Search Results for: eli saslow

Eli Saslow on the Slow-Motion Toppling of Derek Black’s White Supremacism

Associated Press

Jonny Auping | Longreads | September 2018 | 19 minutes (5,065 words)

Before Richard Spencer became one of white nationalism’s poster boys, before Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos helped normalize stringently racist ideologies, before Donald Trump’s election to the presidency, and before the Charlottesville riots, no one was more suited and prepared to head this generation of prejudice than Derek Black.

Derek’s father, Don, founded Stormfront, the largest online community for racists. His godfather was David Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard and probably the most notorious white nationalist alive. By his mid-teens Derek was living up to that pedigree. He hosted a daily radio show in which he advocated for an all-white America and denied the legitimacy of the Holocaust. By 2008, among his community, Derek was a prodigy.

How Derek became a white nationalist is relatively obvious: He was a product of his environment. But in his new book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, Eli Saslow dives into a much more complex and emotional journey: How Derek dug his way out.

Saslow’s detailed account of Derek’s time at New College in Florida — from his early double life as a student and white nationalist figurehead to his eventual public disavowing of his previous ideology in a letter to the SPLC — required interviews with classmates who publicly shunned him and ones who chose to engage patiently with him (including Jewish and immigrant students who reached out to him), as well as with committed white nationalists, included Derek’s immediate family. In his reporting, Saslow spent “hundreds of hours” with Derek himself, and gained access to personal emails, Facebook, and g-chats containing intense debates, which now serve as the gradual debunking of racist ideologies.

The former Pulitzer Prize winner took the time to speak with Longreads about Derek’s transformation, the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and whether or not there’s a proper way to engage someone who promotes hateful rhetoric. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Edith Zimmerman, Eli Saslow, William Brennan, Meredith Haggerty, and Kelly Conaboy.

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Never Again: A Reading List About School Shooting Survivors

Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

I don’t remember anything of the day leading up to the moment when, in Spanish class, the schoolwide PA system crackled to life. There was a brief moment of static. Then, an administrator — maybe our vice principal — said something like lockdown, lockdown, this is a lockdown, this is not a drill. There was a terse quality to his voice. My teacher turned out the lights, crawled toward the windows I suddenly realized spanned from floor to ceiling, and closed the blinds. I, along with the rest of my classmates, crouched in the corner of the room. We kept close to one another, closer than we ever would be again, the rise and fall of our shallow breaths like a subdued chorus of fear.

The PA system remained silent. We looked at one another with eyes wide open, ears pinned back. My phone off and in my backpack, I sent mental messages to my parents and brother: I love you. I hope you can hear me somehow. Just days before, on the news, an expert on how to protect yourself during a school shooting had said that throwing textbooks or scissors at a shooter when they first stormed the classroom might help disrupt their shooting patterns. I whispered the idea within the huddle, and our teacher crawled to retrieve a box of Fiskar scissors, ones that were “safe” enough to be approved for classroom use, meaning the blades were dull, the plastic light. We pulled textbooks from the baskets beneath desks and held them. My palms sweated.

I do not know how much time passed. I do not remember if I heard the shot or if I only heard about the sound in the hallway in the days that followed. I do not remember if I cried. The thuck-thuck-thuck sound of a helicopter broke the silence, and we peeked through the blinds to watch it land somewhere near the school. My classmates texted messages to their families. We whispered about what might be happening, whether we were safe. No sound emerged from the PA to relieve us. Instead, as time passed, we watched as cop cars and news vans arrived. Parents texted classmates to say we were on CNN. From messages, we learned that someone had been shot on school property. In my mind, I sent another slew of silent messages to my family: I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.

Long after the whir of the helicopter receded, someone, over the PA, told us we would have an early release from school. They didn’t say anything about what had happened, only that we were now safe. I retrieved my phone, called my mom, and wept when I heard her voice on the other side of the line.

The next day at school was supposed to be the statewide standardized test. I thought the administration might find a way to cancel the test, or even school. But they didn’t. Instead, in the halls before the first bell rang, rumors swirled: the student with the gun had ammunition in his backpack; there had been a chase; he had committed suicide because a girl he liked turned him down. I stress that these are only rumors — they have always remained rumors to me, because no administrator ever spoke openly about what happened. Even now, when I look at newspaper clippings of the event, nothing much is said other than that a student shot himself on campus and later died after being Life Flighted to a hospital. I can imagine that part of the reason why information was suppressed was because I went to a school that was only two years old in an affluent part of town.

That morning, instead of handling the subject with sensitivity, instead of reassuring the student population of our safety, instead of pausing standardized testing to talk about gun control, instead of taking time to mourn a member of our school, the administration sent us to our alphabetized classrooms, where a package of off-brand goldfish rested upon each clean desk. And over the PA, the same system that had carried the sound of a breathless warning the day before, James Brown’s I feel good (whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now) began to play. I bit my lip to stop myself from crying.

Then, and still now, that song blaring over the speakers strikes me as abhorrently insensitive, as does the way the administration failed and refused to openly discuss the incident with students. We had all crouched in dim corners. We had listened to each other’s shallow breath. We had murmured prayers and sent messages to who we loved. But we were expected to move on as if nothing had happened. To pass our standardized tests. To forget the fear of those moments when we didn’t know who might barge through our classroom door.

In the years since then, I have felt in some ways as though part of me is still there, frozen, like an animal of prey. When I teach, I survey each room for exit points or furniture I might use to block the entrance. I want to tell each student in my class that I will protect them, but I want more safety for all of us than just the promise of my own words. I do not want to see any more school shooting headlines. I do not want students to have to show their bravery after unspeakable horrors. I do not want them to carry that trauma.

Rather than ignore what has happened — and is still happening — to students in too many high schools as the administration at mine did, I believe in the importance of stories of students, teachers, staff, their families, and communities who have borne witness to tragedy, who will carry the weight of their experiences with them for the rest of their lives, and who are advocating for stricter gun laws as a means of sparing others from the same. We must listen.

1. Columbine, five years later (Peter Wilkinson, April 20, 2004, Salon)

At a news conference held just shy of the five-year anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy, all evidence, “every bomb and bullet,” was placed on display. Peter Wilkinson maps the trajectory of the investigation in this piece, but emphasizes the experiences of survivors such as Brooks Brown, a student who experienced PTSD after the shooting, and Richie Castaldo, a student who was paralyzed because of a bullet that struck his T4 vertebra and “shattered his spinal cord.” Wilkinson chronicles how their lives — and others at the school — were impacted by that traumatic day.

“Ireland was paralyzed on his right side for months after the attack. He walked again in June 1999, though he’ll always carry a bullet in his brain from Klebold’s shotgun.”

2. After Newtown shooting, mourning parents enter into the lonely quiet (Eli Saslow, June 8, 2013, The Washington Post)

Six adult staff members and 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, 2012, their families left to grapple with unspeakable loss. Eli Saslow tells the heart-wrenching story of Mark and Jackie Barden, whose Daniel was killed that day.

“Nobody had touched the foosball table, because Daniel had been the last to play. His books and toy trains sat in their familiar piles, gathering dust. The basement had always been Daniel’s space, and some days Mark believed he could still smell him here, just in from playing outside, all grassy and muddy.”

3. Chardon, Ohio (Libby Copeland, November 18, 2018, Esquire)

Six years after a school shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, Libby Copeland shares the stories of Danny Day, a high school student at the time whose best friends were killed, Brandon Lichtinger, a teacher, Jen Sprinzl, the principal’s secretary who confronted the shooter in the hallway, and others within the community in order to convey the myriad ways that trauma can warp and change a life.

“That was when I started to understand just how deeply something like a school shooting could affect people—people who weren’t even in the school or who didn’t lose someone close to them. That it could be a kind of earthquake that still reverberates, six years later. That a whole town could be marked by this day and could send its young into the world marked, too—some of them drinking, depressed, cutting, suicidal.”

4. The Class of 1946-2018 (As told to Jared Soule and Amelia Schonbek, October 28, 2018, New York Magazine)

Through a portfolio of photographs and a collection of testimonies from survivors of school shootings, Jared Soule and Amelia Schonbek “wanted to conduct an exercise in remembrance…What, we wondered, could their memories teach us about our inattention? The people whose bodies — in many cases — won’t let them forget.”

“There was a girl who was praying in Spanish, and I thought maybe I should pray too. This is a time when you pray. So I did, and then I looked over and saw one of my classmates with her head down. Then I sort of realized that she wasn’t alive anymore.” –Isabel Chequer

“Somebody was running past me and I asked them real quick, “Whose blood is this?” And they said, “It’s yours. It’s yours. You have a bullet hole in your neck.”” –Rome Schubert

“Fragments of bullets are still getting pulled out of my body.” –Colin Goddard

5. The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough (Charlotte Alter, March 22, 2018, Time)

Charlotte Alter writes about how, after the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a group of students organized in the hopes of decreasing gun violence.

“How a movement catches fire is always a mystery, but the Parkland kids seem matched for this moment. They’re young enough to be victimized by a school shooting, but old enough to shape the aftermath.”

Alter notes that the “U.S. only has 4.4% of the world’s population, yet it accounts for roughly 42% of the world’s guns.” Up against startling statistics such as that, through social media engagement, meetings held at a pizzeria or the windowless rooms of the #NeverAgain headquarters, and with a fervent desire for change, Emma González, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Alex Wind, and others hope to change the current state of gun violence in the U.S. through reform.


Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and illness.

The ‘Treasonous’ Teens Living in One Nation Under Guns

A prayer vigil for the victims of Marshall County High School. (Alan Warren/The Messenger-Inquirer via AP)

Teens seem somehow wired for disagreement in their adolescent years. Sometimes this is simply a product of exercising one’s personhood, other times it seems connected to a sort of magic of youth that lies, in part, in their relative newness to the culture. They are old enough to know how to communicate and observe and think critically, but young enough to question the status quo.

This is evidenced beautifully in a recent Washington Post profile by Eli Saslow of Wyoming teen Moriah Engdahl, who seeks out every possible way to be the opposite of her father, Alan. Moriah is a student journalist, her father is a media-hating Trump supporter; she supports gay rights, he thinks “that stuff is better off staying hidden.” Moriah is the youngest and most headstrong of  Alan’s four daughters, and he calls her “the mouthy, hard-headed one” with pride, even though they butt heads— most recently over the issue of gun regulations.

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Mariah Engdahl, Age 16: The Only Gun Control Advocate in Gillette, Wyoming

Coal strip mining, Gilette, Wyoming. (Getty Images)

Gillette, Wyoming, is a place where “the high school yearbook devoted four pages to ‘Hunting: No Greater Sport,’” a local club funds “college scholarships by raffling off AR-15s,” and popular slogans include, “Welcome to Wyoming: Consider Everyone Armed.”

With accompanying photography by Jabin Botsford at the Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Mariah Engdahl, age 16 — a girl surrounded by gun enthusiasts in her family and in her boom-and-bust mining community. Inspired by the student protests in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, she educated herself on gun laws in Wyoming and, as a one-teen protest on gun control, delivered a speech to the Campbell County school board in a bid to avoid arming teachers in her county’s schools.

Now a week later, that sign was in his house, tucked into the closet of a bedroom where Moriah had been spending much of her time, with her door closed, since the protest. In the days since the march, the “Campbell County Ten” had become the object of profane graffiti, the inspiration for a rival Freedom March and the favorite target of a new Instagram account, “Campbell County Students for America,” which shared memes comparing gun protesters to Hitler. For his part, Alan had considered grounding Moriah for skipping school but decided against it. “I’m pretty sure the rest of Wyoming is going to punish her for me,” he said, so instead he had chosen to needle Moriah at every opportunity, including now, when she came out from her bedroom and walked into the kitchen.

“Win any popularity contests at school today?” he asked her. She rolled her eyes and ignored him, so he tried again.

“Did you manage to get everyone’s guns yet?” he said.

“How many times do I have to tell you it’s not about that?” she said. “We’re just pushing for more safety, a little more control.”

“That’s a bad word,” Alan said. “First it’s gun control, then it’s confiscation. I don’t know where you learned any different.”

She was the youngest of his four daughters, each a bit more empowered than the last, and by the time Moriah turned 12 she had begun questioning her parents’ Christianity, and then started favoring abortion rights, and then calling herself a feminist, and then refusing to eat the pigs her family sometimes slaughtered for meat. “The mouthy, hard-headed one,” Alan called her, with some pride, because that was how he saw himself, too, even if they often disagreed. She advocated for gay rights in her high school, and he thought acceptance was “part of the problem, because that stuff is better off staying hidden.” She was dating a Mexican American boy named Jon, whom Alan liked but also occasionally referred to as “Mexican Juan.” She was a journalist at the high school newspaper. He thought that journalists were partially to blame for ruining America and that “the fake news wouldn’t give Trump a slap on the back if he saved two babies from a fire.”

Read the story

The Needle and the Damage Done: ‘What kind of a childhood is that?’

Photo by Urban Seed Education (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At The Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Zaine, Arianna, and Zoie Pulliam — three kids 17 and under deemed “opiate orphans.” The Pulliam kids exemplify a generation of children whose parents have died of drug overdoses as a result of the opioid epidemic.

Nearly everyone in Zaine’s life had been anxiously monitoring that line for the past year and a half, ever since both of his parents died of heroin overdoses in April 2015. His parents had become two of the record 33,091 people to die of opioid overdoses that year in a national crisis that has been worst of all in rural West Virginia, where health officials estimate that overdose rates are now eight to 10 times higher than the national average. Middle-aged white men in this part of the country have lost a full year of life expectancy during the past two decades. Middle-aged white women have lost more than two years. The opiate epidemic has essentially wiped out an entire generation of health advances, and now West Virginia has begun to focus more of its resources on prevention and preservation among the next generation entering into the void.

These children are sometimes referred to by health officials here as opiate orphans, and three of the most recent ones live in a small house in South Charleston: Zoie, 10, who believed that her parents had died in their sleep; Arianna, 13, who was just starting to wear her mother’s old makeup; and Zaine, 17, who had been the one to discover his parents that morning on their bedroom floor, and whose grades had begun to drop ever since.

Madie, 53, had retired from her maintenance job at the public schools and moved into the house to help take care of the children after the overdoses. “Mah-maw,” they called her, and she told salty jokes, cooked their breakfast and slept in Zoie’s bedroom when she had nightmares.

But, on some nights, it was Madie who couldn’t sleep, when neither her doctor-prescribed antidepressants nor her occasional swallows of Fireball whiskey could quiet her grief or her rising anxiety. She had once struggled with addiction herself before getting clean. She had raised a daughter who had become an addict. Now she was responsible for three more children in a place where that same disease had officially been classified as a “widespread, progressive and fatal epidemic.”

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Longreads Best of 2016: Investigative Reporting

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in investigative reporting.

* * *

Francesca Mari
Senior Editor at The California Sunday Magazine.

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard (Shane Bauer, Mother Jones)

Hands down the best reporting I read all year is Shane Bauer’s “My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard.” Bauer applied for a job at the Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana; though, let’s be real, as you’ll learn from the piece, applications are hardly necessary. Winn, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, the company that basically invented private prisons in the eighties, pretty much begged him to come onboard. After all, the pay is $9 an hour, the shifts are twelve hours long, and only some one-third of hires stick around. Bauer’s piece gets readers up to speed on the history of private prisons and their ubiquity today and takes readers deep into the particulars of the understaffed hellhole that is Winn–a place in which the guards, having so little support, are left to negotiate their own rules with prisoners. Bauer’s portrait of the prison community–and it is a community–is rich, illuminating without being condescending, in part because Bauer is, to some extent, a participant. Here’s a taste of an exchange between Bauer’s 19-year-old coworker, a kid all too keen to demonstrate his power named Collinsworth, and a prisoner he won’t deign to talk to:

“The best thing you could do is get to know people in the place.”
“I understand it’s your home,” Collinsworth says. “But I’m at work right now.”

“It’s your home for 12 hours a day! You trippin’. You ’bout to do half my time with me. You straight with that?”

“It’s probably true.”

“It ain’t no ‘probably true.’ If you go’ be at this bitch, you go’ do 12 hours a day.” He tells Collinsworth not to bother writing up inmates for infractions: “They ain’t payin’ you enough for that.” Seeming torn between whether to impress me or the inmate, Collinsworth says he will only write up serious offenses, like hiding drugs.

The Architect Who Became a Diamond (Alice Gregory, The New Yorker)

First of all–mini spoiler alert–you can make a diamond out of someone’s ashes! That’s just one of the odd little twists in Alice Gregory’s nail-biter about the most unlikely of nail-biter subjects–an architect’s archive. The architect in question is the very on-trend (and truly talented) Luis Barragán, who designed geometric buildings with vivid colors throughout Mexico. And the problem is that a Swiss manufacturing family owns his archive. The woman in that family for whom the archive was bought is determined to carefully catalog his work herself and protect his legacy and so she has refused to grant anyone access to his archive for the last two decades. This story is about a contemporary artist’s clever plot to persuade her otherwise. Gregory’s excellent structuring lends suspense and urgency to questions about how to best maintain a virtuoso’s legacy. Who should be allowed access to his archives and who should determine who should be allowed access? Read more…

Longreads Best of 2016: Here Are All of Our No. 1 Story Picks from This Year

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2016. To get you ready, here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Peter Frick-Wright

Below, our favorite stories of the week.

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