Gargoyle by Jake Hanrahan
Having started his own independent journalism organization, Popular Front, more than two years ago, Jake Hanrahan is widely known for his documentary work covering everything from the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh War to the rise of 3-D printed guns in Europe. Hanrahan’s most recent endeavor, Gargoyle: Reporting from Frontlines, Jail Cells, and Trap Houses, is a collection of journalism that carries his core mantra of “No Frills, No Elitism” into the written medium. Spanning nearly a decade and set everywhere from a Turkish prison to the frontlines of the fight against ISIS in Syria, Hanrahan ties together what might be disparate journalistic snapshots into an eclectic work that takes you on tours of “all the wrong crowds” without ever losing your interest.
In the face of its subject matter–often the brutal reality of war and conflict–Hanrahan’s larger body of on-the-ground journalism has always had an essentially human-oriented core. As a text, Gargoyle allows the reader to witness that humanity directly through Hanrahan in a way unavailable to his usual visual work. Even without a camera, the people who inhabit Gargoyle become animate on the page, often right at the intersections of shifting cultural landscapes. The first essay, “From the Mountain to the Mailbox,” begins with Hanrahan en route to a hash drop-off up a Moroccan mountainside with ‘Patron’, an online drug dealer operating entirely within the burgeoning black market of the dark web:
"It had taken us five hours to get there, driving up through the mountains via cliff edge roads that were scattered with gendarme checkpoints. Every time we were stopped the police would open the door and shake Patron’s hand. They always had big grins on their faces.
'I’m paying these guys off all the way off from here to the coast,' laughed Patron."
Patron certainly does bribe, smile, and glide his way through the essay. At one point, he explains the logistics of his hash operation while simultaneously taking the time to share his dream of one day opening a CBD health clinic as well as his appreciation of the mindset of the Silk Road marketplace and its founder, Dread Pirate Robert. Later, when Hanrahan and Patron move from the hash drop to a distribution safe house in Spain, Patron sits in the midst of his computers and drugs, smoking a cigarette. Hanrahan notes that Patron, as a new breed of drug dealer born of the information age, “seemed to be more at home [sat in the safe house than] in the mountain where he was doing the more dangerous work.” Hanrahan takes the effort to make Patron, and so many other of his subjects, a real individual instead of a caricature. Through this, Gargoyle seeks to understand movements and people on the fringe of society without judging them–a refreshing break from the modern context-free news cycle.
Gargoyle isn’t just a collection of character studies and foreign locales–it also contains serious investigative works exploring modern political movements. It’s here that Hanrahan’s push to understand the individual transforms into a drive to explain the rise and reality of modern extremist politics. One of these more investigative essays, “Freedom Club Revival,” traces the ‘Pine Tree Community,’ a Ted Kaczynski-inspired anti-civilization movement which has gained steam throughout the internet. Instead of a central figure like Patron, this essay primarily engages with Regi and Rin, individuals deeply embedded in the ideology and inner dynamics of the movement. While Hanrahan still works to understand shifts in society at the individual level, the figures highlighted by Gargoyle’s more investigative stretches serve to illuminate their communities in often complicated ways. The interviews with Rin reveals fractures within what, at first, seems like a cohesive social movement: “Some in the community began flirting with fascism,” Rin says, “and not the left-wing type where everything they dislike is labeled ‘fascism’–but actual genuine fascism.” Hanrahan doesn’t avoid getting into the small details of these sorts of groups–and you won’t find undue sweeping generalizations in this collection. 'Freedom Club Revival,' and Gargoyle as a whole, serves as a vital and accessible introduction to a rising social movement.
Only mentioning two of the essays in Gargoyle feels like a disservice since it's a jumping board into so many emergent parts of today’s global society. The rest of the collection showcases important essays covering the rise and fall of the American Neo Nazi militia, Atomwaffen Division; an interview with a reformed international art smuggler; time spent with Kurdish militant groups withiin Turkey; and even Hanrahan’s arrest and imprisonment by the Turkish regime as part of larger efforts to suppress journalists. Each essay in this book serves as a well-written, journalistically thorough point of departure to its subject matter. More importantly, for a Western audience, this book serves as a window into realities that are often glossed over by mainstream news sources. The clear moral compass of Hanrahan’s work never makes it about pitying those with worse lots in life than ours–and it doesn’t ever aestheticize militancy or suffering. The goal of this book is best put by Jake Hanrahan himself in Gargoyle’s introduction: “I think those lucky enough to live in the warmth should at least be made aware of those outside.” This collection is a good step in that process, and an excellent way to support grassroot, independent journalism at the same time.
WILL ANDERSON received his B.A. at Florida State University before working in the timber industry and, later, the public education system. He returned to Florida State to pursue his MFA. His work has appeared most recently in Entropy, Book XI, and The Daily Drunk Magazine.