The Underground Men
September 9, 2019 11:59 PM   Subscribe

When an aspiring tech entrepreneur met a self-styled crypto guru online his search for funding would end up underneath a suburban Maryland home. How 4chan-fuelled paranoia and a homemade nuclear bunker lead to tragedy. (CW: graphic description of death by fire). posted by Gin and Broadband (27 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Talk about disappearing down a rabbit hole. Time to get off the internet and go for a walk.

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posted by benzenedream at 12:38 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I’m only about half way through but man. 4chan needs to be gone.

And how was Daniel not put on any kind of psych watch or evaluation after all the stunts at his uni?

Not saying he is schizophrenic (maybe that comes later in the article), but it’s mostly males and they mostly show symptoms at college age. This wasn’t some lonely old guy that no one knew the reality about until it was too late... he was living on campus and attending classes and exhibiting extremely bizarre behavior.
posted by sio42 at 2:54 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


What a terrible story. Poor Askia payed a horrible price for his folly in accepting the very great risk of digging those tunnels.

I don't really know what to think of him. He was a young person and I don't want to be too hard on him. He clearly wasn't lazy - he was willing to do this very difficult labor in an effort to further his tech company ambitions. But he also had bought in completely to the fantasy that the technology industry is like a guarantee of winning the lottery, all you need is an idea and a Big Dream and some investors and , oh yeah, some guy to code up your "app" and you are going to be a billionaire. No slogging through school and spending years building a career for you, just the private elevator to the top. A lot of people buy into this, and, usually, get off no worse than bankruptcy if they fail, which of course most of them do.
posted by thelonius at 4:32 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


It sounds like Daniel never really... became an adult? Such a wretched Kevin McCallister life he led. Poor, poor Askia.
posted by um at 4:45 AM on September 10 [8 favorites]


The local TV news covered the story at each sensational twist—the revelation of the tunnels, the identity of the homeowner, and then the victim, never failing to note the pleasant Bethesda setting.

I went to high school in Bethesda, grew up nearby, and lived and worked as a used book / estate buyer there for a while after college, poking into some of its more cluttered, definitely-not-on-the-house-and-garden-tour corners.

This is obviously an extreme example, but there is more craziness and hoarder gothic a few steps past that pleasant facade than is generally supposed.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:33 AM on September 10 [7 favorites]


YEP.

It was a running joke in my family that my otherwise-stable uncle (who lived in a nearby Chevy Chase neighborhood) had better archives of the Washington Post in his basement than the paper itself, if only he bothered organizing them. After he died, my cousins found a whole bunch of other stuff besides the old newspapers, including thousands of dollars in cash, so I found myself vigorously nodding when they came to that part of the story in the article.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:48 AM on September 10


Beckwitt's alias "3AlarmLampscooter" is a reference to the political techno-thriller "Interface" by Neal Stephenson and George Jewsbury (previously published under the pen names Stephen Bury or J. Frederick George).

Coincidentally (?), the phrase occurs in the novel shortly before a politician is evacuated from the capitol building through a secret Cold-War-era civil defense tunnel.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:46 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


I was following this in the local media as it happened, and it seemed like there were some weird parallels with e.g. the meth-fueled hole-diggers in San Diego in the late 80s-early 90s. If you've never seen the documentary Cul-de Sac, it's worth a (somewhat depressing) viewing.

Techbros are ruining everything. JFC all the wasted time and effort on building more half-thought-out infrastructure for capitalism.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:48 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I grew up in MoCo and now run a vintage shop in neighboring PG, and... there is some weirdness, here.
posted by nonasuch at 7:13 AM on September 10


now run a vintage shop in neighboring PG

PG, esp. its sometimes ineffably spooky DC borderlands, definitely has a thick thread of weirdness running through it.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:55 AM on September 10


Yikes. Disturbed people are going to be disturbed. Thank God he wasn't the next mass shooter.
posted by Melismata at 8:07 AM on September 10


And how was Daniel not put on any kind of psych watch or evaluation after all the stunts at his uni?

Not saying he is schizophrenic (maybe that comes later in the article), but it’s mostly males and they mostly show symptoms at college age. This wasn’t some lonely old guy that no one knew the reality about until it was too late... he was living on campus and attending classes and exhibiting extremely bizarre behavior.


What, precisely, Beckwitt might be suffering from isn't made super-clear--this article from the University of Illinois' campus newspaper cites "several health issues, including severe anxiety"--his behavior might not have registered as "extremely bizarre" by formerly-homeschooled undergrad standards. He also seemed to have lawyered up considerably, if he not only got away with probation but wasn't even expelled from UIUC.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:16 AM on September 10 [4 favorites]


What, precisely, Beckwitt might be suffering from isn't made super-clear--this article from the University of Illinois' campus newspaper cites "several health issues, including severe anxiety"--his behavior might not have registered as "extremely bizarre" by formerly-homeschooled undergrad standards. He also seemed to have lawyered up considerably, if he not only got away with probation but wasn't even expelled from UIUC.
Daniel had returned to college after Linda’s death, but he soon got in trouble with the law. In 2012, an instructor arrived one morning to find his door super-glued shut. When police came to investigate, they discovered that dozens of exterior locks and card swipes on a computer-science laboratory were filled with a similar “goo substance.” The university had to spend more than $22,000 to re-key the entire building. Another professor had to move offices after his carpet was repeatedly vandalized with a “smoothie” made of durian, the notoriously putrid fruit.

Engineering students, meanwhile, were receiving long, nonsensical e-mails, all of which appeared to come from professors. The hacker seemed to be connected to the vandalism. Under the name of the teacher whose door had been tampered with, the hacker complained, for instance, that the glue “prevented me from going about my daily routine of masturbating to bondage porn in my office while eating cupcakes made of monkey excrement.”

In early 2013, police executed a search warrant on Daniel’s bedroom and found it in a “deplorable” state. “The room was riddled with trash, electrical wires, partially eaten food, computer equipment, and dirty clothes,” an officer wrote in his report. A bare mattress lay on the floor, surrounded by lock picks, a Ruger .22 rifle, and the hood of a fire-protection suit. Elsewhere, investigators found something even more damning: keys to the lab building that had been serially vandalized.
I'm not in college anymore, but I'm kind of baffled as to why this wasn't registered as "extremely bizarre." Perhaps he was just really good at appearing normal in public?
posted by Melismata at 8:25 AM on September 10 [9 favorites]


Techbros are ruining everything.

This seems, uh, a bit of a different thing from what is usually meant when people talk about tech bros. Well except for the role that tech industry myth plays in Beckwitt's ability to present himself as such in a way that pulled people into his scheme.
posted by atoxyl at 11:41 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Also:

At 18, he got his first taste of the high life when he received funds from a $100,000 lead-poisoning settlement.

In context of this detail, there are a couple things in this that make me think Askia might have had some mild learning disabilities?
posted by atoxyl at 11:49 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I'm not in college anymore, but I'm kind of baffled as to why this wasn't registered as "extremely bizarre."

It's extremely obnoxious, and seems geared toward harassing members of the engineering and computer science departments; it's too intentional to be really bizarre.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:56 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


From the article:
The trip to California, though, was a disaster. The first problem: Askia and Giaquinta booked their flight for LAX, not realizing that San Francisco, the site of their meeting, was 400 miles away.
What? How? This part is truly baffling to me.
posted by mhum at 12:01 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine from Vermont who lives here in the Bay Area just had some hometown friends visit LA and ask if she wanted to "meet up for lunch one day" while they were out here. It happens.
posted by primalux at 12:10 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


What? How? This part is truly baffling to me.
Never had to deal with a teenage male who's not close to as ready for the world as he thinks?

I mean, yes I facepalmed when I read it, but can definitely see some young guys I've known making this kind of error. Recall that we're talking about kids too young to rent a car.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:11 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


This seems, uh, a bit of a different thing from what is usually meant when people talk about tech bros.

Both the actual murdery tunnel dude and the dude who got burned were aspirational tech bros. or at least operating within those parameters - the whole delusional thing is surrounded by bitcoin, VC funding, a banking app, 4chan, and the specter of Peter Thiel.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:25 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Far from giving Askia pause, 3Alarm’s idiosyncrasies and apparent intelligence served as proof that he truly was wealthy

Aspirational tech bros, indeed. The obsession with immortality is also quite in line with the followers of Ray Kurzweil.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:13 PM on September 10


To be fair, "the room was riddled with trash, electrical wires, partially eaten food, computer equipment, and dirty clothes" describes a fair number of the college dorm rooms that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:50 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


I mean he was online buds with Martin Shkreli.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:45 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


There are several microstories embedded in the article.
My favorite:

Askia wasn’t Daniel’s only hire. The first was a middle-aged space technologist from Cape Canaveral, Richard Michael David, who went by the name Dick Rocket. (On social media, he often added in the middle name “F’n.”) According to a statement Daniel later gave to investigators, Rocket came to the tunnels only once.
posted by doctornemo at 9:43 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


To be fair, "the room was riddled with trash, electrical wires, partially eaten food, computer equipment, and dirty clothes" describes a fair number of the college dorm rooms that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

"Antisocial hoarder incapable of maintaining their own living space but relatively book smart" describes a large number of students. The vast majority eventually learn to bathe and not foul their living spaces instead of digging habitrails.
posted by benzenedream at 10:14 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Or this heartbreaking note:
"On September 28, 2017, the Google Alert that Askia had set up for his name returned its first result."
posted by doctornemo at 10:30 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


.

This was horrifying. I was warned, and I still wish I hadn’t read it. I have some thoughts about how the myth of the techbro genius and 4chan culture allowed this whole situation to fester, but nothing I can articulate right now, after reading this.

(I would totally read a shorter piece about Beckwitt’s interactions with Dick Rocket, though.)
posted by daisyk at 10:54 PM on September 11


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