5 Undercover Journalists Who Risked It All For The Scoop

by Jordan Breeding

Typically, the most dangerous element of donning a disguise is the possibility of receiving a homemade popcorn ball instead of a highly-prized Snickers in our trick-or-treat bag. But for undercover journalists, not only do their costumes almost never deliver glorious nougat topped with caramel and peanuts; they’re often thrown into dangerous, violent situations. Sort of like when your older brother tries to steal your Halloween candy spoils, except your “brother” is a violent gang and the “candy” is your literal life.


Anna Erelle Got Herself An ISIS Boyfriend

A stressful but important milestone in many romantic relationships is bringing your new beau home to meet the parents. Will they approve of him? Will your mom’s casserole make him reconsider the whole relationship? Or in the case of journalist Anna Erelle, can your parents overlook the fact that he’s, you know, an active member of ISIS?

In 2013, Erelle conducted a series of interviews with Parisian Muslim teenagers to hopefully get at why so many of them were becoming radicalized. As a part of her investigation, she crafted an online persona, “Melodie,” a 20-year-old fan of jihad looking to get more involved with her fellow Muslim youths. In fact, she became so involved that Abou-Bilel, one of ISIS’s senior commanders in Raqqa, Syria, straight up fell in love with her, proposed marriage, and ultimately invited her to come down and live with him in his Syrian, dope-ass insurgency crib.

Realizing she’d stumbled upon the opportunity to learn some extremely important, useful information about how ISIS operates and what their commanders look for in a girlfriend (nice eyes, a sense of humor, the ability to wield an AK-47 with impunity), Erelle pushed forward in her relationship with Abou. She hid behind a hijab for romantic Skype sessions, and conversed with a literal freaking terrorist for hours over the phone. Eventually, Abou wanted to meet, and also have a bajillion kids with her. So she agreed to at least go to a sort of halfway point in Amsterdam. There were complications upon arrival, and she ultimately refused to go any further with her ruse—no matter how potentially valuable the information or how “fresh” Abou’s bachelor pad was.



OK … cool.

As you can imagine, this pissed Abou exactly off. He called Erelle and told her, “I know who you are, it would be a matter of minutes to find you and kill you.” But being a total badass, she went ahead and published a story about her experience under another pseudonym anyway, since “Erelle” isn’t her real name, either.

This made her something of a target. She received death threats from others in the online Muslim community, and her life became something of a living hell. Nobody wanted to be friends with her, because duh, who wants to be an ISIS target via association? The police watch her house constantly, and she even had to get rid of her dog because it was a rare enough breed that it could identify her.

Eventually, Abou was exploded to death as terrorists are wont to be, and presumably Erelle’s public profile improved. But man, talk about a crazy ex-boyfriend.

Walter Francis White Attended Lynchings Despite Being Black

There’s no joke here -- I’ll just go ahead and tell you that between 1882-1968, 4,743 people were lynched in the United States. This horrific practice was exacerbated by Congress being unwilling to enact an anti-lynching bill before 2005. Maybe the next time somebody complains that government is too slow to do anything, remind them that it only took 150 years to officially make hate-murdering people in the street a criminal practice.

But not everybody was content to simply wait for Congress to rule on the legality of clear and horrific homicide, least of all Walter Francis White. Contrary to what you might think, he wasn’t a dealer of pretty blue meth, but actually a journalist who investigated something like 40 lynchings and eight race riots.

That’s impressive on its own (after all, how many murderers like being interviewed?), but what’s truly badass is that White did all this as a black man. This dude would seek out the single most dangerous places an African American could be during the early 1900s and investigate the situation and collect data on behalf of the NAACP. Meanwhile, I’m too scared to visit my in-laws.



And their kids.

Fortunately for White, his skin was light enough, and his Southern accent strong enough, that most people just assumed he was white anyway. Not always, though. There was one time in 1919 when he was found out and forced to flee town before the crowds caught and tried to lynch him. It was so close, White reportedly boarded a train out of town, just for the conductor to inform him that he was “leaving too soon. They’re looking for a yellow n*****.” Because to 20th century racists, murdering people was as exciting as, I don’t know, The Chainsmokers coming to town or something.

James And John Metcalfe Went Undercover With Literal Nazis

Back in 1937, being a Nazi was still more of a fun (racist, terrible, stupid) thing to do with friends than the greatest threat to global peace the world had ever known. American involvement in World War II was still a few years off, so people still generally tolerated an American Nazi party – specifically, one known as the Bund. Of course, others thought, “Hey, maybe these white supremacists are bad news,” so journalist brothers James and John Metcalfe decided to infiltrate the group and report on their activities.

As German-Americans, it was relatively easy for them to blend in and rise through the Bund’s ranks. While undercover, the brothers pumped out a ten-part series on their experiences. They detailed conversations which contained horrific details about how Germany was great because Jews were “dumped out of windows and killed,” and how they hoped that, “the day will come over here when Jews get the same treatment on the street they get in Germany.”

Releasing the brothers’ expose was even more dangerous considering that the Bund was known for assaulting students who didn’t salute their stupid flag and smashing equipment and threatening reporters who tried to photograph them. They didn’t even have to necessarily be Jewish or anything, either – they just kind of hated anyone that wasn’t pure blonde.



NEWS FLASH: You’re no different than the rest of us.

Keep in mind, too, that by 1939, Chicago hosted a Nazi rally that included between 4,000 and 8,000 members. The speakers at the event spoke about eliminating the Jews and celebrating Nazi advances in Europe. How kindly do you think they would have reacted to discovering that two of their own didn’t actually want to establish themselves as the master race?

Thanks to the Metcalfes, the federal government decided to take a closer look at this whole Nazi thing. They clearly didn’t like what they found and the Bund was essentially destroyed by the onset of American involvement in World War II. Their primary leader was stripped of his citizenship on the grounds of, duh, he literally supported America’s number one enemy during war time. He died six years later in Germany, an impoverished piece of crap.

Donal MacIntyre Infiltrated A Violent Gang Then Was Attacked For It 10 Years Later

Irish journalist Donal MacIntyre has built a career of going undercover. He’s released exposés on everything from modeling agencies to British gangsters, but weirdly his most dangerous assignment was infiltrating the seedy ranks of the world’s worst kind of people: soccer fans.

Although soccer in America isn’t much more than that sport every kid plays until they get big enough for American football or discover Fortnite, in the United Kingdom, there are entire subcultures built around it. Also, yes, from here on out I’ll call it football. I know how the lads like to say it, chip chip cheerio and all that.



And now some tea, with some other stupid stereotypes.

Football hooligans, as they’re known, are basically a bunch of dudes that get off on instigating random fights at football matches. On top of that, they’re known to be racist and fascist, which seem to almost always go hand-in-hand. MacIntyre was determined to go undercover with these types of people and expose just how premeditated their particular brand of violence and way of living was. This required him to get a Chelsea Football Club tattoo, which hurt so much he passed out, and moving next door to somebody from the “Chelsea Headhunters.” Thanks to his efforts, two hooligans were arrested and sentenced to jail for planning an intentional, violent attack at an upcoming match.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. 10 years later, Donal and his wife were attacked by other hooligans as revenge for his actions a decade prior. They assaulted the two of them at a bar, despite the fact that Donal’s wife was suffering from a brain tumor. Thankfully, they survived, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be buying the newest FIFA game for Xbox or PC.

Frank Smith Was Tortured In An Insane Asylum

Over the past couple of centuries, humanity has made incredible strides when it comes to mental health. It wasn’t that long ago when every ailment was “cured” by electrocuting your brain or blaming your depression on ghosts. Up until extremely recently, going to a mental hospital was about as terrifying as actually being haunted by 1990s Bruce Willis.

But the only people who really knew the conditions of these hospitals were either paid to not say anything, or tortured until they couldn’t. So in 1935, journalist Frank Smith decided to go undercover as a crazy person and just sort of see what happened. Well, what happened was that Frank discovered something akin to literal hell.



“Fortunately, I reserved you a spot by the pool.”

The 4,000 patients jammed into the hospital were all forced to drink from communal cups. This meant even patients with open syphilitic sores would drink from the same unwashed cup as the uninfected. The water was pumped from a reservoir that had long been condemned and considered unfit for drinking. One morning, he woke up to have a deranged inmate quietly ruffling his hair, because apparently security didn’t really try and stop those sorts of things.

When Smith faked some violent tendencies, he was tied down in a tub of that same rancid river water for 15 freaking hours to help “cure” him of his proclivity for violence. Because nothing makes us not want to punch people more than taking a forced, half-day bath.

Like this article? Check out “5 Rogue Heroes Who Scammed The Scammers” and “How To Write For The Modern Rogue (And Get Paid)”.

The Modern Rogue is not owned by a giant, all-powerful corporation. We are a small group of freelancers. You can help us grow in three ways.


2) Become a Patron

3) Buy cool stuff from our store