When Omar Mateen walked through Orlando’s Pulse nightclub spraying bullets in the early hours of Sunday 12th June he killed 49 people and wounded 53 more. It was the worst massacre of gay people in living memory – and the deadliest mass shooting in US history. For three hours the world’s media fixated on the horrifically bloody siege; it was reported as yet another in a succession of “lone-wolf” terrorist atrocities committed as a display of fealty to Isis, and Mateen’s actions prompted widespread revulsion, condemnation – and solidarity.
Previously on ‘From the archive’
The circle of low, leaf-covered, beehive-shaped homes deep in the Dzanga-Sangha forest of south-western Central African Republic (CAR) has been quiet all day. But now, as the community of Ba’aka pygmies return from their daily hunt, voices echo through the encampment and fires are stoked, sending wisps of smoke up into the canopy.
Agati, a pygmy woman in her 20s, drops a small forest antelope onto the ground from her bare shoulders. She grabs a cleaver and sets about butchering the animal with powerful, muscled arms. She has also brought home a live tortoise from the hunt: threading twine between its shell and body, she passes it to a small boy to hang on a tree, where it will remain until she is ready to prepare it for her family.
“I wasn’t supposed to be Prince’s muse. He always liked to find a female muse for every season of his work, and for the album Diamonds and Pearls the word was that he was looking for a set of identical twins. I’m not a twin, so that didn’t seem on the cards for me. I went along to audition as a back-up dancer for the Cream video. It just so happened that another dancer who auditioned, Lori Elle, looked a bit like me. When Prince saw us together he decided that we could work as the twins. With that a one-week job became two years of my life.
The first step of developing a new psychoactive drug is surprisingly boring. It doesn’t involve Bolivian backwoods teeming with armed guerillas or the shaman-led sourcing of rare plants on high mountains. All it really requires, according to Dr Zee, is a decent grasp of chemistry and a whiteboard.
And he should know. Dr Zee is the most prolific inventor of what are known as Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), chemical compounds designed to mimic the effects of more traditional drugs such as cocaine and MDMA. Until recently, many of these substances were legal in the UK: Dr Zee first took the UK market by storm when he rediscovered Mephedrone – a compound first synthesised in 1929 – in 2003. Also known as Meow Meow and M-cat, the stimulant produces a similar effect to ecstasy. In its heyday, before it was listed as a Class B drug and banned in 2010, Dr Zee estimates that about a tonne of the stuff was sold every week in the UK alone.
We are on a dirt road in a remote part of southern Anbar, an Iraqi province partly occupied by Isis. Our vehicle – a huge SUV with tinted windows – has an automatic grenade launcher mounted on the back, and my companion, Commander Reda, is the leader of a heavily armed paramilitary force. It is a poor moment for me to pick a political fight.
But I can’t let this one go. Reda is convinced that the US wants Isis to survive, which is the reason they’ve been slow to re-commit troops to the country. I argue that this is just a conspiracy theory. He scoffs at my naivety. An uneasy silence descends on the car.
We’ve been tracing the Syrian conflict since its early beginnings in the Arab Spring, and have followed it from Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, to Belgian mothers who lost their sons to jihad in Syria, to the image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh in an ambulance
The numbers coming out of Syria had started to lose their power to shock. The country’s conflict had raged for more than 2,000 days, leaving 250,000 dead and 11 million – over half the pre-war population – displaced. But one image brought the realities of the fighting in Syria back home to the world with a sickening crash. Five years old, dazed and disorientated, Omran Daqneesh sat mutely in the back of an ambulance, struggling to comprehend what had happened to him. Minutes earlier he’d been asleep at his home in the Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo. After an airstrike by Syrian or Russian aircraft on the opposition-held area, the walls had started to crumble around him.
Omran’s plight was captured by cameraman Mustafa al-Sarout. “That day was very scary,” he tells us, three months later. “As the sun went down the shelling became more intense. I was almost hit by a mortar while on my way to the area where I found Omran.” When al-Sarout arrived he found a neighbourhood in ruins. The building where the Daqneesh family had once lived had partially collapsed, trapping them inside. The home next door was completely destroyed.
King Dmitry Zhikharev is sitting at his table in Moscow gazing intently at three PC screens: one displays work emails, stock prices and company info; another is dedicated to comedy websites; the final screen is devoted to King Dmitry himself, with alerts triggered every time somebody mentions his name or the kingdom he claims is his. Dmitry is waiting for his rival ruler to show up online. It took a lot of patience to make this talk between two kings possible, including a whole series of unanswered letters. Behind the Russian king stand two reporters from the pro-Kremlin television channel NTV who are keen to capture the summit. Finally, they hear the familiar electronic burble as the man they’ve been waiting for logs on to Skype. The king types a message.
It takes eight minutes to get an answer.
Jeremiah Heaton: “Hi! Are you going to call me today?”
Zhikharev: “Yeah, in one hour, is that ok?”
Heaton: “Yes. What channel is going to tape it?”
It was the least dramatic car crash ever to make international headlines. On 14th February, a Lexus RX450h SUV drove down El Camino Real – the busy three-lane road that cuts through Mountain View, California – and signalled its intention to make a right turn onto Castro Street. It moved to the right-hand side of the lane and stopped behind some sandbags that had been laid out around a storm drain. The traffic lights turned green and the Lexus moved towards the centre of the lane to pass the sandbags.
A bus approached from behind the Lexus. It advanced, at 15mph. So did the Lexus – at just under 2mph. Clang. The bus hit the side of the Lexus, causing minor damage to its chassis and left front tyre. There were no injuries.
Under the gaze of Tiraspol’s largest statue of Lenin, a babushka plays her accordion for passing pedestrians. Dressed in the colourful, wispy fabrics of a Soviet-era farm worker, she collects kopeks in a small handkerchief. She’s lost in the nostalgia of her songs, but the moment she spots my camera she stops playing. “Niet!” she shouts, turning her back to me. The USSR may no longer exist, but in Tiraspol, Soviet-style paranoia is a feature of everyday life.
For well over a century now a battle has been raging in Westminster between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. Admittedly, in Parliament’s perennial tussle over daylight saving – whether we should allow more sunshine into our lives by bringing to a halt the dismal ritual of moving the clocks back every October – both camps see themselves as fighting on the side of light. In broad caricature, the battle lines are drawn between “southern Tories” happy to sever Britain’s 131-year attachment to Greenwich Mean Time so they’ll be free to indulge their fantasies of endless evenings on the English Riviera, and doughty crofters from the far north and west of Scotland where daylight hours in winter are far too precious a commodity to be tinkered with. As epic struggles against the dark go, it’s Hogwarts meets ‘Highlander’.
“They would throw Scotland – and anywhere north of Manchester – into darkness for a good two months of the year. This fact doesn’t bother them. But they will inevitably lose.” So says Angus Brendan MacNeil, the combative Hebridean MP who is leading the charge against the Daylight Saving Bill that’s currently before Parliament. Having helped the Scottish National Party see the back of similar bills twice before, MacNeil casts himself as the defender of Scotland’s right to light on gruelling winter mornings – mornings which stay darker for longer the further north you go.
For a few days after the vote Séamas O’Reilly was, in his own words, “the internet’s premier exponent of post-Brexit panic.” The writer’s stark warning – an essay broadcast in 34 separate tweets – of what the future may hold for his birthplace of Northern Ireland reached an audience of millions.
O’Reilly suddenly and unexpectedly found himself explaining to the world how the Leave vote might destabilise the only place in the UK that shares a land border with an EU country. “The Republic of Ireland is at the back of my dad’s garden,” says the 30-year-old, who was raised in Derry. “My sister lives in Donegal and has a ten-minute commute to a job in another country. Will she have to go through border checks every day? Nobody was talking about the impact of the referendum on Northern Ireland.”
Slow Journalism in your inbox, plus infographics, offers and more: sign up for the DG newsletter.
Thanks for signing up.