A trauma-filled past, solitary confinement, and a ballpoint pen lead to some interesting results.
One favor I have to ask each of you as we're closing in on the midway point of this season: if you've been enjoying Brown Boy Problems, can you do me a favor and forward this email to one person who you think will enjoy this series?
Previously on “Brown Boy Problems” ... I was bringing you up to speed on Papa’s business, Islamic Publications International. He sold an assortment of Islamic texts primarily to universities and prisons. The business brought him in contact with several notorious prisoners who wrote to him asking for books but had no money to offer. One of those was Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. Another was a much younger terrorist who, unlike Reid, was successful in his mission to inflict terror. (You can read the previous episode here.)
Before we get started, this episode is Rated Q. Q as in queasy. Previously unpublished drawings and writings from someone responsible for fairly heinous crimes will be featured in this episode. They might make you feel some type of way.
Without further adieu ...
While Reid's request for books was quite noteworthy, it had nothing on the letter that came to IPI's P.O. Box in early 2003. Let me take you back.
A few months prior in October 2002, the focus of the nation was on a series of seemingly random attacks on individuals in the D.C. area. People were afraid to leave their homes out of fear that they might catch a bullet from the mysterious sniper. Maybe it was a group of snipers? No one really knew what was going on.
It turned out to be two snipers, who after three weeks were eventually caught in their car sleeping at a rest stop. In total 10 people were killed in the D.C. sniper attacks, with another 7 murdered in earlier shootings.
To the chagrin of Muslims in America, the leader of the duo was a John Allen Muhammad. We all collectively went “Fuck. Muhammad, really? It couldn’t be a white guy this time? Or at least a bit more ambiguous of a Muslim name like a Malik? Why you always got to be taking the prophet's name, peace be upon him?”
It’s still unclear what the motive for the murders was. It seems that the pair were either a) creating chaos to eventually cover up Muhammad killing his ex-wife, which they never got around to, or b) trying to use the murders as leverage to get a ransom from the U.S. government so they could build a camp for orphaned children in Canada who would go on to combat racial injustice in the United States. (To be clear, as one of my editors was confused, that second part is not a joke and was presented at trial.)
What was most shocking, however, was the age of Muhammad’s accomplice; Muhammad, who was 41 at the time, had partnered with a teenager, Lee Boyd Malvo, in the killing spree. Malvo was only 16 when the first murders took place.
During his trial, Malvo was noted for the drawings he would continuously scribble on his lawyer’s legal pads. The drawings ranged from depictions of Osama Bin Laden to Tupac to the U.S. military. There were also several drawings dedicated to “The Matrix,” which his defense team unsuccessfully used to try to prove that Malvo thought the world was a simulation.
(The Matrix defense has actually been used successfully to support an insanity defense on at least two occasions. The basic idea is that the reality we live in is actually a simulation. The person thinks that they aren't killing a human, but a simulation. Now that the fourth Matrix movie is set in modern-day San Francisco, I wonder if this defense will become utilized even more.)
While he was awaiting trial, Malvo reached out to Papa to see if he could get books from IPI. Unlike Reid, Malvo did have something to offer—he wanted to barter his drawings in exchange for reading material.
I found the drawings Malvo sent over to be stunning. They weren’t stunning because of the artistry on display, but the incredible amount of hate on those pages. As a high schooler, I had never seen anything like this, let alone coming from the hands of someone who’s only a couple of years older than me.
The one drawing I can vividly recall was of a pig that was outfitted in the attire of a cop. There was a sniper scope trained on the pig’s head along with a message that more or less said all cops must be killed.
After getting no reply from Papa, Lee Boyd Malvo followed up with another set of drawings.
Papa kept these drawings in a kitchen drawer. Sometimes if there was a friend of his that was visiting, he’d whip them out. When Professor Hamid Algar was over one time, he tried to get Papa to give them to him so they could be taken to U.C. Berkeley and be used for academic purposes. Papa insisted on keeping them. They were artifacts in his care.
While I couldn't find Malvo's first set of communications, I was able to track down the second set he sent over. Unlike the first set, these drawings provided a little more clarity about Malvo's motivations. (And once again, fair warning, you may find them off-putting.)