Personal, unedited account of a dangerous mission to rescue 55 children from human traffickers

The article below is the personal, unedited account from Mark Mabry of his experience with Operation Underground Railroad and their mission in Colombia. Mark is a former employee of Mercury Radio Arts and TheBlaze, and he has volunteered time to work with OUR. 

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By Mark Mabry

To keep the deal alive, Raul ratcheted up the intensity of his texts:

I have a special gift for you Jefe. I call her “Lady”.

 She is ‘fresca’.

She is a virgin, just for you.

She is eleven.

 Pablo responded in kind:

 I cannot wait.

This could be a beautiful arrangement. 

Raul writes back:

I will not fail you boss.

I believe God has put us on this path together.

 Pablo agrees:

So do I. 

Big child trafficking deals are actual deals just like slave trading two centuries ago. Text messages are the new quill and paper. Cell phone pictures are the new auction block.

Here are some facts of this deal.

Fact One: Pablo is actually Paul H., a billion dollar fund manager from the United States. He’s in his forties with three teenage sons…Two weeks ago he visited Colombia and was introduced to Raul at a rooftop restaurant.

Fact Two: Raul is about 31. He’s handsome, networked, and smart. He used to be involved in cyber fraud and also worked for a Latin American drug cartel until being placed under house arrest. Shortly after he was released in 2012 his cartel was wiped out by rival cartels in Mexico. He survived, disappeared into Colombia, and started to freelance in high-margin child sex trafficking and tourism. He’s a staple of the Cartagena party scene.

Fact Three: Lady, the eleven year old, really is a virgin. For over a year, Raul has fed her a steady diet of hard porn, live sex demonstrations, drugs, alcohol, promises reserved for the rich, and threats reserved for the captive. The technical term for this training is “grooming”.

Sex with a virgin child costs around $1000. After that, her rate will decrease with age. Her ability to service several clients a day will have to increase in order to capture the precious few years of youth.

10:00 AM, Saturday Oct 11:  Baru Island, Colombia.  Pablo waits for Raul at a remote beach house. He stands on the dock outside, his blonde hair is fund-manager standard, high and tight- he looks like Richie Rich, thirty years later, in resort wear.

10:05 Three boats pull up. Raul disembarks the 40 foot speedboat with a group of adults.  He waits for the two tour boats that were traveling in the convoy to dock and empty out. Raul finds Lady and walks her down the dock to the large room designated for the kids.

Lady’s form fitting shirt reads Sleepy Head andis actually a pajama top. Her black Colombian hair is streaked with amateur pink dye. Lady is skinny, flat chested, and walks without any hip action.

Raul, wearing jeans and Sunday shoes, has only met Paul one other time, on a Cartagena rooftop restaurant about two weeks ago. Prior to that, all of the contact was with Tim, the “party organizer”who diligently learned about all of Raul’s ‘inventory’even traveling to Cartagena on numerous occasions…all to serve “Jefe”.

Raul finds Tim and Paul.

You will love Lady, but I have additional gifts for you Jefe. says Raul.

Behind Raul’s smile was a gift of four, 11 year-old virgins, (3 girls and a little boy). By today’s rates, it’s a $4000 goodwill offering.

Fuego, Raul’s street man, prods the kids toward the house…to await the party.

Paul’s 15 friends make catcalls from the beach. Music blares from a Bluetooth speaker on a card table. Some of the guys play poker and drink. One guy flies a remote control drone out over the ocean, but most of them are content to watch and snap pictures on their iPhones.

In all it was a 54 victim parade- most of them were 9th grade or under.

Raul motions to Tim, his American contact, who was brokering the deal. Send them back to prepare for the party.

15 waitingroom

Three beautiful American women escort the children back to a large room with several beds. These were the same three women who greeted and inspected the kids at the shipping dock in Cartagena 45 minutes prior. It’s customary at a child sex party to have someone to groom and clean the kids -babysit them- between sessions.

Fact Four: Tim has organized child sex excursions for about a decade. The price tag on this trip would be about $65k, not including $20,000 for a full day with 54 kids. (The actual price would have been $24,000 had Raul charged for the additional for virgins).

But before you jump to any conclusions about Tim, understand one more fact.

The sex excursions that he’s organized have all been to rescue the children and bust the bad guys. Tim founded Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) over a year ago, and the organization acts just like the name sounds. Prior to OUR, he worked in the Department of Homeland Security solving crimes against children from child trafficking to child pornography. But Tim wanted the freedom to move more nimbly and even to free kids outside of the U.S. government’s jurisdiction. So Tim left the government to push the issue faster. His speed to save has skyrocketed and the efficiency of dollars spent to children saved has increased exponentially. He was also now an equal opportunity catcher of bad guys, every body is game, not just Americans.

Increasingly donors have come forward and funded missions, some for as little as $15,000 and other missions exceeding $100,000. Every child has a price though, and in the dark world of child trafficking, a kid’s freedom -or captivity- most often comes down to the guy who can come up with the cash.

This was my second mission as an embedded journalist. My first mission was in Haiti, 6 months ago. I’m finding increasingly that “journalistic detachment” in matters involving the rape of children is a joke… and that the process of pealing back layers of child sex trafficking involves moving beyond the confusing exterior of 13 year old girls groomed for sex and dressed for the part. It involves seeing this evil for what it is, the same thing that it was for hundreds of years with African slaves…  flesh selling flesh.

Tim architected this particular plan from it’s inception months ago as part of the largest one-day sting operation in child trafficking enforcement history. In fact, concurrent missions were being conducted by trained OUR operatives in Medellin and Armenia, Colombia. And so far, all three missions were going exactly according to plan.

Back on the little island, the men retired to an outdoor dining area to discuss plans for a luxury hotel built for child sex tours. Paul would finance it and Raul would run it. Seven other Colombians sat at the table too.

In addition to Raul, there was an older man, a cocaine guy.

Then there was Fuego, Raul’s street guy. Nothing was too hard for Fuego to get. He wore a Che hat at the dock. Tim congratulated him on the great hat and Fuego explained, Che was a revolutionary, so am I. I’m a revolutionary dealer of the Chicas”.

(Interesting side note, Tim traded Fuego hats at the dock that morning and wore Che for the rest of the mission.)

There was a striking Colombian woman who claimed the title, Princess of Cartagena. She was about 5’10”slender with perfect ebony skin. She walked like a Colombian woman.

The Princess had her business partner too. They were both about 25 years old. A bunch of the kids were there contribution to the day. They recruit kids from poor neighborhoods with a convincing “modeling agency”scheme throughout Central and South America.

The other two Colombians, Marcos and Hector, are Tim’s street guys. They’re locals who were there to perform due diligence on Raul’s operation and report it to Tim.

Another fact, Marcos and Hector are CTI agents.

Tim, fluent in Spanish, steered the conversation where it needed to go in order to make clear the intentions Raul and his partners.

It would be Paul’s job to talk business while Tim got what he needed. So while Paul napkinned the business model, The Princess of Colombia laid down the ground rules for the man and child orgy that would commence upon arrival of the sizeable Cocaine order.

Princess’s Rule Number One:

Several girls and one man is okay.

Several boys and one man is okay.

Boys and Girls and one man is still permissible.

But, several men on one girl or boy is not allowed.

Rule Number Two: The men must wear condoms.

When pressed on the condom issue, the Colombian men backed off with a wink, but the Princess stood by her ethics.

Those were the rules.

Tim hands $10,000 worth of Pesos to Paul, who shuffles them with his thumb. Raul, Fuego, and the other Colombian traffickers stared at the money. Paul informed them that since they seemed like stand up business people, the remaining $10,000 was on its way. It would be delivered when the party started…presumably any minute.

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Back in the bedroom, most of the kids laid around. Others made last second adjustments like shaving. One boy changed into a leopard speedo. They knew the drill and were trained to act the part.

The virgins were in a different room with their American handlers. Lady was crying. The little virgin boy, face buried in a pillow, asked if anyone had cocaine or alcohol, and explained that is what they usually gave him to prepare. Jen, a trained OUR operative and deadly Krav Daga fighter, comforted him. The American women’s cover as “preppers” for the party, is standard procedure in such affairs. But these women were extensively trained in high-stress environments, their shadow role was that of comforter to the kids.

In fact, each time the 11 year olds had their moments of nervous breakdown, a woman was their to comfort them. They all sat on a bed conversing with the American women: Chelsie, Krista, and Jen. The kids were nervous expressing it through a 14 year old translator who was learning English in Jr. High.

They tried to calm the girls with assurances that they’d be okay at the end of the day. Even with the assurances however, the kids had no inkling that freedom was closing in from about a mile away.

Chelsie, is actually Chelsie Hightower, 7 season star of America’s Dancing with the Stars. She laid with her arm around one of the little girls and stroked her hair. “You’re a good girl,”she told her.

Krista, who is an RN, Crossfit gym owner, and young mother, tried to help the kids see a vision of life outside of this current hell.

Jen walked among the older kids, kept in an adjacent room, asking about their lives- all while knowing something about them that they did not know themselves. There lives were about to radically change.

Here’s another helpful fact.

Fact Five: a 30 man Colombian SWAT Team had established a 300-yard perimeter around the property. Another two boats were rapidly approaching the sand carrying 30 Colombian Army soldiers with guns drawn. C.T.I (The Colombian FBI equivalent) had replaced all of the waiters at the house and had even been on the three boats that dropped them off. Another boat full of Colombian social service and child psychologists was on its way as well.

The American I.C.E. Attaché, Fernando, stood by in Cartagena should any American support be requested. His passion for the cause is another glimmer of hope in the kids favor of which they are unaware. Tim and Fernando had worked on cases together for years.

The entire beach house was wired with mics and hidden cameras, all warranted by the Colombian government and admissible as evidence in court.

In the dining area, the sex hotel negotiations dragged on as Paul drug Raul and The Princess through the deal points yet again.

Raul, completely unaware of the approaching convoy, left the table momentarily and interrupted the girls’preparation, to show the virgins to Paul. Tim left with him.

When he reached their room, Lady was still crying.

“Wipe your tears,”Raul told her, “and smile”. She did.

Tim suggested that maybe Lady could sit this one out. She was clearly petrified.

Tim’s suggestion made Raul more determined and tension in the room rose.

Raul pulled Lady outside to see Paul. Her hands continued to shake as she sniffed, played with her long braids, and wiped her eyes.

In the dining area, she stood in front of Paul. The little boy was next to her.

“She’s okay,”Raul eyes her seriously. “She’s just excited.”

“Fine,”Paul waved them back to the room.

After the kids left, they got right back to business. Seemingly inspired by Lady’s beauty, Paul made a proposition.

“Why not $5000 for the virgins at our hotel?”he asked Raul. “People would pay it.”

“Oh yes, Jefe.”Raul nodded as he spoke.

There were other things that Raul was unaware of as well, like the fact that Tim Ballard’s sex parties always ended the same way…and that at Tim’s instruction, Paul had been stalling now for 30 minutes for operations to get in place.

In fact, Paul, both of Tim’s Colombian street guys, Jen’s husband Joe (also a deadly Krav Daga expert), and Jimi (a former Marine and the current Crossfit national brand manager) and everyone else on the island except for the 6 of the Colombian traffickers had already rehearsed this scenario. They had trained extensively for it.

And now, it was go time.

“Bring in the Vino!”Tim shouted to the waiters with a smile.

Army boats hit the beach about 100 yards away. Thirty armed agents leaped out of the boat and stormed the compound.

“Bajar en la planta!”they shouted.

Raul ran toward the beach and forrest.

Paul ran. Tim ran. Everybody scattered.

21 Beach

Raul was heading down the beach when Tim, still in character, grabbed his shirt and forced him to turn around… He ran with Raul (as if he knew a better escape route), right into the waiting arms of the several hidden CTI agents who were huddled at the doorway of the kitchen.

Soon, all of the Colombians and Americans were on the ground, legs and arms spread, faces in the dirt.

The Princess of Cartagena had collapsed on the table and audibly wept. Fuego hit the ground with a scowl. The drug guy tried to crawl under the table, but the bench was in his way.

“Who the hell called the cops? I knew you were a traitor Raul!” Tim yelled from the ground.

The groups were separated according to the plan laid out by the head of CTI, 24 hours prior. Colombian Child Protective services entered where the kids were sequestered and the American girls were taken out to join the rest of the team face down on the beach…arrested.

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The roll of the women in the mission was to keep an eye on the children and make sure that they were okay until the arrival of the local authorities, at which point they have a scripted exit.

Flashback: Days earlier, realizing that his time under cover was growing short, and that this would likely be his last time face to face with an operation, Tim lamented, “I hate that I always leave being the bad guy to the kids. I would love them just once to know that we’re the good guys. That we were here to free them.”

After several minutes, Raul and his team were escorted off the island by a Navy boat. Tim’s jump team, called Operation Underground Railroad, wiped the sand off of their faces and embraced. They were careful not to let the kids see them celebrate, as it safer  to maintain cover, but it was too late this time. Several of the girls had emerged and learned that Raul, Fuego, The Princess, her partner, and the cocaine guy were being arrested.

Inside of the room, an accidental breach of protocol, a Child Protective Services agent explained to a confused child, pointing at the women and the OUR team, “Those ones are the good guys”.  Word spread and the kids began to wander out of the room. Some asked for the restroom, only so they could come out and smile and wave at the team.

Child Protective Services quickly pulled the kids back inside the room and the jump team of Americans was ushered to the boats.

…but Child Protective Services forgot something- the window.

Walking back to the boat, the American girls passed the screened window where the youngest kids were sitting. An 11 year old came and pressed her hand to the screen…others came too.

The women and girls whispered back on forth. Smiling.

Tim approached behind the American women and was granted the one thing he’d always wanted.

One little girl kept her hand on the window and he reached out to touch it. Tears flowed down her cheeks…Tim’s too.  She probably didn’t realize the personal price Tim had paid to get her back home, and back into the fifth grade… unraped.

She is free…and so are her friends.

As the Operation Underground Railroad team boarded their getaway boats a noise rose from the house. Kids laughing. But with the revving engines, the noise changed…into kids cheering.

10 FreedomBoatDelivery

Note from the Author

I was three feet from him when Tim met the little girl at the window. I had a camera in each hand. My instinct was to shoot, but something told me to keep it at my side.

So I did.

Front page image via Mark Mabry

Ryan: Kanye West and the Great Society

Graphic by Alexander Somoskey.

Donald Trump has been name-dropped by nearly every major rapper of the last 30 years, starting with a reference by Beastie Boys on their iconic album Paul's Boutique, the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.

He's been mentioned by Jay Z. Ludacris. Young Thug. Nelly. Kendrick Lamar. Juicy J. Rick Ross. Eminem. Big Sean. A Tribe Called Quest. Scarface. Lil Wayne. The Coup. Master P. Ice Cube. Mos Def. Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and various other Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. R. Kelly. Pete Rock. Nas. E-40.

And don't forget this surreal moment in our nation's history.

Then-candidate Trump on SNL ... dancing to a Drake parody.(Screenshot from YouTube)

When Bun B referred to Trump on the Chopped-n-Screwed anthem "Pocket Full of Stones," he was keeping with a tradition of rappers admiring Trump. This only changed a few years ago.

But then there's Kanye West, who proudly donned the red MAGA hat after discovering Candace Owens and being called "a jackass" by our nation's first black President. Then Kanye was hugging President Trump in the Oval Office? While wearing a Make America Great Again hat, supposed symbol of white supremacy, Nazism, hate, evil?

(Screenshot from YouTube)

People flipped. Everyone did. Longtime critics suddenly — and bizarrely — embraced Kanye as an ally, while longtime defenders disowned him, abandoned him like nail clippings, often mocking his struggles with mental illness and labeling him, if you can believe it, a white supremacist.

Then, in a moment that changed music history, Kanye released the single "Ye vs. the People."

Ye vs. the People (starring TI as the People) www.youtube.com

In it, he challenges what he sees as the unspoken rule that black Americans have to vote Democrat. He had hinted at the idea on his track "Black Skinhead," from the hauntingly gorgeous album Yeezus, but now he was addressing it head-on, with the passion of a man going to Confession for the first time in a decade.

Why should black folks have to abide by any set of cultural or political or artistic guidelines to begin with? And, he argues, the pressure to adhere to this longheld framework is itself undergirded by a subtle and cleverly masked racism, imposed by a group of people who portray themselves as the champions of race and enemies of white supremacy and destroyers of dumb yokel rednecks with their Rebel flags and monster trucks and fully-automatic AR-15 assault weapons. All of which, it turns out, is some next-level projection.

Kanye also confronts the presence of these expectations and stereotypes in hip-hop. The idea that rappers must invoke a negative persona in order to succeed. And the moment they deviate from that image they are rebuked or ignored, even though the persona is damaging to the black community as a whole. Which is especially ironic given that the people who voice the most outrage tend to be highly privileged, supposedly progressive white folks who love to rant about white privilege and black oppression.

Is it better if I rap about crack? 'Cause it's cultural?
Or how about I'ma shoot you? or f**k your b***h?
Or how about all this Gucci, 'cause I'm f****n' rich?

Best of all, Kanye has answers. And they differ from the erudite solutions offered by, say, A Tribe Called Quest, who, like Kanye, have modeled a healthy, positive image of blackness for the black community.

A central theme within "Ye vs. The People" is empathy as power, rebellion, freedom.

Make America Great Again had a negative perception
I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
Added empathy, care and love and affection
And y'all simply questionin' my methods.

This concept is an extension of the powerful devotion to positive energy that Kanye adopted around that time, a purview he has cultivated into a wild new form of electronic gospel.

But his personal transformation was tough.

That [MAGA] hat stayed in my closet like 'bout a year and a half
Then one day I was like, "F**k it, I'ma do me"
I was in the sunken place and then I found the new me.

This is a struggle that many Americans undergo. Researchers call it the spiral of silence. The idea that the news media and social media present biased opinions as though they are fact, and when the message conflicts with a person's opinions or values, they feel isolated, alone.

Kanye and T.I. during the making of "Ye vs. the People"(Screenshot from YouTube)

As Kanye raps in "Ye vs. the People"

A lot of people agree with me but they're too scared to speak up.

Because we have an incredible ability to sense public opinion. So when we suspect that we hold a belief that rails against acceptable thought, we tend to keep quiet about it. That silence makes the opinion seem even more taboo, resulting in a more widespread silence.

In reality, many of these supposedly taboo opinions are not only popular, they are normal and practical and logical. Healthy, even. And the real danger is in demonizing them. But too many people are afraid they'll be ostracized for expressing their beliefs.

Like how — despite what we've been led to believe — most Americans cannot stand political correctness.

But the small minority of people who champion it are powerful and loud. They're like that cardboard city in North Korea, just visible enough from the border to make it seem like a thriving community. They're the Wicked Witch of the West, or Iago from Othello, or Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.

So far, they have been successful. Although "success" by their metric is anarchic and primal, all destruction and loudness and people nervous to speak their mind. And the cost of rebellion can be devastating.

By the time Kanye West wrote "Yay versus the People," he had gotten sick of this power dynamic. So he broke the spiral of silence."

*

In the words of German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Whoever has language has the world."

Humans alone have it.

But in order for us to know freedom in our world, our language has to be public, shared, active. Because each of us thrives constantly with language, a stream of it always in our mind. Aristotle defined "thought" as the infinite dialogue between the soul and itself. Conversation is the exchange of thought between people. When we converse, we simultaneously release our infinite dialogue and accept the other person's. By speaking, we shape the world and free ourselves.

*

Another way to say it is that Donald Trump might have inspired the song that could very well signify the end of Hip-Hop, which is not only the most popular genre of our zeitgeist, it's the most popular, and successful, form of music in American history, which is the most important era of musical history.

If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and Drake literally outpaces the Beatles, then, well, you get the point God forgive me. And Kanye is bigger than Drake. So who better to have the final word on the capacities of Hip-Hop than Kanye West?

Nobody.

Every genre must come to a close. There's a reason why people aren't eagerly awaiting the next great disco album, or flocking to arenas to hear the newest bluegrass superstar, or asking to get their hair done like the latest syringe-armed guitarist of Guns N Roses.

(Screenshot from Instagram)

The great era of Rock 'N' Roll ended roughly about the time Radiohead traded their guitars and drums for synthesizers and sequencers, not long after Kurt Cobain took an insane amount of heroin and cradled a shotgun in his guesthouse, only to be discovered several days later by an electrician. Even worse, Nickelback soiled Cobain's legacy with godawful anthems, and who have their own weird and contradictory and hilarious connection to President Trump.

These days, Rock N' Roll lives mostly via nostalgia, as evinced by the explosion of cover bands. Notice how you don't see any hip-hop cover bands. You will, someday. But, for now, Hip-Hop reigns supreme. And Kanye is the King.

The brilliant Nina Simone once told a reporter that "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

Because music accords itself to the gravity and creative truth of the era. And currently we entrust hip-hop with this complicated maneuver.

But the past year, Kanye has been crafting a new sound through his Sunday services, weekly jam sessions with acoustic musicians and a choir and everyone dressed in white, praying through song, herding us into a better place, looking above for guidance. If it's anything like his track "Ultralight Beam," it will bring calm to our divided culture.

Mark my words: The resultant album will usher in an entirely new era, a magical flash in human history.

So far, hip-hop has been the defiant child of R&B and Electronica, the grandchild of Spoken Word and Steve Reich Minimalism, with tinges of Punk. Not for much longer. Kanye will see to that. And, weirdly, President Trump has helped inspire this transformation.

Meaning, Donald Trump will have had a hand in reinventing music as a whole, in spreading a movement of positive reformation. Love him or hate him, it does not matter. What other politician can make that claim?

There's an optimism to this that Dave Chappelle captured in his now-infamous Saturday Night Live monologue, just days after Trump was elected, asking Americans to at least give the man a chance. And again in his special "Equanimity," when he said

I swear no matter how bad it gets, you're my countrymen, and I know for a fact that I'm determined to work shit out with y'all.

In a moment of now-tired irony, the usual suspects heaped a barrage of hate at Chappelle for these remarks. But their outrage does not matter, in the grand scheme of things. Because it is an incredible time to be alive. It's beautiful. We should never forget that, no matter how petty or outrageous daily life gets.

At the moment, we are a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting. But we are Americans. Together. This is America. And, every day, God delights in our greatness and our empathy and our endless gift for love. So open your heart and listen. Say what you need to say.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

Ryan: Michael Bennet, Little League

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every day, life getting shorter. Every day, life going faster. Every day, like a roller coaster. These were the kinds of things that Michael Bennet was saying.

Michael Bennet, God bless him, he seemed like a decent lad. All week he had his family there. He said his campaign was their family vacation. He had had prostate cancer but would you believe he survived?

"Life is getting shorter," he said. "Every day."

Photo by Sean Ryan

He was well spoken. Dry. Talked with an air of consultation. Like you were in his office, and he had things to tell you.

Like a Little League coach who could actually be a coach someday.

*

I would encounter Bennet again the next day, at the Iowa State Fair.

Having just seen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at a small Baptist church, we ventured to the fair to see Bernie Sanders' riot of a Sunday speech. Bennet was on before him, so I got there early, and I paced off to get a restroom break. The media center is in the basement of the administration building, right by the Political Soapbox stage.

For whatever reason, the first-floor men's restroom has giant windows along the wall, and you can see right out onto the walkway that wraps around the building. I did not realize that this was the path that the candidates take to get to the stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And, this far into the 2020 presidential election, they never went many places alone. They had a press swarm and their wives and maybe an old friend who relocated here when the hurricane sank his house.

I was rushing. Panicking, really. Because I heard all the commotion. But nature abides by its own pace. And as I shuffled to the sink to wash my hands, my pants fell all the way down. I was exposed. Out in the open and in such desperation, you clobber yourself outside of time. It was all slo-mo with the Chopped-n-screwed voices as I scrambled to lift my trousers and audibly gasped the words, "Well just no." At that exact moment, that "accidental Renaissance" painting occurred as I locked eyes with Michael Bennet, slowly maneuvering the walkway.

These sorts of things happened, didn't they? There you were in a restroom, at an NFL game or a concert or maybe a bar, and you see someone you work with, or someone from church or school, and you lock eyes for a moment in confusion then revert to cave talk and shrug and get on with what you were doing. But it's weird when only one of you is actively part of the etiquette and allowances of a restroom and one of you is held to a higher standard, for the sake of common decency. Now let's say that you, the restroom occupant, happen to be credentialed press, and the outsider, Michael Bennet, happens to be a candidate for president of America.

Once the herd passed by behind him, I laughed a bit, quietly, because life could be very funny.

*

Onstage, Bennet, a senator from Colorado, gave the performance of a cake falling into a pool. Like he had been ghost-busted. Like he had spent the last two months learning the Fortnite dance moves and now that he had mastered them, suddenly Fortnite was for losers, and Fortnite dances, well, they were even worse.

The Political Soapbox is great because every candidate has 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes were theirs. Most of the time, they got romantic like a Backstreet Boy singing up toward an open window. Occasionally, they lost it. Bennet did neither. He belly-flopped into hay bales.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Remember that the growing crowd had the dangerous feel of a natural disaster. And it was gaspingly warm that day. So neither the crowd nor the environment were ready to give Bennet a freebie.

He gave a ravishing speech, full of neat invective. Then looked up and realized he still had 14 minutes on the clock. Oof. That was most of it, and he'd already done the Floss and the Robot and the Electro Shuffle, and honestly his shoulder was a little stiff from all that dance practice. So he opened the floor for questions.

Now, that was not the greatest idea. For one, this was not the type of place for such a thing. They called it a soapbox because you were meant to live out the phrase "on a soapbox" by ranting and fist-pounding and all other theatrics.

The Bernie Sanders supporters hadn't arrived en masse yet, so most of the people around the stage were clad in Trump gear. And they all had their hands up ready to ask him questions. Well, firebombs, really, masked as interrogative statements. Bennet shouted without breathing, then said, "I want to find a non-male person who has a question."

This did not sit well with the males who did not like the trend of personalizing all things, cautious gendering, and the sudden change of direction so that now they had to just listen.

Most people did not care.

"I do not support Bernie's plan," Bennet shouted. But would you believe the Bernie supporters had literally just arrived, you could smell their hair dye.

They jeered, then acted exactly — and I mean exactly — like the Trump supporters.

"I would rather support free pre-school than free college," he shouted. "Many people talk about... " but the jeering was too powerful. And the Bernie supporters had likely just had quinoa açaí bowls at their pre-Bernie brunch, so they were unstoppable. Well God bless the man for scratching "Give Presidency a Try" off his bucket list. Because at least he had a bucket list.

What did they have? Student debt and a restraining order? They being the growing factions of Bernie and Trump supporters in the audience. You could not see any pavement. It was just people and faces like the Mediterranean in the evening, all the way to the towering walls of the Grandstand.

Looking out at all that chaos, all that latent disaster, Bennet must have felt a deep stirring.

The night before, Slipknot headlined at the Grand Stand, a sold-out show. Rollicking and bursting and howling. How many drumbeats could drummer Jay Weinberg get per minute? At one point, vocalist Corey Taylor unleashed a demonic bellow, then adjusted his mask and looked out to all those people, those devoted fans, because many of them had Slipknot tattoos, and maybe he, like Bennet, indulged a moment for himself, a personalization of the grand setting, then shrieked, then persuaded the audience to lift their hands into the air, maybe toward a constellation of their choosing, and extend their middle finger like it was an egg landing on a pillow, which symbolizes the human condition.




New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

President Trump couldn't personally make it to Houston for the 3rd Democratic Debate, so he paid $7,500 for a single-engine Cessna to fly in circles over Texas Southern University campus while pulling a banner that said, "Socialism will kill Houston's economy! Vote Trump 2020!"

For four hours, it chugged around up there. You could hear it everywhere. It was the soundtrack of the night.

You can just imagine Trump's face as he had the banner-plane idea. You can hear him putting in the order. You can see his list of demands. And at the very top, "I WANT THE LOUDEST PLANE YOU CAN FIND!!!"

*

Was that Bret Baier in the aisle, adjusting his reading glasses and thumbing at the strap of his comically small backpack as he crossed the blue-carpeted gymnasium? He looked like the human version of Wisconsin. He was saying something but all you could hear was the plane overhead.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Bret Baier, the stoic host of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Fox News and the network's chief political anchor. He's underrated, if you ask me. Legacy. Old-school. He just delivers the news, which is what most people want. He talks the way anchors used to talk, with the American accent unique to news anchors even though he was born in New Jersey and raised in Georgia.

I had spent the last year-and-a-half on a series of in-depth profiles on some of the major countercultural figures of our time. People like Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Carol Swain. So my first impulse was to rush over to Baier and profile the guy. Nobody else would, after all. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's. But they ought to. The man has a hell of a story.
He joined Fox News a year-and-a-half after it was founded, as the southeast correspondent in Atlanta. A few years later, on a Tuesday in September, nineteen terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed into America.

When the first plane hit, Fox producers told Baier to just get in his car and drive to New York City. They needed back-up reporters for the next day. When the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., they said, "Step on it, Baier."

He and his producer were an hour outside Atlanta when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. Still a good 8 hours away, but closer to D.C. than to New York City. So they re-routed to Arlington, Virginia, as fast as they could. Past a blur of fields full of indifferent cows. Past houses full of people who could hardly talk, people who couldn't describe what they were seeing and hearing, all the smoke and the blood and the office-supply confetti. Past towns that barely moved, gas stations with nobody in them, people sunken into a far-away stare.

Yet there was the sun, with only a few bangles of cloud every so often. America had been paralyzed but the earth kept trucking along, quiet and unbothered. It must have felt strange for Baier, to speed down empty highways — toward literal death and chaos — under a perfect sky, below cascading light and color.

Nature doesn't care if we make it out alive.

*

That day, Baier reported live from a Citgo station across the street from the Pentagon, rubble in heaps of flame behind him. It was like he'd fallen onto a different planet and was reporting back to home.

The next day arrived and it was so quiet everywhere. Nobody knew a damn thing. We could not believe our eyes. We all turned to reporters and anchors for answers. Most often, they blurted out whatever they could.

Something about Bret Baier gave audiences a much-needed boost. Reliable, sturdy. Like he said what had to be said and not a word extra.

Fox kept him in D.C., indefinitely. A friend helped him find an apartment. He never went back to Atlanta. Two weeks later, Fox News appointed him Pentagon correspondent, a position that saw him travel the world, including 13 trips to Afghanistan and 12 to Iraq.

Halfway through George W. Bush's second term, Baier became Fox News' White House correspondent.

Then, a year before he would earn his current position as anchor, Baier became a father. His son was born with holes in his heart — five congenital heart defects. Twelve days later, the boy underwent open-heart surgery. Baier and his wife waited in tiled rooms drenched with flowers and ESPN and drab ultraviolet light, surrounded by machines full of beeps and whirring and beeps and whirring.

Baier's son has since undergone two additional open-heart surgeries, nine angioplasties, and one stomach operation. In an interview with Parents Magazine, Baier said that his son's health problems have "given me perspective about my job, going through policy and politics in Washington, D.C., to see the bigger picture."

*Part of the reason I couldn't tell whether or not it was Baier is he's usually up on the main stage. For the 2012 election, he moderated five Republican debates, and co-anchored FNC's America's Election HQ alongside Megyn Kelly.

The 2016 election would propel him into a much larger role. He anchored three Republican debates, but this time he had to handle Donald Trump.

Baier knew Trump personally, from before the election. They'd played golf together. He described Trump as "a nice guy outside of his TV persona" and never thought Trump would actually make a run for the Presidency. Onstage, Trump was much different. And Baier had been tasked with maintaining control.

A devout Roman Catholic, he appreciates a nice glass of wine and a fine cut of steak. He likes a good joke, too. In January, 2019, Baier signed a multi-year deal with Fox News to continue "Special Report." A few weeks later, he and his family went to Montana for a ski trip. The weekend was wonderful. But they had to get back to New York because Baier was scheduled to appear on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" that Tuesday.

Imagine him, again in a car hurtling toward a fateful destination. How he squinted through the frost-pocked windshield and gripped the steering wheel. As he guided the white SUV along the two-lane road to the airport. The land looked haunted, barren, lifeless. Everywhere, the world was frozen white. Snow and ice blanketing the fields, gauze over the sky.

At some anonymous intersection, Baier pumped the brakes, but the tires hit an ice patch, and the SUV spun loose. An oncoming car slammed into the driver's side, launching the vehicle into an embankment, wedged on its side. A man named Zach stopped his pickup truck and helped the family crawl free, and the Montana Highway Patrol rushed them to the hospital.

"Don't take anything for granted," Baier tweeted later. "Every day is a blessing and family is everything. It's always good to remind yourself of that before something does it for you."

Before every debate that he moderates, Baier spends 10 minutes alone, praying.

*

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2011 revealed that Fox News was actually right. That the Obama Administration really did hate them. And had intentionally excluded them from a press pool two years earlier. Then laughed about it.

The documents unearthed snarky emails between various high-ranking aides in the Obama Administration. In one, the Deputy White House communications director bemoaned Baier's reporting on the bias. "I'm putting some dead fish in the [Fox News] cubby — just cause Bret Baier is a lunatic." That same day, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest bragged in an email that "we've demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews."

The Trump administration pulled a similar stunt in July, 2018 by banning a CNN reporter from the press pool. Trump and Fox News had developed a beneficial relationship by then. And CNN was a lifelong competitor, a public enemy.
That night, Baier delivered an official statement, "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better. As a member of the White House press pool, Fox stands firmly with CNN on this issue of access."

Fox News rebuked Trump in solidarity with CNN. It was a heartening gesture between two seeming enemies. Fox News were standing up for truth, defending journalism, rejecting tyranny even though the ban would have benefitted them as a company.

Who knows how many books and dissertations and articles have been written about Fox News, usually in relation to bias, usually with a scathing tone. The conclusions differ wildly, yet each one claims certitude.

Generally, academics and journalists have taken a doomsday tone when talking about Fox News. Accusations of evil, fear-mongering, bigotry, hatred, misinformation, propaganda, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Despite these outcries, Fox News has consistently held its spot as the most-watched network in the country. Imagine how that makes its critics feel.

In an August 3, 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Baier said, "the biggest problem is that the people who are most critical of Fox are usually people who have not watched Fox News."

Fox News is composed of two distinct departments. Punditry and straight news. Or "opinion news" and "descriptive news." Consistently, surveys of the public rate Fox News as both the least- and most-biased news network.
Last year, a survey found Fox News to be the second most-trusted television news brand in the country, after the BBC.

In a separate study, Democrats rated its bias score at (negative) -87, while Republicans placed it at (positive) +3. Which is like if, at a football game, one referee said "Touchdown," while the other referee said "Turnover, leading to Touchdown for the Defense." It can't be both, can it?

Public opinion may not be the best metric for understanding Fox News, especially in 2019.

Quantitative studies have offered clearer conclusions. In 2016, a content analysis used crowdsourcing and machine learning to examine over 800,000 news stories published over a year by 15 major outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News. They wanted to chart media bias.

What they discovered is that news outlets are far more similar than we believe. Much of the perceived bias is a matter of separating "opinion news" from "descriptive news." For conservatives, it's punditry. For those on the left, it's op-eds and long form investigative pieces, although the left tends to insist that they're not biased, that they are instead just more apt to tell the truth, even though research has disproven this belief.

The researchers found a much larger bias-divide in opinion news, whereas descriptive news was practically neutral. One of the researchers described Fox News' descriptive news as "guided by similar news values as more traditional, legacy media."

University of California Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote that "Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church, and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own."

Say what you want about Fox News, they play a crucial role in the so-called mainstream media. And, despite what Fox News will lead you to believe, they are definitely part of the mainstream. And they are by no means the innocent victim. And certainly not powerless. And they have all kinds of problems that I will not defend. But we'll talk about that in a later installment, the one about Kamala Harris at a gun control rally, advocating for propaganda.

*

After two months of political events, I suspected that different news networks have their own signifiers, like the distinct stripes and markings on various spiders.

Wall Street Journal reporters tended to carry old-timey notepads and interview any bystander they could find. Breitbart usually only sent one person, and he wandered around with his iPhone, recording every single thing. Politico, prim-suited men who could just as easily work on the stock market.

Most of the reporters dressed like that, in stagey business attire. Prim for a high school job fair. Meanwhile, the photographers, mostly men, looked like professional paintball players. The camera crews and technical staff were the only ones decked in tattoos and wearing sandals and generally not caring about the chaos all around them. On-camera talent were covered in makeup and shrink-wrapped into dresses or suits with chip-clips along the spine.

The Washington Post sent the classiest and most bored-looking people I have ever encountered. They never looked at their laptops as their fingers chopped at the keys, and you assumed they were pretending until you read their stories online. You could spot ABC because their camera crew wore faded red ABC hats. Associated Press looked like they had just come back from a battlefield assignment in Syria, and never donned the same press credentials as everyone else, preferring a tattered AP lanyard. And you always knew when someone was with the New York Times because they announced it to the entire room.

And Fox News? At democratic events, they usually hid. But not that day, in Houston, as Bret Baier walked up the aisle to a table a couple rows in front of me.

Most people arrived in the Media Filing Center several hours before the debate. Fox News got there just slightly after that, as everyone was wiggling in their seats and connecting their laptops to a shared outlet.

There were seven or so in the pack of Fox News, all grinning. They all had white to-go sacks from Chick-fil-A. And the room got quieter, so Trump's plane got louder. It was a double trolling event.

As host of the debate, ABC would be providing dinner. This information was included in the credentials email that all of us had received. So nobody else had brought food with them. No need.

Even better, I was familiar enough with that part of Houston to know that there was not a Chick-fil-A anywhere close to us. Who knew where they'd gotten that Chick-fil-A, but odds are it wasn't warm. Who knew if there was even any food in the bags.

They had brought Chick-fil-A into a building full of national media during the third Democratic Presidential debate. The 2020 election was already full of outrage about plenty of things, and one of them was Chick-fil-A. To some folks, the red chicken logo might as well have been a swastika. That very week LGBT activists had vehemently — cartoonishly — protested the opening of several Chick-fil-A's throughout North America. Chicken sandwiches had become yet another flag on the tug-of-war rope in the Culture War of our country.

To be clear, the political left was anti-Chicken and the political right was pro-Chicken. The media tended to lean anti-Chicken, and frequently wrote about anti-Chicken causes, often scolding pro-Chicken voices, or ignoring the struggles of the pro-Chicken community only to deny any opinion on Chicken at all. That was the cowardly part, of you ask me, the pretending like they weren't activists.

The Democratic candidates definitely leaned anti-Chicken. Sometimes they took it so far that it upset moderate anti-Chicken advocates. Because was it really so bad to eat Chicken? Couldn't you be anti-Chicken but also enjoy Chicken occasionally? Why did everything have to be either "all Chicken all the time unless you hate freedom" or "no chicken ever unless you support hate"?

The fight had spread everywhere. Airports, stadiums, malls, campuses. All had served as battlegrounds for the anti-Chicken versus the pro-Chicken.

The previous President was anti-Chicken. In fact, he may well have enflamed the entire movement. During his tenure, there were nationwide protests that saw pro-Chicken advocates angrily and proudly eating Chicken while anti-Chicken advocates protested outside and occasionally engaged in homosexual affection, which was being threatened by Chicken, according to them.

Every time the pro-Chicken folks bit into a Chicken sandwich, it was like they were gnawing away at the anti-Chicken people themselves. Degrading their identity. Because, for them, it was about the identity.

But the current President, unabashedly proud of his pro-Chicken stance, once served Chicken at the White House to some winning sports team, and the anti-Chicken activists saw it as proof that Chicken and hate go together. And maybe Chicken would even lead to the impeachment of the President they hate, which would mean the Vice President would become the President, but he's one of the most pro-Chicken people in America, so they'd have to impeach him, too. And the Supreme Court, it was overrun with pro-Chicken types.

This election, the Democratic front-runners competed for the bolder plan. They would end Chicken in America once and for all. They would obliterate our evil President and his Chicken Supremacy. Their stump speeches relied on harsh criticisms of pro-Chicken voters, who pretended to find the whole anti-Chicken movement amusing but were secretly enraged by it. In fact, they were certain that the anti-Chicken movement had been systematically silencing them for years, and that they had to fight for their Chicken in order to keep everything that they valued, even all the not-Chicken.

The media and the democrats and Hollywood and academia — all hated the Chicken, because they hated the pro-Chicken people. If they had their way, no more Chicken, ever again. And no more pro-Chicken deplorables. And tonight the anti-Chicken politico-culture complex would prove it, with long rants which get confirmed by glowing articles, calculated takedowns about the merits of anti-Chicken and the evils of pro-Chicken.

Yet here was Fox News, with actual Chicken. And they were smiling. Maybe in part because the police who were guarding us all tended to be pro-Chicken. And this was Texas, after all, an incredibly pro-Chicken state. But there were 49 other states and 14 territories, and all of them were fighting for or against Chicken.

Some experts even said we were on the cusp of a Civil War.


New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

We've heard the catchphrase "follow the money" so often that it's nearly a joke. It gained added attention in the 1976 movie All the President's Men, which follows the story of the two journalists who uncovered Watergate. "Follow the money," their source told them, "and you'll find corruption."

Problem is, corrupters hide their bad behavior remarkably well. They are masters of disguise. But if you look closely enough, you can spot the seams splitting in their choreographed routine.

One technique that magicians use for psychological misdirection is called the false solution. The goal is to distract the audience, to make them believe that they know what's really happening. All the while, the machinations of the actual trick are happening right in front of them, because "implanting an unlikely and unfamiliar idea in the mind can prevent participants from finding a more obvious one."

Billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

I want to tell you a story of tremendous corruption, masked cleverly, using many of the same techniques that magicians have used for centuries. Only it's not a rabbit disappearing into a hat or a coin vanishing behind an ear. It's billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

And the people responsible are the same people who have been so monstrously worked up about Trump's impeachment. The same people screaming about Trump's malfeasance with Ukraine are actually the ones misbehaving in Ukraine.

It's essentially an elevated, highly organized form of projection. Only instead of one person lashing out at the world, it's an entire political party, right up to the top. The very top. Barack Obama. It's right there on video.

Or how about the audio recording we uncovered, with Artem Sytnyk, Director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine, openly admitting a connection between the DNC and Ukraine?

So far, the story told by the Democrats and the media has been about Trump and Ukraine. Every so often, you hear mention of Joe Biden's dubious history with the war-torn country.

We were the first to talk about Joe Biden's connections to Ukraine back in April, with our candidate profile on Biden.

It turns out, the whole debacle was much worse than we thought. It stretched further than Uncle Joe. What we found out is that the DNC was working with the Ukrainian government.

This isn't a conspiracy theory. And we have the documents to prove it.

Read on to discover everything you need for a 30-second elevator pitch that you can give to your friend and say, "Look, here's what you need to know. Here's what's really going on."

If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail.

Last night, in Ukraine: The Democrats' Russia I revealed the elaborate misdirection taking place.

I said it last night and I'll say it again: If Trump is guilty, he should go to jail. If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail. Because this is too important to the Republic.

Watch the hands, follow the money.

Here are the documents, video, and audio that we found in our reporting. This is the hard evidence that will help you explain this unbelievable situation to other people.



  • June 2016 State Department memos detailing contacts between George Soros' office and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.




As you can see, we did a lot of research on this, and we've done our best to condense it for you. It still requires you to do your own homework, but there's a tremendous freedom to that.

You are seeking the truth.

You are bucking the mainstream media. You are rejecting them. And you are seeking truth. Because they abandoned truth a long time ago and they certainly aren't interested in recovering it now.