year. I was hoping for a cathartic release, but found myself more self-conscious than anything else. And all this, in front of an audience of expectant voyeurs.

As I climbed down from the cross, I resigned myself to the possibility that I wasn’t the sexual Olympian I had imagined I was. I had limits; a comfort zone smaller than most of the revelers around me. And yet, as I left the Kinky Rabbit Club in the early hours of the next morning, I found myself noting that the next party – a Bacchanalia, in the “kingdom of kink” – was only a month away.

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One man’s 21-year protest to take down a Confederate monument – and force his Texas town to face its racist legacy

A man displays an image of himself protesting at the foot of a Confederate monument.
Willie Hudspeth in the spot where the monument once stood, with a picture from from one of his many protests.

  • Willie Hudspeth protested the Confederate monument in his Texas town, almost every Sunday, for 21 years.
  • In June 2020 – one month after the killing of George Floyd – the monument finally came down.
  • Hudspeth’s vigils inspired a reckoning about Denton’s past, including the forced relocation of the once-thriving Black community known as Quakertown.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Historic Square in Denton, Texas, is a sprawling lawn dotted with old oak trees. On weekends, it’s a destination for families and students from Denton’s two major universities. The historic County Courthouse is in the center, surrounded by a commercial strip with a few hip coffee shops, a pizza joint where indie bands play late into the night, an old-fashioned ice cream shop, and a bookstore.

For over a century – until last June 25 – there was also a Confederate monument: A 20-foot statue of a uniformed soldier over the words, “Our Confederate Soldiers.” And for the last two decades, nearly every week on Sunday afternoon, from 4 to 7pm, a Black resident of Denton named Willie Hudspeth would set up a lawn chair, some signs, and sit in protest.

The standoff finally came to an end one year ago, exactly one month after the killing of George Floyd, when under the cover of dark, county officials quietly dismantled the monument.

Hudspeth – a retired middle school teacher, Vietnam veteran, and leader of the local NAACP – was already 54 years-old when he started his protests; by the time he watched it come down, he was 75 and bent with age. On the infamous night, Hudspeth was there, hauled out of bed at 4 in the morning by allies who heard the commotion. Cell phone video caught Hudspeth’s shocked reaction, as buzzsaws could be heard cutting through concrete. “Thank god it actually happened,” he said in an interview the next day. But the secrecy around the removal was bittersweet. “For 21-years, I have been going down there, talking about removing the statue, and it’s just like these commissioners to do what they did.”

Today, there’s no trace of the monument on the Square. Denton has changed in other ways, too.

Hudspeth’s weekly protests were a catalyst for an investigation into Denton’s past – the legacy of Klavern No. 136, Denton’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan; the razing of the Black middle class district known as Quakertown; the dates that Black men were lynched in Denton County. At the end of 2020, Denton even elected its first Black mayor – a Republican who is also Hudspeth’s son.

“He read them for filth”

For Hudspeth, the whole thing started in 1999 with a seemingly innocuous proposal to turn on a pair of water fountains that were affixed to each leg of the monument’s arch. The consensus among county leaders, all of whom were white, was that the fountains had never been operable – that pipes would have to be put down for the fountains to work.

Denton’s Black residents remembered it differently; the fountains had definitely worked, and they were “white only.”

The fountains presented a mystery, and solving it required knowing the statue’s origin story. Around the turn of the 20th century when the South was emerging from Reconstruction to enter a new world order where Black people were now free, a few groups formed to remind everybody of how things used to be, and in their view, were supposed to be. One was the KKK, whose members sang in white churches on Sunday mornings and terrorized Black neighborhoods at night. White women who wanted to do their part could join the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

And do their part they did-all across the South, as Jim Crow ramped up in the late 1800s and “The Birth of a Nation” hit theatres in 1915, the UDC and other similar groups fundraised to erect over 700 Confederate monuments in places of public prominence. A large majority were erected between 1900 and 1920, and tended to have a cookie-cutter look, reflecting the swift establishment under the perception of lost ground from the white South. Many of the statues feature a sculpted concrete image of a soldier atop arches or mounts emblazoned with “Our Confederate Soldiers” and a plaque honoring the sons conscripted into the War of Northern Aggression. The Denton Confederate monument went up toward the end of this era, in 1918, but with one distinction-the fountains on either side of the arch.

As the debate in 1999 turned increasingly contentious, a local historian dug up old newspaper clippings that showed the fountains in use. (Years later, in 2018, the county commissioned a ground test and confirmed that the fountains had indeed been operable.) But increasingly, it was a conversation that few wanted to have, and shutting it down meant tabling the water fountain discussion altogether. “Because,” Hudspeth says of the town, “it would show they were racist.” As Hudspeth saw it, Denton needed to deal with its past and, for that to happen, the fountains had to be turned on. “Turn them on,” became his battle cry. even before the fate of the monument was on the table. “Turn them on and let everyone drink.”

County leaders held firm. “I know for a fact that the memorial has never had an operable fountain,” Mary Horn, the chair of the Denton County Commissioner’s Court, which oversaw the monument, and who would spar with Hudspeth over the monument until her retirement in 2018, said at the time. “There is NO water line from the building to the memorial and never has been.”

The words "Willie Hudspeth Demolition and Trash Haul Off" are painted on the side of a green truck.
Willie Hudspeth is seen driving his truck through Denton.

Hudspeth started attending nearly every Commissioner’s Court meeting to talk about the monument. He showed up at City Council meetings. Katina Stone-Butler, a local artist, remembers stumbling upon Hudspeth on the local access TV channel in the nineties. “Just giving everybody the business,” she laughs. “He read them for filth.”

The Commissioner’s Court referred Hudspeth to the Denton County Historical Commission, which then referred him to the Texas Historical Commission, which then referred him back to the Commissioner’s Court. “They had me going in circles,” Hudspeth says. “Rabbit chases to wear me down.”

Finally, Hudspeth had had enough. If county leaders weren’t willing to engage with him, he would take the conversation to the Square. “[That] Willie was angry,” Hudspeth says, looking back. “He was angry at everybody and everything. My name was chaos. I wanted to create chaos wherever I could-and I mean everywhere.”

He was working then as a junk hauler but he had Sundays off. And so, on one Sunday in 1999, he held his first protest at the foot of the Confederate monument.

Quakertown

To the Black community in Denton, the city’s selective memory was nothing new. The forced relocation of Quakertown proved it.

In the decades after the Civil War. Quakertown was a thriving Black merchant district near the center of town. Denton was Denton-but Quakertown was theirs. There were Black doctors and lawyers and Black-owned shops.

But then, white Denton decided that Quakertown was in the way. The College of Industrial Arts, a school for white women, had been built on the edge of Quakertown, just beyond the Square. The town claimed the students needed more space for the ladies to walk safely from school. Plans had also been drawn up for a new Denton Civic Park – exactly where Quakertown then stood. As a historical marker set down in the park in 2013 puts it, “the civic-minded interests of Denton’s white residents threatened the future of Quakertown.”

A historical marker at Denton Civic Park explains that the park was formerly the site of Quakertown.
A historical marker at Denton Civic Park, the former site of Quakertown.

In 1921, three years after the Confederate monument went up in Denton, the town voted to relocate the whole of Quakertown to Solomon Hill, a swampy cow pasture on the other side of the railroad tracks in southeast Denton, thus giving the white ladies their walking path to school. More than 60 families lost their homes and many residents left Denton altogether. It was the same year as the Tulsa Race Massacre, 270 miles north, when the city’s “Black Wall Street” was burned and 300 people were killed.

What happened to Quakertown sealed in a wound that has not healed to this day. Some of the old Quakertown homes still sit on cinder blocks from the hasty relocation. There was never an apology from Denton’s white leadership, much less compensation offered to those who had lost their community and livelihoods.

“I think it broke their spirit, really,” says Linnie M. McAdams, who is 83 and served as Denton’s first Black councilwoman. In the 1980s, she pushed to revitalize southeast Denton, where the grandchildren of the original Quakertown residents still live to this day, but she says that getting people involved in local politics was like pulling teeth.

Once McAdams, who had come to Denton as an adult, learned the history of Quakertown, things started making sense. “I didn’t understand the devastation of that move,” she says. “And what it did to those people to be moved out of their homes over to a god forsaken area with no city services. And the city was in no hurry to do anything about it.”

Katina Stone-Butler, an artist who also moved to Denton as an adult, described a similar experience. “Black people don’t really go on the Square,” Stone-Butler says. “There’s a spiritual barrier there because of the racist history of this county.”

A home sits atop cinderblocks. A placard in front says it is an original Quakertown home that will be moved to a museum.
An original Quakertown house that was moved in the forced relocation and will now be part of a museum display in Denton.

With two major universities in town, a world-class School of Jazz, and progressive leadership on the city council, Denton enjoys a reputation as a blue dot amid the conservative Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

But to Stone-Butler, who is Black and co-hosts the podcast, Black History for White People, it’s the same old racism, just in a hipster outfit. “Coffee house, skinny jean racism,” she says.

A long, solitary protest

That first Sunday of Hudspeth’s protest, he set up a sign that read “God loves us all” – with a smiley face for the “o” in God – and sat down in a lawn chair at the base of the monument. And for years after that, rain or shine, he stuck with it. Often, he would strike up conversations with people about the history of the statue.

As the years passed, Hudspeth’s goals shifted – a fact that his detractors would seize on. At first, he wanted the fountains turned on, along with a plaque that would explain their history of Jim Crow segregation. Later, he said the monument should be moved to a museum.

Train tracks, with a colorful mural to the side.
Train tracks divide southeast Denton from the rest of the city.

If there was going to be a Confederate monument on public property, Hudspeth figured he would be its living presence, there to offer context and perspective. If the monument paid tribute to Confederate soldiers, as Horn and its defenders claimed, Hudspeth’s protests inspired a deep look at the past.

At times, students rallied behind him, though their efforts tended to come and go with the graduation cycles. In 2008, after students circulated a petition calling for the monument’s removal, the Denton County Historical Commission announced a plan for a Quakertown House Museum dedicated to Denton’s Black history.

In walking tours, blog posts and podcasts, the excavation of Denton’s racist past had started. Students found old newspaper clippings that revealed a KKK parade through Denton in 1921, more Klan activity alongside the raising of Quakertown, and Klan ties to city leadership. When Hudspeth discovered unmarked graves at the overgrown and unkempt St. John’s Cemetery, a plaque was ordered and work began to identify the dead and piece together their stories. Denton County lynchings were catalogued.

“Willie is a heat-seeking missile man of action,” says Shaun Treat, a local activist and historian. “He doesn’t quit.”

As Hudspeth continued his protest, the tension in Denton rose.

In 2015, after the words “This is Racist” were spray-painted on top of the monument, a white man confronted Hudspeth on the Square with a loaded AK-47, shouting “Counterprotest!”

A man holds a sign that says "Move the Statue" as he stands in front of a courthouse.
Willie Hudspeth holds one of his old signs at the site where the Confederate monument once stood.

The area had been thick with families and onlookers. When police arrived, the man forfeited his ammunition but was allowed to leave the scene with his rifle. He claimed that he was there “to make a point” and was never charged. Security in the Square ramped up after that.

Pressure was also building from outside.

The 2017 “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville brought things to a head. “That was a big one,” Hudspeth says. “We [Black Lives Matter] joined together, and chaos was on again.”

In 2019, Texas finally agreed to remove from its statehouse a plaque stating that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” Texas still observes Confederate History Month every April and, according to the Texas Observer, while the state had removed more Confederate symbols than any other, as of 2019, 68 remained.

Denton announced a new Confederate Memorial Advisory Committee, which included Hudspeth in its 15 members. When the committee voted 12-3 to keep the monument in place, but add a plaque decrying slavery and video kiosks dedicated to Black history in Denton, Hudspeth was one of the dissenting votes.

However, it was only a recommendation and the Commissioner’s Court, now led by Judge Andy Eads, needed to approve it. Eads ordered ground-penetrating tests that finally confirmed the fountains had been linked to pipes.

But then came COVID. And then, the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Confederate statues were coming down across the south. In Denton, police shot and killed Darius Tarver, a young Black man in mental crisis. There were also renewed questions about the mysterious death of Lermont Stowers Jones two years earlier on Denton’s Old Alton Bridge, a rumored site of past lynchings.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just Willie Hudspeth protesting at the Confederate monument.

On June 9, 2020, the Commissioner’s Court approved an emergency request to the Texas Historical Commission to relocate the monument to protect it from “desecration.” When Denton woke up on the morning of June 25, the Confederate soldier was gone.

A man stands in front of a shed surrounded by signs like "Move the Statue"
Willie Hudspeth keeps the signs from his years of protesting in a shed at his home.

Hudspeth spends his Sundays at home with his wife of 52 years, who is happy to see him simmer down for once. But he still attends county meetings, as he says, to keep its leaders in check. And he shares his views with his son, Gerard Hudspeth, who was elected as Denton’s first Black Mayor in December 2020 and has largely stayed out of Denton’s debates about race.

“My dad and I still argue politics and sometimes it gets hot,” Mayor Hudspeth says. “I am what I am because of his modeling on how to serve and be active in your community.”

“He surprises me,” Hudspeth says of his son. “We still fight. But we laugh, too.”

Hudspeth chuckles and shakes his head. “He’s doing a good job.”

What comes next is up to the Texas Historical Commission, which in April approved plans to move the monument to Denton’s Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum. McAdams, the retired councilwoman, is pushing for a memorial honoring victims of lynchings in Denton County to be installed there, too.

“That statue is a tribute to the people who have mistreated me all my life,” she says. “It gives comfort and a sense of right to those people who are bigoted and filled with hate… a symbol of the good ol’ days when they had control and you didn’t have all these n*****s walking around everywhere. That’s what it says to them.”

As Stone-Butler, the Denton artist, sees it: “It’s not enough to move a monument that has been the physical gatekeeper of racism and systemic oppression. It needs to crumble to the ground.”

“If Denton wants to put up a monument,” Stone-Butler says. “They can put up a monument of Willie Hudspeth.”

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How one family survived a volcano, hundreds of earthquakes, and a missing 6-year-old over 14 hellish days in eastern Congo

ALHUGUET_024
An aerial photograph, taken on June 4, 2021, shows Mt Nyiragongo and the lava that flowed into the northern districts of Goma during the May 22 eruption.

  • Mt. Nyiragongo erupted on May 22, triggering earthquakes and a chaotic evacuation of Goma – a city of 2 million in eastern Congo.
  • Amid the exodus, hundreds of children were separated from their families, including 6-year-old Elie.
  • This is the story of how one family made it through a hellish series of natural disasters in one of the most vulnerable places on earth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Mount Nyiragongo erupted in eastern Congo on May 22, there was no warning.

On that first night, as the lava flowed towards the city of Goma, it covered 13 villages and wiped out 3,629 homes, before coming to a halt half a mile from the city’s airport and less than two miles from one of its central markets. At least 37 people have been reported dead.

Nyiragongo is one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes – it last erupted 19 years ago – and its presence 10 miles from Goma casts a perennial shadow over the city. And yet, even since the 2002 eruption, which buried large patches of Goma in volcanic rock, the city’s population has swelled, largely as a consequence of the violent conflicts in the surrounding area, pushing hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in Goma.

Goma, the largest city in the region, has over the last two decades become a hub for the United Nations and countless humanitarian agencies and the economic opportunities that have come with the international presence. The city’s geographic proximity to the region’s mining riches, and its location just over the border from Rwanda, made it even more attractive to the entrepreneurial. In the calm years, Nyiragongo has come to be something of a tourist draw: travelers who come to Goma on their way to see mountain gorillas in the nearby Virunga National Park sometimes include a hike up Nyiragongo as part of their itinerary.

displaced kids Sake
People find shelter in a church in Sake, forced to evacuate their homes after Nyiragongo’s eruption. Half of those who have fled are children, according to UNICEF.

Now, two weeks after the initial eruption, the immediate danger from Mount Nyiragongo seems to have passed, and Goma’s residents are now faced with putting their lives back together.

For one of Goma’s residents, 40-year-old Moise Lukusha, it has been two weeks of misery and uncertainty.

On the first night, Elie, his 6-year-old son, went missing.

A frantic exodus

Lukusha was downtown when he learned of the eruption; as panic overtook Goma’s residents, he rushed home.

Two of his children -Elie, 6, and Gedeon, 9 – had been watching television in the living room when the eruption began, and everyone started to run. They went outside and got swept away in the crowds.

By the time Lukusha reached their home, Elie and Gedeon were gone.

Lukusha thought they might have gone to Sake, 15 miles away. Goma sits between Lake Kivu and Congo’s eastern border with Rwanda and, for those fleeing on foot, Sake was one of the only places to go. And so, Lukusha joined the thousands of people making their way to Sake.

But neither boy was there.

Gedeon had ended up aboard a truck taking people, free of charge, to another city, Masisi, about 50 miles northwest. There, a kind-hearted stranger took him in for three days, until she could arrange to have him ride in a car back to Goma. Back in the city, Gedeon knew his way back home.

But Elie did not turn up – not at their home in Goma, not in Sake, not in any of the reunification centers that had been set up for unaccompanied children.

“I lost my son and I’m still looking for him,” Lukusha texted, days later.

“The conditions were inhumane”

When the lava flow stopped early the next morning, people, fearing that their homes might be looted, began returning to Goma. All the while, earthquakes regularly shook the city. By the morning of May 25, the Goma Volcano Observatory had recorded 269 earthquakes since the eruption.

Leaving Goma
Goma residents are seen fleeing on May 28, 2021 after an evacuation order from provincial authorities.

The highest magnitude reached 5.2 on the Richter scale, bringing down several buildings and homes.

Large cracks appeared in the ground, some snaking across main roads in central Goma. The tremors also damaged water distribution systems that had already been compromised by the lava flow, leaving 550,000 people without access to potable water. The local head of the French aid group Doctors Without Borders warned that residents were at a high risk of cholera.

Worse still, there were warnings of the potential for a second volcanic eruption and the explosion of deadly methane and carbon dioxide gases from Lake Kivu, which could kill hundreds of thousands within minutes.

On Thursday, May 27 – five days after the eruption – the local governor of North Kivu province ordered the mandatory evacuation of 10 of Goma’s 15 neighborhoods.

The announcement sparked an even bigger exodus than the first one.

Over the next 24 hours, over 400,000 people – nearly a quarter of Goma’s population – left the city on foot, on motos, on boats, or in cars, using the few available roads. Again, most headed towards Sake, causing a complete traffic blockage on the westbound road. Once the lava was cleared from the northbound road, others headed towards Rutshuru territory. A third flow of people went across the border to the east, into Rwanda. Yet a fourth run of people piled into boats and traversed 130 km to the southern tip of Lake Kivu, to seek refuge in Bukavu, the capital of neighboring South Kivu province.

The largest portion of the exodus, in the direction of Sake, included 100 armored vehicles and military trucks transporting hundreds of UN peacekeepers that had also been ordered to evacuate their bases. A separate convoy of 53 UN trucks carrying 250 staff and 1200 of their dependents would continue past Sake, and head south to Bukabu over land. With favorable weather and a Landcruiser, the 100 km journey along dirt roads could be traversed in 7 hours. With the evacuation traffic blockade, however, it took the UN convoy 40 hours to complete.

Aid distrobution Sake
Waiting at an aid distribution site in Sake.

In Sake alone, a town with a population of 70,000, over 180,000 people arrived that Friday, including Moise, his wife and six of his children. From Kinshasa – the country’s capital, situated on the opposite end of the country’s vast geographical stretch across the African continent, and accessible only by plane – the government’s spokesman said that people fleeing to Sake should not expect more than “a minimum comfort.”

“Those that will go to Sake will not find the comfort they had in their homes because they are going to a zone that isn’t specially arranged to receive them,” Patrick Muyaya Katembwe, the spokesman, said at a press conference.

Sure enough, Lukusha and his family found no aid distributions when they arrived. The family slept outside, and food and basic goods were difficult to find or afford.

Marcelin, Moise’s 24-year-old step-son, said corn that would normally cost between 100 and 300 francs, was selling for 1000 francs in Sake. In a report detailing the situation, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs attributed the price increases to the near halt in economic activities in Goma and the massive spike in demand.

For most Congolese, 73 percent of whom live under the international poverty line of $1.90 per day, the costs in Sake were crippling. “Even to go to the toilet, we had to pay,” Lukusha would later say. The fee – 1500 Congolese francs, the equivalent of nearly 1 US dollar – was exorbitant.

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Moise Lukusha and his 3-year old son Eli near to their home in Goma.

“The way we lived in Sake, it was a nightmare,” Lukusha said. “The conditions were inhumane.”

Meanwhile, Lukusha was still searching for six-year-old Elie, going back and forth between Goma, Sake, and the other towns where people were seeking refuge. After days of this, he recalls sitting with his family on a soccer field in Sake amid crowds of evacuees, feeling certain that he would not see his boy again.

“The little means I had, I finished it all off searching for little Elie, to go to Minova, Masisi, Bweremana, everywhere. I lost everything I had,” he said.

False alarms and a city on edge

According to the International Organization for Migration, by Tuesday, June 1, about 160,000 of the 400,000 people displaced since the eruption of the volcano had already returned to their homes. They cited reasons that included unacceptable conditions in the refuge sites, a decrease in the magnitude and frequency of earthquakes, and fears that their abandoned homes would be looted.

Families scattered in the chaos of the evacuations were also gradually reunited. Of the 1,340 children reported missing, all but 332 are back with their families,, according to UNICEF and its partners.

All the while, the government continued issuing statements warning people to stay out of the “red zones,” saying that earthquakes were still happening daily even if not all of them were felt. On June 1st, for example, the Goma Volcano Observatory recorded 71 tremors, the majority of which were not felt by the population. Moreover, surface deformations indicated potential movement of magma under the city of Goma itself, and possibly Lake Kivu.

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From left to right, Gédéon, 9, Eli, 6, and two siblings at home on June 3rd, 2021. When the volcano erupted on May 22nd, the children fled. Eli went missing for 8 days.

Further confusing the general population, the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority’s Lake Kivu monitoring team on Monday May 31, concluded that there is no imminent risk of gas explosions from Lake Kivu. But the local observatory was saying that lethal explosions were still a possibility.

There were also false alarms, further unnerving the battered population. There were also false alarms, further unnerving the battered population. Muyaya, the spokesman from the national government in Kinshasa, tweeted – and then deleted – that there had been an eruption “of weak intensity” at Mount Nyamulagira, another nearby volcano. Aerial surveillance soon confirmed that there had not, in fact, been an eruption. It was only smoke rising from charcoal production, a very common sight in the region.

Despite the ongoing evacuation order, Lukusha and his family were among those who had returned to Goma. That Sunday evening – eight days after the eruption – Lukusha was sitting in his living room when he looked up to see Elie at his doorstep, holding the hand of a stranger.

He pulled the boy into his arms. And, soon enough, Lukusha finally learned what had happened to his son over their long week of separation.

“Stay vigilant, stay vigilant”

In the chaos that broke out on the evening of the volcanic eruption, Elie had followed the crowd heading west, towards Sake. Near Mugunga, one of the neighborhoods in the outskirts of Goma, he followed people into the hills, where he fell asleep for the night.

The next morning, he continued through the wealthy neighborhood of Himbi, passing near the home that once belonged to Congo’s infamous dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. “The little one was truly tired, his feet swollen,” Lukusha would say, recounting the story as he’d been able to piece it together. “He slept by the entrance to a gated property.”

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An aerial photo taken on June 4, 2021, shows path cleared through the lava stream that stopped 700 meters short of the Goma airport runway, and the central districts just beyond. Lake Kivu, posing threats of deadly gas explosions, is visible in the distance.

That’s where the owner of the home found him. The man assumed that Elie was a street kld and, taking pity on him, brought him some avocados, bread and a bottle of water.

The story then took a bizarre turn, according to what the man told Lukusha: the man decided he would adopt Elie.

The idea, though, quickly fell apart. At church that Sunday, the man said his pastor advised him that Elie’s parents were likely feeling frantic as they searched for their missing son.

“This, while we were searching for the child, going up to the center of Masisi, Minova, Bweremana, everywhere,” Lukusha said, incredulous.

Insider was unable to confirm the details of the story, and the pastor could not immediately be reached. Lukusha said it appeared that Elie – reunited with his siblings as they played in their home in Goma – was doing well.

For most of the city, this is still a time of limbo. It’s not clear what the recovery will look like, or how long it will take to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

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Children walk through a solidified lava in Goma after the May 22 eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano.

There is also suspicion that the central government, 1000 miles away in Kinshasa, might be dragging out the relief effort in this long-neglected part of the country to maximize the political currency that comes with delivering help. On Saturday, June 6, just hours after Goma’s international airport was reopened, the country’s prime minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde touched ground with much fanfare, making a rare visit to the unstable but mineral-rich eastern part of the country.

As for Goma, it’s not yet clear if the city is truly safe yet.

“They say the city of Goma is still in danger. We don’t know if it’s true,” said Marcelin, Lukusha’s step-son. “Really we have no idea what is happening in our city because they send us [text] messages ‘stay vigilant, stay vigilant’ but I don’t even know if that means there was a second volcanic eruption.”

“Really,” he said, “I have no idea.”

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