Second, Brown’s computer setup makes it tough to ride shotgun. His parents gave him a large Toshiba Qosmio laptop, but Brown used it to play video games before spilling Dr Pepper on the keyboard. It is out of commission. He does his work on a Sony Vaio notebook that’s so small it looks like a toy. Brown claims to have 20/16 vision, so the tiny screen doesn’t bother him, but Isikoff has to squint and lean in as Brown takes him on a tour of Internet Relay Chat rooms, or IRC, where Anonymous does much of its work. (I tag along, from my iPad in the kitchen, just a few feet away. When they enter a room where Anonymous discusses its operations in Libya, I type, “Say hi to Isikoff for me.” Isikoff: “Who’s that?” Brown, laughing: “That’s a writer I know.” As they click over to another room, I pop in again: “Isikoff is clearly a government agent.” So I don’t help, either.)
As Brown paces and recounts some of the highlights he’s amassed in just 29 years, it’s tempting to brand him as a fabulist. He’ll begin an anecdote with “I once had to jump out of a moving cab in Dar es Salaam.” But then he mentions that he went to Preston Hollow Elementary School with George W. Bush’s twin daughters. My mother taught the Bush twins at Preston Hollow. I tell him this, and he remembers my mother.
“I was the poet laureate of Preston Hollow!” he says. In third grade, he tells me, he used a phone in the principal’s office to order a pizza from Domino’s, which he had delivered to his classroom. He wasn’t trying to make trouble. He simply didn’t know there was a rule against ordering pizza. But his English teacher flipped, sent him to the principal’s office, where he was held in a sort of in-school suspension during which he wrote a poem about getting in trouble. “Ask your mother about me,” Brown says.
Later that night, I call my mother, who taught him art. “Do you remember a kid named Barrett Brown from Preston Hollow?”
“Barrett Brown? Oh, my God,” she says, instantly recalling an elementary student she taught more than 20 years ago. “I don’t remember them all. But I remember him. Yes, he was the poet laureate. I don’t have it anymore, but I kept that poem for years.”
He didn’t just break the rules. Again, he bragged about it—in a fashion. For the New York Press he wrote an anonymous story about an encounter in Hariz’s apartment with a girl who asked him to pretend to rape her on their first date. An excerpt:
“The date was going well even before it started going memorably, which was bizarre, as I gave off every warning signal as to my failures as a person, like having to share a coffee mug of vodka with the girl because I’d accidentally broken all the glasses in the apartment. At some point I actually made her look at this video game I was playing, called Dwarf Fortress, in which I pretended that I was some large number of dwarves, all living together in a fortress. Eventually she relented and we had sex, which was probably for the best.”
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