D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Barrett Brown and Anonymous

Looking back at the National Magazine Award-winning article.

Barrett Brown in repose. photo by Nikki Loehr
Barrett Brown in repose. photo by Nikki Loehr

Considering his future plans, Barrett Brown told Tim Rogers in early 2011: “I might move to New York or L.A. I might stay here. Or I might be in jail.”

Frequent readers of this blog know already which of those relocations came to pass, because Brown has lately been our Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution correspondent. He was arrested in September 2012 after posting a video online — following an earlier FBI raid on his apartment — in which he threatened to kill federal agents. He got some good news in March, when the government dropped most of its charges against him. He no longer faces the prospect of a 105-year prison sentence, but he still awaits sentencing (on Oct. 6) for obstruction of justice and those death threats he made.

You may also remember that the April 2011 D Magazine story that Tim wrote about Brown won a National Magazine Award a year later. In addition to receiving a creepy-looking trophy, Tim got to attend a fancy-schmancy New York City dinner party hosted by Brian Williams, at which he gave (by all accounts) one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in the ceremony’s history.

I asked Tim to reflect upon the article, one of the 40 greatest ever published in D, and share anything that came to mind, particularly about why he decided to write it in the first place. His response:

I explained a bit in the story how I came to tell Barrett’s tale because I thought that process illuminated his character. Barrett is a weird guy. I mean that in the most positive sense. But especially when I was reporting that story, he was difficult at times to communicate with. He was on drugs, and he’s a fast-talking mumbler to begin with. He’s difficult to understand even when he’s sober. Zac was with me on a couple of occasions when I was talking to Barrett, and he (Zac) said it was like watching Han Solo talk to Chewbacca; Zac had to suss out the nature of the conversation solely from my side of it.

Anyway, there was the communication barrier, and then there was the fact that I’d met Barrett many years ago, when he was a lowly high-school intern at the Met. Initially, it was hard for me to believe that little Barrett had grown up and gotten himself mixed up in this international story. I guess I was able to tell Barrett’s story because I speak Wookiee and have a soft spot for fellow weirdos.

The great thing now is that Barrett is sober, and his writing is sharper than ever. When he gets out of the clink, I fully expect he’ll tell his own story. He’ll do a better job of it than I ever could.