Danny Gold (@DGisSERIOUS) is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, long-form writer, and co-host (with Sean Williams) of the Underworld podcast, which covers organized crime around the world — from Balkan warlords to Brooklyn wiseguys.
What We Discuss with Danny Gold:
- How coming from a family of Holocaust survivors inspired Danny to pursue journalism and keep an eye on the world’s most unsavory and unreported misdeeds.
- What it’s like to get caught red-handed trying to secretly record a violent human trafficker on his own turf.
- How Danny finds ways to relate on a human level to people who may be responsible for committing unfathomable atrocities.
- Why assuming everything is going to go wrong — and preparing accordingly — is the best way to survive as a freelance reporter in the field.
- How even the darkest shadows cast by the human experience can bring out the brightest and best facets of humanity.
- And much more…
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Journalist Danny Gold has interviewed Al Qaeda face to face, gone to church with MS-13 in El Salvador, lived with Syrian rebels for a week, and found himself caught in the middle of a Central African war. He’s one of the only journalists to reach a city once it was besieged by ISIS, and he was on the ground during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. In other words, this dude is crazy, and he’s our kind of crazy.
Danny co-hosts the Underworld podcast with fellow journalist Sean Williams, where they cover organized crime around the world — from Balkan warlords to Brooklyn wiseguys. On this episode, we discuss war journalism and what it’s like to cover conflict in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, and the Central African Republic, as well as how he manages to get close enough to run with ruthless gangs and cartels in Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, as well as infamous outfits like MS-13 and the Bloods and Crips. If you’ve ever thought about what it would be like to travel and cover the most dangerous people and places in the world, we think you’ll dig this episode. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our conversation with elite counterterrorism undercover agent Tamer Elnoury? Catch up with episode 572: Tamer Elnoury | Undercover with a Muslim FBI Agent here!
The Adam Carolla Show is the number one daily downloaded podcast in the World! Get it on as Adam shares his thoughts on current events, relationships, airport security, specialty pizzas, politics, and anything else he can complain about — five days a week on PodcastOne here!
Thanks, Danny Gold!
If you enjoyed this session with Danny Gold, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Underworld Podcast
- Danny Gold | Website
- Danny Gold | Twitter
- Sean Williams | Twitter
- What is the Holocaust? | Anne Frank House
- “Milan Hucko, the Man Who Helped Hide My Grandfather from the Nazis…” | Danny Gold, Twitter
- Persecution in Myanmar: Left for Dead | Vice
- The Brutal Human Trafficking Syndicates of Southeast Asia | Underworld
- Spencer Roberts | The Dirty Truth About Corporate Greenwashing | Jordan Harbinger
- Anderson Cooper | The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty | Jordan Harbinger
- Chatting About ‘Game of Thrones’ with Syria’s Most Feared Islamic Militants | Vice
- Seven Strange Days With the Young Syrians Fighting Assad | Esquire
- The Fight Against Ebola | Vice
- War in the Central African Republic | Vice
- ‘Welcome to Stalingrad. Welcome to Kobane’: Inside the Syrian Town Under Siege by the Islamic State | Vice
- Fleeing Civilians Tell CNN They Don’t Know Where to Go | CNN Video
- Clarissa Ward | Twitter
- The Jihadist | Frontline
- Martin Smith | Twitter
- Inside North Korea’s Meth Trafficking: The World’s Biggest Narco State? | Underworld
- North Korea Episodes: The Jordan Harbinger Show | Spotify
- Captagon: The Drug Turning Lebanon and Syria Into Narco States | Channel 4 News
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms and Causes | Mayo Clinic
- Intergenerational Trauma: Epigenetics and Inherited Emotional Stress | Verywell Mind
619: Danny Gold | Breaking News from the Underworld
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Danny Gold: We go with this group of new recruits and a couple of other journalists that we're going to join. And we're sneaking through this apple orchard on the border, maybe 150 yards ahead of us, are the Turkish border guards. And once we get close enough, maybe a hundred yards, two of them run out to this barbed wire fence and they put, I think it was a piece of plywood or cardboard, something like that to sneak over the border. And we're all supposed to follow them and crawl over this cardboard over this barbed wire fence. But what happens is the Turkish border guards see them and they start firing off their guns. I mean, everyone just runs this way, then that way. It's complete chaos. Then I look back and I see some people are actually running towards the border break and I follow them through it. There's like a military trench on the other side. I climb out of it, run behind like a dirt mound. There's all these abandoned cars because people have fled the city and a bunch of us have made it through, but I start looking at and no one on my team is there.
[00:00:56] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies, psychologists, even the occasional drug trafficker, arms dealer, or neuroscientist. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:22] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about it — and of course, I appreciate it when you do that — we've got our episodes starter packs. They're available on the website and on Spotify. They're collections of your favorite episodes organized by popular topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start to get started, or as mentioned, you can find them on Spotify as well.
[00:01:44] Today, Danny Gold has interviewed Al-Qaeda, gone to church with MS-13 and El Salvador, lived with Syrian rebels for a week and found himself caught in the middle of a Central African war. He's one of the only journalists to reach a city once it was besieged by ISIS and he was on the ground during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. In other words, this dude is crazy. And it's my kind of crazy. He's been in the New Yorker, PBS, Vice, HBO, Netflix, and more. And of course, I'm happy to have him here on the show today. We'll be discussing war journalism and what it's like to cover conflict in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, the Central African Republic, as well as what it's like being deep with gangs and cartels like MS-13, gangs in Trinidad, Bloods & Crips in St. Louis, drug gangs in the Dominican Republic. If you've ever thought about what it would be like to travel and cover the most dangerous people in places in the world, I think you'll enjoy this episode. And if you just want a front-row seat for it as well, then you're in the right place.
[00:02:39] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these great people on the show, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over in our Six-Minute Networking course. Jordanharbinger.com/course is where you can find it. The course is about improving your networking and connection skills and inspiring others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. It'll make you a better networker, a better connector, and a better thinker. That's all at jordanharbinger.com/course. And most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:03:11] Now, here's Danny Gold.
[00:03:16] You've got an interesting, I would say, job but it's not a job because neither of us have real jobs. It's a career, but also it's one where you, you know, pay yourself/don't get paid for a decade or two. And then you end up, hopefully, getting that Anderson Cooper money. I don't know. Where are you on the spectrum of this right now? By the way, thanks for coming on the show.
[00:03:35] Danny Gold: Thanks for having. Yeah, I got to say, sometimes it feels like a hobby. Unfortunately, one that takes up a lot of time.
[00:03:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:41] Danny Gold: You know, when I meet someone like a friend's friend or whatever, who's also, or a friend who's in journalism, I meet their friend, I'm like, "Oh, so do you have a real job or do you what we do?
[00:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny.
[00:03:48] Danny Gold: You know?
[00:03:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:49] Danny Gold: It doesn't feel like a real job, most of the time.
[00:03:51] Jordan Harbinger: You've got such an interesting background. I mean, we got connected because of your show, which I really enjoyed. It's called The Underworld Podcast. Or do you just call it underworld pod?
[00:03:59] Danny Gold: You know, underworldpod.com. We call it The Underworld Podcast podcast, podcast, whatever works.
[00:04:04] Jordan Harbinger: The Underworld Podcast pod — so you repeat the word podcast. As if, once isn't bad enough.
[00:04:08] Danny Gold: Yeah, exactly.
[00:04:09] Jordan Harbinger: But I really enjoy it. You've got some crazy, crazy topics. Some of which we'll discuss today, but I mean just a smorgasbord of like the North Korean meth trade, Ebola, gang stuff, gang plus religion — it's like all these kind of unique stories, the kind that I love to cover, and you're on my network and I thought, "Oh, this is a guy I got to get."
[00:04:28] So I love to start with your backstory as one usually does because stress is kind of in your DNA. Your family has a history of being in very stressful situations. And you, instead of like taking it a little bit easy, now that you live in a free country, have just decided to go to some of the worst places on earth.
[00:04:48] Danny Gold: Yeah. You know, my family are Eastern European Jews. So that right there kind of is a giveaway. You know, they haven't had the easiest of times.
[00:04:54] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:04:54] Danny Gold: All four of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. They were in the camps and one of them was hidden. The other two would have fled Poland and were in like Siberian war camps. My mom was born in a displaced person's camp. So it's got this crazy history that I think originally learning about that was what got me interested in journalism and especially the kind of journalism that I do, which is usually going to places where not nice things are happening, but it's also kind of like where history is being made.
[00:05:21] So that right away, I think was part of the inspiration that saw me doing what I'm doing right now. I got to tell you, my mother was definitely not thrilled about me taking off for like Iraq or Syria as well. Definitely, I thought, you know, this was supposed to be the generation that had easy. I kind of made it hard on myself. So not happy about that.
[00:05:39] Jordan Harbinger: You said one of your relatives was hidden. What do you mean? Are we talking like Anne Frank style? Not to make light of it obviously, but I'm trying to give people a picture.
[00:05:47] Danny Gold: No. Exactly, Anne Frank style. He met a guy, a random guy. What they call a righteous gentile, not Jewish, took all the risks in the world to hide him in his house, in his basement. And if he was found out at that time, not only would he have been killed, his children would have been killed. His extended family would have been killed.
[00:06:05] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So this guy, I mean, the risk these people tell you like you think — you know, I remember learning about this as a kid and thinking like I would hide people in my basement, but then it's like, now that I have kids, I'm like, "Oh my God, would I hide a stranger in my basement?" Knowing that we could all get killed for it, in a brutal fashion too, not like punished and locked up or sued or, you know, have to countersue my way out of. No, like you all just get murdered. And I'm like, do I know that guy that? Well, I don't know. He's a neighbor or not even of a random Jewish guy.
[00:06:33] Danny Gold: Random Jewish guy.
[00:06:35] Jordan Harbinger: That level of courage to hide people like that. The older I get and the more I have to lose, the more admirable it really is. You know, I don't know if you have that same experience thinking about it. Like when you're little you're like, "Yeah, of course, I would." Now, I'm 41. Like, I don't know if I'd have it in me. And it's like the highest level to aspire to that level of integrity that I would hide somebody in a wartime situation like that, risking everything.
[00:06:59] Danny Gold: I mean, it's completely insane. I want to focus a lot on covering ethnic conflicts. So I've been to places where things like this have been happening, whether it's Syria, Iraq, Burundi, Central African Republic, and you meet people like that every now and then. And I always say this about covering conflict, you see the worst of people and you see the best as well. I was definitely intrigued by why this guy and his family would do this for my grandfather without knowing him. I actually went to Slovakia a few years ago to interview him.
[00:07:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:07:25] Danny Gold: That was the question I kept asking him, like, "Why do you think you and your parents did this?" there's no deeply thought-out answer, right? They're not like, "Oh, you know, I had this background, I had that background." They were just like, "You know, it was the right thing to do. We saw what was happening. We thought it was wrong. And we did it." They don't offer these deep expressive explanations for why they did it.
[00:07:42] I wish I could say I definitely had that in me. I don't know. I've never been put to the test, but it is amazing to meet people that have, and that do these things. You know, you're on the right side of history for eternity if you do something like that.
[00:07:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Unless you get slaughtered. Right? And then it's not that important to you.
[00:07:57] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:07:57] Jordan Harbinger: It doesn't work out.
[00:07:58] Danny Gold: Doesn't work out too well in that case.
[00:08:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. And I can imagine, like, it's just unfair to your children as well to do that. There's so much to consider once you have kids, but I digress here. I see how this has inspired your coverage of some of the grossest events. I won't even say in history because they're currently ongoing some of the things that you've covered a really horrifying.
[00:08:21] Where to begin? I mean, the Rohingya thing is somewhere that, I just watched this recently where you're covering — well, tell us what's going on over in Burma because this is kind of a modern-day genocide, right? And I can see a situation in which people are being hidden in basements, so to speak.
[00:08:36] Danny Gold: Yeah, I mean, this has been ongoing now for, I think, close to a decade, even though the history goes back much further. The Rohingya are this Muslim ethnic minority that have been in Burma for generations and generations, you know, in small corner in sort of like the Southwest corner of the country, the Western corner of the country. And in the past 10 years, they've really suffered this absurd amounts of discrimination and sort of racialized attacks on themselves to the point where they were rounded up in camps for a while. A lot of people were calling them concentration camps, not allowed to leave. There were massacres, which the military and the police participated in and instigated.
[00:09:14] After I had covered there, there was a bunch of massacres that led to more than a million of them fleeing across the border into Bangladesh. Now, they're in a horrible situation there, but it's just this utterly absurd situation that the world hasn't done much about these people are just desperate in locked-in camps. And I went there a couple of times actually, but the documentary that I made in 2016 was about the human traffickers that were preying on them in this situation.
[00:09:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:09:38] Danny Gold: It was sort of like a warning shot. You know, we had all these UN documents that talked about how the UN knew what was going on, that nothing was being done and that all these things were sort of laying by the wayside so that the government of Myanmar, which obviously turned, brutal, all these things that were being done were sort of not leading to any correctives.
[00:09:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Sort of like half measures.
[00:10:00] Danny Gold: Right.
[00:10:01] Jordan Harbinger: So what's going on is these Rohingya Muslims are being pushed out by the rest of the Burmese population. And some of the people that are instigating the violence, I'm like, "Wait. Isn't that guy a monk?" And the answer is yes. And you think like we have the stereotype, at least I do, of Buddhists being like kind, and they don't want to harm anyone. And meanwhile, this guy's like, "Go kill as many of these people with machetes so that they leave and then burn their houses down."
[00:10:25] Danny Gold: Yeah, it was pretty brutal. So we were there. And that there've been a lot of reporters who have done good work there, but we were there in 2016, sort of showing how bad the situation was getting, showing how these human trafficking networks were preying on them. And then, you know, later that year, these giant massacres occurred. And most of the people that we talked to had to flee the country.
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: This is something that I've started to read up and study more on. And the human trafficking element is one of the worst crimes anywhere in the world, always. Whenever there are these horrific situations where people are powerless and have nothing, there just seems to be an army of what I can only imagine are the most deprived sort of psychopathic people that you can find anywhere in the world that go and then take advantage of these people because they only see them as money. So what is happening? How are people being trafficked then in Burma?
[00:11:14] Danny Gold: I mean, you're right. These were some of the most brutal stories I've ever heard. You know, these guys would send their scouts into these refugee camps and they would pretend that they could get the Rohingya their jobs in Malaysia, you know, places like that and Dubai. And they would essentially trick them into getting on these ships that were then in international waters, in the ocean. And once they were on those ships, they were effectively property. We had someone tell us that they were given these bracelets. And depending on what color bracelet you had, it was which traffic owned you because multiple traffickers would use these bigger boats. And they'd be kept in these horrific boats, you know, sometimes for months because they couldn't find a place to dock.
[00:11:52] Then they would land somewhere usually in Thailand. They'd be brought into what are essentially slave camps, prison camps, where they be held until they were sold or free by ransom. Some of them were sold onto fishing boats, where they were slaves. Some of them were sold into brothels, things like that. And if someone on the boat was being a little problematic, they just get tossed off the boat into the open waters. It is one of the most brutal things ever. They were Thai officials that were involved in some of the trafficking.
[00:12:18] We talk about it actually on the podcast. I did an episode on the brutal human trafficking gangs of Southeast Asia. And it's harrowing. Like I've covered a lot of crime, a lot of war. This was some of the most brutal stuff I've ever heard in my entire life.
[00:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: I did a show. I don't know if it'll be out by the time this comes out, but it's about in part, these sort of fishing and human trafficking, and you don't even realize — I mean, if you see Seaspiracy see they do like a two minute aside on this, but they will keep people on these boats for like eight years or three years or five years. And my wife was like, "How was it even possible?" The boat needs food and gas and they just never dock it. They basically have this floating fish island that they move around in the fishing areas, but it's fueled by other boats. They bring food on or they just eat fish. And like these people, if they're lucky, the boat will have to dock at some point for repairs and they just jump off and run into the jungle while being pursued by these traffickers. And some of them escape can never go home. And then they just find these jungle villages with no electricity and start their lives over after going missing at age 60. It's just so horrible.
[00:13:20] Danny Gold: It's the kind of thing that we don't think exists anymore.
[00:13:23] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:24] Danny Gold: You don't think this kind of thing is still happening in the world, but it is. And I think it was The Associated Press that did a big story on it. Like we get some of these products in our supermarkets.
[00:13:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I was going to say, we don't think is going on and you sure as sh*t don't think that the tuna fish you're eating, the sandwich you're housing before the interview that you're about to do was caught by slave labor, 17-year-old kid, who hasn't seen his parents in five years, right? Like that's what really boggles the mind.
[00:13:47] Danny Gold: I mean, it's disturbing. And when we spoke to one guy in the documentary I did that had escaped. He's telling us what happened and how he's on the boat and beaten. And he's just crying as he's talking to me, like unconsciously crying because tears were just rolling down his face. It wasn't like he was even blubber. He's just telling us about the beatings that he suffered and you just see tears start rolling down his eyes and he's not even reacting to it.
[00:14:08] Jordan Harbinger: You got caught secretly recording, a violent human trafficker. That must have been kind of a — I can imagine sphincters clenching at this point.
[00:14:16] Danny Gold: Yeah. Not one of my finer moments I was working on this documentary with a colleague. And you know, some of these guys pretend to be smugglers, which actually can serve good purposes. The people that smuggled Jews out of Europe.
[00:14:29] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:30] Danny Gold: Smugglers generally work by choice, right? A trafficker uses violence or deception to convince someone.
[00:14:34] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, interesting.
[00:14:35] Danny Gold: So these guys sometimes can pretend to be smugglers that are helping their people or their community leaders, things like that. So we were able to arrange a sit down with this guy in his restaurant, in downtown Bangkok, where a lot of the big fish as they call them are based. And I was working for a company at the time that it was sort of multi-tiered and they didn't give us the best equipment. They had like one of those really cool budding cameras, but they wouldn't give us that instead they gave us some pen that they probably got off Amazon for like a hundred dollars.
[00:14:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, no.
[00:14:59] Danny Gold: Really thick pen.
[00:15:00] Jordan Harbinger: It's like a giant lens on the clip.
[00:15:02] Danny Gold: Yeah. And I wasn't sure if it was working or not. You can't tell when it's on. So I gave it to my poor colleague and made him responsible because I was getting so frustrated. And as this guy is talking to us, he's writing with it and pretending it doesn't work and all that, and then it just falls apart, like right in front of this guy. Like you can tell this is a recording device.
[00:15:21] Jordan Harbinger: Like a circuit board flies out of the side of it.
[00:15:24] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:15:24] Jordan Harbinger: Oh no.
[00:15:25] Danny Gold: It was not pretty. And we just look at each other and we look at him and he just goes, "I can't talk to you guys anymore." And we were like, "What are you talking about? What do you mean?" He's like, "You're recording me," and he just gets up and walks away.
[00:15:37] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:15:38] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:15:38] Jordan Harbinger: At least he didn't say, "You're dead now," or like—
[00:15:42] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:15:42] Jordan Harbinger: Get in the basement.
[00:15:43] Danny Gold: At least, he was like, "You're not going anywhere."
[00:15:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:45] Danny Gold: So we just kind of stared at each other in disbelief for a couple of seconds, got out, ran back to our hotel, like looking over our shoulder the entire. Ended up switching our hotels that night, just to be cautious. We don't know who he thought we were.
[00:15:58] Jordan Harbinger: I'm surprised you didn't get a flight. If it's me, I'm on a plane, man. You're braver than I am.
[00:16:03] Danny Gold: Part of me is like, maybe he thinks we're state department. Maybe he thinks we're NGOs. Like maybe he's not going to — no one wants a bunch of dead American journalists on their hands.
[00:16:11] Jordan Harbinger: True.
[00:16:11] Danny Gold: It's going to lead to a lot of attention. So I had this like, idea that maybe we were in a position of privilege in that regard that we'd be okay. So I call my guy there who's my number one source. And I'm like, "Well, this happened. I'm thinking he's going to like, 'Oh, it's fine.' Just hide out." And he was like, "No, that guy's bad news. Like you guys need to get out as soon as—" He like laughed. And he was like, "Nah, this actually isn't okay. And you should be worried."
[00:16:34] Jordan Harbinger: Don't even get your luggage. Just go to the airport.
[00:16:36] Danny Gold: Yeah. So that was fun.
[00:16:38] Jordan Harbinger: That stuff is scary, man. But I also kind of get there's a little bit of an adrenaline rush and you get a great story out of it. I assume you're not married, no kids, right?
[00:16:46] Danny Gold: Yeah. No, none of that.
[00:16:47] Jordan Harbinger: What partner lets you do this?
[00:16:49] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:16:49] Jordan Harbinger: The answer is not many. So yeah, brace yourself for that.
[00:16:52] Danny Gold: That's why I have a podcast now.
[00:16:53] Jordan Harbinger: That's right. You've built your career by taking chances. Even Anderson Cooper told me he just basically booked a flight, I think, the conflict de jure at that time was Somalia. And he had like, you know, few thousand bucks and he bought some crappy sort of VHS handy-cam situation and he just went there, self-funded. You don't think of it like that because now he's the big wig on CNN, the frontman. But most people who are in your shoes, my shoes, his shoes, we just get whatever crappy stuff we can and then like figure out how to get into Iraq. Right?
[00:17:27] Danny Gold: I mean, that's exactly what you have to do. You know, you have take these chances and you have to do it on your own. Because I mean, you know, more than anyone, right? No one's going to hand it to you—
[00:17:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:17:35] Danny Gold: —most of the time. Most of the time you have to just start doing it. And a lot of people talk about doing it, but they don't actually follow through and do it. So once you follow through and do it, even if it's not going to come out that great, more people are going to respect you for actually following through on your word in delivering. And I actually literally went to Iraq on my own self-funded that was the way I really started doing conflict journalism. I had been working for papers in New York. It was great, but I knew that they weren't going to send me to do the kind of work that I wanted to do.
[00:18:01] So I did exactly that. I saved up money. I bought a one-way ticket to Iraq. I ended up actually working in Syria a bit then, but you know, I spent months, I didn't just show up, I spent months beforehand setting everything up that I could. Doing all the research I could. I had a really close friend who was Kurdish and he had a lot of connections in the north there. So he really hooked me up and took care of me. But a lot of kids ask me, how do you get into this? And now, it's even harder than it was back when I did but the only way to do it is to just start doing it.
[00:18:28] Jordan Harbinger: It's interesting to hear this because I think a lot of folks assume that if you are being filmed by The Guardian or filming for The Guardian or Vice somewhere in Central African Republic or Burundi or some of the other places you mentioned, they sent you there. And hearing it from guys like you from Anderson Cooper, for example, as well, they don't even want you opening the mail in the mailroom. And then you come back and you go, "Hey, here's three VHS tapes of some not super expertly film stuff that I got from a place where none of your guys can go. And I've got an interview with a gun dealer and a uranium miner or whatever." And they're like, "Okay, here's almost enough money to cover one way of your flight, but we're going to give you another assignment since you don't care about your life." You know, like, "Here you go. Welcome to the first day of your career as a journalist or at least your official first day." But success is not about waiting for somebody to give you that opportunity. You almost have to do something crazy but safe — for legal purposes, I have to say that — to get that opportunity in the beginning. You're earning it by proving that you can do it. And sometimes the only way to do that is, of course, to actually just do it.
[00:19:37] Danny Gold: Yeah. A hundred percent. But I should say, you know, when I first started out, I wasn't going to the craziest places. I want it to mitigate my risk factor and I want to get used to it. The first conflict I went, it wasn't a super active conflict, right? I was more in the background. I was doing stuff like that.
[00:19:51] Jordan Harbinger: Do you hear yourself? There wasn't that many gun, there was no bombs, only gunshots and only at night. And so it was safe, basically.
[00:19:58] Danny Gold: Well, you know, I don't want to encourage people to run into the craziest thing because people do get hurt and you have to mitigate your risk. So I actually went — you know, when I went to Syria for the first time, I wasn't going to Aleppo where the craziest stuff happening. I went to the Northeast where the Kurds had sort of established their own area. And look, it was still an active war zone, but it was a lot safer. And I was dealing with people that I really trusted and knew very well.
[00:20:20] Meanwhile, there were other people running to Aleppo, but there were fewer people where I was, and that actually made the story better because it was far less covered. And then progressively, the next few trips I did, you know, each time it got a little more imposing, a little more dangerous on and on and on. Don't just go to the most dangerous areas, just to go. Go where there's a story where other people aren't going. That's the best advice I can give to anyone.
[00:20:46] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Danny Gold. We'll be right back.
[00:20:51] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. Can you believe we're already in February? It felt like just yesterday I was lounging around playing a little Xbox, sipping on some hot cocoa, getting fatter. Suddenly, the holidays are over. I'm still getting fatter, but I'm shoulder-deep in emails. Again, thankfully Grammarly can help take a load off, maybe not the kind of load I need to take off, but at least a load in terms of my grammar. Grammarly's smart AI-powered writing assistant can help you jump boldly into the fray with clear mistake-free writing, keeping every pitch proposal and deck pristine. I actually run it in the background, in my emails and in my Google Docs where I'm always writing. And I learn a lot of new words, which is kind of cool grammar, mistakes I make that I thought were totally correct for my entire life. Get corrected. Grammarly is great in helping me communicate clearly and kindly even when you're in a hurry. I love the saying, if I had more time, I would've written a shorter letter.
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[00:23:27] Now, back to Danny Gold.
[00:23:30] I know you interviewed some Al-Qaeda associates or affiliates in Syria as well. And you had to sneak across the border. I mean, you don't just book a flight to Syria these days, right?
[00:23:39] Danny Gold: No, no. You have to stay across the border every time. You know, if you're going to go to the places where they were fighting off the Assad Regime. And yeah, I was in a city called Ras Al-Ayn. This is in 2013, and it was kind of a divided city. They had forced out the Assad regime, but it was split between a sort of Kurdish militia group, the FSA at the time, which was like the Syrian rebels.
[00:24:01] Jordan Harbinger: Free Syrian Army?
[00:24:02] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:24:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:24:03] Danny Gold: It was just a really weird period. There was a vacuum of power. So everyone was there and there was a group called Jabhat Al Nusra that was based there.
[00:24:09] Jordan Harbinger: Is that the same as Al-Nusra Front?
[00:24:11] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:24:12] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so they're Al-Qaeda.
[00:24:13] Danny Gold: Yeah, they were Al-Qaeda.
[00:24:14] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:24:14] Danny Gold: But at that time it wasn't official. And we were with the FSA guys who had like a very tenuous relationship with them. They weren't sure what to make of these guys. They were sort of fighting on the right side, but they also were very wary of them, but they had a little base where we were and the guys one day were like, "Do you want to go talk to Jabhat Al Nusra?" And I was with an Australian photographer, Australian-Italian photographer, and we said, "Sure, let's go see what they're about." So we go up to their house with these guys and we felt, you know, it wasn't a smart thing to do, but we were with the FSA guys and we felt like they could protect us, which probably, if things really got down to it, they'd probably be like, "Yeah, I don't know."
[00:24:48] Jordan Harbinger: "No, thanks. I've got other fish to fry. Good luck, guys."
[00:24:51] Danny Gold: And we walk up and the first guy starts talking to me in English and he had studied, I think, in Seattle for a year.
[00:24:56] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:24:56] Danny Gold: So we're talking about like the NBA and Disneyland and all that sort of stuff. And it was extremely weird.
[00:25:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:25:02] Danny Gold: But they kind of were pretty tense and they're like, "No, we're not going to talk to you." Cool. So we left and then a couple of days later, we get a text message from them. Like the guys that we were with saying, "Hey, you know, we can't be filmed. We can't have it recorded, but we're willing to talk to the two journalists just to show them what we're about." So we met at this guy's house away from where they work, because they didn't want their people knowing that we were talking to them as well. And we just had like an hour-and-a-half-long conversation. I excused myself, in the beginning, to go to the bathroom, turned on my tape recorder, put it in my front pocket and then walked out and we just kind of talked to them about what they were about and what they were doing. And it was extremely disturbing and it was not fun. I'll say that it was very nerve-wracking, but we ended up having not a constructive conversation, but we learned a lot and gained some insights into what they were about. And then, we left a couple of days later and a week later, I think they made the official Al-Qaeda designation. It went out.
[00:25:55] Jordan Harbinger: So yeah, for people who are a little bit confused about the different groups. Al-Qaeda should probably be fairly self-explanatory by now, but Free Syrian Army is essentially secular/maybe Christian/maybe Muslim, but not Islamic sort of totalitarian anti-Assad rebels who are maybe defectors from the actual Syrian army, which is still pro-Assad. It's just actually quite a complicated mess over there as civil wars often are. And you were hanging out with pretty much everybody, which sounds really interesting, but also potentially really dangerous because if I'm you and I'm getting a text from Al-Qaeda after they told me, no, and they say, "Hey, come on back. We want to talk to you." I'm 50/50 on getting kidnapped and sold the ISIS. There's something worse, right?
[00:26:40] Danny Gold: Yeah. It wasn't the smartest thing to do. We trusted the guys we were with. I lived with them for a week, this FSA sort of faction. And you know, they were a bunch of young guys and I want to be a little more clear about this. Somebody guys are very Islamic, but they're not Al-Qaeda and they're not ISIS. Right? And I was living with these guys, maybe 10, 15 of them, a little younger than me, so early to mid-20s. And I would just sit in the house with him. And this was kind of the downtime of war. There wasn't a lot of fighting going on in their region. And you're just sitting in the house with these guys and they're smoking cigarettes. Some of them were smoking like really bad weed. They're telling jokes. They're ball-busting against each other, for lack of a better phrase.
[00:27:19] And I had this realization that I felt like I was back in college. You know, these guys obviously born into different circumstances, different situations happening in their country, a situation that they probably didn't choose. I just found the whole thing to be really, really relatable. So I wrote this piece for Esquire about what it was like, just hanging out with these guys. You have this realization that like, you know, people are products of their environment. And these guys found themselves in a really bad environment, but if things could have changed, it could have been me and my friends in college living this life instead of them.
[00:27:49] And if they had been in my position, they would have been the same too. So it was one of those experiences that stayed with me for a very long time. I'm really proud of the article that I wrote. And it kind of taught me how I wanted to cover stories like this, which is try to find ways that people can relate and kind of see themselves in these situations and see that some people are just born in the wrong area at the wrong time and they have to live these lives that we're lucky we don't have to.
[00:28:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. In the article, you mentioned, smoking their crappy weed, smoking cigarettes, one dude's always on the phone with one of his girlfriends or something like that. And they're busting his balls because, I guess, she's not attractive or something like that. And then the other guy who loves playing music is alternating between what sound like these sort of folk songs and then blasting Mariah Carey. You really do sort of think these guys might not live to see another day and this is how they're spending their time. And it is so normal, but so crazy not normal at the same time.
[00:28:39] Danny Gold: There is this weird normality there where you feel like you're just with a bunch of friends, but then in the corner of the room is a bunch of AKs, right? And a walkie-talkie going off with reports on what's happening on this front line or that frontline or the big boss man is coming to visit, you know, in his fatigues and with his like military maps and all that. So it's a strange environment to find yourself in.
[00:28:57] Jordan Harbinger: You've covered some other wild stuff like Ebola in Africa. Looking at this video, in a pandemic — we'll link the video in the show notes — but in our current pandemic of COVID-19 and you're over there covering Ebola and you have like gloves on, you know, no suit, no mask. What's going through your head then? Are you thinking I could catch Ebola? Because I would be a little worried about that. You didn't seem to be.
[00:29:19] Danny Gold: I definitely was. It wasn't always on camera, but that's kind of the scariest thing is when you come home and Ebola has this long period where you can start to show symptoms, which is after 21 days of infection.
[00:29:29] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:29:29] Danny Gold: And there are definitely nights when I would lie awake. And maybe your stomach's rumbling a little bit, which is how it starts usually. Or maybe you feel a little flush and then you start having questions about what did I do wrong on the assignments? Why is this my life? Why am I doing this? Maybe I should go to law school and things of that nature. But Ebola is actually a lot harder to catch than COVID is, right? Ebola, it has to do with the fluids in mucus membranes and all that. So it's not an easy disease to catch but that doesn't make you feel a lot better when you're lying awake at night and your stomach hurts. I'll say that much.
[00:30:01] Jordan Harbinger: I will tell you one of the only things that's worse than law school is probably Ebola. So you do have your priorities straight a little bit. I'll give you that one.
[00:30:12] You don't even wear body armor though. You're in Central African Republic. And there's people getting shot, and machete, and you can hear the bullets and you can hear the bullets hitting things. And you're just standing there in a linen shirt, you know, a couple of buttons undone because of the heat. I'm thinking you seem like you're prepared in every way, but one.
[00:30:28] Danny Gold: No, no. I do wear a body — I'm going to be very clear about that. I do wear body armor and helmets, and I'm always prepared in that way. This was a random situation.
[00:30:36] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:30:36] Danny Gold: We had gone to a press briefing with Samantha Power, who was the ambassador to the UN at the time. And you know, you're not going to wear body armor to a press conference. We had it in our car. The situation is that we were driving and a firefight was breaking out all around us and the cars that were shooting had you turned back around and were coming towards us. So we had to ditch the car and just run off into a village. And because of that, I did not have the body armor. Probably I should have been wearing it, so it was a mistake on my part.
[00:31:04] Jordan Harbinger: It's more useful when you do that. Yeah.
[00:31:07] Danny Gold: But no, I am usually very, very careful, you know, but you don't want to be the guy wearing body armor at the hotel, you know, doing a live and pretending you're in danger..
[00:31:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Because if there's something I'm worried about while in a war zone, it's looking cool for other journalists. Come on, man. But I get what you're saying. There probably are a lot of people that sort of stand outside their hotel in the green zone and they're like, "Oh, I hear bombs going off. Let's run outside and pretend like that's a block away instead of two miles. And like get my helmet and put some dirt on me."
[00:31:38] Danny Gold: Yeah, you don't want to be that guy.
[00:31:39] Jordan Harbinger: No, it's a little self-serving to make something look even worse than it is when it's actually really, really, really bad for the people that live there. Does that make sense?
[00:31:48] Danny Gold: Yeah, a hundred percent. And there's, I think, a lot of that in the documentary and news industry, that's unfortunate. You know, you can be honest about these things and be very real about them without being hyperbolic, without exaggerating, without putting the scary music in the background and making things look worse than they are.
[00:32:02] Jordan Harbinger: When you're off traveling, you're on assignment, are you planning for things to go wrong? Because it seems like even if we're not talking about violence, we're not talking about you're getting shot at, or someone's trying to kidnap you, which is probably the reality in a lot of these places, just the logistics of making an arrangement to interview a rebel commander from, I don't know, your apartment in New York and then showing up to Central African Republic or Congo, and then expecting them to just pick up the phone, be where they say they're going to be, be agreeable at that point in time. I mean that, I would imagine that almost never works out as planned.
[00:32:37] Danny Gold: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the keys to being a good reporter or a good producer is that assuming that everything is going to be wrong. You know, it's not the best way to go about your normal life, but for making a documentary for going on a reporting trip, you have to have a plan B, you have to have a plan C. I know that I could plan things best as I possibly could. Everything could be locked in, but the second that plane lands where I'm going, everything's going to fall apart and I need a backup. I need a backup interview. I need a backup place to stay. I need a backup way to get in and get out. I need a backup local translator. All that sort of stuff you need to be prepared for.
[00:33:12] And I think the best reporters, the best producers have an ability to adapt on the fly. You know, not get paralyzed by indecisiveness, not sorta be, wishy-washy not get surprised by anything, right? Just assume that things are going to go wrong and be willing to adapt on the ground. You need to be able to do that. Not that I don't get frazzled. I definitely get frazzled. Definitely have had some screaming matches at myself in a bathroom mirror, but you need to be prepared for things to go wrong and you have to expect that things are going to go wrong.
[00:33:39] Jordan Harbinger: The one plan that can't really go wrong or I assume strive to make sure it does not go wrong as your sort of exfil, right? Your escape from that place. I would imagine that you know you have to be somewhere to catch a flight out or in your case, sneak over the Turkish border while being pursued by the police. That seems like a very tricky scenario because you actually did have to sort of escape Syria, correct?
[00:34:03] Danny Gold: Yeah, that was a — I went into a city called Kobane at the end of 2014. It became a very powerful symbol because the city, it was held by the Kurdish fighting groups, the YPG, and they were surrounded on all sides by ISIS. On the fourth side was the Turkish government and the Turks aren't very big fans of this Kurdish group.
[00:34:20] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:34:21] Danny Gold: Because they've committed some bad acts in Turkey as well. They were effectively preventing people from leaving at that point. And the city was going to fall at one point to ISIS. And there were people there fighting for it, like fighting for every inch of it. It was the first time that the coalition bombed inside Syria, was to help save this city. So I had to sneak in because the Turks weren't letting people in and then I just sneaked out.
[00:34:43] Jordan Harbinger: How you arrange them something like that? Like, it just reminds me of walking into the bar in Star Wars when it's like [humming], right? And then you're like, "Hey, sure would love to sneak across the border." How do you arrange this?
[00:34:55] Danny Gold: I mean, it was getting in was one of the crazy experiences of my career. Basically, I was working with a bunch of guys. I was working for Vice at the time and we had it set up that a smuggler would take us in from Southern Turkey, which is, you know, at that point, all sorts of shady stuff, moving back and forth. Unfortunately, by the time the smuggler was actually coming to meet us, when we were in this border city, my cameraman literally got sick as we were waiting for him. Something went wrong with his kidneys. He had to fly back to the UK. He had to go to the hospital. It was really bad. The smuggler showed up. I believe he had like a limp and like an eyepatch, you know, he'd looked like you'd expect a smuggler to look and things were not easy to organize, but so he disappears. New camera guy goes in and things just keep falling apart. You know, one day we can't go in. One day, we'd go right to the border, but they're like, we have to turn back, it's too dangerous.
[00:35:39] Finally, like after seven days, we go with this group of new recruits and a couple other journalists that we're going to join. And we're sneaking through this apple orchard on the border. We're literally in a line following each other tiptoeing because maybe 150 yards ahead of us are the Turkish border guards. And once we get close enough, maybe a hundred yards, two of them run out to this barbed wire fence and they put, I think it was a piece of plywood or cardboard, something like that to sneak over the border. And we're all supposed to follow them and crawl over this cardboard over this barbed wire fence. But what happens is the Turkish border guards see them and they start firing off their guns. I assumed they were firing off in the air, but at that point we had no idea.
[00:36:17] I mean, everyone just runs this way, then that way. It's complete chaos. I run one way. Then I look back and I see some people actually running towards the border break and I follow them through it. You know, dive through the barbed wire fence. I think I ripped out my jacket. There's like a military trench on the other side. I climb out of it, run behind like a dirt mound. There's all these abandoned cars because people have fled the city. A bunch of us have made it through. But I start looking around and no one on my team is there. Not a single person. I was carrying the tripod, the three other people were each carrying cameras. We were there to make a documentary, but of course no camera. None of them are there. We're able to talk on the phone and they're like, "We can't make it in. We don't know when we'll be able to get in."
[00:36:55] And I'm just like, "What am I going to do?" But I started looking around and there's a Swedish journalist there who I'd worked with a little bit before and knew before. So we decided to partner up. And for three days, we just kind of ran around this completely besieged city that was abandoned. You know, you're hearing firefights at night, there's mortars flying here and there. It was honestly probably the craziest reporting experience I've ever had. And then getting out was another journey as well, that involved, sneaking back out, being chased, having to walk a bunch of miles in like three o'clock in the morning, my phone dying. I had to meet an old man in a graveyard so he could bring me to the people that were trying to rescue me. Well, not rescue team, my team that was trying to pick me up.
[00:37:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:37:31] Danny Gold: They couldn't make it close to the border because there were checkpoints. So it was not a fun experience, but a good story to tell.
[00:37:37] Jordan Harbinger: How are other journalists getting into and out of Syria then if that's your experience?
[00:37:43] Danny Gold: I mean, that was the particularly dicey situation. We do have, I think, some people getting in similar ways. Things have changed over the years, right? In the beginning, it was very easy to get across. I think in some areas, not officially, obviously getting official permission from the Assad Regime was very hard, but you had a lot of people sneaking across the border. I'm sure people have crazier stories than that, but it got tighter at times. You know, the situation changed on the border drastically, especially when sort of ISIS emerged and you had to be a lot more careful.
[00:38:08] Jordan Harbinger: Well, now they think if you're crossing from Turkey into Syria, that you're an ISIS recruit, generally speaking. They're probably not expecting some journalists from anywhere to be crossing in that way. Or maybe they are, but what's the over-under for them, right? Like, "Okay, I'm going to let these people through and then they join a terrorist organization or we just try to arrest them or shoot them. And then some of them turn out to be independent journalists. Oh, well," right?
[00:38:33] Danny Gold: I think a couple have gone in through the north in the last couple of years. I believe Clarissa Ward was CNN, Martin, what's his name? Martin Smith, I think, with PBS Frontline had gone in there. I'm not positive, but I know a few have gone in, but it's extremely tricky and you've got to know, really have high level connections to make it in there and survive. Northeast region, where the Kurds are, is still pretty easy, I think, to make it through. Sometimes the border gets shut down, but there are a lot of journalists that are in and out of there.
[00:38:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I got invited over there as well. And surprise, surprise, my wife was like, "No, I don't think so," and I never went.
[00:39:05] But you obviously have some skills when it comes to establishing trust and winning people over getting access and things like that. Otherwise, you'd never would be able to even get in with these groups in the first place, right? So if you're going to walk in the room and be the only white dude or the only American, or the only non-local there. Whether we're talking gang members in St. Louis, Syrian rebels, Central African Republic government officials, it seems like you need to embrace the fact that you're the outsider. Can you speak to that a little bit?
[00:39:36] Danny Gold: Yeah. I call it, you know, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, right? If you walk into these rooms and you act like you're not supposed to be there, if you act like you're intimidated, you know, if you're awkward, for me, it just doesn't work. It sets the wrong tone. It sets the wrong atmosphere. I kind of do a grinning idiot thing a lot of the time. I walk in like I've been there 15 times. I'm going to shake everyone's hand. I'm going to crack a couple jokes. I just want my body language to be really relaxed. Not that I am, but at this point, I can kind of force myself to being relaxed and to sort of just act like I belong there and just pretend. And that sometimes translates into a feeling where it ends up, that you do belong there and people are happy to talk to you.
[00:40:15] You know, it's not going to always work, but it's, it's like a lot of first day, right? Even if you're nervous, the person that you're on the date with is going to respond to that. But if you act comfortable, if you make a couple of jokes, people are generally going to warm up and it's just about finding that level to do it. Sometimes, you do have to pretend like, well, not pretend, but sometimes you do have to act a little intimidated, a little afraid. The guy you're talking to wants you to feel like that, and you want to show him like a level of respect. You're nervous about it. But for the most part, I think it's all about — and this is a skill I think I apply to real life too — it's just acting like you belong, acting like you're supposed to be there and just acting like you're comfortable even if you're not, just forcing it.
[00:40:54] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Danny Gold. We'll be right back.
[00:40:58] This episode is sponsored in part by Scribd. I consume at least two books a week. I need a little flux right there. I really enjoy it. Imagine how much smarter I'd have been if I'd had Scribd instead of spending all those hours in front of a television in my youth, I think about it all the time. Probably, I shouldn't, a little unhealthy. Scribd offers instant access to millions of e-books, audiobooks, magazines, even piano sheet music, which I did not know, and more, all with one low monthly subscription. Forbes calls it Netflix for books. When I scroll through it, I get kind of excited about all the good books to read for a monthly subscription, less than the cost of a single book. The Scribd app also has to download for offline reading. You can annotate, bookmark, highlight, set sleep timers so you don't lose your place. Scribd will get you through countless road trips, plane rides, and commutes. Or what I do is read through my ears while getting my 10,000 steps in per day.
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[00:43:09] Now, for the rest of my conversation with Danny Gold.
[00:43:13] When you're in new situations, do you plan, "Okay, I've got a relatable joke I'm going to tell," or like, "I'm going to tell this story about this," or is this savoir-faire that you've learned on the job and you're kind of — are you dancing in the moment or do you go in with a couple of things up your sleeve to lighten the mood, for example?
[00:43:29] Danny Gold: Yeah. I think you go in with it with some knowledge of like who they are and what they represent and what they stand for so you can kind of play to what that is. Other times, you kind of have to improvise. Like, I remember this one story that time that I was with these Syrian rebels. Their big commander showed up with very serious face and all that. And a big thing when you're doing these stories is they ask, "Do you have a wife? Do you have kids?" and all that. And you start talking. This guy was very closed off. So he started asking me those questions. And I started telling him the story about a heartbreak that I pretend it was recent, reality it was like two years before. And the guy's eyes lit up, right? Who doesn't identify with a young man having his heart broken? Right? Everyone's been there. Guys lit up. After that, he's given me like, "Oh, there's plenty of fish of the sea," speeches.
[00:44:12] Jordan Harbinger: And getting love advice from Syrian rebel commanders.
[00:44:14] Danny Gold: He's like, "You know, if she was the right one, it would have worked out." But after that, I mean, we were buddies. He started telling me everything that he could, and he was much more happy to talk to me. So it's finding little things like that, I think, in those circumstances that everyone can relate to. But at the same time, I know what that guy stands for. I know what his principles are. I know what he wants to get. And you can't just go into an interview with someone like that not knowing those things.
[00:44:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you do a lot of research. I also do a lot of prep. As people comment on all the time, that's kind of what I'm known for, it's lack of talent but an abundance of hard work. And I'm fine with it, but you do a lot of prep as well, right? You're not just walking into a Kurdish area of Iraq and being like, "All right, let's get on the Wikipedia. And read about Kurds on the airplane ride over." You're doing a lot of deep background.
[00:45:01] Danny Gold: Yeah. I mean, when I used to do a lot of assignments like that, it was months and months of reading. You want to know when you go, for example, like I went to a Kurdish area in Iraq, you want to know that actually they like George W. Bush because he removed Saddam. So, you know, if you can drop little things like that in conversations, even with a taxi driver, people are going to see that you've actually respected the history there and that you've learned about their culture and their people and all that. And it makes them warm up to you a bit more. They know that you're not just some random foreigner there to get a quick story that hasn't done his research, that doesn't know what's going on. If you can show people without being patronizing, that you actually care about them and their people enough to learn somebody's facts, you're going to get a completely different reaction than otherwise.
[00:45:42] Jordan Harbinger: One of the episodes of your podcast I'm looking forward to is the meth trade in North Korea. How do you research something like that, where you, I assume didn't go to North Korea and interview a meth dealer because they would never allow something like that?
[00:45:55] Danny Gold: No. See my co-host Sean Williams, who is another just amazing journalist, great guy based in Berlin. And I actually, we haven't met, but I linked up with him when I was starting the podcast, because he's just this guy, whenever I was trying to do research on a story, Sean's name would come up because he had written a story about it. So he has this amazing tale he's done about chasing this billion-dollar meth lab in the jungles of Burma. I think he wrote it for GQ. So he's kind of tapped into that international mega-billion-dollar meth scene. I mean, the guy, just, he knows people that are sources on it. He knows people involved in it, and he's really good at doing research. So he's had a sort of dove into the North Korea thing.
[00:46:35] He, unfortunately, did not get to go to North Korea and visit a meth lab or know all the meth industry at all, but he's connected. He knows people in law enforcement, he knows people that are involved in the international trade because a lot of it involves China as well, especially in Burma and in North Korea. So he was able to tap into that. And I think it's the episode that we've done that has the most downloads because people are just fascinated by how that world works.
[00:46:59] Jordan Harbinger: I mean North Korea stuff is always extremely popular. My episodes on North Korea, people always listen and then they're super popular download numbers. And then they come back and say more like this. And it's tough because I can't go back to North Korea and there's not a whole lot of information coming out of North Korea either. So I'm dependent on finding people like you that have done pieces on it that we can bring on the show.
[00:47:22] How do you decide what topics you're going to cover? Because you like me look for these sort of wild stories where you go, "Wow, nobody's talking about that, and it's kind of crazy. Let's do it." Is that as simple as your sort of selector is? Because I think that's kind of where, I think that's how my machine works. Nobody's talking about it and holy crap, that's crazy. And there we've got a show basically from that.
[00:47:42] Danny Gold: Yeah. That's like 95 percent of it. You know, we try to do episodes about the reporting that we've actually done, that we'd been on the ground for, but we have a new episode every week, so we can't always do that. So there's stuff that we know that catches our attention. So we think it's going to catch other people's attention like North Korean meth, or I just didn't want on the Chinatown wars of New York in the '70s and '80s. And I love those gritty New York mafia and gang stories from that era. And I knew that people were going to enjoy it as well.
[00:48:05] Sometimes though it's something in the news. We did an episode on Captagon in Syria, which is this sort of meth-like pill that they make. That has a huge addiction rate in the Middle East. That not a lot of people know about but there were new stories breaking and it was topical. So we just jumped right into it right there. You know, I just did a couple of stories on opium and heroin in Afghanistan, when Kabbalah was falling. And I knew that people were super interested in the Taliban and how the drug industry in Afghanistan has worked or did work for the last 40 years. It's mostly stuff like that but yeah, I think a cool story that we just find out about that maybe other people don't know about is kind of the top of the list in terms of how we pick an episode.
[00:48:43] Jordan Harbinger: So the drug is called Captagon and it's a meth, it's pseudo, well, is there even such a thing? As pseudo-methamphetamine, I've never come across my radar. I've never heard of this.
[00:48:53] Danny Gold: So Captagon is a pill, that's kind of like speed. And it was a real, like legal pill that was made. I think it got outlawed in the early '80s, in most places in the world. But it got popular in the Middle East, in the Gulf, in Syria, Lebanon, places like that. And it's really cheap to make. And what they make now, it's called Captagon, but that's kind of just like the catch-all phrase for it. It's more just like methy speedy pills, you know, and it's a massive industry. And the industry used to operate a lot in Turkey decades ago.
[00:49:22] ]Now, it's in Lebanon. And after it got shut down in Lebanon, it moved across the border in Syria because various groups, as well as the Assad government, which now controls it needed something to make quick and easy money with. And they're usually profitable, they're super cheap to make, and they're just pumping these things out all over the world. You're seeing billion dollar bust happening in Mediterranean port cities, Saudi Arabia. There's a ton of bust because they're shipping it out and it's super popular in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia and places like that.
[00:49:49] Jordan Harbinger: It looks like ISIS is making it as well from some of my research that I've done in the last 35 seconds, but just the Google results are like the drug, ISIS, of course, is giving to its fighters. It's like, what the Nazis did, give people meth because they have to stay awake at crazy hours and be fearless and not feel pain. So making your own meth is a good look for people involved in a place where they can't ship things in and out, and then why not sell it to everybody else and generate some revenue to buy some bullets for the guns that your fearless messed up fighters are now shooting everywhere. Right? This is crazy.
[00:50:21] Danny Gold: The government now is taken to — the Assad regime has taken over making it.
[00:50:24] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:50:24] Danny Gold: But the ISIS thing, I don't think ISIS was making it. They were definitely taking it, but it was one of those things in journalism for the past, like eight years, you know, you just stick ISIS on something—
[00:50:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:32] Danny Gold: And everyone's going to click on it and read it.
[00:50:34] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point. Like, if we write Assad regime, making meth during a civil war to fund it, people are like, "Eh," but if you write, ISIS is making meth, it's like, "ISIS and meth. I've got to read this."
[00:50:44] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:50:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That worked on me.
[00:50:45] Danny Gold: There was a big bust in Italy, I think a year or two ago, where at first the Italian police pointed to ISIS, but it ended up not being ISIS. I think it ended up being the government and people who were affiliated with the government.
[00:50:55] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, that's literally the headline I saw. It's like, Italian police claim ISIS is producing meth. Well, all right, so basically I got duped, but that's okay.
[00:51:04] Danny Gold: I do at first.
[00:51:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course.
[00:51:06] Danny Gold: Yeah.
[00:51:06] Jordan Harbinger: Who believes the headlines? Everyone, apparently, until you've spent 30 seconds digging deeper.
[00:51:10] This stuff is always fascinating, man. Your topics are crazy, but I would imagine it has to get to you at some level. I mean, you're seeing like dead bodies of people that you probably knew the day before were safe. You know that when you leave a group of guys that remind you of your college buddies, that they might not live to fight another day, whereas you get to go home and have your favorite food three days from then. I mean that can't be good for your psyche.
[00:51:36] Danny Gold: Yeah. Now, I'm mostly doing the podcast, but there was a period when I was running around a lot, you know, bouncing from war to war and back home to Brooklyn and then back. It gets to you. You don't realize it. It's not like the movies for me where you just snap or I was having bad dreams, but like you get super tense. It starts irritating you that didn't irritate you before, but it's a super weird position to be in. Right? Because compared to everyone else in the places I go, I have it really good. I don't have to worry about my family or my friends or my home. I'm only there for a couple of weeks max. And like you said, I get to go home five days later, go get a cheeseburger at my favorite diner, hang out with my friends, get a bunch of drinks. It's a super weird situation, but it does mess with your head. You know, you're not supposed to see these things. And it's also the tension that you're living with.
[00:52:20] When I was in Kobane for three days — you're tensed the entire time. You're hearing bullets at night. You don't know what's going on. You're just on edge. Cortisol levels are through the roof and it takes a lot out of you. It also gives you this perspective. You know, you start to really understand how people in these places can lose their minds in a way. You know, because their families aren't safe, their friends aren't safe, they're dying, right? They are operating like this, not for two weeks but for two years, five years, six years. That is going to break somebody's brain. They don't get to go home a week later in their warm bed and eat their favorite restaurant because both those things were probably blown up or maybe it's not safe for them to do that. They've got to worry about their family, their neighbors, their friends, and themselves.
[00:53:00] And you really understand what people are going through. Especially when you look at refugees and what they have to deal with, you know, how to build back your life. I don't know how I could ever do that. I look at my grandparents who were able to do it. I look at Syrians, I know that are 30 years old, that lost everything that had to live through this stuff. And they're trying to build back their lives. I don't know if I have the fortitude to do that. But these people live through what I lived through for 10 times, a hundred times over. And for me, it broke my brain in a way. So for them to have to come back from that, I think, it's really all inspiring in a way. And I think people should be maybe a lot more empathetic to some people that come over here that have lived through that. Then I guess, unfortunately, a lot of people are.
[00:53:39] Jordan Harbinger: Have you had any psychological issues from this or is it just kind of like cold sweat and then after a while, you're fine.
[00:53:45] Danny Gold: Yeah. I mean, I had 2014 was a pretty crazy year for me. I was in the Central African Republic at the end of 2013. I was in Gaza. I was in Ebola. I was in Iraq. I was in Syria and a kind of, I think, broke me in a way for a period. And like I said, it was PTSD in a level that was just like things that I could do before I wasn't able to do now. And my temper was short. I was irritable. I would scream at people a lot. And I have to kind of tone it down. The company I worked for got me a therapist at that time.
[00:54:12] Jordan Harbinger: So you did have PTSD, like you'd legit had PTSD from all this, which isn't surprising.
[00:54:17] Danny Gold: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:54:18] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:54:18] Danny Gold: And there are some people I think that could have been in my situation and got out fine. But for me, it's just something about this adrenaline and this stuff that courses through your body and you're in and out of it. And it just made me behave in a way that I wasn't happy with, that I didn't like being, it made me short with people a lot. IT gets to you. It definitely gets to you. Things definitely calmed down for me in the past couple of years. I haven't done as much of that stuff as I could. So I feel, I feel a hundred percent normal, well normal in that way, definitely not normal in other ways.
[00:54:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yep.
[00:54:44] Danny Gold: You know, now I just have my generalized anxiety living in New York, as opposed to the stuff that comes with all that stuff. And then also—
[00:54:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:54:51] Danny Gold: I've done a little bit of research and read a lot about the sort of genetic PTSD that comes down. And especially there's been a lot of work with Holocaust survivors and people that were in the camps, so I definitely think that plays a role sometimes in some anxiety that I get when it comes to stuff like that.
[00:55:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It was funny. I was going to mention before the show that there is new research that shows that trauma can be, what's the word transferred from one generation to another it's epigenetic. Right? It sounded like nonsense to me when I first read it, like, oh, how is stress from a great-grandparent that I don't even know? How could that possibly get transferred to me. It's not just that it has an effect on every relative because of the way that they're raised. It actually presents at the genetic level, which to me is crazy. And there's not a whole lot on this, but this topic is fascinating. Because imagine what that means for every society that has groups, that have undergone trauma, the United States, the Jewish community, everyone, every community has these kinds of groups. And what does that mean? Are we going to start comparing how one group's ancestors went through something worse than the other? It's really, really going to have a lot of effect on policy I think in the next couple of decades once we actually know what's going on with it.
[00:56:00] Now, you're podcasting, man. Podcasts, I think you came up with a good tagline, unintentionally, podcasting slightly less traumatic than a civil war in Africa. Podcasting is a tough nut to crack, man. I wish you good luck with it. Underworld Pod, we'll link it in the show notes. Really a fan of your work. Thanks for coming on the show today.
[00:56:16] Danny Gold: Dude, that was great. That was like one of the best interviews I've ever done.
[00:56:18] Jordan Harbinger: Oh really?
[00:56:19] Danny Gold: Yeah, for sure, man.
[00:56:20] Jordan Harbinger: Good, I'm glad to hear that.
[00:56:23] You're about to hear a preview of The Jordan Harbinger Show with an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic terrorist.
[00:56:31] Tamer Elnoury: I lived with and grew up with the religion of Islam. After 9/11 and knowing full well that this was not the religion that was being portrayed, it kind of broke me a little bit inside. I was in law enforcement. I spoke Arabic, I'm a Muslim. And my knee-jerk reaction was to simply help working undercover. It definitely is an adrenaline rush, unlike anything I could describe.
[00:56:54] Putting your arm around someone telling them that you're their best friend, getting them to believe you. But what attracted me a great deal to this case, or what blew my mind about this case, was the fact that he was arguably one of the smartest, most brilliant men I've ever been in front of. This guy was on the precipice of curing infectious diseases. The sh't that he talked about his work was science fiction to me. How could someone so smart, so brilliant, such a gift to humanity, turn into a killer, an absolutely disgusting piece of garbage overnight. He was the epitome of evil.
[00:57:34] So we're going up to his apartment and it was right next to ground zero. And he put his arm around and looked up to where the towers were and he said, "Tamer, this town needs another 9/11 and we're going to give it to them. I've heard him say so much horrible things for so long that you think at that moment in time, I could have just accepted it and gone up and did my job, but I couldn't. I imagined killing him right there and then. And I imagine stabbing him in the eye with a pen I have in my pocket and leaving him for dead.
[00:58:10] Jordan Harbinger: To hear more from Tamer Elnoury about what drew him to the exciting and dangerous life of undercover law enforcement work, check out episode 572 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:58:21] Love stories like this, love shows like this. Danny's got his own podcast on the PodcastOne Network. It's called Underworld Podcast. It'll be linked up in the show notes. Links to all things from all guests are always in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Please use our website links if you buy books or anything like that from the guest, it does help support the show. Transcripts in the show notes. There's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or you can also hit me on LinkedIn.
[00:58:50] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same system, software, tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course. And that course is free over at .Jordanharbinger.com/course build relationships before you need them. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Most of the guests you hear on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:59:11] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If he knows somebody who's into journalism or thinking about that kind of career path, or just somebody who maybe missed their calling or likes a crazy story, share this episode with them. I hope you find something great in every episode of the show. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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