Diamonds & Guns
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In the wake of another full-scale NPFL massacre in the streets of Monrovia in 1996, the scattered Liberian factions signed the Abuja Agreements ceasefire treaty.
The ravaged republic then prepared itself for an election the following year.
“Starting on 6 April and for several weeks, Monrovia was engulfed by violence and horror. Stores were looted. Offices and warehouses of the humanitarian agencies were sacked, forcing them to evacuate all non-essential personnel,” according to UN Refugees Magazine.
“Nothing seemed to stop the spiral of violence. Not even an orphanage was spared.”
Declaring himself a Bible-thumping Baptist champion of the free-market, Charles Taylor presented stern, unapologetic presidential campaign slogans: “No arms, no elections,” and, “He killed my ma. He killed my pa. I will vote for him anyways.”
On Aug. 2, 1997, the pro-dismemberment platform won the election with 75% of the vote.
That year, the Liberian president returned to the US to attend a hearing at the United Nations in New York City, much to the chagrin of authorities on the South Shore of Mass.
“There’s still an outstanding, active warrant for his arrest,” former Plymouth County Sheriff’s spokesman Roy Lyons told the press in anticipation of the fugitive’s return.
“It’s not an insignificant thing to escape from a correctional institution.”
Faced with an international diplomatic debacle, the US government told the sheriff to go shit in his hat.
The department’s mere reminding the public about the escape triggered enough pushback for former New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne to go to bat for the warlord. Payne claimed the US government dropped all charges against Taylor in 1987, and chided Massachusetts for withholding a warrant for his arrest.
“The Department of State and Justice have been asked by Liberia to engage in a discussion with the district attorney of Plymouth County, Massachusetts to let him know that it would be in the best interests of U.S. foreign policy for the charges to be dropped.”
According to UPI archives, “The Liberian Embassy in Washington told the Boston Globe that the fact Taylor returned to Liberia and was elected by the people ‘puts the issue to rest for us.’”
Lyons was pragmatic about the situation: “We don’t have the money to send anybody over there, and we wouldn’t put somebody in harm’s way even if we had the money.”
He also had enough self-awareness to acknowledge the difference between county sheriffs and special forces.
“Taylor was a warlord before he was president, so I can imagine he has a lot of security around him. We’re the sheriff’s department, not the U.S. Marine Corps.”
In order to arm the loathsome ranks of the NPFL, Liberia’s warlord-in-chief put his Bentley economics degree to work.
Charles Taylor made history flooding the black market with untraceable alluvial and artisanal diamonds in exchange for wholesale ex-Soviet arsenals. His chief supplier later became known as the infamous mercenary arms trafficker, the “Merchant of Death.”
Viktor Bout made fortunes selling former Bolshevik armaments, artillery, ammo, and intel to the highest bloodthirsty bidders in South Africa, Angola, Rwanda, Congo, and the Balkans, among a long list of combatant nations.
According to the US Treasury Department, the 50-plane armada of Bout’s Air Cess Cargo Airlines was registered in Monrovia. The traveling salesman even reportedly hired a gemologist to accompany his chartered artillery bound for Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The goods that Bout flew into Liberia bolstered Taylor’s power, but also led to an inflated lust and hunger in the diamond-dealing daimyo to conquer everything in his path—from the bloody to the beautiful.
One month into his newly-minted presidency, the ostentatious Liberian autocrat inadvertently sowed the seeds to his own demise in an awkward venture to court an A-list celebrity who refused to take the blood-diamond bait.
Taylor traveled to South Africa to attend a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997, where he botched an attempt to bed fellow guest, supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Citing fear for her family’s safety, the supermodel reluctantly told the International Criminal Court about the “mildly flirtatious” interactions she had with the Liberian leader, who attempted to seduce her with “conflict diamonds” after the event.
“I was sleeping and had a knock at the door that woke me up,” Campbell said in her testimony.
“Two men were there and they gave me a pouch and said: ‘A gift for you.’”
She continued, “I went back to bed. I looked into the pouch the next morning. I saw a few stones, they were very small, dirty looking stones. I’m used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box. If someone had not said they were diamonds, I would not have known they were diamonds.”
It was during this time that the international community started paying attention to the evils funded by illegal diamond smuggling, and put forth initiatives aiming to improve the standards of international mining and trading practices.
Bout eventually, or at least temporarily, got caught in 2012. The arms dealer continuously denies all allegations made against him to this day, but was busted for selling weapons to Colombian FARC factions, and sentenced by a federal court in Manhattan to serve 25 years behind bars.
A decade later, the United States exchanged the Merchant of Death for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned for marijuana possession in Russia.
Amidst all the praise for his humble charisma, Charles Taylor also claimed to be an agent of the almighty.
“From the age of 14, I have been guided by God,” he said in an interview with the Boston Sunday Globe.
As word of his brutality made its way back to the United States, Nelson Taylor was baffled by what became of his brother.
“It is impossible to tell what happened to Charles,” he told the Providence Journal.
“It is like going after Jesus Christ’s life to find out what happened between the time he was 12 and 32.”
In 1998, televangelist Pat Robertson caught the attention of international watchdogs when he formed a $15 million company, Freedom Gold Limited. The hateful holy roller set out to pave his road to the pearly gates in Liberian bullion via a gold-mining operations agreement, and even lobbied President George W. Bush on Taylor’s behalf.
The international community eventually ran out of patience for the Liberian president. In 2002, The UN Security Council levied crippling sanctions, and President Bush sent Marines into Monrovia to maintain order.
This show of force spirited Robertson, who delivered a fiery sermon, slamming the commander-in-chief for pressing Taylor to relinquish his power:
“We’re undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country,” the televangelist said on his show, spurring even the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation to condemn his coddling of the tyrant.
By the time the international community prepared to intervene again, the women of Liberia and Sierra Leone had united in nonviolent protest, and issued an unprecedented ultimatum: a unilateral sex strike, denying their partners any and all intimate contact until peace treaties were signed and honored.