In England, where empire is an even more distant memory, law-enforcement officials have described the theft of signaling cable as an enormous national criminal threat—second only to terrorism—that damages industry to the tune of £360 million annually. In 2005, Anglican churches filed insurance claims for 85 instances of metal theft; in the first nine months of 2007 alone, this had ballooned to an estimated 2,200 claims. The Guardian reported a fivefold explosion in the rate of metal track theft. Castleford copper thieves cause houses to explode. A Henry Moore sculpture valued at £3 million was stolen, smelted, and shipped abroad for an estimated £1,500.
In continental Europe, even concentration camps—those sacred totems to all that is perpetually deemed unholy about continental European culture—are not immune from metal thieves. In 2008, over 1,000 bronze markers were purloined from a cemetery at the Theresienstadt concentration camp near Prague; a scrap-metal dealer was arrested and said he’d intended to sell them for their copper content. And when Auschwitz’s infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” was stolen late in 2009 and then recovered, Zionists and neo-Nazis the world over emitted a slightly disappointed sigh when it was revealed that the heist’s perpetrators were apparently not ragingly anti-Semitic political terrorists but instead only “common thieves.”
In March of this year, a 75-year-old female “scavenging pensioner” cut off Internet connections throughout the nations of Georgia and Armenia while digging for scrap metal. And just this week it was reported that scrap-metal thieves on a train headed from Romania to Bulgaria may have made off with several boxes containing warhead components.
Back in America—at least so far—metal thieves seem to be more of a direct physical danger to themselves. There are an estimated three dozen “copper-theft fatalities” nationwide yearly. An alleged 2010 attempt in Dallas to pry a 13,200-volt copper wire from a conduit led to two deaths and this series of extremely graphic (you’ve been warned) photos making the Internet rounds. In March of this year, a 19-year-old North Carolina man was electrocuted and his partner charged as an accomplice in his death during a botched copper-wire theft. This past Monday night, a 41-year-old man was burned to a crisp during a bungled copper robbery in Cowpens, SC, that resulted in a power outage for 3,000 local citizens.
As Congress debates whether it’s more ethical for the national debt to be $14.3 trillion or a mere couple trillion more, average American nobodies are incinerating themselves in search of the base material that used to form our humble penny.
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