Metal Thieves: Vultures of a Fallen Empire

July 22, 2011

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Metal Thieves: Vultures of a Fallen Empire

The once-mighty industrial giant called America, this formerly muscle-bound striding imperial colossus, these days more resembles an emaciated Gulliver lying dead in a weed-choked abandoned factory parking lot. Pecking at his rigid corpus are an unsavory assortment of human buzzards, scavengers, pack rats, hyenas, and scroungers—nearly all of them on meth, crack, or meth/crack cocktails—who busily pick apart the remaining sinew and marrow from his bones.

Over the past decade America’s leading export to our imperial successor China has been trash in the form of discarded items such as waste paper and scrap metal. Since copper wire fetches higher prices than used toilet paper at the local salvage yard, a perversely entrepreneurial criminal industry has emerged to keep such exports booming.

All across this once-fair and now-mottled land, faded emblems of a vanished industrial base—manhole covers, oil tanks, steel beams, aluminum bleachers, fire-hydrant control valves, sewer grating, plumbing pipes, rusty stoves, and any public monuments that appear to contain copper—have been showing up at scrap yards and sold for a fraction of their value by tweaked-out parasites itching to smoke and snort and shoot more brain-eating stimulants. The US Department of Energy has estimated annual losses of $1 billion due to copper theft alone.

“The thievery escalates as the economy plummets and metal prices soar.”

The thievery escalates as the economy plummets and metal prices soar. Entire apartment complexes and shopping centers are mercilessly denuded of their air-conditioning systems, which are not only rich in copper but also contain anhydrous ammonia with which to manufacture more slushy piles of meth. The vultures swoop in on houses foreclosed in the real-estate downturn, picking them clean of their metal riches and rendering them permanently uninhabitable. Six tons of scrap metal wind up missing from a Seattle biotech firm. Baseball fields and a skating rink in Colorado Springs are shorn of their electrical wiring. Eight miles of copper power cable disappear from Tucson and leave a two-mile stretch of the city without streetlights. An Arkansas Walmart, hospital, and mall get ransacked in one strike, leaving two thousand customers without power. Playgrounds, construction sites, train tracks, and electrical sub-stations get pillaged and torn open, the mess left for others to clean. Even scrap yards get hit, with the spoils sold to other scrap yards.

Churches, graveyards, and other once-sacred public monuments are routinely shorn of their bronze, copper, and zinc. Bells, gravestones, plaques, statues, and coffins are hauled to grimy salvage yards and sold for pennies on the dollar. An estimated $500,000 worth of brass ornaments have been purloined from Chicago cemeteries. West Virginia headstones and veteran’s markers are picked apart for their bronze and sold for quick cash.

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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