SMITH Magazine

An Interview with the Wizard of Wikipedia

Editor's note: In a new series of interviews, Smith magazine unearths some of the people who have made many, many contributions to the Net, each in their own particular way, while remaining mostly under the radar.

Ever wonder who those people are who leave all those reviews on Amazon? Or who seem to find time to post 25 new YouTube videos a day, or link to story after story on Digg? Where better to begin than the wild, unwieldy, and wonderful world of Wikipedia? Meet Richard Farmbrough, a 45-year-old technology project manager living in Stamford, England -- and the man with the most Wiki entries since its launch on January 15, 2001. SMITH contacted him via email.

What's Stamford like?

Richard Farmbrough: Stamford is a pleasant market town in the East of England region, it is generally affluent, and near the city of Peterborough. It has good transport links and an interesting history -- see the Wikipedia article of the same name.

Why the urge to write and edit so many entries?

Farmbrough: Wikipedia is such a good resource, it seems a shame to let gaps remain unfilled, or errors go by uncorrected. This is also in keeping with a community value indicated by the neologism "sofixit" -- in other words, on Wikipedia, you are empowered to resolve problems, rather than relying on someone else to do it for you. Of course, some things require collaboration through talk pages and the many wiki-projects that cover everything from specialist subjects to article clean-up and helping new editors find their feet.

How did you get involved with Wikipedia?

Farmbrough: Like most Wikipedians, I started with a minor edit, on a "talk page" (a page where an article is discussed). In my case, I increasingly found that I was, at that time, in a position to add to, correct or create many articles. After some time, I started reading the documents about Wikipedia and how it works, and realized that we were creating good content but with lots of stylistic, spelling, grammatical and other gaffes.

Wikipedia has a Manual of Style, so I read that, and started fixing "violations" wherever I came across them -- such as by effectively proofreading, and to some extent, sub-editing. I became frustrated with finding the same errors again and again, and created tools to help find and eliminate them. Round about then, I came across Wikipedia "bots," or robots, and started using one to fix common errors. That's under a separate account and is, I believe, the Wikipedia editor with the most edits.

What was the first entry you ever wrote or edited?

Farmbrough: My first article edit was to Modafinil a keep-awake drug I was investigating at the time. It's pleasing to see the short article that was there then is now a substantial overview of the drug. The first article I created (you can't really say you "wrote" an article on Wikipedia, since they are never finished, and have many editors) was Projective frame which is about a mathematical concept that has also been improved substantially-and the same day (I must have been getting into my stride) Ohio House of Representatives with a couple of lines, that are now a reasonable article, Spaghetti House siege substantially as it is now, and Black Liberation Army which again has grown to a reasonable article from my couple of lines.

What do your mates think of how much time you spend on Wikipedia?

Farmbrough: Actually, I don't spend all that much time on Wikipedia. I rarely get involved in the behind-the-scenes stuff; although, as an "administrator," I get asked to help deal with vandals and disruptive behavior. Nor am I involved, at the moment, in anything that takes extensive research. Most of my edits (but by no means all) are minor clean-ups that take a few seconds -- that's the main reason I have so many edits.

If somebody were to find out that you had the most entries and wanted to beat your record, what would you do? Would you pull all-nighters to retain your crown?

Farmbrough: I would encourage them to make sure that their edits were adding something of value. "Editcountitis" is a well-known affliction in the Wiki community, and to try and reduce it, I would freely state that I consider many editors have made more valuable contributions to the 'pedia than I have. Of course, it's "nice" to be at the top of the (human) list -- especially as I considered it completely out of the question to be in the top 100 when I first saw it. But really, it's not that big a deal; I don't mention it on my user page, and I don't think I've mentioned it to my family or friends.

Do you have any other obsessions besides Wikipedia?

Farmbrough: Well, I am not actually obsessed with Wikipedia, despite appearances! If I am obsessed with anything, it is continuous improvement. I see Wikipedia as an example of this, as well as my own personal and family development. And the charity I'm involved with, which is trying to improve the education system.

Do you think Wikipedia is a better source of information than going to the library?

Farmbrough: In some ways. The question only makes sense if you state who is looking for what, and which library is involved. For example, if you have a university library available to you, you will get more and better information on most subjects, except, perhaps, popular culture. If you only have a small-town library, you can probably find out as much or more from Wikipedia on many subjects, but it will be "chunked" differently -- it might not be easy to learn calculus, certainly not Linux or Anglo-Saxon from Wikipedia (although, there are sister wikis which address these types of needs). The Wikipedia community has a strong belief in maintaining the goal of building an encyclopedia, rather than a how-to resource, a dictionary (though there is also Wiktionary) or "an indiscriminate collection of information."

Tell us a story about yourself that you haven't told anybody in a long time.

Farmbrough: When I was about eight or nine, I was given a Junior Pears Encyclopedia-a single volume of about 600 pages. Not long after that, I decided it would be extremely useful to have a "book of everything," since there was clearly a lot of ground missed out in this one. My book would probably have to run to several volumes, perhaps five or ten. I started by preparing some re-cycled envelopes where I could collect information, "The Elements" "The Solar System" "Napoleon" and "Nelson" were a few. Realizing I knew very little about Nelson and Napoleon, I made a trip to the largest local library I could get to, took one look at the biography shelves, and realized the futility of my endeavor. Twenty something years later, the Internet in general and Wikipedia in particular have re-awakened that boyhood dream.

What's next for you on Wikipedia?

Farmbrough: I'd like to create a mathematical model of the trends, to investigate how we best go about keeping the vitality of the enterprise without compromising content. It seems to me that while Wikipedia may be the embryonic form of something we don't yet understand, it may also suffer from stultification and rot; when all the "easy" articles have been written and polished, who will keep an eye on minor jazz singers dates of birth.

If you could describe your experience as a Wikipedia writer in six words, what would they be?

Farmbrough: Cool, frustrating, satisfying, friendly, challenging, educational.

Part of Smith Magazine's series on the people who have made many contributions to the Net, each in their own particular way, while remaining mostly under the radar.

Partying in Baghdad

After witnessing the soul-crushing defeat of their beloved Red Sox to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS series, two twentysomethings who created a street empire hawking "Yankees suck" T-shirts outside of Fenway Park needed to escape from the East Coast.

But instead of packing their bags and heading off to South America or the Philippines (typical destinations for the two world travelers), Ray LeMoine and Jeff Neumann let their wanderlust lure them to the Middle East -- Baghdad, to be exact. Within 24 hours on the ground, they were hired to run the desk at the Coalition Provisional Authority and spent the next three months taking aid requisitions and partying with a motley crew of journalists and NGOs, all of which they documented in their rollicking memoir Babylon By Bus.

MICHAEL SLENSKE: What was the craziest story that didn't make it into the book?

RAY LEMOINE: We tried to put most of the crazy stories into the book. A lot of people tend to say, "You went to Baghdad just to do drugs." But that doesn't make much sense. Why would you go to the most dangerous place in the world to do drugs when you can get anything you want delivered to your doorstep in New York? One thing we didn't do, though, was point fingers. We weren't the only ones acting this way -- even though drug use was mostly limited to people under 30 -- but we made an effort in the book to protect people from their institutions back home.

SLENSKE: While you were there, you hooked with up a bunch of reporters, including the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson and Salon's Jen Banbury at Adam Davidson's Baghdad chateau. Were you constantly thinking about telling your own story?

JEFF NEUMANN: When we were there, no. When we got back, yes. A few months after we got home Jen and Adam did a Q&A with us and six other CPA workers in GQ. And then Jen interviewed us for "This American Life," and that's when the interest for the book came on. We didn't realize it was a story that anybody would want to read -- it was just day-to-day stuff to us.

LEMOINE: Obviously anybody who reads and has an interest in literature would. But we didn't have any connections to the writing world. I didn't even know what an agent was. We kind of backed into this thing.

SLENSKE: In the book you mention that even the "peaceniks had blogs" over there. Did you use any technology to keep an account of your time in Iraq?

NEUMANN: Not really. We just sent group emails to our friends. Neither of us were really into blogs because we never knew what to say.

LEMOINE: We both kept journals, and I kept detailed notes about what I was doing. But we really had to write the whole book from scratch a year and a half later. I wrote this magazine article for Swindle when I got back, but that was it.

SLENSKE: Did you run into any other interesting NGOs while you were there?

LEMOINE: It was surprising how many young people were there doing crazy stuff -- a lot of peace activists. But you had to leave the Green Zone. The people in there were pretty lame. It's all these young Republicans walking around in khakis.

SLENSKE: What was the most surprising thing you saw when you were in Iraq?

LEMOINE: Once we started living in the palace in the first week of February, the people we were working with [in the CPA] were extremely talented people, putting in 20-hour days, and they were failing -- they were admitting failure. It was then we realized there was very little hope the occupation would succeed. That was the most shocking thing -- that the most powerful nation in the world could go in there and screw things up this bad. It raises a bunch of questions, like could anyone else have done any better? It was really surprising.

SLENSKE: How has this experience changed the way you view the situation in Iraq?

NEUMANN: Everyday I read the paper, and think it can't get any worse, but it does. We got to see where it went wrong. Basically all of [L. Paul] Bremer's orders -- from de-Baathification to disbanding the Iraqi Army -- laid the groundwork for all the chaos you see now. It really soured my view of it.

SLENSKE: Mel Gibson optioned the rights to the book for the USA Network? Any regrets looking back now?

LEMOINE: We get asked that question a lot, and that's the only thing we've not talked about. Obviously, you can't be excited about it, but it doesn't really affect us. I'd rather be dealing with Mel Gibson than Disney. Disney sucks. Besides, we like all the people at Icon, they're really smart.

SLENSKE: Where would you like to go next, and why?

NEUMANN: We're doing a small promotional tour for the book, but I'd like to start traveling as soon as possible -- hit the road and figure it out. I'm definitely interested in the Middle East and North Africa. I like to go to places that are politically charged.

LEMOINE: I would really like to have been in Lebanon these past five weeks to see how crazy things were. I'm interested in going everywhere. I was in Pakistan until the beginning of June, basically the whole year, and this charity I was working close to as an NGO was just tied to the liquid bombing plot by [New York Times reporter] Dexter Filkins. Things move so quickly it's hard to say where I'd want to go. I'm interested in place in change. And as an American, I'm drawn to places that affect America.

The Loose Cannon of 9/11

It took two governors, four congressmen, three former White House officials and two special counsels two years to compile. They reviewed over two and half million pages of classified and declassified documents, consulted 1,200 sources in 10 countries, and spent over $15 million of the taxpayers' money in the process. And on July 22, 2004, the 9/11 Commission issued its final report on the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Is it possible that two twentysomethings from "a small hippie town that time forgot" could undermine that entire effort with $8,000 and a laptop?

Yes, if you ask ex-Army specialist Korey Rowe. The 23-year-old from Oneonta, New York returned home from two tours -- one to Afghanistan, the other to Iraq -- to help his best friends, Dylan Avery (director) and Jason Bermas (researcher), produce the sensational 80-minute, Web-based documentary "Loose Change," which seeks to establish the government's complicity in the terror attacks by addressing some very tough questions: Why wasn't Ground Zero treated like a crime scene? How did both towers "free-fall" to the ground "in 9.2 seconds" in just under two hours? And where are the black boxes from American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175?

While the film is admittedly flawed and draws on some dubious new media sources, including Wikipedia, it's inarguably sparked a new interest in the "9/11 Truth movement." Since its April 2005 debut online, "Loose Change" (the first and second edition) has received over 10 million viewings, it was just featured in the August issue of Vanity Fair, and the final cut of the film is expected to debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

"I've got four movie studios [including Paramount and Miramax] beating down my door to make the final cut," says Rowe, who's now got offices from California to London to handle his growing company. Last week SMITH caught up with Rowe -- who's been labeled everything from a traitor to a CIA operative in the past year -- to see how he went from protecting the Iraqi-Syrian border against Muslim insurgents to a self-described "conspiracy theorist" poised to take Hollywood (and the country) by storm.

MICHAEL SLENSKE: Do you work for the CIA?

KOREY ROWE: No, I do not work for the CIA.

SLENSKE: Just wanted to get that out of the way. What made you want to join the military?

ROWE: The fact that I was doing nothing. I was 18; I wasn't ready to go to college yet. I knew that if I went to college I wouldn't have spent too much time in class, I would have spent my time partying. I wouldn't have gotten done what I needed to do. It would have been a waste of my parents' money. So I decided it would probably be best if I joined the military -- this was pre-Sept. 11 -- Bush was in office, there wasn't a whole lot going on, I didn't foresee a war happening, I just thought it would be a good way to get out of town, man-up a little, and then move on with the rest of my life. Before I knew it, I just joined.

SLENSKE: Did you want to go to war?

ROWE: At first I did. I wanted to retaliate for Sept. 11. The government told me it was Osama bin Laden, the government told me he was hiding in caves in Afghanistan, they told me he had killed a bunch of innocent Americans, so at first I wanted to go over there and defend just like everyone else. It was the hooah thing to do at the time.

SLENSKE: What were you doing in Afghanistan?

ROWE: My primary MOS (military occupational specialty) was 11 Bravo, which is infantry, frontline infantry. I was carrying a gun, humping a lot of weight on my back. That was what I did in Afghanistan full time. I was at the Kandahar airfield, Bagram, and Khost. But in Afghanistan I really didn't do much. I was there for six months, pulled a lot of guard; I went on, I think, three missions. Never got any enemy contact, never got fired on. I watched it on my perimeter, a couple hundred meters out while someone else was getting shot at, but I never really got any action.

SLENSKE: And in Iraq?

ROWE: In Iraq I rode in the back of a truck from the southern tip, through the desert into Al-Hillah, took the battle of Al-Hillah, which was pretty crazy. It looked like a Vietnam movie. Then we moved further north into Baghdad, where we were in Medical City. I was stationed in an emergency room door for about a month and a half just watching these bodies of children and their families come in. Then I moved north into Mosul, swung west into Sinjar, on the Syrian-Turkey border where we had to watch for insurgents coming across the border.

SLENSKE: How did that experience change you?

ROWE: I went from being some kid who had no idea about anything in the military--I didn't even know what the infantry was when I joined, I just told them I wanted to shoot stuff and blow stuff up -- to being a communications specialist for my commander. That was really when I started to see the bigger picture -- when I started working for higher commanders -- seeing how things ran.

SLENSKE: When was the first time you heard from Dylan Avery about what he was doing with "Loose Change" back in New York?

ROWE: After I got back from Afghanistan, he started to talk about the idea that 9/11 was an inside job, and started letting me know about some of the information he had come across. It was between returning from Afghanistan and redeploying for Iraq that my mind started to click on. I was like, "Wait a minute -- I was in Afghanistan three months ago, and now I'm going to be in Iraq in four months. I've got to invade another country; where is this going?"

Then -- and I hate to say this -- I saw "Fahrenheit 911," which to me is a terrible movie. But a lot of it made sense in the pretext and military build-up to Afghanistan before we were actually attacked. When I walked out of that movie I was like, "Wow, that messed with my head." Right before I deployed for Iraq, I had the inclination that something was seriously wrong. But then it didn't matter because at that point I had to go. My unit needed me. I was the company RTO (radio telephone operator); I was running communications. It didn't matter what my personal beliefs were. I just had to go over and shut my mouth for another year.

SLENSKE: So why this film?

ROWE: "Loose Change" happened by accident. The whole thing started out as a fictional screenplay about me and Dylan and another friend of ours finding out 9/11 was an inside job. It started out as a comedic action film with us being chased by the FBI and all that. But when Dylan started researching the screenplay, he found out the attacks really were an inside job, so we made it into a documentary. I see myself as a person who's a buffer between conspiracy theorist and military informant, so I thought my help on "Loose Change" would make it a better quality piece, something more mainstream people who aren't into conspiracies could really watch and take in.

I call it the gateway drug because it can take someone totally green to the information -- who believed Muslims carried out 9/11, that the World Trade Center was brought down because of jet fuel, and that the Pentagon was hit by a plane -- you put them in front of this movie, and 80 minutes later they are going to question it at least. Bottom line: They're going to question it. It makes people think. It made me think, so I wanted to make other people think.

SLENSKE: When you got back from Iraq did you know you wanted to go work on the film?

ROWE: No, I went back to work. I was training. That's what you do. When you're not deployed, you're in the rear either fixing your gear or using your gear. I was stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., the whole four years besides the time I was overseas. When you're back from overseas you get a month off, you clean your gear, and then go fight again.

SLENSKE: Didn't you ever stop and think, "Wait, Dylan is just a kid"?

ROWE: Yeah, several times. I thought, I'm in the military, I know stuff. But Dylan was way more informed than me. Like I said, I'm getting the Army Times, I'm getting the AFN, and now it's out. It's reported that the government spent millions of dollars spinning false articles to newspapers across the world. So who's to say the Armed Forces Network and the Army Times aren't chockfull of bullshit?

SLENSKE: How prevalent is that mindset in the Army?

ROWE: That they know what's going on?


ROWE: It's 98 percent. It's a fantasy world those people live in. I mean it's really something. I call them infected. They can't come back to civilian life. They're like, "You can't get out of the Army, you ain't gonna get no job, you ain't gonna do nothing. You gonna work at Burger King. What are you gonna do at Burger King? You still wear a uniform; you still get a haircut at Burger King. So why don't you just stay in the Army, join up, sign again, get $6,000." If you don't reenlist, they just make you sit in a chair. They made me sit in a chair for a week. Sit in that chair until you reenlist. I just sat there. "You want me to sit in this chair," I said, "I'll sit in this chair for a month, because in a month I'm out of here."

SLENSKE: When you came back, was there anything that really bothered you about the American public?

ROWE: Yeah, their ability to believe the B.S. they see on TV. They're so in tune with their television and CNN and Fox News and the New York Post. They watch the news and the news reporter, whoever it is, forms an opinion for them. Take the release of the Pentagon video. CNN had been bashing conspiracies all day because people kept writing in about conspiracy theories. They build it up for two hours, then they show the video, then Jamie McIntyre, who we actually use in our video says, "All right, there's the plane, you can see it. There's the vapor trail, and there's the explosion. They only shoot in half-second frames; it's the only shot of the Pentagon. We'll be right back to cover more of this. This is undisputed proof that a plane hit the Pentagon."

They go to commercial, and instead of coming back and going to Flight 77, they go to "American Idol." They just implant the idea, there's Jamie McIntyre saying he sees a 757 flying into the Pentagon, and then they switch to "American Idol." So then when someone says there's no plane that hit the Pentagon, someone else can say, "That's not true; I watched CNN this afternoon. Jamie McIntyre saw the plane; he showed me." People believe anything because it's on CNN.

SLENSKE: What do you think about the Popular Mechanics cover story about "Debunking 9/11 Myths"?

ROWE: That's a good article. It covers some good information, but it directly takes away from some of the facts. It states that NATO scrambled planes at one time that could've intercepted the planes but couldn't because they couldn't reach them in time. That's bullshit. That article reports they only would've had to have flown at 24 percent of their full-blower, and an F15 flies at 1,800 mph. You're telling me when the first plane was hijacked at 8:20 a.m. until 9:45, when the plane was flown into the Pentagon, you're telling me that not one F-15 could be scrambled and taken down one of those planes. Not to mention the ("Debunking 9/11 Myths") piece stands on the Nova theory (the "Pancake Theory") that one floor collapsed on another floor creating a succession of collapses where the towers fell.

If that's true, you have a 75-story office building untouched by fuel, fire, any debris whatsoever. You have a 30-story chunk above that, which is also untouched. You have the 78th to 82nd floor, which is on fire. Think about that. You have a 70-something story office building, untouched, unscathed by fuel. You're going to tell me that the steel supposedly weakened, fell on one floor, on top of another floor, on top of another floor, for 78 floors, reaching the ground floor, and fell in 9.2 seconds. 9.2 seconds is the exact rate of freefall for a building that tall, which is 1,368 feet tall.

If you take Galileo's Law of Falling Bodies and you calculate the distance by the time it takes to fall, it's 9.2 seconds. That means that all those floors fell without any resistance from any of those untouched floors below it. It's completely impossible. Not only do you have to do that, you just have to watch the collapse of the towers. You can see the bombs going off. It is so obvious. It's an umbrella theory. You blow up the top to conceal what's going on beneath it.

SLENSKE: The "Blair Witch Project" also looked real to people who were in on the documentary preceding it. It totally worked. The first time you watch it, it grabs you. But "Loose Change" isn't meant to be fictional. It's a watchable film, but what do you expect people to do with it?

ROWE: What I encourage people to do is go out and research it themselves. We don't ever come out and say that everything we say is 100 percent. We know there are errors in the documentary, and we've actually left them in there so that people discredit us and do the research for themselves -- the B52 (remarked to have flown into the Empire State Building), the use of Wikipedia, things like that. We left them in there so people will want to discredit us and go out and research the events yourself and come up with your own conclusions. That's our whole goal, to make Americans think. To wake up from the 16 amps of your television to watch something and get a passion in something again.

And that's what America has always been about. From the Vietnam protests … it's always been about a passion. And now we're trying to build that passion in people, to wake up, to stop watching television, to stop reading the crappy newspapers, and go online and find those declassified documents. Go find the scientists that aren't young filmmakers, but the ones after Steven E. Jones at BYU, who has steel from the World Trade Center and has conducted tests on the steel. And it's come to the point, over and over again, that what they (the 9-11 Commission) say can't be true. That it had to be brought down by controlled demolition. Our whole goal is to wake Americans up to do something about it.

SLENSKE: What do you say to people who'd say you're doing this to make a dollar?

ROWE: You should see my dilapidated house in upstate New York. I drive a Ford F-150 that has a tape player. We sell DVDs, we make money, but we just give the shit away because we don't want to be war profiteers. We're not about making money on the whole thing -- we're about getting information out. That's why we've turned down seven figures, more than once, from people looking to buy our film and put it in theaters -- because they don't care about it. They only see the moneymaking aspect of it.

We want to make sure it's handled correctly. That the movie gets out 100 percent accurate when it comes out in theaters, because it's obviously not now, and that it's projected in the right light so people aren't threatened by it. If we coordinate 500 theaters across the country to start playing it, it's going to start a wave. We're going to have a whole weekend of events on 9/11 just to raise awareness among New Yorkers so that we can try to get an independent investigation to look back into the facts that every news agency in the world has ignored. Americans are going to be pissed.

Fog of War or War Crimes?

In the wake of the James Frey debacle -- and its tractor-powered disinterment of similar thinly veiled literary hoaxes surrounding the louche and love-starved -- it's rather conspicuous (or perhaps not) that Jimmy Massey's name has failed to resurface in the broadsheets.

If you haven't heard of him, Massey, a former Marine staff sergeant who spent 12 years in the Corps before being medically discharged with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and becoming a key figure in the peace movement with Veterans For Peace, rose to infamy last November after St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ron Harris (followed lockstep by hawkish blogger Michelle Malkin) discredited claims made by Massey in his book Kill, Kill, Kill that he'd been party to (and a participant in) war crimes during his tour in Iraq with a Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAT) platoon.

Although Harris and Co. vehemently disputed Massey's claims of killing innocent civilians on the road to Baghdad, Harris has admitted that he doesn't read French (the language in which Massey's book was published) nor was he ever directly embedded with Massey's unit. Malkin, for her part, failed to return various emails, which is telling, considering the fact that the claims made in "Kill, Kill, Kill," which is also being published in Spain, were corroborated by three other Marines in Massey's platoon in interviews with the same French-American investigative journalist who ghost-wrote the book with Massey.

MICHAEL SLENSKE: What made you want to write "Kill, Kill, Kill"?

JIMMY MASSEY: When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, the psychologist suggested I write a memoir as part of the therapy. I started writing, basically just jotting down notes, and then when I got discharged from the Marine Corps, Natasha Saulnier, my ghostwriter, contacted me through Veterans For Peace. She did a couple interviews with me and asked if I wanted to write a book with her about my experiences, and it all kind of fell into place.

MS: How do you feel when people in the press like Ron Harris want to attack you for what you've said or what you've written?

JM: Ron Harris is just covering his own behind. He knows he is just as liable for war crimes as any military member serving in Iraq.

MS: How so?

JM: Because of his failure to do any investigative journalism into the actual incidents of the killing of civilians.

MS: Was he with you when this was happening?

JM: No, he was never with my company. He was with Lima Company. The only time that I saw Ron Harris was after a particular incident happened at a checkpoint when he came in to do his little interview and leave back to Lima Company. It took an international incident for him to report any of the civilian casualties. It took the killing of reporters for him to finally talk about that.

MS: But what's the actual dispute?

JM: Well, that's the thing. Ron Harris even stated that he didn't set out to dispute, he just didn't see the harshness I portray in the book. And I don't think Ron Harris has read the book either.

MS: So the contention is essentially whether the events you describe in the book should be labeled as normal combat procedures or war crimes.

JM: I leave it up to the readers in the book. Are these war crimes or are these just fog of war? My definition of fog of war is that you're on the battlefield and out of the corner of your eye you see somebody run and you fire off a shot and you go find out it's a civilian. That's fog of war. Where I have a heartburn with it is that we actually escalated the violence by heightening the intelligence reports. We demonized the Iraqi people and we were given carte blanche to shoot first and ask questions later. I think that the truth hurts. I think when a lot of Marines read this book it's going to bring to their point of view the violations of the Geneva Conventions. Can you win a war with continued violations of the Geneva Conventions and International Law?

MS: So did you feel you were violating the law at the time?

JM: Oh definitely, and I raised the BS flag very early on.

MS: And what did your fellow Marines say?

JM: I was kind of treated like an outcast or rogue because they didn't like my opinions about certain situations. I became very agitated because I went up to Captain Smith [of Lima Company]. This was shortly after the red Kia incident. I told him we need to get combat engineers in here to fortify when we have these kinds of checkpoints. And his response was, "No -- there's not going to be any combat engineers to come in."

MS: So what would you say to people who'd claim your story is a fake war story?

JM: The thing is, I was there. There were other members of the platoon that were there. I haven't seen one reporter that has interviewed guys who were in the book. Mainly these are just random Marines in other companies who have been interviewed. I think what is going to have to happen is that these Marines I talk about in the book are going to have to come forward or be interviewed and ask them about each particular event. Natasha Saulnier actually conducted the interviews with the Marines in the book, and they openly admit to killing civilians.

MS: Is this at the level of a My Lai incident?

JM: I don't think it's to that level yet. I do think we have the propensity to head in that direction because of the military thought process and [because] we demonize the Iraqi people and treat every Iraqi as a potential terrorist. I'm very curious about Fallujah and the actual battle plans of what took place in Fallujah. I'd love to hear the civilian accounts of what happened, especially because I've been hearing that they used white phosphorous.

MS: Are you trying to get the book published in America?

JM: If an American publishing company comes along and wants to publish it, sure. We've had a few look into it, and a few more are still looking into it, but it will be published in Spain in March. We've also had a good response from the French-speaking provinces of Canada.

MS: What about those who'd say you were trying to make money off these events?

JM: Come on, brother. You know how much I've made off this book? I made about $8,000. The reason I wrote the book was initially for therapy. I have started a PTSD foundation through Iraq Veterans Against the War called the Vets for Vets program. What I've been using are the proceeds that are going to that so that we can continue helping returning vets diagnosed with PTSD because the VA system is taking almost two years to get into the system, to get a diagnosis, to get a rating before they even start seeing a disability paycheck. These guys are living on the streets, homeless, and we still got people slapping yellow stickers on the back of their cars saying, "Support The Troops." They don't have a clue.

MS: What was the hardest thing for you to deal with over there? Not just the stuff you saw, but the day to day?

JM: The desperation in the Iraqi people. I don't think that the Marines in my platoon had realized the devastation this country had been under. Thirteen years of sanctions, lack of medical supplies, humanitarian rations, and I knew the Iraqi people's plight because I read the history of Iraq, and I knew the US involvement with Iraq, and I was a firsthand witness. I saw American tanks in Iraqi compounds; I saw ammunition with American flags spray-painted on the ammo box. All evidence. But it was just the desperation in their eyes. They were looking at us to be liberators and provide that humanitarian support and just act humanely toward the Iraqi people and we didn't do it. We established places like Abu Ghraib; we established free-fire check zones at Marine Corps checkpoints, just crazy, crazy military blunders.

MS: What made you want to join the Marine Corps?

JM: I came from a long line of military going all the way back to the civil war. All my kin, my family is from South Carolina, so I can trace all my roots back to here. I've had relatives that fought for the Confederacy, for the Union. My grandfather [Zachariah Roberts] was with Patton's division during World War II, and I was growing up hearing stories of what he did while he was over there. So I always had a deep sense of pride in my country.

MS: Did you enlist?

JM: I was going to UTI [Universal Technical Institute] I was studying to become an automotive engineer, but my goal was to design new cars. But I ran out of money and so I worked in the oil fields for Cardinal Well Service in the Gulf Coast. I was a tool hand. I took a job in New Orleans doing the same thing. But being young I fell in love with Bourbon Street, and I was eventually fired, lost my apartment and became homeless. I had too much pride to go back to my mom and tell her, so I talked to a recruiter when I was in New Orleans. I called my mom [and told her] what I planned on doing. She begged me to come home, so I came home. I told her I wanted to go into the Marines, and this is what I need to do to be successful.

MS: Do you regret anything about your service?

JM: Absolutely not. The only thing I regret ... is that I did not go into the Naval Investigative Service and tell them what I saw.

MS: Why didn't you do that?

JM: The Marine Corps told me they were doing the investigation and they were looking into what I was saying, so I was like well, "If they said they were looking into it, they were looking into it." And I didn't think I was getting discharged anytime soon.

MS: How do you think the support system is set up for soldiers and Marines who get "shell-shocked" over there?

JM: We've got to look at the whole medical system of the military and see what their overall goal is. Lieutenant Col. Dave Grossman wrote a book called On Killing, and he talks about the psychological effects going all the way back to World War I up to the recent Gulf Invasion. He says the overall goal of the system is to get a member of the armed forces back on the battlefield. That's why they are setting up these little rehabilitation centers in Iraq. So they let them play video games, and I've seen pictures of these little camps they have, and they play video games and they have this down time. They give them psychotropic medications, antidepressants, things to help them sleep. Then they get them back to a certain level, they ship them back to their unit. But they're not getting to the real cause because the real cause-the PTSD-is a trauma that they've received while they are in country. And if you continue to keep them there that trauma continues to build and build.

MS: How did you feel when you came back? I've talked to other vets who say when they hear a car door slam or hear a firecracker go off they are very, very on edge.

JM: I tell you what; the worst thing for me is driving. If I see a bag of garbage on the side of the road, or even if I see somebody walking, I'll just instantaneously flashback and think about IEDs. My wife doesn't let me drive anymore.

MS: You've been working with Cindy Sheehan. What is that like?

JM: Working with Cindy is wonderful.

MS: What's it like on the ground in Crawford, Texas?

JM: It was amazing. My life to me is certain periods where I heal and that's what I remember. PTSD, battling with it is everyday, but when I was in Crawford I didn't have to battle with it, it was like I felt a sense of camaraderie, communion, we were achieving the same goals.

MS: Have you met any opposition at these events?

JM: Yeah, I've been on speaking engagements-one in particular was in upstate New York-where I had people actually out front protesting me being there.

MS: Did things get messy?

JM: No, but that's the great thing: this is what the soldiers over there are fighting for is freedom of speech. I welcome those people if they want to come in and listen to what I have to say, or ask questions. I don't claim to be perfect or know everything so I welcome a healthy debate on topics. But the Marine Corps was good to me the 12 years I was in. It's not the Marine Corps' fault for being used in a negative direction; I don't harbor any ill feelings toward the Marine Corps. I learned valuable, intangible traits when I was in there-self-confidence, self-discipline. But in the back of my mind is that the reason they taught me these intangible traits was to turn me into a killer. And they succeeded.

MS: What was the fondest memory you had in Iraq?

JM: I had a big saying while I was over there, I would come across the radio and say, "My Spiderman senses are kicking in." And that was kind of like a key to the rest of the boys to be on a heightened sense of alert. And this wonderful artist, Lance Corporal Martins, came up to me and drew this Spiderman with a Marine uniform on that had a caption that said, "My Spiderman senses are tingling." Just little stuff like that.

MS: And what is the day-to-day routine for you now?

JM: I do a lot of work for IVAW [Iraq Veterans Against the War] so I'm heavily engaged in that and lining up different speaking engagements with various organizations throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. I recently went to Kuala Lumpur. The prime minister of Malaysia was hosting a peace conference, and wanted a representative from IVAW and I was the chosen one. I also went to Ireland to help with the plan of getting the U.S. warplanes out of Ireland's Shannon Airport. I was on The Late Late Show [in Ireland] talking about the depleted uranium being flown through Ireland. I'm Scotch-Irish, so Ireland is my home country.

MS: What's the one thing we don't know about this war as the American public?

JM: [Laughs] I feel ... how can I put that ... how do you tell a 25-year-old Iraqi that just witnessed his brother being killed at a Marine Corps checkpoint ... how do you tell this young man not to become an insurgent?

MS: I don't know.

JM: That's a question I'd like answered because I feel that's something we did. We escalated the violence by our stupidity, our lack of Middle Eastern cultural customs.

MS: What's a concrete example of that?

JM: For one, [at checkpoints] we were sticking our fists up in the air, which is pretty much the military sign for stop. And then we would fire a warning shot as the car approached. I had this Iraqi-American woman, she came up to me, after I got done with a presentation [in America], and she said, "Wait a minute, explain to me what you were doing?" So I explained to her that we were sticking our hand in the air and firing a warning shot. She said, "Okay, don't you think that by sticking your fist in the air in a Middle Eastern country that that could possibly mean solidarity?" And I said, "Okay, I'll play devil's advocate with you, but what about the gunshot?" She said, "What do you always see Saddam Hussein doing on the television." And I was like, "Oh my god!" I travel to Iraq, go through that, to come back to the US to have this elderly Iraqi woman tell me that we were culturally fucked up.

MS: Were there any other things that bothered you after you returned home from Iraq?

JM: I've got to bust on Harry Connick, Jr. This guy is from New Orleans. I've seen Harry Connick, Jr. play at the old Preservation Hall. This guy gets on CNN has the prime opportunity to say, "You know what? The government messed up. We were not getting the support we need to rebuild." And he blew it. When they asked him the hardball questions about how he felt, he blew it. He just kind of tiptoed and danced around it. I guess he's worried about his cell service. If that was me I would say, "Hey, come with me, walk with me down the street. I'll show you what New Orleans is like." And the celebrities are not doing it. Where are they at? What happened to the Johnny Rottens? What happened to the Dead Kennedys? That's the stuff I grew up to, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag and The Cult. I grew up with those kind of bands, and it's just not there anymore.

MS: What did you think about the book and recent movie Jarhead?

JM: I've got to give [author Anthony] Swofford props. I think he set out to tell a very heart-wrenching story of his indoctrination into war. I think that Swofford was censored. I could tell when I read the book that he wants to say something more here, and he wants to say something more here. You understand that Marine mentality. You can understand he was censored. Once I wrote my book and presented it to publishing companies, [and] they wanted to add things and take things out, I started to understand what he was up against. But I think Swofford did the very best of telling a gut-wrenching story, and ultimately I think his story has an anti-war statement.

MS: What's the ultimate goal here?

JM: The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home and once they're home provide support for them. That's the ultimate goal. I don't have any political ambitions-no crazy stuff like that.


Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.