Who would have guessed that while writing two highly-praised books chronicling the seamy underside of L.A.—one about the investment scams and criminal exploits of Joe Hunt and his "Billionaire Boys Club,” and the other about the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. and the origins of the L.A. police scandal—Rolling Stone magazine reporter Randall Sullivan was on an eight-year religious quest to discover the truth about Catholic miracles, Marian apparitions, and the alleged revelations of the Virgin Mary appearing to six young visionaries in Medjugorje, in war-torn Bosnia-Hercegovina?
Sullivan tells the story of his amazing odyssey in his new book, The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. The casting couldn’t be more varied and colorful—saints, cardinals, theologians, medical experts, scientists, visionaries, seekers, soldiers, eccentrics, and rogues—Sullivan encounters them all, in person and in historical records, as he investigates the supernatural and fights through fear, confusion and doubt on his way to faith and the threshold of the Catholic Church.
While it's intensely personal, Sullivan expertly situates his quest within contemporary theological and ecclesial disputes between “traditionalists” and liberal “conciliarists.” Think of a cross between Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Beverly Donofrio’s Looking for Mary. It’s a book you'll want to give to skeptical or unbelieving friends. The Church comes off as wildly interesting but fundamentally sane—an attractive combination (although whether it will convince hyper-rationalist atheists is an open question).
Godspy talked with Randall Sullivan recently about his book, his experiences, his faith, and how they’ve changed his life.
[To read an excerpt from The Miracle Detective, scroll down to the end of the interview]
GODSPY: What led a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal to investigate miracles and Marian apparitions?
Randall Sullivan: It began when I was drawn to reports of an apparition in a trailer park in Eastern Oregon. I realized that I was unwilling to simply dismiss them as hallucinations or confabulations, and that their fundamental source was a mystery to me. Admitting the mysterious left me with a sense of puzzlement and awe. I wondered what was there, and I wondered how I felt about it. Also, I felt compelled to learn more about how the Church proposed to "investigate" an alleged miracle or purported revelation. What possible criteria, I wanted to know, would one apply?
What happened next?
I went to the Vatican in the summer of 1995, which was an overwhelming education in the theological underpinnings of Catholicism, of how the Church operates as an institution while at the same time acknowledging that its origins are in the designs of supernatural agency. I became fascinated not only by how the church goes about authenticating miracles, but also by how it deals with its mystics, and their claims of divine revelation. And the more I learned about the controversy surrounding Medjugorje within the Church, the more remarkable it seemed to me that an event considered to be on par with Lourdes and Fatima was happening right now in a country that was being torn apart by the bloodiest European civil war in fifty years. I had to go there.
What is a miracle and who gets to decide? What are the criteria?
A miracle is defined by the Church as "an extraordinary intervention of God" in human affairs. Nearly all decisions about what is a miracle are made at the Vatican by separate bodies of scientists and theologians, who must agree, then submit their findings first to the College of Cardinals, then to the pope himself.
What is the Vatican's position on miracles?
The Vatican takes the position that the affirmation of a miracle is done only in the context of beatification and canonization—the making of saints—and as a practical matter nearly all of those approved are medical in nature, and must be passed by the esteemed physicians recruited from major universities and prestigious clinics who make up what is known as the Consulta Medica. Apparitions and other "private revelations" are never formally approved by the Church, although some (Lourdes and Fatima being most notable) are implicitly endorsed. Medjugorje has become the principle contemporary vehicle for discussing how this should or should not be done.
Do you believe in miracles?
Absolutely. I don't pretend to understand their operation, or even their specific purpose, and I live with doubts about every assertion I've heard or read in these regards. But I've come to the conclusion that to believe in God is to believe in miracles. And I believe in God.
Belief in private revelations is not binding on believers, and there are faithful Catholics who prefer to ignore them. What’s your reaction to this perspective?
I don't see how any Catholic, or any Christian, for that matter, can sincerely reject a belief in private revelations. My understanding of faith is that it always results from a revelation—in whatever form that may take—of the love of God. We know that love only when we allow ourselves to be touched by it, when we choose to accept the gift that is perpetually being offered to us. I don't say this to advocate the sort of sappy credulity that supports cultism, but simply to affirm what my own experiences tell me—that intrusions of a supernatural force into the natural world are intended to remind us that what remains invisible nevertheless exists.
Your description of your conversion experience really impressed me. It was clearly a genuine experience of God’s love.
Yeah, I think that is the essence for me. I wouldn’t understand the conversion to Christianity in any other way, personally.
I was raised by a pair of athiests who took the Jesse Ventura view of religion—that it is a crutch for the weak—minded. Both my siblings are avowed athiests. I was never really comfortable with this; even as a child I sensed that there was a divine source. As a young adult I was more drawn to Eastern than to Western religion; the Hindu cosmology made more sense to me than the Christian one, and Buddhist beliefs accorded better with the scientific skepticism I had absorbed as a youth. What happened to me in Medjugorje was a kind of conversion experience. I had an experience of God's mercy and of Christ's sacrifice that was unprecedented in my life, and that I found myself unable to deny and unwilling to disavow even after I returned to my secular reality in the U.S.
Given your experiences, where are you in regard to Catholicism?
I attend Catholic services, and I had my children baptized Catholic, and I’m just about at the point where I’ve accepted that nothing less than formal conversion and Catholic baptism will be sufficient. I have tremendous regard for the mystical heart of Catholicism, and it’s what I’m drawn to. I really do consider myself a Catholic at heart. I have some issues with the dogma I would like to be able to work out. And the fact that the sex abuse scandal happened at this time, I did see some things connected to that in the course of my research which troubled me. I mean the refusal to recognize what is going with priests. I don’t really have an issue with the fact that a lot of priests are homosexual, but in my experience in Rome and researching this book, my guess is that a majority of American and Western European priests are gay in orientation. I don’t know what that means, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t feel like they or anybody should have to not tell the truth about that. As an institution I don’t think it has been not fully honest about certain subjects, and sex is one of them.
I had an experience of God's mercy and of Christ's sacrifice that was unprecedented in my life.
One thing that was troubling was that so many people I dealt with in the Vatican in positions of authority seemed almost half-hearted about it. I was more reverent in a lot of ways than they were, and more able to see the absurdity, the limitations of an overly rational, skeptical, scientific perspective. These limitations were more obvious to me than to many of them. But that is really about the Church as a human institution, but the faith itself, the Catholic Church is still for me the ultimate guardian of the faith, it’s closer to the origin of the faith. That’s what I’m pulled back to. Catholic communion is really what is breaking me down, pulling me in. I was baptized Episcopalian, so I can take Episcopalian communion, but it really feels like a watered down, pretend kind of communion. Whatever that says about me, my longing for Catholic communion is forcing me to accept that I’m going to have to become an actual Catholic.
In general though, the book seems to indicate that your experience of the Vatican was more positive than you expected.
It was. I will have to agree with that—the fact that they were relatively open to explaining the procedures of investigation of miracles. The only times I felt that things were being kept from me in confidence was about matters that were still being debated in the hierarchy, or if they involved private information that an individual—maybe about a healing—didn’t want to be known. Other than that the doors were open, the information was available. I was impressed by the intellectual standards that the Church applies to the examination of these things. It was a surprise to learn that they don’t encourage them and that they really scrutinize them with a critical or even skeptical or negative point of view. And I saw that almost everyone there—even the people I was talking about earlier, who were less reverent, they were all struggling with their faith in one way or another. Faith was a reality in their lives, and to be in that environment, where you see people for whom faith is alive, it’s affecting.
People who work in Rome covering the Vatican say it gives them a real sense of the Church as a global institution…
Oh yes. I had no concept of how Catholic Africa is, for example, until I spent time in Rome. That was really a surprise to me, and this Pope clearly has done a lot to encourage that. It certainly puts the concerns of the western countries in a different light. In much of the world the faith is still faith. They just assume that, of course, if you’re a Christian you accept the resurrection. The types of questions we focus on here in the U.S. don’t resonate for them. The pseudo-scientific, watered-down version of Catholicism isn’t relevant to them, and it isn’t to me either.
Towards the end, you recount your meeting with Fr. Benedict Groeschel. How did he help clarify things for you?
What Father Groeschel did was validate my doubts without undermining my faith. It was almost as if he gave me permission to express my feeling that the events—in Medjugorje, especially—that I had found to be at once so moving and so perplexing were the complex mix of the human and the divine, of psychology and spirituality, that I imagined. What most surprised me about the aftermath of my meeting with him was the discovery that accepting my doubts actually deepened my faith. I felt a tremendous sense of liberation from the parameters I'd imposed on my belief.
How did you view the Church in terms of your own politics before your conversion and how has that changed?
I was probably in tune with the social justice teachings of the Church beforehand, but I was becoming a bit more conservative on those issues with age. If anything the Church sort of pushed me back to the left on economic issues. But at the same time I’m probably a lot more conservative on cultural issues than I was, when we’re talking about abortion and other things. I had a laissez-faire attitude, and now I feel the need—although I don’t proselytize—to let people know that I’m against abortion. If you can decide to do it, I’m not your judge, but I’m against it. So I’m more liberal on economic issues and more conservative on cultural issues.
What most surprised me about the aftermath of my meeting with Fr. Groeschel was the discovery that accepting my doubts actually deepened my faith.
That’s a difficult combination for someone these days, where Catholics really are without a home politically.
Yes, by taking a socially liberal approach the Democrats, and the left in general, are ceding huge blocs of the population, evangelicals in particular, to the Republicans.
Did you agree with the Pope’s position on the war?
Yes, I did, and even more now, in retrospect, like a lot of people. I happened to be in Rome when the war began and those last peace marches and appeals to the Pope were taking place when I was at the Vatican. I was really impressed by the moral authority that the Pope still holds; he was the ultimate court of appeal for so many political leaders, religious and secular. A lot of people who didn’t agree with him now realize he was right.
You went through harrowing experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where you were exposed to the worst of humanity: war, ethnic cleansing and mass graves. How did the backdrop of a war-torn country affect your investigation?
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and all its horrors was an essential aspect of my experience and of this book. This was the first time I had ever seen the effects of war in person, and I doubt anyone is not changed by the direct and visceral engagement of humanity's capacity for savagery. In that place, at that time, it was difficult to doubt that evil exists. In Bosnia, for the first time, I found myself willing to contemplate evil as a personal force, and to allow that perhaps Satan does, indeed, exist. People there certainly seemed to be in the grip of something, almost as if they were infected with a virus spread by some bad spirit that whispered in their ears.
Equally impressive, though, was the human capacity for heroism, for charity and for sacrifice. I realize this may sound terrible, but for me the war was tremendously clarifying. One finds oneself in a world where there is no room for the petty, the trivial, the banal. Everyone around you is living on the edge of their mortality, not knowing what will come next, forced to proceed on faith. I sensed almost immediately that the events in Medjugorje were somehow inseparable from the war, and I wanted to understand how that could be. What I learned about this was disturbing and inspiring in equal measures.
Did your experience of war in Bosnia affect your view of the Iraq war, and war in general? I’m thinking specifically of the effects of disorder and anarchy on people’s lives, and whether that is adequately addressed by abstract arguments about “just war”?
War opens the door to all sorts of evils, few of which can be anticipated, and all of which seem to compound themselves. I know that because of my experiences in Bosnia I believed from the beginning about our invasion of Iraq that we were initiating events we would not be able to control, and which very well might soon be controlling us.
Getting back to your conversion experience, did you ever consider Protestant Evangelicalism?
There’s an anti-intellectualism in so much Evangelicalism that I don’t resonate with. I don’t resonate with a coldly rational view of the world either, but to be anti-intellectual, to deny the value of doubt, for example, that seems to be part of an evangelical approach. In Catholicism there is more respect for doubt, the recognition that doubt is the ground and the context for faith. I appreciate that because it’s truer to my experience and who I am. Catholicism doesn’t require me to deny who I am and what my experience is, although I know evangelicals who shouldn’t be described this way—I’m talking in general. For instance the whole Left Behind thing, that just seems like comic book religion for saps.
You’re still working as a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and Men’s Journal also—what’s it been like to straddle the worlds of secular magazine publishing and religious faith? How have your colleagues reacted to your newfound faith?
Some people clearly felt uneasy in the beginning, but it was respectful. But some people were sincerely curious and open to my experiences. I was actually surprised by the degree to which people were willing to treat it respectfully, and that’s continued. I don’t feel ostracized. I feel perhaps more uncomfortable on a personal level with some of the content—the magazines, as I’ve let it be known, have changed for the worse during this time. I’m not pleased with that. But I’m getting the same space, and the same freedom.
Interestingly, my faith perspective has infiltrated into my work and that’s been very positive. For instance, I just wrote an article about a murder on an Indian reservation that took place 27 years ago, which has just been solved. In the course of researching it, the investigators—the chief of law enforcement for the bureau of Indian affairs, a detective from Denver, a U.S. Marhsall—gradually revealed that they believed they had solved this case with the assistance of what they considered to be spiritual visions. I don’t think they would have opened that door to me if there hadn’t been something about me that made them feel it was safe.
Was it because they knew you’d written about miracles, or was it something they sensed about you…?
I think they sensed my openness, that I believe there is a spiritual realm… I think that’s something I put out—not in an obtrusive way, I don’t force it into a Christian context—I think that’s helped. Also, Rolling Stone recently let me get a piece in on near-death experiences. Many of those experiences were in a Christian context. They couldn’t get around the fact that, for whatever reason you want to believe, many people who have these experiences have a profound experience of Christ. I said so in the article. Those kinds of ideas are not regularly in Rolling Stone magazine.
What comes to mind when I think of the Pope, these many months later, is the sense I had of his struggle to endure.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion has forced the media to deal with Christianity head on. The recent Tom Junod piece in Esquire on Jesus is a good example. Do you think the media is getting better at dealing with religion?
I don’t know how long-lasting the impact of The Passion is going to be. And there’s also a backlash—there are a lot of people in the elite media who are disturbed and offended by the success of The Passion. They went from saying “Look at this lunatic who spent all this money to make this movie” to suddenly he’s a very shrewd businessman who made a calculated move to make a lot of money…so it’s cutting both ways. Certainly, I think that in the executive ranks it’s finally dawned on them that this is essentially a Christian country. The polls show that the vast majority of people, if they’re asked “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God,” 75% of the people in this country will say yes. The media can’t deny the economics of it, if nothing else. And I think they recognize the general sense of unease all across the country about the moral climate, about what may be coming as a result of political developments. I think all those elements factor into it. How it’s going to play out, I really don’t know. But I also think executives are realizing, not just that there’s a huge Christian market, but that there are people out there who are open to the subject of faith and long for some affirmation of their feelings.
Did you see The Passion?
What did you think?
I couldn’t for the life of me understand how people read the anti-semitism into it, all the negative interpretations that I heard. None of them seemed true to me—the claims that it was too violent. It was all pretty astounding to me that it had become an issue. Schindler’s List was clearly just as horrible and just as violent. I really felt that some people had made up their mind to hate this movie, and there wasn’t going to be any winning on this, certainly not at a place like the New York Times.
What did you think of it as a movie?
I was moved by it. Probably because I had heard so much, I may have expected more… but I was very moved by it and I thought Jim Caviezel was wonderful.
He’s the best screen Christ…
Yeah, and certainly the truest for me. It was a very positive and powerful experience for me. Christ’s Passion is the most difficult part of the faith to experience, to accept as essential, and it leads inevitably to the whole subject of the resurrection, and if you can’t accept that, to me you’re not a Christian. I think for a lot of people in the secular world the resurrection gets you into an anti-scientific realm… it’s got to be metaphorical for them to accept or embrace it. That’s one aspect of it. But there’s also the pain and suffering and sacrifice that are an essential part of the Christian message that they have trouble with. They can’t imagine that anyone would take that voluntarily upon themselves if they didn’t have to. Of course, no one could, except Him.
As someone who returned to the Church because of Pope John Paul II, I couldn’t help but be moved by your encounter with the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square near the end of the book, when both of you made eye contact in the midst of a crowd...
I have to admit that what comes to mind when I think of the pope, these many months later, is the sense I had of his struggle to endure. He was obviously in tremendous physical agony, and his will to, for lack of a better word, continue was almost palpable. That moment of bemusement amidst the slapstick comedy of our encounter was a fleeting experience that brought us both a measure of relief, or so it seems to me now.
To finish up, when you think to your emotional and physical reactions to events that happened to you during your quest, and the people you encountered, what effect does it all have on you today?
I've come to acknowledge the entirely subjective nature of what I experienced, and to believe that this subjectivity in no way diminishes what I thought and felt. It perhaps sounds paradoxical, but I continue to be inspired by those experiences, even as I question them on an intellectual level. I don't know how to explain this, except by saying that faith is greater than doubt, just as love is stronger than death. The time I spent with Father Slavko Barbaric when I was in Medjugorje, has proven to be particularly sustaining. And I know that when I learned of his death, my absolute conviction that I had known a saint had a powerfully restorative effect in my time of spiritual darkness.
An excerpt from
The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions
by Randall Sullivan
One morning near the end of my second week in Medjugorje, I was awakened by a large tour group of Tahitian pilgrims in matching floral outfits, who were singing religious hymns in French, hoping this might persuade Mirjana (one of the visionaries) to come outside and meet with them. (It did.) Six hours later, I was sitting not fifty yards from a group of Algonquin Indians decked out in braids and ribbon shirts. The Indians had assembled under the poplar tree, where they prayed each afternoon to the beat of tribal drums. After fifteen minutes or so, the Indians were joined by a chorus of white-legged Czech teenagers who wore Bermuda shorts with steel-toed brogues and black socks.
Earlier in the week, the square had been overrun by a collective of Australian feminists who were stopping in Medjugorje to seek blessings from Father Slavko before continuing on to Sarajevo, where they intended to stage a demonstration for peace in Sniper Alley. The priest tried to talk them out of it, but to no avail. "Good luck to the ones who get out alive," Nicky remarked. Now the Franciscans were mobilizing against an "attack" by a busload of recruiters from the Children of God cult who enticed local Catholic youth with the delights of promiscuous sex. "Wherever Our Lady is, the great good she brings inevitably attracts great evil," Father Slavko told me.
My favorite snapshot of the fortnight was the biker gang from Berlin, who thundered into town one afternoon arrayed in wardrobes of black leather and chrome chain, then parked their flame-painted BMWs along the edge of the courtyard directly across from Mira's. Medjugorje's pastor, Father Ivan Lindeca, hustled outside armed with his Polaroid camera to minister to this motley crew. After a half hour of verbal jousting and badass poses, several of the bikers clomped into the church to confess. This success had the friars beaming for days.
Among the assortment of characters who came and went, only a handful managed to attach themselves to the Loopers. Most affecting was Father Francis, a Ugandan priest who had come to Medjugorje in civilian clothes, explaining that he felt unfit to wear his clerical collar. The horrors he had witnessed since the reign of Idi Amin had revealed him as a coward who lacked true faith, Father Francis explained. Only after several stern lectures from Nicky did the African priest agree to wear his vestments and to assist with communion at the evening Mass. Soon he was wearing his collar even during daylight hours. Shortly before he was to depart, Francis sat down next to me at Mira's with a radiant smile and announced that he felt renewed: He had been taking confessions, he explained, and nearly every one he heard moved him to tears. The atmosphere of holiness in Medjugorje was something he had not found even in Rome, Francis said. "Here, it is like the time of Christ."
Deeply held convictions that the last shall he first and the prodigal must be welcomed had made Medjugorje a magnet for lost souls who sought refuge in the expatriate community of the parish.
More ambiguous were the motives of a former drug and weapons dealer from Rotterdam, who had hitchhiked to Medjugorje all the way from Marseille after his release from a five-year term in a French prison. He was here to celebrate the first anniversary of his conversion to Catholicism, the man announced to me at least half a dozen times. He was a troubling combination of sincerity and insinuation, mooching meals and bumming beers from the other pilgrims even as he instructed them in the Glorious Mysteries. Wearing the same clothes day after day, unwashed, with teeth that looked as if he hadn't cleaned them in years, the man spoke the patois of a hustler in several languages, and was watched with a wary eye by the locals as he moved about the village carrying all his worldly possessions in the pockets of his cargo pants, encumbered only by a cruel nickname I had given him, "the Frying Dutchman." Father Slavko said his heart was true, however, and to atone, I had taken to buying the Dutchman a Tuborg each afternoon, listening solemnly as he confessed the terrible sins he had committed in half the cities of Western Europe.
Deeply held convictions that the last shall he first and the prodigal must be welcomed had made Medjugorje a magnet for lost souls who sought refuge in the expatriate community of the parish. "Everyone who comes here is a sick person hoping to be healed," I was advised by Nicky. I found it easier to listen when my new friend stepped out of character one evening to join Rita and Michelle in a hilarious recitation of some memorable recent cases. These ranged from a former porn star—"Miss Quadruple X," Nicky called her—convinced that every man who looked upon her would he consumed by the fires of lust, to a virginal Irishwoman who conceived a romantic interest in Father Slavko and lurked outside the sacristy after Mass to insist that the two of them were meant for each other, like St. Francis and St. Clare.
Perhaps the most notorious permanent pilgrim in Medjugorje—and certainly the best-known American—was David Hoepp, owner of the Devotions bookstore. Hoepp had been held up to ridicule in an infamous Harper's article as a Texas goofball whose shop peddled the most morbidly absurd collection of fabricated miracle photographs in all of Medjugorje. Had the magazine's writer looked beyond this mere nougat of sarcasm, she would have found a veritable feast of scandal. Hoepp's last stop before Medjugorje had indeed been Texas, but the man's roots were in Massachusetts. This the people of the village had learned during the previous Easter week, when an American pilgrim showed up with an article about Hoepp clipped from the Boston Globe. The newspaper report not only detailed the numerous counts of sexual molestation that had been filed against the bookstore owner back in his home state, but described the efforts to avoid extradition on those charges that apparently had led him to Medjugorje. Word of Hoepp's past spread rapidly through the parish, setting off a spirited debate on the nature of Christian duty. The local civil authorities wanted Hoepp to receive the traditional treatment of a pedophile: Throw him in jail, they said, and let the other inmates beat him to death. "If not that, at least drag him out into the bushes and castrate him," one cafe owner suggested. The priests insisted it was possible that the man's repentance was sincere, and said he must be given an opportunity to reconcile with Christ's mercy. The argument of the priests prevailed, but only on the condition that Hoepp promise never to be alone with a child under the age of eighteen. Shortly after I arrived in Medjugorje, several local people reported seeing the bookstore owner in the company of two young boys. The military promptly informed the American he had two weeks to get out of the country. Hoepp pleaded innocence and swore his conversion was genuine, but the Franciscans, after no small amount of agonizing, had concluded that he should go.
The people here had been accommodating strangers and strangeness, both sacred and profane, for so long that very little could faze them.
If nothing else, Hoepp's case illustrated how complex the process of governance had become in Medjugorje. These days, the parish operated as both a fledgling democracy and a de facto theocracy, but also as a military dictatorship, an outlaw hideout, and a community under foreign occupation. The UN troops and European Union police officers comported themselves as if they had taken charge, but never seemed to he around when anything important happened. Croatian president Franjo Tudjman clearly had more influence over the region than did the Bosnian head of state, Alija Izetbegovic. Like me, most people took orders from whoever happened to be pointing a gun at them. What I found remarkable was that the Franciscans seemed to have the final say on almost any matter other than military action.
The authority of the priests appeared most tenuous anytime a band of HOS "guerrillas" rolled into town. Sporting either shaved heads or pony-tails, the HOS were almost uniformly thugs who dressed in cutoff camos and got quite a kick out of noisily stacking their Uzis and AKs on the table whenever they stopped in Medjugorje for a restaurant meal. The sense of menace that surrounded these flat-eyed men was considerably enhanced by the knowledge that they almost certainly could get away with killing you if they felt like it. The HOS generally drove big brand-new Mercedes or BMW sedans, stolen and smuggled into the country across the Austrian and Slovenian borders. What would most irritate me most about news coverage of the war when I returned to the U.S. was how little mention I could find of the role played by organized crime. Half the HOS, at least, was affiliated with one crime gang or another, and this was no less true of the Serb and Muslim irregulars; the tunnel that provided the only remaining access to Sarajevo was being kept open these days entirely because none of the three sides wanted to cut off the flow of smuggled goods.
Though the national leadership was in Zagreb, local bosses ran their gangs out of small-town discotheques. Nearby Ljubuski, with a population of just six thousand, had tallied a total of twelve murders in the month prior to my arrival, a figure that was not unusual. The soldiers of these disco armies claimed to be fighting against Cetniks and Bosnian paramilitaries called Mujahadin, and no doubt shot their share of Serbs and Muslims. One always had the feeling, though, that they were looking mainly for an opportunity to turn a buck. Encountering them on the open road and catching a glimpse of the men in the backseat as they peered past the barrels of their weapons through the tinted glass of a 700-series BMW never failed to knot my stomach.