It all began one afternoon. I had just gotten on a plane leaving Belize, when a woman sat down next to me... with a one year old baby. At first, I was worried the child would be an issue, but it turned out that the kid, Ajax, was a dream -- the woman was a nightmare. She began asking me about my major, my school, my future, my trip to Belize. I tend to maintain a healthy distance from my flying partners, but I responded politely; I told her I was a cognitive science major at UCLA with no plans for the future, visiting Belize for the first time. I returned her question in kind:
"Is this your first time to Belize?"
No, she had a home with her husband there; they visited often. She told me she had, in fact, given birth to both Ajax and Lisa, her daughter, in Belize. When I asked her why, she answered that she wanted them to have dual citizenship, just in case "anything went south" in America. This seemed strange, but potentially logical to me. When I asked her why they had chosen Belize, she said that they almost chosen Bolivia, but Belize was closer. Additionally, Belizean officials were incredibly corrupt and easy to buy off; they would do almost anything for $1,000. In fact, her husband and his friends were sure the government could be overthrown with "200 people or less". At this point, I was having trouble understanding what we were talking about. She was speaking so casually, playing with her son all the while. They were quite the pair; she was a strong blonde woman, clearly very capable, a nurse from Texas. He sat in her arms, his brown eyes surveying his new space, limbs reaching every which way, insatiably curious, but kept at bay by his patient mother.
She began to tell me all these details about her husband, a navy seal who had been part of whole host of military enterprises. He'd served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He'd worked for Black Water when "all that went down". He was going to be deployed again in a few weeks. I asked her what he did for the military. She said he'd been a medic for a bit, but "liked being a sniper better". He mostly worked for corporate entities, like Black Water, which the US government hired to do "what needed to be done" in various countries without actually sending troops.
Her husband knew all kinds of stuff about the FBI and CIA too. He knew the government was watching them, through flat screen TVs, computers, phones, nanny cams... she had gotten rid of hers long ago. The government was "not on our side", she said. I should watch out, she said. I should stay in Cognitive Science, she said, because AIs were going to be huge in the coming years. In fact, one of her husband's friends had recently been fired by the FBI for making drones that were "too smart - they were afraid the drones would turn on them". I asked what the drones were for, a stupid question at this point. "Well," she said with tilt of her head, "for killing people". I asked if his friend was sad to loose his job. "No", she laughed, "not at all".
I sat there, staring at her bright-eyed child, that she planned to have at least three more of, and realized that I was potentially looking at the next leader of a military coup, the next dictator of Belize, a future harbinger of death. They began blowing kisses to each other. Ajax giggled and squealed -- a pure sweet sound. I stuck in my headphones and closed my eyes. I reviewed the facts. This family had property in Belize. Their children were citizens of Belize. They had set-up bank accounts for Ajax and Lisa in Belize. Their back-up plan was to overthrow the Belizean government. Not only that, her husband's other sniper friends had done the same.
As I got off the plane, I turned to see the woman, her massive husband, Ajax, and Lisa walking off through the airport together. I couldn't seem to shut my eyes.
Weeks later, I still think about this family of survivalists. The violence of her perspective exposed the blurry edges of American government, the places where free agents and dark forces take form. Suddenly, the checks and balances of our careful democracy no longer seemed well checked, so balanced. Her husband's world is a reminder of all the mistakes America has made and a warning to remember how powerful one immoral man with a gun can be. I can only hope that we have become watchful of our darkest corners, and share a prayer for that beautiful baby boy meanwhile.