Magazine article The New Yorker

High Stakes

Magazine article The New Yorker

High Stakes

Article excerpt

High Stakes

Last May, Lucas Chapman graduated from college and got a job with Postmates; he'd applied to do volunteer work abroad and was saving up for a plane ticket. He delivered stuff around Washington, D.C., in his '98 Mustang. "I couldn't do Uber because my car was too old," he said. Finally, in September, he received the encrypted e-mail message he'd been waiting for: a note from the People's Protection Units, a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, inviting him to war.

He flew to northern Iraq. From there, a handler for the Y.P.G. (in translation, an acronym for the People's Protection Units) escorted him into Syria--at night, on foot. Chapman, who is twenty-one, is fair-skinned and slight. He reported to a Y.P.G. training camp, where he fired guns, learned Kurdish, and studied the group's revolutionary ideology. "I've known how to shoot since I was eight, and had my own weapon since I was twelve," Chapman, who grew up in small-town Georgia, said. "But I'd never handled an AK before." After a month, he was sent to the front lines.

Soon, his unit advanced on Raqqa, ISIS's self-proclaimed capital; the Y.P.G. is one of the United States' primary partners in the region. Chapman said that he and the Kurds fought alongside scruffy American soldiers--" he said, referring to special-operations units. According to Chapman, coalition warplanes bombed positions nearby and his group received military equipment from the United States.

Chapman, who left Syria in March, was on Capitol Hill the other day, trying to persuade staffers in the office of Representative Alcee Hastings, of Florida, to back several pieces of pro-refugee, anti-legislation. He wore a tie and a silver hoop in one ear, and he carried a messenger bag.

After his meetings, he dropped by a cafe on Pennsylvania Avenue to speak with another aspiring Y.P.G. fighter. It was beastly hot. Chapman ordered a lemonade and took a seat at a communal table. Papers spilled from his messenger bag. "Lobbying materials," he said to his counterpart, who asked to be called Nathan. They'd met ten days earlier, while attending a pro-Kurdish protest in front of the White House. Nathan--who is also twenty-one, with a patchy beard--recognized Chapman from news stories about American volunteers fighting in Syria and asked for advice. "I don't want to be considered a Y.P.G. recruiter," Chapman said later. …

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