Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present.
You can click the timestamp to jump to that time.
Lex Fridman (00:00):
The following is a conversation with Ed Calderon, a security specialist who has worked for many years on counter-narcotics and organized crime investigation in the northern border region of Mexico. I highly recommend you follow the writing and courses on his Patreon and website, edsmanifesto.com.
And now, a quick few second mention of his sponsor. Check them out in the description. It’s the best way to support this podcast. We got Policy Genius for life insurance, Bambi for HR services, Onnit for supplements, and Insight Tracker for biomonitoring. Choose wisely, my friends. And now, onto the full ad reads. As always, no ads in the middle. I try to make this interesting, but if you skip them, please still check out our sponsors. I enjoy their stuff. Maybe you will, too. This show is brought to you by Policy Genius, a marketplace for finding and buying insurance. I often meditate on my mortality.
Every day when I wake up, I have a mantra, part of which I literally imagine the day before me being the last day I have on this earth. And I think that’s a really powerful way to clarify what matters. And it’s not about the career. It’s not even about maybe the people in your life. It’s about the way in which you interact with those people.
It’s about the richness of feeling that you draw from every single moment you have with those people. And even with the moments you have by yourself. Just the intensity of life itself. How much are you open to experiencing that intensity? That’s what meditating on your mortality does. It increases your openness to that ever-present intensity that’s all around us.
Anyway, with Policy Genius, you can find life insurance policies that start at just $17 per month for $500,000 of coverage. Head to policygenius.com or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you could save. That’s policygenius.com. This show is also brought to you by Bambi, an outsourced and automated HR solution for business. Bambi was built to give business a dedicated yet cost-effective HR option at just $99 per month. We are currently on this incredible team, an incredible journey we have together on the podcast.
Sort of this creative pursuit of editing, of planning, just figuring this whole thing out. I’m just very fortunate to be working with incredible people, a variety of people. They all have different backgrounds, a different way they see the world, a different way they think, they have different flaws and strengths. And it’s just a constant inspiration to me to have a chance to work with them. Now, when you have a team like we do, or a larger team as it grows and grows in size, human resources is really important.
And especially when you’re a small business, it is indeed important, but it should also be affordable. And that’s why the $99 per month that Bambi provides is a huge incentive to try them out. Schedule your free conversation today, go to bambi.com and type Lex on their podcast when signing up, spelled B-A-M-B-E-E. This episode is also brought to you by Onnit, a nutrition, supplement, and fitness company that make AlphaBrain, which is a nootropic that helps support memory, mental speed, and focus. I take it when I have deep work sessions, especially in the morning. It keeps changing, but these days when I wake up, do a mantra, I walk over, get an electrolyte drink as the coffee’s being made, then an athletic greens drink from the nutrition. And finally, I walk over with the coffee to my computer.
And my favorite thing to do to start the day is something that I left unfinished from the night before, which would be a programming task. So anything involving programming, when you just have this screen full of code and I can focus on a design problem. For some reason, it’s a great warmup to my brain. I can clear out the distractions of the world and focus on these little puzzles. And it’s also clear that I can make progress on solving little puzzles, little puzzles here, whether it’s debugging or building a new thing, all of it just makes me really happy, especially as the project nears completion, whether it’s the intermediate stages of its completion or the final thing.
So not particularly, oftentimes with that programming is like scripts that automate various aspects of my life and make me more efficient, but it’s also larger projects that I do for machine learning and robotics work and beyond. Anyway, during those moments, if I’m feeling really out of it, I will take an AlphaBrain to give me a boost. You can get a special discount on AlphaBrain at lexfriedman.com slash on it. This show is also brought to you by Insight Tracker, a service I use to track biological data. I’ve been getting softer and fatter over the past few months. And recently, a few days ago, I decided to change that. So I’m on a stricter diet now, on a stricter exercise regime. And it’s amazing sort of the improvement in how I feel about this world, how I feel about just the way I move about the world, the way I think for prolonged periods of time, is able to maintain focus. It’s a very low carb diet. I mostly fast, mostly once a day. I mean, maybe that’s for another time to discuss what my preferences are there. Maybe people don’t care. Probably they don’t care. But my body is definitely operating at a higher level of performance under a strict diet.
And it’s interesting to measure that through data, to get blood data, to get DNA data, fitness tracker data, and use all of that to see if I’m doing better or worse than I was before. And based on that, make recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes. That’s exactly what Insight Tracker does. Get special savings for a limited time when you go to insighttracker.com slash lex.
This is the Lex Friedman Podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here’s Ed Calderon. What does your experience in counter-narcotics, investigating the Mexican drug cartel, teach you about human nature?
Ed Calderon (07:21):
Wow. I mean, first off, anybody can be got. Anybody can be corrupted. You know, you work in that field, and you, realistically, the training we got and profiling and investigation and stuff like that was basically, you learn from the older guys there. And some of those guys were already corrupted from the start. So trust no one. I remember seeing that X-Files episode where that was stated. You quickly learn that even if you are somebody that, to your own mind, appears incorruptible, you know, small changes happen around you, wheels get greased, money gets put in front of you, and or things get threatened, like your life. And sometimes the payment for some of this corruption is just to continue on living.
You encounter people that seem incorruptible, that go through FBI background checks, that go through all of the security measures that all of us were put through, you know, polygraph tests. And then later on, you know, turns out they were on the take, or they became somebody that was corrupted. I think what I found out is that anybody at any level, they could be a very strong, hard-to-get person right now, but people get corrupted through their families, through need. Mexico is a place where a lot of instability occurs. So financial needs, health.
Lex Fridman (08:50):
So a crack could form through the wall of integrity, and then over time, it seeps in somehow.
Ed Calderon (08:56):
Mexico has a culture of corruption. Like, you know, you have your kid that goes to school at public school, and you want him to be in the morning, not in the afternoon school time period. So you go off and grease the wheels with the director of the school. People hearing this in Mexico will nod their heads, because this is something that happens from early on. So there’s a systemic and cultural thing to it, you know, as far as getting around rules. And this happens because, you know, the people that are in charge in Mexico, the government, is, you know, their tandem amount is trust between criminals and the cartels down there for a lot of the culture. So people don’t trust the government, and much less criminality, so.
Lex Fridman (09:35):
When you meet a person sticking on human nature, do you think it’s possible to figure out if they can be trusted? So you said anyone could be corrupted. You know, how long would you need to talk to a person? And even in your own personal, private life, just a friend? Or is trust a thing that’s never really guaranteed?
Ed Calderon (09:54):
I think that trust is never really guaranteed. I know a lot of people are gonna say that’s a sad way and hard way of living your life, but, you know, life experience at my end, you know, people change. You know, the dynamics of a relationship might change. I look at people’s character, specifically their past and past experiences, if I can. Somebody that presents himself in front of you as somebody, but you quickly learn that that somebody is just a mask or a persona that they kind of created for themselves.
Lex Fridman (10:22):
And they might not even be aware of the persona. Like, is there some deep psychological stuff?
Ed Calderon (10:25):
Sometimes, I’ve experienced a lot of failure in my life. You can see it in my nose. You know, you can see it in my lack of a digit, you know? The amount of, you know, the amount of failures you can see in somebody and how they wear them sometimes is a pretty telling thing as far as them being able to be trusted or that you can trust their story or their experience. And when I say experience, I mean, I’ve met some criminals, like former criminals or, you know, some people of that background that I trust with my life, you know, because they’re not reformed.
But they figured out that that’s not a life they can live long enough to kind of continue on in. And I’ve also met people that are in law enforcement that I wouldn’t trust with my car keys, you know, because, you know, whatever persona they adopted over the years is a pretty good one, pretty good mask. Sometimes such a good mask, they don’t even know they’re wearing it.
Lex Fridman (11:21):
And on top of that, it’s not just the psychology. There’s also a neurobiology to it. I’ve been very fortunate and deliberate to surround myself with good people throughout my life. But I’ve recently gotten to sort of observe, not close to me, but nearby, somebody that could be classified as a sociopath. Yeah, and a narcissist. Yeah. Like, I don’t wanna use those psychological terms, but just, it’s like, oh, people, you know, come with different biology too. So it’s not just like the trauma you might experience in your early life and all the deep complexity that leads, all the deep complexity that leads to the psychology that you have as an adult, but it’s also the biology you come with, the nature that you might not just have the machine that can empathize deeply with the experience of others, or maybe a machine that gets off, gets a dopamine rush from the manipulation of other humans
Ed Calderon (12:25):
or the control of other humans. Yeah, I mean, put an example of my own background. My mom didn’t have a father. He left really early on in their childhood. My mom raised her two sisters and basically kept a household. She was a great mom. She was a badass, you know, she was very independent. She showed me how to be independent. She showed me how to kind of watch out for others and kind of build me up in that way. And I had a great childhood as far as, you know, as far as her and kind of like how she molded me. Later on, I figured out that when I had my own kid, you know, I figured out that she was basically trying to make me into what she didn’t have in a way.
And if I can get to see somebody’s parents, you know, that’s usually a sign of something, at least for me, as far as figuring out where people are. I think there’s something to be said about nature and nurture and how some people come up. Some people are just born with that predatory instinct, you know, and that’s just, it’s a predatory instinct, you know, and you’ll never know. I mean, they spend their whole life practicing how to hide it. But if you can figure out somebody’s, you know, background, childhood, where they’re from, you can kind of tell something about them. You know, I’m from Tijuana, you know, I’m a survivor. That’s my background as far as where I’m from.
Lex Fridman (13:45):
Culturally, genetically, psychologically, the full shebang.
Ed Calderon (13:50):
Yeah, I guess some people are born with certain predispositions, and if they’re in the right environment, some of the negative aspects might flourish more than others, you know. For me, I mean, I grew up skateboarding in Tijuana, and I remember breaking into my first backyard pool. It was a house that a cartel guy owned, and we used to skate the pool in the back of it. So I learned how to bop open padlocks with a small vehicle hydraulic lift.
And I remember doing that, and later on in life, I got to train with people from other parts of Mexico and work with them. And I remember pulling that trick off, and they were like looking at me like, where’d you learn that? Like some burglars in Tijuana, you know. And they’re like, wow, that’s interesting. Like, are all people from Tijuana like that? And I said, no, we’re not all like that, and I said, no, we’re not all like that, but I guess in some way we are, because, you know. Tijuana produces kids like that, you know. She produces, like the environment itself produces, produces a pretty specific person, I guess. You know, our normal or our baseline normal is way different than most.
Lex Fridman (14:57):
The trajectories that you can take in life are defined in a way that aren’t available elsewhere in the world. Yeah. And so you develop, I mean, part of that is psychological, part of that is cultural and so on. Part of that is the cultural trauma. But then also the ethical lines based on the corruption. Because I grew up in the Soviet Union, there’s the same kind of understanding that there’s some gray area of corruption.
Ed Calderon (15:23):
Yeah, it’s always there, like on the outskirts or even in the center, how you can grease things to make things easier. And how it’s like a personal thing. I’ll just, you know, pay off the, in Tijuana we have a mordida is what we call it, you know, when you pay a cop off. Una mordida means a bite. So, and. But what’s the bite aspect? So you get stopped for a traffic violation of some sort and the cop walks up to you. Obviously you don’t say the word bite, but it’s like a slang term for it.
And he asks for your paperwork and, you know, and if you get fined or get a ticket, you say, can I pay the ticket here, is what they say. And, you know, put your money inside the paperwork and hand it over to the cop, mordida. You think it’s, you know, I’m just gonna do it and nobody knows, you know, but it’s a systemic thing. Everybody, like a lot of people do it. And then they don’t trust the police because they are fed with this.
Lex Fridman (16:21):
Yeah, I mean, same thing was in the Soviet Union, it’s funny. But then there’s something inside you where that kind of, those opportunities come, like with a police officer, where you realize you could just pay a little bit of money and get out of a thing. And then you realize you can pay a little bit of money or do a favor to get your kids in a better school or something like that. But there comes opportunities where you, where, all right, if I do this little thing, I can make, I can get a huge promotion, I can get a huge increase in my power or get a lot of money. And something inside you says, no, that’s not right. And I wonder what that is. That, cause like, yeah, I want, cause it feels different than the legal systems within which you operate. There’s some kind of basic human integrity, human decency. I wonder if that’s like constructed or it’s always there. If it’s like, again, nature versus nurture.
Ed Calderon (17:16):
I think, you know, for me, it was looking at seeing that in somebody else that I kind of learned about it. There’s a man that I consider a mentor figure. His name’s Lieutenant Colonel Lee Zelda. He was a lieutenant colonel from the army that basically came over and took over the group that I used to work with. He was, you know, incorruptible. You know, he was, that was the essence or the aura that he projected. The first time he, the first time he went off on patrol when he was placed in charge of us, I actually drove him around Tijuana. He was one of those lead from the front type of people.
The amount of assassination attempts he got was basically a proof of how uncorruptible he was because they kept trying to pay him off. And when that didn’t work, they tried to kill him several times. I think the last assassination attempt took the use of his legs. And that man is still a dangerous person in my mind. But for me and, you know, people can gather a little bit about my background and where I’m from and some of the access I currently have to train the federal institutions here in the U.S. as far as my background and if I was corrupted or not, because there’s a lot of that out there.
The Catholic guilt that’s kind of built into some of us is always kind of there, you know? El cucuy vive bajo la cama. The devil was under the bed, you know? So I don’t consider myself Catholic. Consider myself culturally Catholic, I think, is what I kind of say with that. I had a pretty good structure with my dad and my mom at the house and, you know, they never let me get away with things.
And I think my mom was a pretty big moral compass for me. But Lieutenant Colonel, kind of leading from example and seeing his work and how much profound change he caused in the people that work with him, as far as, you know, we felt supported and we felt like we had a guiding figure during this. Tijuana was the most dangerous city on the planet when I was working there and he took charge.
Lex Fridman (19:21):
What does it take to be a man, the Lieutenant Colonel, who maintains integrity after assassination attempts? Is it possible for a normal human to do that? Or, again, is it genetic?
Ed Calderon (19:32):
That’s an interesting question. I’ll say this. Seeing him, I mean, the last assassination attempt he had, that took the use of his legs, he was with his kid. There was a recklessness to it, you know? I can see that now, like now that I have enough distance from it, I could see that there’s a recklessness to being that way. And also you’re putting jeopardy people around you if you take that route. So I think there’s a sacrifice to it, a very powerful and hard one to make for a lot of people. For me, it was, I wouldn’t get picked to get on board with some of the operations groups that I wanted to work with because I was known for not, you know, taking money or not being trusted by certain older segments of the organization that I was with, with stuff because they knew that I wouldn’t, you know, I wasn’t on the, you know, I wouldn’t get money.
So there’s always a weird sacrifice to it. And you’re almost kind of like masochistic in that way when you get approached with it, they’re like, why are you being an idiot? You know, why are you driving around that beat up car? Look at the Hummer H2 that just drove in with the other guy that is doing exactly your same job. So society as a whole down there doesn’t reward it or at least doesn’t see it in the people that don’t take that route in Mexico. You know, for them is all cops are corrupt, you know, all of them.
And, you know, seeing it, you know, again, from the outside, I’m not there anymore. There is, you know, there’s almost like a, why didn’t you Ed, you know, that could have been easier maybe, or you could have been dead long ago, you know, because people that are on the takedown there are usually owned by one side or the other. And when that gets found out, you know, if you have somebody that you’re paying off that hints you off of drug operations in the area, your rivals are pretty keen on killing you.
Lex Fridman (21:27):
Money aside, so like a Hummer aside, how much of a motivator’s fear?
Ed Calderon (21:33):
It’s a big one, you know. I’ll say, you know, for me, like I didn’t think I was gonna live to see 30.
Lex Fridman (21:42):
You know, I was sure of it. Did that concept scare you, or was that just a principle of life that you operated under?
Ed Calderon (21:51):
I lost my brother when I was 13 on it too. Like, you know, he was 19. He was like the VIP of the family, you know. You miss him? Oh, every day. You know, he was a skateboarded, BMX, motorcycle hunter, one of the best marksmen that I’ve ever seen shoot. So better than you at everything.
Yeah, he was the best of us is what we would say. And when he died, it was almost like a concert at his funeral. You know, I met three of his girlfriends that all introduced themselves like the one, you know. Yeah. To this day, every now and then, I get pulled aside on when I go back home, and they, hey, you’re Eric’s brother, you know. Despite all the stuff that I’ve done, I’m still, you know, every now and then I get recognized. That made my mom and my dad go into a horrible depression, and basically, you know, left me to my devices when I was a kid, from 13 onwards.
I had this self-destructive, you know, aspect to me after that, I think. You know, so again, something that’s come up in therapy, you know, after I’ve been gone through all that. And I had this notion that if I can only die good in some way, shape, or form, or for something, that it would matter. And they would kind of, you know, look at me with the same reverence that they did my brother.
Lex Fridman (23:20):
So dying isn’t the problem. The goal of life is to die for something good.
Ed Calderon (23:25):
Yeah, at least that was my, that was my mindset going through that job. I remember, I was in medical school before that, you know, second year of medical school. I was doing pretty good, and then 9-11 happened, and, you know, that wasn’t an option anymore for me. The economy was horrible.
Couldn’t afford to stay there, so I sat in the newspaper, and my brother, my big brother, who’s still alive and head, he’s like, no tenemos, you know, you’re not gonna do that shit. We wouldn’t dare. And all of a sudden, I was in a field, having my hair shaved off, and a bunch of the gafes, the guys that later turned into the Zeta cartel, military men were in charge of our training, you know, and I went through that process.
Lex Fridman (24:14):
In what field were you, and why is your head being shaved? And what the hell was going through your mind? What was the leap that you took?
Ed Calderon (24:22):
I was sold the idea of this being a new, Americanized police force that they were constructing. In Mexico. In Mexico. So elite. Yeah. Special force, kinda. Prestigious, elite. The people in charge of our training were a lot, basically, ex-Mexican gafe people.
Gafes are what the special forces kind of originated. A lot of their members turned into the Zeta cartel, so they were brutal in their training. We were sold this idea of it being, you know, scientific, educated-based, and like a career path. And then all of a sudden, we’re in this refurbished prison that wasn’t good enough to be a prison, and they turned it into a training ground. And I quickly kinda realized that they were training us to be a paramilitary group, not a community policing organization, which in my mind, that’s, I thought, that’s what we were gonna be doing.
Lex Fridman (25:19):
What was the hardest process of that training for you? Because this is like a fragile, innocent boy becomes a man kinda process.
Ed Calderon (25:27):
It’s, they’re turning us into something that they could use. So it’s a breaking down. They break down the individual, you know, it’s a- Physically and mentally? Yeah, I think it’s a half-done initiation process, I think, in a way, you know, looking at it from now to the past. The shaving of the hair, the stripping off your identity, you know, everybody gets a number. The uniforms, the running around and, you know, being treated like human garbage.
The first thing they said to us when we were lined up in that field was, hay pan y verga para comer aquí, se acabó el pan. Which means there’s bread and dick to eat here. And the bread ran out a week ago, right? So it was, I mean, I can’t equate it to anything in the military over here in the United States because people down there could actually get physical with us. I mean, they could actually hit us and punch us and shit like that, which is not allowed here anymore, at least in most of the military isn’t as horrible as down there. AK-47s being shot around us to simulate reality, basically causing hearing loss, that type of stuff.
Lex Fridman (26:50):
So chaos, abuse, really challenging you. Yeah. Again, physically and mentally.
Ed Calderon (26:54):
And an open door there always. So if you don’t wanna be here, you can just walk out. And the more you go into it, time-wise, the more invested you are, so in a way, you’re kind of building your own chains while you’re going through that process. Were you tempted to walk out? Yeah, several times, several times. Specifically seeing some of the ways that people that I thought were better or stronger than me were walking out or quitting because of something that happened in there. There was some sexual assault stuff happening in there as well.
Lex Fridman (27:29):
Were you afraid of that?
Ed Calderon (27:31):
Always. You’re in a place like that and there’s females in the environment and some of the instructors are doing what they do. So that was like a cause for alarm. I mean, these people are in charge of our safety and education and look at what’s happening here. So you could see some of the smarter ones leaving, not looking at this as a viable choice for life.
Lex Fridman (27:52):
How did that change you, those few months?
Ed Calderon (27:56):
I had this motivation, this idealistic motivation in my head of making a difference. And they drill a lot of nationalistic kind of, the flag marching, being part of a group and the group being behind you and all of this. What was the motivation?
Lex Fridman (28:17):
Was the nationalistic pride, was it in the nation of Mexico? Yeah, yeah. What’s the vision of this great nation of Mexico that you were, did you believe,
Ed Calderon (28:27):
did it get into your blood? Yeah, it got into my, I mean, it’s indoctrination. You know, it’s a paramilitary group. So everything there is basically modeled after the military. So that’s what they were trying to kind of instill in us. I was a team leader in there. After three months, basically I was, we went through a bunch of trials, physical trials, mental trials and stuff like that. And some of us were named team leaders.
And I bought into it. You know, I’m the, I’m supposed to be here. Look at me, I’m making headways. I’m sticking out a bit, you know? And I was pretty proud of what I was going through there, six months.
Then you get the reality check when you sign the dotted line and how that none of it really meant anything as far as what we were about to go out and do, you know? An example of this, we were trained with a 92FS Beretta, which is a nine millimeter pistol, Italian made. We got to shoot 20 rounds out of that gun.
And then when we got out, we were handed a Glock 17, which I’ve never seen one in my life. I was trying to figure out where the safety was and a few other people there were handling those guns in a horrible manner. So we were very under-trained, under-equipped, and there was a lot of assumptions about what we knew. And all of a sudden we’re being cast into this, the start of one of the bloodiest and longest lived modern conflicts in our history that doesn’t get called that, but it’s basically been an ongoing war in Mexico that is still to this day amassing bodies. So the Mexican drug war.
The Mexican drug war, which is, you know, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it started because when I was going through training, there was already stuff going on. I went into training in 2004 and there were already, you know, major cartel related events all over Mexico by then, but not at the size or scope as I was about to go into, you know, when President Felipe Calderon kind of took office down there and actually officially kind of kicked it off by putting the military in play as part of it to basically militarize the drug war, you know, including us.
Lex Fridman (31:02):
Who are the major players in this drug war? So the politicians, the military, the police force, the cartels, all Mexican, then the United States, China, just to lay out all the pieces on the board.
Ed Calderon (31:21):
First off, there are giant local drug markets in Mexico that are fought over, you know, just local drug markets that are huge in scope. So no exporting to other locations? Just to start, yeah. So a big problem in Mexico is basically those local drug markets.
And an example of that, and one I have a lot of experience with is the one in Tijuana, which not only feeds the local populace, but also feeds the populace from San Diego that crosses down into Tijuana and buys their product there. And now a phenomenon that’s occurring now is marijuana trafficking is going from California down into Mexico because they produce better weed, you know, which is fascinating to see now.
Lex Fridman (32:02):
So there’s already a channel and you’re kind of like reusing that channel.
Ed Calderon (32:05):
Yeah, there’s a lot of people in vehicles getting checked when they drive down. Tijuana is being called San Diego South now because, you know, all the economic migrants, you know, are living down there. 90% of all houses in Tijuana, new houses are being bought up by Americans. So that’ll tell you something about the impact and change that’s going on down there. So you have these local drug markets that are being fought over. You also have these drug routes that go through Mexico, up into Mexico, around Mexico, through the ocean, under the wall, you know, drug tunnels, over the wall.
And on backpacks, on migrants that go up into the United States. Not only do the cartels make money off drug trafficking, but also extortion, money laundering, paid protection schemes. You know, any mining operation in Mexico will have to pay protection, you know, or else they’ll get hit. A lot of times the largest money makers for some of these criminal groups are, you know, protecting and taxing anybody that goes across the border.
So that’s also a big issue. And it’s not just, again, some Americans think it’s like the cartels, you know, they imagine this single or maybe two or three groups. There’s several out there. I don’t have a current estimate, but last time I checked, it was somewhere where in the vicinity of 50 to 70 different groups, some small that just dedicate themselves to a single little town somewhere. There are armed groups that are basically in control of that area to some bigger federations like the Sinaloa Cartel, which is probably currently the largest and most powerful one in Mexico.
And the New Generation Cartel, which is growing exponentially right now. So these criminal groups are players in that conflict. Then another player that doesn’t get talked about is politics, politicians. There’s an ongoing discussion that has been going on, I think, since Trump was elected about cartels being terrorist organizations or not, or if they fit that description.
Well, you know, we are living through multiple assassinations on political candidates out in Mexico right now. And most of those assassinations are motivated by one side sponsoring one candidate and the other side sponsoring the other. What I mean by sides, I mean cartel groups. So they have elected officials that are on the take. And this is, we have many governors who are under investigation on the run or in prison right now, state governors. So politics is involved in it. That’s a big player as well. That doesn’t, you know, when you think about the cartel problems, you don’t think, well, some, at least most people don’t think about that aspect of it.
Lex Fridman (34:54):
So to have integrity as a politician in Mexico means you have no protection and under constant threat of assassination.
Ed Calderon (35:03):
We’ve just seen the arrest and prosecution of the head of all Conrad cartel operations when I was active in the form of Garcia Luna, who was, he was the guy, Felipe Calderon, who kicked off the drug war. That was his guy. Turns out he was on the take at that level.
Lex Fridman (35:20):
Is there like a spectrum of how on the take you can be? Are there ethical lines that you can cross? Some of it is money. And then is it possible to operate in a gray area that does not result in destructive ethical violations,
Ed Calderon (35:41):
deep ethical violations? I have no idea. I don’t think, I don’t think there is realistically. I mean, anything that kind of supports some of these groups, you know, you’re supporting things of a horrible nature. There, I just posted recently on my Instagram account of a lady that was in Guanajuato. She’s one of seven recently assassinated women that are looking for their kids, basically. There’s a bunch of groups and organizations out there in Mexico and some in Tijuana that I’ve actually walked with who are taking control of trying to find the bodies of their kids. That’s her up there.
Lex Fridman (36:21):
Maria Carmela Vazquez, a mother who searched for a missing son, was shot to death outside her home on Sunday. Her son, Osmar Vazquez, disappeared on June 14th. The 46-year-old woman is the fifth mother to be killed this year while searching for their missing loved ones. She was a member of the Payamo Missing Person Collective.
Ed Calderon (36:45):
There’s many groups out in Mexico who basically have given up on trusting the government to find their kids. The number of missing in Mexico is a debated topic because, you know, the government itself doesn’t release those numbers or at least hasn’t done a good job about keeping them and or releasing them. Mexico is a country that has industrialized body disposal. You know, in Tijuana, we had the stew maker, the legendary stew maker, which is a guy that basically used caustic acid to get rid of bodies at a massive level.
Lex Fridman (37:24):
So there’s a separate operation for getting rid of bodies and murdering the kids.
Ed Calderon (37:27):
At least in Tijuana, we saw that phenomenon and it’s obvious that it’s going on all over Mexico.
Lex Fridman (37:34):
Who’s having those discussions about mass murder and getting rid of people? I’ve been reading a lot about World War II recently and there’s was aggressive innovation on the Nazi side of how to get rid of large number of people. That’s for the longest time, both the Soviets and the Soviets were more brutal with this. It’s literally, it’s a engineering problem of how you kill a large number of people and get rid of their bodies. So the Soviets were more into just laying people down into the grave face down and then shooting them in the back of the head and then doing that on mass scale. So you just pile people on. And then there was obviously innovation with the Holocaust in terms of gassing people and all that kind of stuff.
Ed Calderon (38:14):
I’m not sure exactly where these trade craft skills are coming from specifically. You hear discussions of Israelis training some of the cartel groups back in the late 90s, specifically the Arionofis cartel. There’s a lot of stories about that. A security specialist coming down and showing them things like how to make caustic soda, how to put rocks inside of bodies and then chicken wire them around and throw them into the ocean or river so that their bodies don’t float.
Lex Fridman (38:45):
And when you kind of- You put rocks inside of a body to make sure the body doesn’t float.
Ed Calderon (38:48):
So you open up the intestinal tract, put rocks inside. You cut where tattoos are or you take off hands and faces and throw them somewhere else. And you wrap them in chicken wire. So make it not identifiable. Yeah, and throw them into a body of water.
And this is a horrible thing. But it’s actually- It’s a craft. It’s a trade craft. It’s trade craft and there’s a link to the US as far as some of that trade craft. You have to remember that the United States had a thing called School of the Americas and the CIA. And they showed things. And a lot of that stuff is out there in the hands of people that are of that generation. So there’s a manual.
Lex Fridman (39:31):
There’s a manual somewhere. Like with chapters and it’s like how to get rid of the body. There’s manuals out there. Under time constraints or how identifiable can the body be afterwards? What are geographical constraints? All that kind of stuff.
Ed Calderon (39:48):
I think that was common back in the early 2000s and maybe the late 90s when some of these things were going on. But they’ve lost even that as far as respect for the government or bodies being found. Right now what you usually see is just bodies being burnt to a crisp and buried in a field somewhere. That’s usually what you’ll see. Some of the groups like this woman belong to basically taken upon themselves to go out to find clandestine graves in the outskirts of the towns that they live in, probing the ground with these metal probes and seeing if whatever they encounter in the bottom of these clandestine graves stinks or not. If they find IDs or clothing, they kind of gather that and they basically present it to the investigative authorities in the towns or the states they live in, which basically are doing their jobs. Over 90% of all murders in Mexico were never solved. So they’ve even stopped trying to get rid of bodies in that way.
Lex Fridman (40:56):
How does a cartel take power? How does it gain control of this local area that you mentioned and then grow, take control of a region? And how does it do so in this dynamic relationship between politicians and the military and the police force?
Ed Calderon (41:18):
It’s a thing that happens over time. There has always been a big effort, even when I was in, to buy or own certain members of the police force. Even when we’re going through training, some people get pulled out during training because they were found out to have some sort of parent or sibling that was a cartel member or their FBI background check came back negative when they were already in the training program. So I think part of it is, first off, they take advantage of the fact that Mexico is a young country. It’s a country of young people. We have a big group of young people that have little to no opportunities to come up. When I was in, when I went to take that career path, a lot of my friends took the other option. They went to work for some of these criminal groups. So they have this going for them. They basically have a lot of bodies to hire.
Lex Fridman (42:17):
Deeply. And leverage in terms of forcing those bodies to do whatever is needed, because the alternative for those people is nothing.
Ed Calderon (42:26):
There’s no options. So you have a kid somewhere who is working on a field, or you have a kid like me that was out of the job, out of school, and the only options for me was this ad in the newspaper, which seemed like a long shot, or going with some of my friends that had cars now and were hanging out all night at these bars, and some of them had Draco AK-47 pistols in their cars, and it would look cool.
Lex Fridman (42:55):
So there is a trajectory. There’s many trajectories possible in your life where you could have been still operating in a criminal organization in Mexico. Yeah.
Ed Calderon (43:06):
I mean, there’s not a lot of options. Do you think you’d be good at it? I don’t know. I mean, I’m pretty good at what I do now, which is teaching people how to detect it and kind of fight against it. So I think…
Lex Fridman (43:17):
I have a sense that the skills transfer pretty well. That’s also the dark side of this whole thing.
Ed Calderon (43:24):
A lot of the people that I used to work with, I know things, and I have some training, and I had some specialized training, and I currently do, I’ve done presentations for the Secret Service and the FBI, and you name it, I’ve gone there and shown them what I do. A lot of the people that I used to work with who are out of the job are in the wind, and some of these people are way more trained than I am. It’s interesting, the reason why I get looked for and they ask me questions is because I actually have the experience that my university was the most dangerous city on the planet.
And when people ask me about some of that stuff, I can speak from experience as far as encountering some of that directly. Some of the people that I used to work with who were way better at it than I am are in the wind. Interesting thing in Mexico, if you are of a police organization and you get fired or you quit, you are ineligible to join another police organization. That discounts you. So for somebody like me, who was a professional operations group member or a police officer in Mexico of that region, there’s no options for me outside of that. So they themselves basically have created this inescapable box for some of these people that go into that line of work. And what do they go after?
I’ve heard offers of $12,000 to join some of these organizations out there. Plus, they get benefits, not like the government. I’m still waiting for my liquidation check. This has been out of service for like six, seven years. I’m still waiting for my check. So some of these people, it’s obvious that the opportunities are presented to them out there are stronger. And again, the youth is what gets eaten by this war. And that’s one of the main things that they start with, just the youth.
We had a phenomenon in Tijuana late 90s, early 2000s, called the Narco Juniors. Narco Juniors were basically middle class or upper class families. Had kids that were bored and they just joined some of these cartel groups. These cartel groups saw in them opportunities to get into regular industry, to go through the family businesses, to kind of establish themselves, use some of those businesses for storage, or figure out how to use some of their transportation businesses for drug muelling. So this is how they start in getting into different areas that they regularly couldn’t. And that’s how it starts. You owe somebody, they get into paid protection type schemes, which are also common all over Mexico.
And sooner or later they start owning businesses and they regulate some of their income. So they become part of the local economy in a big way. Had this experience in Sinaloa where we were driving down this shitty street and all of a sudden it became a cool, nice, curvy highway type thing. And I looked around there, it’s like, this is a nice road. And the guy was with me, he said, yeah, the cartels built it. You go to some of these towns and the cartels are the government there. They build the hospitals, they built the churches, they built the schools.
COVID happens, they’re enforcing the mask mandates. They’re out enforcing the mask mandates, the stay at home policies. They’re the ones delivering supplies to the townspeople in bags, courtesy of so-and-so cartel. So they become the Robin Hood characters of their environments. If they’re smart, these groups basically turn into that, Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, or at least that’s the projection that they give.
Lex Fridman (47:16):
What’s the role of violence in this operation?
Ed Calderon (47:20):
I’m extreme, it used to be that there were rules, as you say, don’t go after kids, don’t go after women, but all those things are gone now. They had been gone for decades, I think. The escalation of violence, you kill one of mine, I’ll kill four of yours. You kill four of mine, I’ll go after your family because you were in hiding.
There’s stories of high-level cartel people getting their sons and daughters murdered, mutilated in revenge killings. So I think it’s at a point where it’s spiraled out of semblance of a rule set as far as who can get exposed to some of this violence. Those highly-produced ISIS videos where they show torture and executions.
According to some of the sources that I’ve talked to here in the United States that were looking at that phenomenon, they said that it seems to be that that was influenced by some of the narco blog videos that were coming out of Mexico in the early 2000s.
Basically that some of these groups were the first ones that got wind of the fact that you can export terror or the horror that an execution has through social media. Way back when Facebook was a bit more of a wild land area, you could see these in newsfeeds, videos of executions, tortures, and stuff like that coming out of Mexico. On Facebook? Way back when. Wow. This was a different time.
Lex Fridman (48:53):
For people who criticize social media and the moderation, it’s a tough job. It’s a brutal world out there.
Ed Calderon (49:00):
I mean, I remember seeing some of these ISIS videos on Facebook way back when, and they cracked down on all that. But one that’s kind of clear, and I’m not gonna say where to find it, but people out there might have seen it because some of these videos get shared through WhatsApp groups and chat groups out there. One of the ones that caught my attention way back when was a guy getting, two guys getting executed by a chainsaw. And people can kind of imagine what that would be like, but- This is produced on purpose? Yes. Like it’s videotaped on purpose? It’s a cartel group caught two rival cartel members and a way to send a message to those other rival cartel is to basically execute these people in front of a camera. I mean, you can’t get to your rivals, but you can make them see what they’re doing, or at least make their people look at what happens if you invade their territory.
Lex Fridman (50:02):
So it’s an escalation of brutality and the violence as well. I mean- And that leads to terror and that’s a mass communication of terror.
Ed Calderon (50:10):
Yeah, I mean, you have videos of some of these people engaging in cannibalism in front of a video to see how brutal they are, or people taking out somebody’s heart while they’re alive, and filming it. And it used to be social media as a whole, you would see some of these videos, they would get put down in a few days. But now there’s a telegram groups, there’s live leaks, there’s a bunch of other sites out there that kind of disperse some of these videos. And it’s basically a bulletin board for them as far as, hey, you got into my territory, well, this is what’s gonna happen to you.
Lex Fridman (50:48):
Is there a game theoretic way to remove this kind of brutality, to deescalate the brutality? Because it seems like if a cartel takes power that exceeds the power of politicians in a locality, there’s a strong incentive to reduce the brutality, to crack down on this kind of chainsaw executions.
Ed Calderon (51:11):
There was a recent leak of government files, call them the Guacamaya leaks. It’s our version of WikiLeaks, I guess. And it was mostly documents coming out of the Mexican military. I haven’t seen it talked about a lot here in stateside, but it’s a pretty big thing down in Mexico. And in some of those documents, it reveals how powerless the government is, I mean, as far as the military goes. So that’s another player in Mexico, the military. The military has been out in force in the streets, basically doing a policing role since Felipe Calderon was the administration. He basically militarized the drug war.
Felipe Calderon was to the right of the political spectrum. And his main rival, who was his way to the left, is now in power. And one of the campaign promises he had was to demilitarize the drug war, to send the military back to its barracks and all that. And he’s basically continuing on. They just passed some legislation that basically keeps the military on the streets for a few more years.
And I think some of these documents that were leaked are very telling as far as why that is. The military now has a vast amount of power when it comes to security industry. I mean, they’re in charge of building airports and train lines in Mexico now. Their documents themselves show how certain regions in Mexico who have a specific military presence work for one side or favor one side of the cartel.
Lex Fridman (52:56):
So there’s these military forces that are in part corrupted. Yes. And the cartel, who operates with violence, somehow finding a balance between each other. It just feels like throughout human history, there’s dictators or leaders that come into situations like this and really crack down on the violence. Yeah. So it seems like that’s not happening. It seems like there’s a kind of market of violence happening here.
Ed Calderon (53:25):
There’s a systemic amnesia that happens every presidency in Mexico. So the president comes in, he has five to six years to do whatever he needs to do, and he does everything. And as soon as he’s gone, everything he did, even what was working, gets chopped off. Police organizations get defunct or their names get changed. Uniforms change. So there’s a lot of turnover everywhere? Every five years, federally, there’s a turnover. And things change.
Lex Fridman (53:58):
What about the cartels, do they persist? Yeah.
Ed Calderon (54:01):
Do the leadership persist? I mean, the Sinaloa cartel has had a figurehead behind it since the 80s, the same one. I mean, it’s a federation of smaller cartels that are all kind of linked up, but pretty much, historically, he was considered the head of the Sinaloa cartel. Elmira Zambada has been there since the 80s. So in a way, yeah, he’s persisting. He’s surviving all of these presidencies. Again, these documents that were leaked are a clear sign of what strengths and weaknesses there are as far as the government’s main weapon against some of these criminal groups, which is the military.
And if people doubt this, they can look it up now online because all these documents are out there. But just a clear thing, the Mexican Navy or the Marina doesn’t work with the Mexican Army. They don’t speak to each other. So that should tell you everything you need to know as far as trust.
Lex Fridman (55:00):
Could be just bureaucratic dysfunction. They don’t trust each other. Are they both struggling with the problem of corruption?
Ed Calderon (55:07):
Some of these documents that are already out there talk about the ports in Mexico, which are probably the main conduit of precursors of methamphetamines and precursors of things like fentanyl into the country. They’re operated and guarded by the Marina, right? So these things are happening under their watch. And then you get talk about the Army in certain places basically working counter cartel operations to specifically one side, not another, as far as the rival groups out there.
And we have a long history of some of these groups going, military groups going rogue. Los Zetas are a prime example of this. These special forces units that basically turned around and went to work as bodyguards for the Gulf cartel. And then decided to, but what they basically did was an internship with a cartel. They went out there, did bodyguarding for the Gulf cartel. And then realized they can do a better job than they were doing. So they started their own, sparking off one of the, again, one of the bloodiest kind of like internal cartel wars in Mexico’s history.
Who was El Chapo? El Chapo was a part of the leadership or at least a faction of the leadership in the cartel. It’s a federation of different, of small organizations. Well, I’d say small organizations, basically families or organizations that conformed this larger group, which is the Sinaloa cartel that is based out of Sinaloa. Basically they are people that have a family and power nucleus is there in Sinaloa. I mean, who was he?
I think he was a high level operator for the Sinaloa cartel. He had his own drug routes, his own networks, his family nucleus down there is still in control of some of those operations. So his arrest really didn’t change anything, but he wasn’t the mastermind number one leader that I think the media and the government kind of portrayed him as, you know. Who was the mastermind? If you go down there and you read what most of the brave journalists in Mexico that we have, say another aspect of this war is that a lot of journalists get killed. I think Mexico has some of the top numbers in the world.
This is no secret to anybody. El Mayo Zambada is the name of the historical figurehead of this cartel, or at least somebody who people theorize or suspect to be the main guy or the main person that is in charge of some of this criminal group. Is he still alive? That’s a going rumor that he’s still very much alive. And the interesting thing about him is that he learned his craft in Los Angeles. So people thinking that Sinaloa cartel isn’t a Mexican thing, it’s actually, he apparently learned a lot of his craft from people in the United States.
Lex Fridman (58:06):
And that’s the craft of leadership, the craft of business, the craft.
Ed Calderon (58:09):
Which aspect of the craft? The craft of getting a product from Colombia, putting it through Mexico. Oh, the logistics. The logistics part of it, yeah.
Lex Fridman (58:20):
And he somehow is operating in the shadows. So he’s not a known entity.
Ed Calderon (58:27):
I don’t have a clear number of this, but he was interviewed by a magazine called Proceso in Mexico. And some pictures were taken of him. This was over 10 years ago, probably. And that’s the last time anybody’s ever seen a picture of him.
Lex Fridman (58:39):
What’s it like to be a journalist in that? So can a journalist have a conversation with him and live?
Ed Calderon (58:46):
Not unless he asks to have that conversation. I think he reached out to this journalist to talk about it. There’s a media wing to the work that we do, a sister page called Demoler. And it’s run by some pretty good people. And the way we met is that I was basically training them how to work in hostile environments. And they were like, oh, we’re gonna go report on cartel activity in Mexico.
And I was like, you know, that is a year and a half ago, a reporter went to the president’s daily briefing press conference that he has. They call them La Mañaneras. President, the president, Manuel Lopez Obrador, and told him to his face, like, I have threats on my life. They’re trying to kill me. And it happened. There’s been a slew of assassinations and murders of members of the press all over Mexico. It’s not an easy job.
Either they say too much, or they say things that favor one side or the other, which is another aspect of it that is interesting. I don’t consider myself a reporter. I don’t report on the news in Mexico. I have friends that do that very well.
I commentate on some of it only, but you see a lot of these cartel reporters go down there, talk to a specific side, and basically speak one side of the story. And that is not something that the other side wants. You know, if you go down there and speak to one side, you’re saying what they want people to know or hear. So in a way, you’re kind of spreading some of their cartel propaganda in a way. And that’s how some people, you know, get shot.
Lex Fridman (01:00:25):
Do you think it’s possible to go in there and have a conversation with a cartel leader? Well, Sean Penn- Or somebody like me, for somebody like Sean Penn?
Ed Calderon (01:00:38):
This is what I will say. After that whole Sean Penn thing, I think a lot of people would reconsider a meeting with anybody of any level that has any notoriety here in the United States. They wouldn’t trust anybody to get that close. There are people out there that will talk to reporters, you know, people that are working on a lab or laboratory somewhere in a hillside somewhere down south, you know, in the Sierra.
You know, low-level people that get authorization to speak to reporters and stuff like that, but they don’t say anything that isn’t being taught or shown in various different ways or outlets out there for them. I mean, some of these guys have Instagram accounts. You know, some of these guys had blog about it, you know- But not the leaders. TikTok, no, not the leaders. I think after what happened to El Chapo Guzman, I think that opportunity, that window was closed for some of the leadership down there.
Lex Fridman (01:01:28):
I think, I disagree. I think they’re just more sensitive, realizing that there has to be a deep trust. It’s not just anybody and not any high profile. I’ve gotten a chance to speak to some very high profile leaders that don’t speak to journalists, and they understand the value of trust.
Ed Calderon (01:01:47):
If they have something to say, which I don’t think they do, you know, I don’t think they, unless at some point in the future, which is something I suspect might be coming, that there is some sort of armed intervention or external attack on some of these criminal groups that really puts the pressure on them.
Lex Fridman (01:02:09):
You don’t think there’s a human aspect to this, of a human being wanting their story to be known? Versus, is this different than the propaganda machine of, I have something to say, I have some message to put out there to play the game of politics and power and money and all that kind of stuff. Isn’t there also a human being underneath all that armor that for the sake of perhaps ego, legacy, wants to be understood?
Ed Calderon (01:02:40):
I think in a way, they already do that. There’s corridos, which are basically Mexican folk songs that get sung about some of them. So in a way, some of these singers are reporting on some of their lives. And it’s a great honor to have a corrido made about you. You know, somebody made a corrido about me based on my interviews, right? I didn’t pay for it, so it’s a real one. It feels cool.
Lex Fridman (01:03:04):
So creating a myth, the legend of the man.
Ed Calderon (01:03:07):
I think it’s about, I think a way you can find somebody like that is somebody that wants to get their story specifically clear and straight, coming from that culture. And getting to work for the government down there, and then not working for the government down there. And being on the outside, being critical of not only the government that is in place now, but also the government that I actually work with. I can tell you that there’s villains all over the place down there. Everybody’s a villain, you know, at all levels in some way, shape, or form. And some of these people, I think in a way, including El Chapo, I think that some of that meeting was about film rights and stories, and being able to get his story out there. I think, I’m not too sure, because I wasn’t there. But I suspect that some of that was going on. If you can bring an honest voice down there they can trust to put that out there. I mean, I think you could try.
Lex Fridman (01:04:07):
I’m interested in that kind of thing, because ultimately in some of those places, like inside a cartel at the very top, is when you can really look at the raw aspects of human nature in a way you can’t necessarily elsewhere.
Ed Calderon (01:04:26):
There’s a youth coming into power down there. And when I say youth, I mean, some of the old guard is going out and some of the new guard is coming in. An example of this is El Chapo Guzman’s sons, who are now, in their own right, kind of gaining legendary status. There was an attempted arrest on his son that led to the famous Culiacanazo incident, which we are now learning more about because some of the Guacamaya leaks are kind of speaking more about what happened that day. Basically, a federal operation, they say to arrest El Chapo Guzman’s son, turned into a siege to try and get him free. They called in the Calvary, basically the whole of the Sinaloa cartel showed up to try and rescue him. Interesting thing about that is, in reading some of the documents and also just seeing some of the videos and stuff like that came out of that incident, the cartels were the ones evacuating the citizenship from the area. They were the ones going restaurant to restaurant, saying, hey, if you want to exit the city, go through here, take your families, get down, but you have to leave because the army’s coming here, they’re gonna fight us.
Lex Fridman (01:05:37):
So there’s like a deep morality, too, to all of that. Underneath the violence, there’s a humanity.
Ed Calderon (01:05:43):
I mean, it’s their home. It is their home, and they were fighting for their home, and they were fighting for leadership from their home. There is a morality, there is a humanity there. And again, if people want to paint them all with the villainy aspect, you know, that’s, I mean, everybody’s a villain in somebody else’s story, you know, if you kind of look at it that way.
Lex Fridman (01:06:05):
People should check out your Patreon, you should check out your field notes. You’re a really good writer, your Instagram, too. You write about, you have a quote in your field notes about villains. Quote, I once worked for a villain, a savior to some and a biblical demon of old to others, a true product of his environment. He was the best and the worst of us. We’re all potential villains in someone else’s story, he would say to us as we would head out into the unknowns that the night had waiting for us. It was during one of these nights that I looked around me and saw horns and pitchforks among my people and realized what he meant. We were no knights of the round table. Whatever we were, we were needed. In the end, I guess that justified most of what was about to happen. Do you think El Chapo, do you think people like him are good or evil?
Ed Calderon (01:06:60):
I think there’s no one without the other. I think there’s a cost to their goodness that they do, you know, the roads they build, the hospitals, the career paths that they pay for. There are doctors in Mexico that their careers were paid for by some of these groups and they do a lot of amazing good for the community. I remember there was a surgeon reconstructing cleft palates in one of my travels that I did out there. I spent some time actually going out there after I got out of the job to train people and the type of stuff that I show people. And they told me like, I told them like, you’re doing God’s work. This stuff is like legit, this is God’s work. You know, building smiles for people. I was like, yeah. And then can I talk to you? Yeah.
He said, you know, my career path was paid for by cartel, a group of cartel members. They paid for my career path because they wanted somebody on hand that could fix their teeth.
Lex Fridman (01:08:05):
Do you think some aspect of that is just sort of manipulative control or is some of it also just, again, a care for the population, for fellow human beings that are one of your own?
Ed Calderon (01:08:18):
I think both. You know, I think there’s, again, it’s hard to, it’s hard to just make them saints or devils. You know, some of the good they do in some of their communities. And don’t ask anything for in return, you know? And even if they don’t ask it for anything in return, where the military shows up, they are immediately met with rocks and roadblocks and everybody’s main weapon down there.
Since most Mexicans can’t buy or own firearms, the main weapon down there is silence and their eyes to report to the people that they consider the good guys in their environment, right? So, that’s a hard question, you know? I think there’s a bit of both, and both the government and the criminal groups that are operating down there.
Lex Fridman (01:09:08):
Silence is their main weapon. So El Chapo is currently in prison. Is he worth talking to? I’d say yes. Is there things that to you are interesting about him that are still not understood? Is he a window into something that you don’t understand about that world still, or are curious about in that world?
Ed Calderon (01:09:29):
I think he’s a window into the family dynamics of that world. When I say family dynamics, Mexico has a big thing about compadres, you know? And hermanos. We have people that we call family that are not necessarily our family. He is somebody that witnessed the construction of what is now the Sinaloa cartel. Like, he was in it way back when. He started off as a farmer, and then went into trafficking. He’s from a town called Bandera Huata, which is basically, you know, that’s the Wakanda of cartels, basically. That’s where a lot of that originates. So, the things that he saw as far as how some of these things got built, I think would be an interesting topic of conversation with somebody like him.
Lex Fridman (01:10:16):
So that story is a story of evolving family dynamics. Yeah. So part of the story of the cartel is individual humans.
Ed Calderon (01:10:23):
Marrying other families, getting named padrino, basically godfathers to other people’s kids, forming family and blood ties and influence ties to people, not only in Mexico, but in the United States. It’s seeing how that dynamic and family dynamic is still there, you know? So he’s gone, he’s in prison, but he’s probably on his way to be our next clandestine saint. You go to the chapel of Malverde. Malverde is basically a Mexican Robin Hood, the folk saint down there, who is a saint of traffickers. And at his shrine, you have a small little chapel, a shrine right next to it. So he’s on his way to sainthood in Mexico, not recognized by the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t matter in Mexico anymore. Speaking to somebody like him, who you can consider him somebody that lost, you know, he’s arrested, but his family’s okay. His legacy is out there, he’s gonna be named, he’s probably gonna be the next folk saint when he passes away.
Lex Fridman (01:11:31):
Do you think he feels like the new wave of what the cartel has become has betrayed him, has left him behind? Or, because it seems like the way the cartel operated has changed over the decades.
Ed Calderon (01:11:45):
Well, number one, their power and influence is bigger. You know, there are Sinaloa cartel operations in Columbia, straight to the, like in the source of it. And then they have a clear presence in places like Chicago and Los Angeles. They’re in the United States. The whole thought process that a lot of Americans have, like, oh, we don’t want that trouble over here. We don’t want them to get here, like build the wall and all this.
Lex Fridman (01:12:14):
So they’re deeply integrated into legitimate businesses.
Ed Calderon (01:12:17):
I mean, they’ve been having kids and families up here since for a long time. Some of these people have American passports that work not only directly for them, but have blood ties down there. You know, there’s been dragnets and arrests of some of these criminal organizations, states. New Generation Cartel had one, two, three years ago, where I think it was Operation Anaconda, I think it was called. They arrested over 80 of their operatives. And this is a new cartel that is very militaristic and growing in Mexico. And they had over 80 arrests in the United States, you know, of members of them operating here.
Lex Fridman (01:12:51):
And so you could be a legitimate operator inside the United States. That’s hard to detect. Makes you wonder how many in the US government, the politicians here. Because the role of the United States in the drug war, financially in terms of power, is very big. Yeah. Surely there’s politicians that have a finger into this.
Ed Calderon (01:13:16):
Immigration is part of it. Illegal immigration is part of it. And the influence that that has as a bargaining chip and a political chip. We saw this with the first caravan kind of coming up and how it was politicized. The money, Fast and Furious, and guns being basically let walk down into Mexico. People that don’t know, basically the ATF had this operation where they were looking at straw purchasers of firearms. Basically people buying up a specific type of firearms that were on a shopping list that the cartels wanted to buy.
Including, you know, 50 cals, FN-57 pistols, which are small pistols with a high velocity round that’ll go through a bulletproof vest. AR-15s of all kinds that could quickly be modified into full auto down in Mexico. With drilling a few holes and making a few things to them. So these people were buying all these, the ATF was watching them, and allowing them to walk those firearms into Mexico under the guise of trying to track them somehow.
Which doesn’t make a lot of sense for most people that kind of look at that operation. The only people found, the only reason people found out about it was because of the murder of a few federal agents, of the US federal agents that were killed with those guns. One of my friends was shot with one of those pistols outside of his house. And they shot him and they shot his wife. Both of them were killed. Daughter was in the backseat, lost part of her arm. When that happened, the guns were unique. They were like, oh, we didn’t never, like the mata policias is what they call them down there. The cop killers. I hadn’t seen those before. So they were unique and interesting.
And later on in life, I was watching CNN and seeing the hearings going on. I was like, oh, that’s where they came from. Two federal agents changed a lot. It was politicized. There was a whole scandal up here. But in Mexico, how many people died with those firearms? You know, being let down, being let go down there. And also what type of sentiment do you think the local populace has of the United States after all those guns were basically handed over to some of these groups? You know, gun trafficking is another giant part of the equation and part of the problem down there, as far as the amount of munitions, weapons.
And now we were also getting tradecraft material from conflict zones outside of Mexico. So weaponized drones. The first time we saw some of those weaponized drones was in Syria. And like a few weeks later, you know, grenades were being dropped on the roofs of some public officials’ building. Cartels are using drones? Yeah, that’s been going on for a while. There’s a place in Michoacan that has some pretty interesting videos. And the interesting part of it is because the federal police down there are actually working hand in hand with a United Carteles Unidos group, which is basically the local cartels to try and fight off the new generation cartel moving into Michoacan. So even the federal forces are fighting with the cartels to try and keep this larger cartel out. And there’s videos of these civilian drones basically dropping explosives.
And they found some explosive testing ranges out there that are basically replicating stuff that you would see the IRA use during the troubles out there from homemade mortars. You know, IEDs have been used in Mexico. Not that much, but they’re making like a presence again. You know, we don’t have a lot of ordnance around like Iraq, but we do have a big mining industry down there. So mining explosives of all kinds are pretty easy to get. So you start seeing that. And also, I mean, there’s some exotic weaponry coming in from the South now and from the ocean.
Some of it is probably U.S. military equipment sold to various South American governments that are now not as stable as they were, and they’re kind of making their way into black markets. So a lot of those 50-caliber vehicle-mounted technical-type machine guns and some of the RPGs and MANPADs or remote-control guided missiles that have been found in cartel hands are probably making their way up from down South.
Lex Fridman (01:17:35):
Do you get these like multimillion dollar systems, like the HIMAR system in the Ukraine? You get like super sophisticated advanced technology or not? So like, this is like military grade. I’m not sure what the application would be exactly in Mexico.
Ed Calderon (01:17:49):
Some of the sophisticated stuff I see in our MANPADs, which is basically remote-guided missiles. I’ve seen some of those found down there.
Lex Fridman (01:17:57):
What is the application exactly?
Ed Calderon (01:17:60):
Display of power? There are no fly zones over parts of Mexico. For this reason. The New Generation Cartel took down a helicopter. There’s been incidents of military helicopters falling from the sky, and they said that it was mechanical issues. But again, I’m not gonna do conspiracy theories out there, but there’s a lot of videos on TikTok of Sinaloa cartel forces at parties carrying around rocket launchers on their backs.
Lex Fridman (01:18:33):
So there’s an increased probability of mechanical failures over those areas when you’re flying a helicopter.
Ed Calderon (01:18:40):
Yeah, there’s no fly zones over some parts of Mexico. Okay. Another thing you’re seeing now is night vision, night vision equipment that is clearly military grade from the US that was probably abandoned in some war field out there, maybe Afghanistan or somewhere like that. And it’s being found in safe houses and in the hands of cartel forces. You wanna talk about a scary opponent. Somebody wearing night vision with a suppressed firearm.
Those types of capabilities are now out there. Also, there’s this tendency to think, and every now and then you’ll see these cartel videos with these guys carrying around these 50 Cals and they show up, they stand there like, you know, boasting about their rifles and everybody laughed at them because a 50 Cal or anything like that without an optic on it, you know, it’s like you’re gonna shoot, you’re praying, shoot basically, see if you can hit anything with it. But now there’s a few of my sources I’ve seen, you know, sophisticated laser guided range finders and sighting systems on some of these that are being found out there.
Lex Fridman (01:19:46):
How much damage can 50 Cal, what’s the application?
Ed Calderon (01:19:50):
They started getting them specifically with the proliferation of armored vehicles in Mexico. Mexico has a giant industry in armored vehicles.
Lex Fridman (01:19:57):
So there’s a race in terms of armoring, like protecting, especially high value targets and then weapons that can deal with those armored, protected high value targets.
Ed Calderon (01:20:11):
There was an attempted assassination of a state prosecutor somewhere in, I think Central Mexico, I forget exactly where, but she was riding around an up armored Jeep. Cherokee, I think it was. And their main means of firepower was 50 Cals and that car was left in pieces. He survived in it, so I think the armored vehicle company that sold her that vehicle has it in the display room. Then before my time, probably two, three years before I was actually active, they tried to kill the head of public security in the state of Baja. And with him, it was a grenade launcher, 40 millimeter grenade launcher.
It skipped off the armored vehicle and landed in the car behind it, made the back explode. One of the guys that I used to work with was actually in that car, he survived it. But you started to see, oh, they’re using armored vehicles now, so let’s get 50 caliber now to try and defeat that armor. So yeah, there’s always this race of technology basically down there.
Armored vehicles, how do you take on an armored vehicle? Well, there’s a few ways, 50 Cals, if you can mount them in the right way and shoot at a car like that, or a bunch of kids with balloons and acrylic paint on the front windshield and blind the vehicle so they can’t drive it anymore is another way. A tow line across a road painted black so you can’t see it, and cut the thing in half. Again, I’m not saying any secrets, these are things that people have seen out there.
Shoot at the radiator, some of these radiators are not even the more sophisticated vehicles out there, don’t have a sufficient armoring around the radiator or the battery housing of some of these vehicles. There was a case of a guy, I think his nickname was El Pelalacas or something like that, I hadn’t seen a level cartel guy. He had an armored vehicle, he was riding around and he got ambushed, shot at his car. He was like, ah, I have armor, he can’t shoot me. And somebody went up to his car and just put the barrel right in the locking mechanism.
And that got him, you know. So it’s an interesting place as far as people getting certain types of guns. Armor is prolific down there, I mean, everybody down there in the cartel numbers you’ll see them wearing plate armor. So that’s an issue, it’s not like you can shoot somebody square in the chest and it’ll go down.
Lex Fridman (01:22:43):
Are they afraid to kill Americans? So I know, I was traveling in Ukraine on the front, so a lot of the journalists were traveling armored vehicles, and at first I was like, it seems like this would attract attention. Like, it seems like they would want to hit those targets. But then I realized over time, as I learned, there’s a fear of killing Americans. There could be a drastic escalation of conflict.
Ed Calderon (01:23:09):
It’s kicking a beehive, yeah. Yeah, there is a tendency to shy away or stay away from that, you know. I mean, they don’t want the heat or the attention.
Lex Fridman (01:23:20):
Outside of that, everyone’s game.
Ed Calderon (01:23:22):
Everyone’s game, but also there’s been many cases of Americans being killed down there. I mean, we saw the Mormon massacre happen down there. And all of them were American, Mexican. They had both nationalities, and blonde kids, you know, white, being massacred in the middle of a desert, and the cars basically catching fire. This happened. And, you know, the Americans sent the FBI down there to kind of review some of what happened down there. And I think that was when Trump started talking about kind of reviving this whole notion of cartels being labor terrorist organization. Probably more of a political pressure point he was using to try and get Mexico to reinforce its southern border, which it hasn’t.
But there’s escalation. You know, this already happened and nothing happened, so we can probably get away with it, you know? And again, there’s a newer generation moving forward now of people coming into power. More brutal, more technically savvy. Well, they have the experience of their parents and the people behind them and what they’ve done and what they’ve gone away with. And now, yeah, more savvy about information warfare.
Their main recruiting tool is TikTok. You go to TikTok and you’ll see a bunch of these kids at a narco party dancing around and some of these are videos by cartel members filming other cartel members in cartel controlled territory. And that’s a window into that life for who’s on TikTok now?
Lex Fridman (01:24:54):
Kids. And the enticing aspect of that is the money, the fun,
Ed Calderon (01:25:01):
the high roller life. And the possibility of making it to a level, you know?
Lex Fridman (01:25:06):
Yeah, a fame of respect, power, money.
Ed Calderon (01:25:12):
Here in the US, somebody might, you know, I want a mansion, that’s their mindset. I want to live, you know, like that rapper. Down there, I mean, if you can buy a house for your mom, you know, or pay off some debts that she might have or a car, that’s enough to kill for.
Lex Fridman (01:25:34):
So you also, one of the many things you did is you did security, tried to protect in this war, try to protect people, high value people. Yeah. How do you do, you and others, how is it possible to protect a high value target like a celebrity or an important politician in this situation?
Ed Calderon (01:25:51):
So I was tasked to protect the governor of Baja and his family. I was basically replacing a whole contingency of people that were already there that turned out to be corrupted. That was in my field, I was operational, I was working with other people doing the counter narcotic stuff and the director of the institution that I was in basically called me and said, hey, you’re gonna go and replace these people. And I, what happened to them?
Lex Fridman (01:26:21):
So you were known as a person that could be kind of trusted.
Ed Calderon (01:26:24):
I was tasked for that, so I think they considered that. And I specifically worked for a governor named Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, who was probably one of the best governors we have had in the state. And people wanna see if I’m trustworthy or not, they can ask him directly. And I still speak to some members of his family and we’re still friends in that way.
Lex Fridman (01:26:47):
Is protecting people like technically a difficult
Ed Calderon (01:26:51):
problem to solve? For my experience in that time and in place, he was basically spearheading, you know, counter the drug war in Baja when he was in power. So he had threats from all over, not only him, but his family. First thing I realized working that job in Mexico is that we had people coming in to do specialized training of that regard, Israelis, you know, teaching us how they would do things in Israel.
That didn’t make a lot of sense for us in Mexico, you know. We had people that had some secret service experience kind of showing us how they would do like celebrity bodyguarding or bodyguarding somebody, maybe in California of that nature. Didn’t make sense for us. Then we got to experience some cross training with NSW, Naval Special Warfare people who were coming off protection details in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is there some use to a crossover there? We were struggling with the acceptance that we were basically doing protection details in a war zone.
Lex Fridman (01:27:52):
So the approach that had to be taken in Mexico was similar to the approach you would take in Afghanistan during a war.
Ed Calderon (01:27:59):
Some of the overt militaristic type approaches to security that we had to adopt, you know, from, we didn’t move him in a single armored vehicle. We had two of them that looked exactly alike. So when we would move around, we would switch one car through the other every now and then we would arrive to an event, they would open the door and it would be one of us. And they were like, hey, where’s the governor? He’s in the back one. So they would move to that. So we had to do stuff like that. And again, this is a young me who didn’t have any specialized training. I was on YouTube learning some of these things, going online, learning about armored vehicles, learning about architectural armor.
Lex Fridman (01:28:37):
I think you just described a large percentage of the Ukrainian military, how they operate, which is on YouTube, trying to figure out how to use some of this technology. And that’s actually incredibly effective. Yeah. You know, I do quite a lot of stuff where I’m totally not an expert, totally uneducated and so on. It’s kind of surprising how quickly you can get caught up. As we were talking offline, if you take a course, if you talk to an expert, if you learn from an expert, you can like catch up really quickly.
Ed Calderon (01:29:03):
For me, it was all of a sudden, I have this director calling me in and I’m wearing Vans, you know, in jeans, you know, T-shirt and all of a sudden I had 80 some people that I had to move around. And I was in charge of securing planes, which I, what do I know about that? Airport hangers, armored vehicle maintenance and purchasing and figuring out how to set up a counter assault group for a protection detail. And I was like, where am I gonna learn all this?
Lex Fridman (01:29:35):
Were you able to quickly figure some of these things out?
Ed Calderon (01:29:38):
On the fly, basically, you know, as I was going, I remember having this experience being in our security office on my laptop, figuring out how to set up a counter surveillance aside to our protection detail, basically how to have people looking for people that might be looking for us, you know, type thing. And then going to San Diego, to Coronado and training with some people from former SEAL guys and NCIS people who did that job in war zones and seeing them critique some of the solutions that we came up with on the fly and being like, oh, we never saw that before. Oh yeah, this is, we’re doing it down there. So getting that compliment and also getting their feedback, like we probably do this or do that. And it was a learning process on the fly that was pretty, I mean, seat of your pants level.
Lex Fridman (01:30:35):
Yeah. Is it possible for the family and for the high value person to have a sense of normalcy, to have a normal life?
Ed Calderon (01:30:42):
I mean, I tried. I was already starting off on the wrong foot, basically, because trust had been violated by the people that I was replacing. So I had to gain that back. Then young kids in that family that wanted to have a, you know, go out and stuff like that in the most violent city on the planet. So I had to do my homework and figure out places where they were safe to go to and make friends with certain club owners and figure out ways to put security in some of these places. And having to create this bubble of normalcy around some of these people was pretty difficult.
And there’s no way that that is a normal for anybody. And, you know, God bless them. I know it didn’t, I know it wasn’t easy and I know that it affected their lives and they lost on a big part of their youth. Being under that security supervision and bubble does, probably does a lot for somebody specifically growing up like that. You know, you lose opportunities of things that we take for granted, you know, just going out, just not telling anybody and going to the store, you know, because you want to get some snacks or something like that. That’s not available to some of these people.
Lex Fridman (01:31:56):
I have to be honest, when I was in Ukraine, that was a really big benefit. You’d escape? No, I couldn’t hang out. I couldn’t eat when I’m stressed. I would fast and not eat much. So I get lost weight. So it’s great, it’s great for the diet. That’s a good.
Ed Calderon (01:32:09):
Basically be under protective custody. That’s a good idea for a good. Yeah.
Lex Fridman (01:32:13):
You diet. And just life, it allowed me to focus, get a lot of reading done, focus on the important things in life. I mean, I joke, of course, but there’s some, there’s some complexity to this in terms of normalcy of the family, but also just how to operate, like have a mental clarity and a lack of fear. Just basically be good at your job, whatever that job is, as a politician, as a leader, even as a soldier.
Ed Calderon (01:32:42):
Somebody that I, again, I think it was Lisa Ola, said this to me, or said something like this to a group of us, that there’s nothing wrong with being paranoid. It’s about educating your paranoia and knowing what to be afraid of. If you’re afraid of everything, you’re basically overwhelmed. But if you start educating yourself as far as specifically what to prioritize, as far as what to worry about. In a war zone, working, protecting somebody, you’re not looking at everybody’s faces, you’re just looking at their hands, because that’s what’s gonna kill you. That’s an example of focalizing what you’re paranoid and what you’re afraid of.
Lex Fridman (01:33:18):
So looking at the hands, that’s specific to a particular situation, but also figuring out which situations to avoid and which is okay. I mean, that’s like ultimately one of the biggest things you could do.
Ed Calderon (01:33:31):
Route analysis. You have to get to the airport and you send off two cars to analyze two routes. And then on the fly, you just change trajectory to create randomness and unpredictability and have that as a security feature. Having a convoy of four vehicles separate into two convoys and show up in different parts to, again, make it hard for people to guess where you’re gonna be. Putting out false information as far as where it’s gonna be, who’s gonna be and that type of stuff.
Lex Fridman (01:34:07):
It’s kind of amazing how many assassination attempts Hitler avoided just by having a pretty strict schedule and being a little bit off in terms of timing, just like showing up 15 minutes late or to a slightly different location.
Ed Calderon (01:34:20):
We’re going through training specifically around this type of stuff and operational training, basically showing us how to ambush people. When I started making a group for myself as far as counter ambush, this CAT teams that they call them up here in the US, basically a group to respond to a high violent ambush. First off, the first rule, if you find yourself in an ambush, it wasn’t a successful ambush because if you find yourself in it, you’re alive. But if you want to create an amazing counter ambush team, you have to make them ambushers. And with ambushing, you figure out where all the opportunities of not only successfully doing what you need to do are in your favor, but also to escape with your life. We’re not gonna be received by virgins in heaven. That’s not the type of mentality that we had down there. But we started learning about some of these things and also seeing, you know, cartel forces apply some of these ambush tactics to the military or the federal forces.
Lex Fridman (01:35:23):
What is an ambush? What are we talking about? So that’s a surprise attack with an asymmetry of power?
Ed Calderon (01:35:28):
Yeah, there’s a contingency somewhere moving towards a place that you control and own, where you have the advantages, where they can’t see you, but you can see them, where they can’t predict you, but you can predict where they’re gonna pass, go through, you know, places where they forcibly have to pass, places where they’re predictable, places where you can not only predict, but also have a plan for yourself to escape and exit that place. So how do you train for counter ambush? You turn into a, like a perfect ambusher. That’s how you train for counter ambush.
Lex Fridman (01:35:60):
Always trying to make sure you have more information about other people. You have the element of surprise, all of those things.
Ed Calderon (01:36:07):
And Musashi would say, know your enemy, know his sword. You know, basically that, you know, simplify.
Lex Fridman (01:36:12):
There’s a lot of enemies around here in Mexico. There’s a lot of uncertainty, right? Because it’s, well, I guess that’s what route analysis is.
Ed Calderon (01:36:20):
Yeah, you prepare for the probable. And if the impossible happens, you’re halfway out of it, hopefully, you know. And if you find yourself in an ambush, it wasn’t a successful one, you, as far as our training and kind of the mindset, my experience with it, you, the adversarial thinking part of it has always been a very powerful one. I think one that a lot of people ignore, kind of like leave to the wayside.
Specifically in all conflicts out there, there’s a tendency for a military force or a conventional force of any kind to be trained in a way where they dehumanize the enemy. Yeah. And when that happens, you become blind to the enemy’s story. It’s his capability, his story, his ability. If you treat the other side like an inhuman monster, it’s hard to take notes, you know. So the,
Lex Fridman (01:37:11):
so part of this is a radical empathy for the quote unquote enemy.
Ed Calderon (01:37:16):
At least for me personally, I wasn’t one of the guys that would grab them, beat the shit out of them, put them in the back of a van, just tie them up and gag them. So you’re able to see them as human? I learned that from my mother. You know, she said, nobody’s against you, Ed, they’re for themselves. Learn this and you will make friends of enemies. She said that when I graduated and I’ve carried that with me throughout my whole career.
Lex Fridman (01:37:41):
But isn’t there then a pain of killing another human? Always. But there isn’t, again, I apologize to go back to Ukraine, it’s my only experience of this kind of harshness. And it is a powerful experience. There’s a dehumanization that happens.
I suppose this is common in war. There’s something like a video game aspect where people are almost having fun. There’s a humor. And I think underneath that, the prerequisite is to see the enemy in the same way you see the enemy when you play Call of Duty. You don’t really think, you think of them as NPCs, the bad guys. The Russians are called orcs in Ukraine. I mean, there’s all kinds of other names. For us, it was mugrosos.
Ed Calderon (01:38:21):
You know, malandros mugrosos, like dirty people. You know, there’s always something.
Lex Fridman (01:38:26):
Over time, those are just words. But over time, it gathers a kind of, like a meaning to it that’s more than just the words, orcs. They’re less than human. They’re dirty, they’re too dumb to understand the evil they’re doing, or whatever the- It’s useful, it’s useful. Yeah. It’s part of the program. Well, I guess what, I’ve talked to soldiers, and some of them do have stories of momentarily remembering that there’s a human on the other side. I talked to one woman who’s this really badass soldier. She saw this really brave soldier on the other side do something that was almost stupid, how brave it was.
And then she was trying to shoot him, and she missed. And she said she could sleep the night after, thinking, why did she miss, why did she miss? And then she thought she missed because he was a hero. And she had this brief realization that there was a hero on the other side. The other side is heroes. Yeah. And then, but then that quickly disappeared. Yeah. Again, but she had this moment, there’s a human being that rises to defend his nation, to defend his people, and he could be heroic on the other side.
Ed Calderon (01:39:47):
There are things that we’re trained to depress, or conceal, or hide, and kill in us when you’re trained for something like that. Or when you’re in a conflict zone like that, and you hear the narrative constantly being blared out that the other side is a orc, or whatever word you want to use. But we live in a day and age when you can see Americans going off to Japan and shaking hands with some of their former enemies. I mean, some of us have seen that. And how things change. I think years from now, a lot of the stuff that we are taking right now is of the utmost importance, won’t matter anymore.
Lex Fridman (01:40:23):
The question is how many years? That’s a question I ask of a lot of people in that part of the world. And a lot of them currently, they’re also self-aware about it. They’re like, I’m not sure I trust my current feelings. But the current feelings are generational. Like for decades, I will not just hate the leadership, I will hate all of Russian people.
Ed Calderon (01:40:48):
I can’t understand that on my side of my life experience, because our war has been an internal war amongst our people and amongst our houses.
Lex Fridman (01:40:56):
While that is the propaganda, there’s also a deep grain of truth that there is a oneness to the people of that region. But people will get very offended at that idea, because right now it’s a very strong nationalist borders. But there is a cultural history that connects people. I mean, in some deep sense, we’re all connected. We all come from Western Africa, and then all came from fish before then, depending on your view of history, of life on earth. But there is a oneness to us, and often you forget that in conflict.
Ed Calderon (01:41:33):
I had an experience working. There was a friend of mine who took the other path and went to work for some of these criminal groups. I was operational, and we saw a bunch of people in a gas station, parked. Back then, the main modus operandi that they had was that they would impersonate or dress up as federal police, and that’s how they would move around the city. We saw these suburbans in a gas station, and some of the guys were carrying our AK-47s, and that’s not a standard-issue firearm.
We saw that, and I got off on foot and walked by to try and get a better sense of what was going on. I took everything off, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and I got a whistle from one of the guys that was there, and my name was called. It was one of the guys that I grew up with. Redhead kid, looked like El Canelo.
There’s redheads in Mexico, by the way. I think it’s probably some of the Irish that betrayed the American side during the last Mexico-American War that stayed down there and had a bunch of kids. It’s probably from there. Love is stronger than anything else, I think. So it was a redhead kid. When I say kid, I mean he was my age. Now, to my eyes, he’s always gonna be younger now. He whistled, told my name. Said, hey, quesadilla, I’m like, what are you doing here? He’s like, oh, shit, I’m just going home.
I said, look, I’m going to get a taxi. He’s like, oh, okay. He walks over, he has a plate carrier with AK-round magazines on his chest, AK without a stock on it, just carrying it in his hand. He comes over and he hugs me. I could feel the magazines on my chest. Mind you, I have a gun on me, tucked. And next to him is buzzing in my back pocket as people are trying to figure out what the fuck’s going on. He asked me small talk shit. Like, hey, he’s like, what are you doing? Like, what do you work at? And I’m like, ah, I’m just looking for a job. You know, I used to work at a video store. So he’s like, I haven’t seen you in a while.
How’s so-and-so of your family? Good, and how’s so-and-so of your family? Good. It’s like, yeah, this is an interesting job you have. He’s like, yeah, it’s pretty good. They pay us well. You get a car, there’s money, and nobody fucks with you. You get respect. I was like, that’s awesome. And if you want, I can get you in. If you ever want that, it’s like, oh, I’m too much of a coward for that, I told him.
Lex Fridman (01:44:30):
Conversation like any other between two friends.
Ed Calderon (01:44:34):
He hugs me before I go. I said something to him, I can’t remember what. And he says, hey, in my ear, I know what you do for a living. It’s not a safe place for you to be in. And I walk off. A few moments later, the army showed up. And you could feel the amount of rounds going off from two blocks away. And we came back with our guys, and it was over.
Lex Fridman (01:45:15):
So he didn’t survive that?
Ed Calderon (01:45:17):
I looked through the bodies and the cars that were left. There was bodies all over the place. People left there. It was a mess. I spent like an hour looking for him. The only way I could recognize him was his hair. I stayed with his body all night. There’s a bridge in Tijuana that goes over the river in a place called La Mesa, and that’s where the forensic offices were. His body was taken there, and I stayed with his body until it was released. And I stayed with his body until it was released. I told his family about it, because I knew them. And that aspect of us versus them, or they’re the enemy and shit like that. And my mom told me those words, nobody’s against you, they’re just for themselves, so don’t make the mistake of dehumanizing anybody.
Lex Fridman (01:46:18):
And those roles could have been easily reversed.
Ed Calderon (01:46:21):
I could have been shot in the face there. That aspect of conflict brings where, let’s say, bad guys, good guys, you know, heroes, villains, you know. There’s an innocence to that that goes away. Is your mom still with us? No, almost three weeks before I decided to quit, she passed away. Did that have a role to play? A major one. After I got done on the protection of my family, after I got done on the protection detail with the governor, like everything down there, again, the whole cycle, you know, he got his turn. So when he went away, you know, politics change.
And down there, basically, if you’re a gubernatorial candidate, you have either a friend, a friend of a friend, or a family member be the head bodyguard guy. And the guy that won the elections had his head bodyguard guy already there. So all of us were sent back to whatever we came from. So I went back to work on the streets. I was back on the operations group. I was working with the sub-director directly with him, basically, back on the ground doing the stuff that I was doing before that job. We were moving away from the successes that had been had by people like Lezola when they were in charge of that whole process, the people that I used to work with. Some of the only successes in that counter push against cartels in Mexico, and you can kind of like, it’s documented. You can read about it out there. A bunch of people wrote papers on it. Some of the only successes were had by Lezola in the places where he had leadership. He not only pacified Tijuana, he also did the same in Juarez. He was sent to be the police chief in Juarez too.
But politics change and heroes become villains. A lot of people started calling him a villain because of his unorthodox approach and human rights violations and all of this type of stuff kind of come through the forefront. And people forgot. People forgot what it took to get Tijuana off the most dangerous city list on the planet. And people were vilified. People like him and the police force that I was a part of started getting compromised. A lot of the things that were put forth to try and keep us honest, there was a program.
They had these centers called the C3s. Basically, you would go there every year. You would get your financials checked. You would get a physical, psychological evaluation. You would get a polygraph exam done on you. All the works to try and see if you were somebody doing something wrong. And all of that was canceled because it violated your human rights if you get fired from a job because of a failed polygraph exam because that was not an actual admissible way of firing somebody. So all of a sudden you had people that were known cartel compromise people that were fired five, six years ago showing back up to worship, back up to work with their back paid and everything. So this started happening and I quickly realized that it was gonna be hard to stay there. I was driving home from work and I got a call from my brother that my mom had been going through some health issues that had turned into psychiatric issues. So we were basically taking turns trying to take care of her, locking the door so she wouldn’t wander off and stuff like that. So not only was I dealing with the job on the street but I was dealing with that and also I had a two year old and a marriage that was difficult, that had time. So I was trying to figure all these things out. Made more difficult by your.
It’s not a financially secure job and the pressures that it has and the odd hours and all that made it really hard. And then all of a sudden my brother calls me and tells me that let’s go to the hospital. My mom, something happened to my mom. It wasn’t my turn to watch her so I felt pretty shitty about that. I got to the hospital and the doctors came out and told us that she was gone. It was a massive heart attack. She had a pacemaker by then so she was gone.
She was in her 60s. So we kind of expected something but that was hard for me. She was my center. She was gonna be the one that I would ask for advice as far as work, if I should leave it or not. The ground was removed from under you. There was nobody, yeah, there’s nothing underneath me. I get three days off work. So that’s what they gave me and I’m trying to grieve as I go back to work, dark shit crosses my mind as I’m going through that process of trying to figure things out.
Lex Fridman (01:51:52):
Dark shit like suicide, dark shit? Yeah. So it was very low for you, it hit very hard.
Ed Calderon (01:51:58):
Yeah, I wasn’t allowed to grieve basically and I wasn’t allowed to grieve for a few years for different reasons.
Lex Fridman (01:52:05):
I went back to work and- You weren’t allowed, other people, also you yourself were not allowing yourself to grieve. Is it like-
Ed Calderon (01:52:11):
There was other people with me that didn’t allow me to grieve. I went to work, got called into the office and I was basically told that I was gonna be reassigned after what I just went through, the reassignment was going to be something that I saw as unacceptable. It was, the people in charge at that point were obviously corrupted and what I got from their conversation was that they wanted us to work for a specific side and I knew that that was the time to go. I asked for a license, basically a license is a unpaid absence from work, basically a leave of absence. I think it’s what you call it up here, which by law is allowed and I was denied for no reason.
So I’m invested in this job, you know, I have a good salary and I have a category in there. So the level of time you spend in there, you get a category. So I was a pretty high category agent. I had all this training and again, training that would be useless in the private sector or in the public sector in Mexico. I couldn’t change from one corporation to another. I couldn’t go to work for another police institution. So I took a deep breath and I resigned.
I went to the office. I said, I need to resign. They said, what? I need to resign. Some of the people in the office that knew me from a long time were like, what’s wrong with you? They thought I was having a mental breakdown. Handed all over all the paperwork, took a big trash bag, put all my stuff in there, plate armor, tear gas grenades, gas mask, satellite radio, MP5 magazines, an MP5 submachine gun, Glock, Glock magazines, all of it, helmet. And I put it in the, I handed it over in the armory. And I left.
I made some phone calls. I was married to an American and my daughter’s American. And I never envisioned myself coming to the United States, do that process for myself. So I was invested in that job. I thought I was gonna die or retire from that. And it quickly became like an issue because everybody was wondering why I left the job so abruptly. So there were some threats made when I left by people inside the office. And I probably, you know, it’s anonymous yet.
Lex Fridman (01:55:05):
So there’s significant pressure not to leave. It’s hard to leave this kind of job. The system makes it difficult to leave. The individuals, to the degree they might be corrupted, really don’t want you to leave.
Ed Calderon (01:55:17):
There’s no support.
Lex Fridman (01:55:18):
Yeah, there’s no support. And it’s probably the opposite of support. Yeah, yeah. Almost like implied or explicit or implicit threats.
Ed Calderon (01:55:27):
Luckily, I had developed some friendships in the United States with some of the people that I used to work with and cross-train with and some friendships that I developed with people that I would just talk to and make friends with stateside. One of them is a Navy SEAL reservist whose name is Dan Stanchfield and his wife, Kelly. They opened the doors of their house to me and my kid and my wife at that time.
As I seek to basically look for the American dream, I crossed the border with my kid and nobody knew anything. You know, they didn’t tell anybody, just, you know, my wife. And I was off. When I came to the States, I already kind of dabbled in the whole training field and showing some of my experience to people. So I had at least a seed of that out there. People knew me for that. But all of a sudden, I was in the middle of an avocado orchard in the middle of California and everything’s quiet. And there’s no more radios going off all over the night. There’s no more three cell phones on the counter. There’s no guns. There’s no rifles.
There’s no 80 people calling to see what’s going on. There’s nothing. It’s just quiet. And it’s during the time when Trump got elected. So the immigration process that usually would take, I had most things going for me. And my immigration process that would take, at most a year, took two years. So it was not an easy process to not only come to the US, but, you know, come to the US with that pressure kind of underlying pressure as far as being an immigrant at that time here.
Lex Fridman (01:57:37):
And then your own personal psychological, the PTSD of going from a war zone to a avocado orchard.
Ed Calderon (01:57:47):
The word PTSD and TBI and all of these things, I did not, I didn’t know any of. But it was through people that I got to meet in the training field that were, you know, Marines, SEALs, Marisoc guys, those types of people that started giving words to some of the things that I felt, which I didn’t really know, you know. We would treat post-traumatic stress with alcohol and vacation time. Yeah. A bottle of mezcal, you know, when you see the bottom of it, your troubles are gone. Cured. Yeah, immediately. That was, I was an alcoholic as well as all of the other stuff I was, I was drinking myself to sleep every third night. My marriage obviously was failing, you know, it was, it wasn’t easy for her, you know, she was brave and she did what she could. And I totally respect and understand her process with it, but, you know, when it’s quiet, that’s when it hits you.
That’s what, I think that’s what a lot of people experience when they come back from a conflict zone. You know, everything that was life and death, everything that mattered, all the noise, all the chaos, all the people that are around you that would die for you, kill for you, you would kill for them. All the millions of dollars worth of equipment and stuff like that you were responsible for now are all gone. And it’s just you walking into a Circle K and buying three cans of Fosters to drink yourself to sleep.
Lex Fridman (01:59:26):
Yeah, you write on your Patreon brilliantly about BTSD, about the cost of things you’ve done and seen. Quote, when it’s over and we’re far from that chaos and noise of death being close and life being real. That is when some of us remember in the quiet nights in a field in Tennessee, looking at fireflies, walking through a fair, holding hands with a lover, asking you what’s wrong. At your kid’s birthday party, leave early to avoid the ending of a celebration. That is what the quiet means to some of us. So that’s speaking to that silence, the quiet. How do you live with and thrive with this newly learned term of PTSD?
Ed Calderon (02:00:16):
If anything, I would recommend people that have any of these issues to go to places where other people have their issues. So you can, it’s not a competition, but you get to see the scope of problems in the world and you sometimes feel kind of lucky as far as your own.
Lex Fridman (02:00:32):
Like it humbles you. Yeah. It makes you appreciate all the different kinds of struggles that people go through.
Ed Calderon (02:00:37):
Yeah, I mean, I went through some horrible shit, but there’s some people there that went through other more horrible shit or stuff that I don’t think I could have survived. When I went through that process of figuring things out, you know, the first thing that glaringly pointed out or stuck out to me was my inability to process things. Like there was a big pause button there, a giant one. Everything was on pause. My grieving, not only my mom, but my brother. So I had a pause button on me. So I was 13 basically. Then I got to bury many of my friends and inform their wives or girlfriends of what happened. And that all again was paused because I wasn’t allowed to process. You know, I spent years without going on vacation because I was a workaholic.
And I found at the core of my issues, alcohol. A giant pause button in the form of alcohol. Basically I would drink my problems away or specifically I would, it’s like if you have a mess in your house, you just put a big tarp over it, you know, to cover it up and alcohol was that for me. And it festered more and more as I not only went through the process of learning about PTSD, going through therapy, but refusing to let that go. You know, like going through therapy and seeing what other people’s problems were.
I don’t wanna, you know, this is the only thing I have. I’m not, you know, I’m not hurting anybody with it, you know, why do I need to get rid of that? By this point I was traveling across the country and training people and showing some of the experiences that I had to other people, speaking, being on podcasts and having conversations like the one I’m having with you.
Lex Fridman (02:02:32):
So speaking to the skills that you’ve developed.
Ed Calderon (02:02:34):
And in a way, basically reliving and reopening a bunch of shit for myself every time I do it. So it was, I was getting triggered and the way I would manage that was I would drink, you know, at the end of the night after a weekend class somewhere. When I talk about the fireflies in a field in Tennessee, it was a moment where I was forcing myself to try and be sober. And we did this medical class out in the hills in Tennessee, a beautiful green place, beautiful family there that hosted us. And it’s the first time I ever saw fireflies. So I was like, I thought I was having a hallucinogenic experience. When I say, why is the wire, why is the dust glowing? You know, is what I thought. A friend of mine is a veteran. He’s ran off to the woods and grabbed one and brought it to me and showed it to me. I was like, holy shit, what is, that’s a firefly.
Wow, how do they glow? I don’t know. And he’s crushed it in his hand and said, it’s gone. And that, you know, brought me back immediately to holy shit, you know. It kind of like, I was off somewhere and I was back. And I had to go drink. I went through that process of like going off and getting on and going off, getting off in my marriage. Separated. And that was another end of the world aspect to everything. You know, I lost my mother, I lost the job. And then the marriage failed and it was on me.
And I basically went somewhere and did a stock of everything that was going on and made a decision to stop drinking. Yeah, had some bad relationships after. And I just came to a place where I need to stop drinking.
Lex Fridman (02:04:38):
You’ve gotten to a point so low. Was this a decision you arrived at by yourself? Was there some inspiration? Or was it just the point is so low, lost so much? It was the start of COVID.
Ed Calderon (02:04:51):
So this is recent, this is probably two, I’m gonna have two years sober in December.
Lex Fridman (02:04:60):
So when you talked to Rogan the first time, you’re still struggling with this demon?
Ed Calderon (02:05:03):
Yeah, I was in and out of the car, basically is what I would say. I was in and out of, and then trying to get rid of it.
Lex Fridman (02:05:11):
That must be a super stressful experience talking to Joe Rogan the first time you drank that night, do you remember?
Ed Calderon (02:05:17):
The second time I was there, I went somewhere. God, shit face. It was stressful, not for any other reason than I felt the responsibility to the people that couldn’t speak about it. So that’s the pressure. It was the start of COVID, and things started getting shut down and slowed down. My dad got really sick and almost died.
We had to set up like some Jason Bourne level shit at my brother’s place, he was in Mexico, so we had to bribe a guy to get us an oxygen tank, and I had to shimmy-rig a respirator, and it was some shit. But my dad was like, he survived it. Everybody, the doctors were like, say goodbye. And my dad was like, yeah, say goodbye to him, you know. Okay, so your dad’s a gangster, I got it, tough. Dad. He did some gangster shit that day.
But on my end, I was being isolated, basically, as COVID is, everybody’s slowing down, no more classes, no more excuses to go out there and drink, and no more socializing, so social drinking turned into alone drinking more and more and more. I bought a bottle of gin because I was down in Mexico taking care of my dad, and they closed down beer production in Mexico, so beer went away. And beer was a way I kind of managed it, you know. It’s not hard alcohol, it’s just beer, so, you know. But that went away, so it was just hard alcohol that was available down there.
I, one night, alone at the house, my dad’s house, I drank a bottle of gin, a whole bottle of gin. And I almost died. And after that, you know, some people started noticing that I was isolating more and more, and it was kind of eating away at me. I was in a relationship at that point when I started seeing everything just kind of fall apart around me.
And I drank half of a glass of wine, and it made me sick, like internally in my mind. And my kid said to me, and I don’t know, nobody coached her, nobody said anything to her. She was a pretty intuitive kid. She said, I don’t drink anymore, Dad. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the night. And I stopped.
I stopped that night. I remember waking up at three in the morning and taking a cooler that I had and just dumping all the beers in it and chucking them in the garbage and with a knife poking each of them to not, you know, be tempted to go pack for them. And then the second day, I went around and started finding the hides that I had because I had some, you know, hides. And then I went somewhere and locked myself in for two weeks.
I had the withdrawals, the clearest nightmares that I’d ever had in my life for two, three weeks. I went somewhere, I don’t want to keep them private, but I went somewhere where they offered a place for me. And when I asked them about it, it’s a community, I gave them some money for their school as a donation. I gave them like a few thousand dollars. I said, yeah, sure, come, you know, you can go through this process here, cool as fuck people. The first thing they did when I got there is they stood me up in front of everybody to thank me for the donation and then told everybody that I was an alcoholic. And if anybody saw me drinking, I was to be kicked out of there immediately.
And I felt horrible. So that was where I started.
Lex Fridman (02:09:53):
Is that temptation still there?
Ed Calderon (02:09:57):
There was a moment when it was. And some therapy circle, there’s a rodeo clown friend of mine who his body’s, his spine is basically fused together, you know, type of guy. We’ve been friends and enemies and friends again, you know, during the art therapy circle sessions. Oh, so like there’s an intimacy there. Yeah, he didn’t know anything about me. One time when we were telling our story, he stood up and told his story.
And then he heard mine and then he was pissed off at me and didn’t want to talk to me for a while. And then later he told me that it was because he saw what I did with my experience and how much of a difference that he perceived that I was making with it. And he felt jealous that he couldn’t do the same with his experience because he was just a broken ex-rodeo clown. He told me when I was going through the process, like, hey, you’re an internet celebrity person, you know, you’re known.
Aren’t you worried about people finding out that you’re recovering drunk? And I said, yeah, it’s fucking scary as shit if people find out that I am going through this process. It’s scary that, you know, the critique, you know, I already get a lot of shit for being an ex-police officer in Mexico and all the negativity that comes from that. And he said, don’t be. You know, you can’t pickpocket a naked man, so just get naked. And what does that mean? Write about it. Post it online. You never know. Somebody out there might get inspired to do their own kind of process. So I started posting about it.
Cowardly in a way because I wanted to make other people keep me on the path, you know? But in other ways, you know, desperation. You know, I don’t want to drink anymore. I don’t want to go back on that path, which I know leads directly to a bad death. I’m not afraid of death. I just want a good one. I don’t want a bad one. I think that was going to lead me to a bad death.
I started writing about it and sharing it online, you know, through my Fever Dreams post and just being humorous about it online and getting a lot of hate on one side, you know? Having a few people and companies that I work with kind of step back and seeing this guy has some issues too. Having other people kind of make fun of or make light of that weakness portrayed.
Lex Fridman (02:12:34):
Oh, so getting hate, getting criticism because here you are a counter-narcotics police officer. There’s no, has a drinking problem. So is that like supposed to be what like flaws revealed?
Ed Calderon (02:12:47):
Weakness or a perception of alpha in the U.S., I guess, that some people have, you know? You were supposed to be strong and here you are. I mean, I’m not Jocko Willink, I’m not David Goggins, you know, I wake up at 10 in the morning sometimes and I’ll have cornflakes with my eight-year-old, you know? I like days off. I used to wake up at 3.30 in the morning every day to review what happened during the night and then go off for a jog and then the gym and just be ready to be able to murder somebody with my hands if I had to. But that is, I couldn’t maintain that during the whole process of getting out of it. Now leaving alcohol, I remember just being honest with it and just seeing the two sides of it, you know?
Joe told me never read the comments section, right? Which is a beautiful, it’s a beautiful piece of advice. But they get to you sometimes when you talk about some of these things openly. And some of the comments were positive and I’ve been seeing people comment, sending me messages and meeting people on the road that are five months in, 10 months.
Some people that have been on that wagon for way longer than I have. And there’s, what’s cool when you meet people that are superhuman or perform and take an extreme ownership of things and are just amazing people that are thriving out there. It’s inspirational. I see some of these people and I’m like, holy shit, I need to figure out how to get to some semblance of that. But I’m not that.
I’ve been through the ringer. I fucked up a shit ton of times. My nose is an example of that, a few missing teeth. But in a way, I think all of that is part of the process that not a lot of people want to talk about. Independently of the experience I got down there and some of the things that I show and talk about and some of the advocacy I do related to women like her that are trying to look for a better life and trying to find their missing kids, training people to not get into those situations, but also showcasing the fact that people that go through some of these processes have a journey to go through. I just came into your studio with a duffel bag straight from the airport and I’m gonna leave early tomorrow morning to somewhere else. I’ve been on the road for almost, I think, five years nonstop. I go back to a specific place every week to see my kid for two, three days. And then I’m back out.
You know, some people are like, are you running? Like, are you worried, are you just afraid about something? No, but I am, you know, on this weird path, I guess, trying to look for something that I think I’ve been missing as far as my afterlife of a sort.
Lex Fridman (02:15:56):
You know, coming out of that. What do you think that is? Are you looking for some kind of deeper understanding of humanity, like from the specific experiences you had to get some deeper understanding of what the hell we’re all doing here?
Ed Calderon (02:16:09):
I meet people every weekend with different stories. You know, people come to some of my classes. You know, I show them how to weaponize the environment, how to arm themselves, how to not get abducted. I meet people that have gone through those experiences and are basically trying to work through some of their own issues by going through the training like that. I get to meet people that are, you know, people that I’ve only seen online, you know, or seen in videos. I remember meeting Royce Gracie in Harvard City.
He’s a pretty interesting character. I remember seeing him in a bootleg VHS video. I told him about it. We were doing a class out at Emerson Knives. It’s a knife company, but Mr. Emerson also has like a jujitsu gym there where Royce trains out of. That’s his space. And, you know, they’re teaching how to defend against somebody trying to stab you. And I’m showing them all the ways you can get around that and fabricate and improvise and smuggle things, basically the adversarial side of that. That’s what I’m known for.
The psychology and kind of the ways that people do that. And I remember him seeing some of the stuff that I was doing and just being like, where are you from? Mexico. Makes sense. You know, somebody from Brazil, you know, tipping the hat to somebody from Mexico as far as with him seeing the violence and some of the mentality behind it.
Lex Fridman (02:17:38):
So for people who don’t know, Royce Gracie is the legendary martial artist that probably introduced Brazilian jujitsu to the American audience, to the world, to the process of UFC and showing the effectiveness of it in practice that a little skinny guy can defeat a big aggressive guy, so.
Ed Calderon (02:17:57):
An anaconda, a small anaconda walking into that ring with his family behind him. Wearing pajamas. Wearing pajamas and everybody was like, what is this guy wearing pajamas for? And then he would strangle people with those pajamas. I remember seeing that and just having it, I think probably what a generation before had with Bruce Lee, I guess, our, my generation was Royce walking into that, walking into that octagon and changing, you know, paradigms. Seeing him in that gym, it’s also an avid gun owner and shooter, which is interesting, you know, having, seeing somebody like him who is, you know, well-versed with his hands also be a man that has gone into the realm of being well-versed with weaponry, which is an aspect of martial arts and the martial way of thinking that, you know, some people kind of, the purist will stick with one side of it, but he’s obviously a warrior in a lot of ways.
Lex Fridman (02:18:58):
So just as a small tangent, so you’re somebody that you don’t just look at unarmed combat you look at the full spectrum of the chaos of combat that’s outside of the realm of jujitsu and even just mixed martial arts, unarmed, armed with knives and beyond. Was his mind open to the fuller spectrum of violence?
Ed Calderon (02:19:20):
Yeah, I mean, he was in the middle of this class that we were doing where people were basically focusing on both. Ernest Emerson, who’s famous for his knives, he has a knife company, he’s done knives for NASA, you know, not only that, but he’s also a very avid martial artist. He trained with a lot of Filipino martial arts related to knives and stuff like that, but a different mindset, you know, a defensive mindset, trying to train people how to defend against that. And you have Royce who’s, he’s from Brazil. I mean, he has some street in him. That’s something that, you know, those guys, tienen calle, as we say in Mexico. Seeing the ways he would, he stepped in there and provided some encouragement to the people there as far as, you know, how people sometimes focus on the, this is a system and this is a way, but there’s other ways out there that might negate or defeat the ways that you are concentrating on, you know? So kind of get out of that bubble.
My whole kind of speciality or what I focus on is mindset and figuring out the software that some of these people gain and gather from. So if I need to arm myself, you know, the easiest thing to manufacture in most places is a pointed object. So I can take that crystal big pen that you’re writing on that notepad with and using the friction from the carpet, I can turn it into a hypodermic needle that you can then poke into somebody’s neck. And what’s the process of doing that? I can do it right now if you want.
Lex Fridman (02:20:44):
No, but can you use your words for the listener and also, cause I’m terrified.
Ed Calderon (02:20:48):
No, basically you can take the heat and friction created from this carpet. Yes. You can grab that pen in and of itself, it will pierce flesh, but it will slow itself down because it has a few angles on the tip. Oh, you want to wear down the angles. So if you take that tip off and you grab it and grind it on an angle on the carpet, the heat will actually turn it into a hypodermic needle if you know what you’re doing.
Lex Fridman (02:21:13):
Hypodermic meaning like it smoothens the entry.
Ed Calderon (02:21:16):
It’ll make a point in an angle that will guide it its way into your flesh. So you can actually go through a torso with that if you know what you’re doing.
Lex Fridman (02:21:24):
As a small tangent, you also gave me a present. Could be one of the most epic presents I’ve ever received. You give it to Rogan. Can you explain what I’m holding in my hands?
Ed Calderon (02:21:36):
There’s a guy online, Coffin Tramp, is his moniker. It is a G10 rod. G10 is a very strong material, basically. A lot of people make actually G10 knives, which are basically non-magnetic, non-ferrous objects that can be utilized as a stabbing implant.
The core of it isn’t an actual pencil core. It’s a G10 core, and it’s encased in oak, hard oak. So that is capable, again, of stabbing through a torso. Now, the guy that made that is an artisan. He makes that, it looks like a pencil. It’s concealed in the nature of the object itself. But that small object is capable of being introduced into a chest cavity.
You know, all it takes is about the half of your thumb or the length of your thumb to stab into your chest cavity, and now your pericardium is pierced, and it’s being filled with blood, or your whole heart is pierced, and you have a few minutes to live if you’re at a standing heart rate.
Lex Fridman (02:22:43):
So this has the effectiveness of a knife, essentially? It has an effectiveness of a shank.
Ed Calderon (02:22:47):
It has an effectiveness of a shank, or an ice pick, you know? It’s not going to cut, but it’s going to make a hole where it shouldn’t be.
Lex Fridman (02:22:56):
Here, the pen is literally mightier than the sword.
Ed Calderon (02:22:57):
Lex Fridman (02:23:01):
This is really epic, from the perspective of an academic. This is a symbol of both intelligence and violence.
Ed Calderon (02:23:12):
I love it. And also the current state of affairs where people need to arm themselves with things that are concealed as far as their purpose in a place where, in a country or in a society, that limits their ability to arm themselves. So if you’re going to a safe place, you’re going to a place where no weapon’s allowed, which means a target-rich environment if you’re a predator. That’s a sign of rebellion.
Lex Fridman (02:23:37):
Let this be a signal of everyone should be terrified when you’re around me, because even a pencil can murder you. And I intend to use this.
Ed Calderon (02:23:47):
Nobody owns life, but anybody that can hold a frying pan owns death, is a quote that I heard once, which is a beautiful one.
Lex Fridman (02:23:54):
I’m looking at you. If anyone betrays me, this is the way to go. Can you, given all your experience and all the different ways that you think about martial arts and violence, in Mexico, in the world, speaking of hoists, what is your approach to conflict, like a street fight? What advice would you give people in the full spectrum of what a street altercation might entail? What is the best way to approach it?
Ed Calderon (02:24:22):
I think before you get there, you have to prepare. One of the first things I tell people is if you don’t have a basic TCCC training class behind you, you should reanalyze your life and your ability to prepare. TCCC. Basically how to stop somebody from bleeding out or dying from a stab wound, gunshot wound, or any of those types of wounds, or an amputated leg during an IED scenario. Anything you would see in a Boston Marathon type event or a Vegas shooting event where people are getting shot, stabbed, cut.
Lex Fridman (02:24:54):
So understand how to help people, how to help yourself post violence.
Ed Calderon (02:24:57):
You don’t want to be a detriment to the situation. You want to be an asset. So build yourself up as an asset in a situation like that because you might be doing that on yourself or on somebody else.
Lex Fridman (02:25:11):
So it helps you understand what situations are going to result in a lot of… in a difficult situation to deal with afterwards. Yeah.
Ed Calderon (02:25:20):
It also teaches you what to stab and what to shoot if you’re thinking about it in a full… on all the dimensions of it. You know, there’s… all knowledge can be weaponized and I think that’s the approach all people should kind of figure out for themselves when they start getting ready or if they want to take the responsibility of their own safety in their hands.
Lex Fridman (02:25:42):
So in a self-defense situation, there’s a lot of questions here, but what does one stab?
Ed Calderon (02:25:47):
There’s the carotid arteries, which are used commonly in jiu-jitsu as something to choke because they feed a computer.
Lex Fridman (02:25:54):
You know? So there’s a lot of blood flowing through that required for the successful operation of the computer.
Ed Calderon (02:26:00):
And not a lot of stuff is guarding the outside world from your carotid arteries.
Lex Fridman (02:26:05):
It’s a really weird design, by the way.
Ed Calderon (02:26:07):
It is not a smart one.
Lex Fridman (02:26:09):
It doesn’t even make sense because with mammals, they bite each other’s neck. Like, why can’t you have more protection? Because this is the only, like, us humans don’t use our mouth to kill each other, but most mammals, most predators do. And it’s like, why the hell don’t we protect this?
Ed Calderon (02:26:23):
We do have a defensive mechanism and you see it sometimes when people are ambushed and people try to open up each other’s necks from behind. If you push somebody’s neck forward, the carotids will actually lower themselves and be encased in more flesh and muscle. If you pull a head back, not so much. So that’s a way that at least, I think, evolutionarily we have a defensive mechanism for that. There’s a few videos out there of people getting their necks sewn back shut after somebody pushed their head forward to try and slice their necks, and they survived.
So this is a viable target. The heart is another one. Interesting thing about the heart and people get alarmed when I talk about this and show it in classes. Again, a lot of the classes I do are for orientation and for people to recognize that behavior. So a lot of law enforcement comes to some of these classes to, oh, that’s horrible. That’s how somebody will kill somebody. Yeah, this is how people that know their shit will try and approach somebody and stab you to death. This is how they would do it.
There’s a tendency to view what we see in John Wick or view what we see in this martial arts community where they’re slicing and dicing people in different myriads of ways. A lot of that is based on dueling-based cultures, like the Filipino martial arts or some of the Italian martial arts out there where somebody’s facing off with somebody else with a similar weapon, and where both of us are agreeing to basically get into a stabbing competition. That would make sense in that scenario, in that context, but I’ve never seen a lot of people actually get into these one-on-one knife altercations.
What we see now in a modern context when it talks about weaponry is an ambush, counter-ambush-based scenario where somebody pulls out a knife during a grappling situation on the street or when somebody turns a striking exchange of punches into pulling out a cheap gas station knife or a pen or a rock from the ground or a handgun. Most modern combatants, when it comes to weaponry, should be kind of based on the whole aspect of ambush and counter-ambush. There’s a lot of people showing valuable type of material and coursework on this out there.
My whole approach and my specific kind of realm is in the aspect of how people go from the process of learning some of these things from experiential stuff, people that grow up in rural places, grow up on pig farms, that actually get the experience of processing a pig, for example, or processing an animal. Those people will have more skills, hunters, those people will have more skills with a knife if they pick it up as a weapon than most of the martial artists that I’ve seen kind of approach some of these classes where I go and have a simulated torso in the form of a pig hanging in a room somewhere.
Lex Fridman (02:29:17):
Some of that has to do with just the familiarity and the comfort of just the biology of a living organism, that if you cut off certain things, if you cut a certain thing, it’s just a meat vehicle.
Ed Calderon (02:29:30):
The same thing, the medical training should come first, or if you don’t have that, be a hunter or go to a butchery class. That will teach you more about how to use a knife on somebody else than anything. That’ll give you the experience of flesh. Most people, I do this example every now and then where I have people bring in a tactical knife and they’ll bring in a butter knife, and I ask them which will go through a torso. We have a pig there, so it simulates a torso pretty closely.
Most people will say, no, that butter knife’s not going to go through, and it does. It does go through. It’s thin enough, strong enough, sturdy enough that it’ll go through. Kitchen knife, a cheap one that costs 89 cents at a Walmart and an expensive $400 one, and the cheap one will outperform the expensive one. The tip will snap off during some of it.
Lex Fridman (02:30:25):
Yeah, I have to say that just as a small tangent, I went to a farm, and just seeing the butchering of meat and so on and the processing of meat and pigs and cows, whew, that’s uncomfortable. Yeah. But I think also it’s honest and raw, and that’s something that probably everyone should experience regularly. It’s also humbling to remind you. When I had a dog, Homer, he’s in Newfoundland. I was very close with him.
We lost him, and I just remember I carried him. He’s like 200-something pounds. I had to carry him. I had to put him to sleep, and one of the biggest realizations is like, oh, this is just a biological thing. Yeah. To realize that this is just meat, and you can cut it, and then if you bleed, all of a sudden the life can disappear from you, and it’s all gone. It’s like, holy shit, there’s this meat vehicle that some people have referred to as Lex. I’m just a few stabbings away from leaving. Yeah, from leaving. Goodbye. There’s a soul that just flies away.
Ed Calderon (02:31:42):
It used to be that we had to hang around. People would come back from battle, and we would hear things next to the campfire. As far as, oh, he stabbed somebody here, and this happens. But now we live in an age where you can, when I do a class, this is a stab to the heart, and here’s like five videos of it happening live, on live leaks or whatever, and we can deconstruct that. Not only that, but what weapon was used. Oh, it was a gas station folder. It was a Pioneer Woman knife from Walmart with flowers on the handle. Whatever it was. And people start realizing that it doesn’t take a lot.
That it doesn’t take a lot of training, because a lot of these people are not high-level assassins trained by ninjas in the hills or anything like that. They’re people that grew up rurally or learned by seeing that behavior in others. And when they start coming to the realization that it’s pretty easy to do that, and they start figuring out, how do you counteract that? Well, number one, learn the behavior yourself so you can recognize it. The whole aspect of being a good counter-ambush team is to be the best ambusher in the planet.
So again, the whole aspect of Musashi saying, know your enemy, know his sword. You figure that out as far as learning that behavior. When you start seeing how some of these stabbings occur, the first thing you notice is that one of the hands is always kind of out of the picture, or there’s a lack of symmetry in the people that are about to do something horrible.
So when you see lack of symmetry in the environment, somebody with their hands going backwards, there’s a crowd of people, and two or one individual is looking counter where everybody else is looking, or there’s a hyper-aware individual in a crowd. The hyper-aware are always usually out there to fuck somebody over, or they’re trying to keep those predators from fucking somebody else over. Unless you step back, and you put yourself in the process of learning how they learn, and you become that potential nightmare person, it’s hard to recognize that in a crowd.
Lex Fridman (02:33:47):
It feels like one of the significant ways to win, or as a street fighter, is to avoid it by sort of sending pacifist signals in every way, meaning avoiding the situation whenever there’s like a hyper-vigilant people you just kind of avoid signaling that you’re one of the players of interest. If we’re talking about counter-ambush, at which point do you do that versus shift to the aggression?
Ed Calderon (02:34:16):
I think violence should be always an option. Everybody should have that option, and you need to be good at that option. I think I heard Jordan Peterson talk about the fact that everybody needs to be dangerous, but keep that shit under control, you know?
Lex Fridman (02:34:30):
Yeah, I think he was referring to a different context, but… I know.
Ed Calderon (02:34:34):
I know, I’m referring to the ability of… The little physical conflict as well. There’s two cases that I saw of people just utilizing social engineering to a beautiful degree to de-escalate shit. Right. One guy somewhere, first off, if you’re in a place where people are grabbing your wife’s ass or something like that, like, what are you doing there? You know, there’s a load of things that are wrong with everything that you’re doing in your life to be in that environment. But let’s say you’re in an inescapable situation. There was this guy who was in a compromised position. Somebody wanted to fight him, like, legit kick his ass. And he said, okay, let’s go, but I just need to warn you that I have Hep-C before we go outside.
And that… It’s masterful. I was getting my phone out to film this, you know, maybe. And even I just lowered my phone to give him a slow clap. That was a beautiful move, you know. And then there was this other man. There was a riot somewhere in Ensenada, the municipality of Ensenada, in Baja. They were protesting. Some of the people that pick those fields down there, part of a tribe called Los Trikis.
Very hardy, hardworking people, but nefarious people, too. They’re pretty good at their thing. There was a riot line they couldn’t break. And this old man walks in the middle of the riot line and yells, grenade, and throws an avocado in the middle of all the cops. And all the cops… He broke that riot line with an avocado.
Lex Fridman (02:36:11):
That could have gone wrong in so many ways.
Ed Calderon (02:36:14):
But it didn’t. I don’t know. To me, there’s small lessons there. There is a case to be made about social engineering, about learning about behavior, about learning how to lie and how to kind of move your way or navigate your way around situations like that. Small things like bartering, knowing how to bribe people in conflict zones is the thing that I show when I talk about or train people to work in hostile environments. De-escalation, you know, specifically kind of figuring out what is of value in the environment, what things you shouldn’t be doing in an environment that might be considered disrespectful or out of place. You know, people have a tendency that didn’t grow up in places that are violent to make continuous eye contact with somebody. That might be an issue. Or smiling when there’s nothing to smile about. I think, you know, there’s a picture I saw somewhere of Russians taking a portrait and there’s Americans there and the Americans are smiling but the Russians aren’t. Because what is there to smile about?
Lex Fridman (02:37:14):
Which is true. And of course, it’s not as simple as smile or not smile. There’s subtlety to it, like you said. Eye contact is a super interesting one because I found in my own life, like not making eye contact is, people would be joking, but it’s a really powerful way to de-escalate. And there’s such a fascinating thing though, because you could talk about drunk fights that are just, that are harmless, but I feel like the same dynamic applies to the most violent conflict, including wars. I feel like ego is part of this. So to me, the question of conflict, whether it’s a street fight or anything else, is the calculus of, are you willing to take an L in terms of psychology? Somebody grabs your wife’s ass, you mentioned.
Boy, if you let that happen, you go home, you’re gonna have to pay the price of you were the person who didn’t defend, like in your relationship, you didn’t defend your wife’s honor. You’re gonna psychologically pay that price yourself. And depending on your wife, she might secretly also lose a little bit of respect for you. Now, how do you play that calculus? Because now we see the war in Ukraine.
I would say there is elements of similar posturing in the United States, in Europe, in Ukraine, Russia, China, at a geopolitics, it’s still somebody grabs somebody’s ass and you’re not backing down.
Ed Calderon (02:38:49):
To take those losses and basically just posture, lower your head and live to fight another day type of situation. The thing with modern violence is the access to weaponry. I mean, again, nobody owns life, but anybody who can hold a frying pan can own death. I’ve seen people get double-legged, take down somebody on the ground. It’s a different thing doing in the mats versus concrete. That’s a good way to kill somebody. The most prolific impact weapon on the planet is the planet itself. You can see various videos of people online where they fall and they hit their head or somebody hits their head and they go into the stretched out fit basically. And that might not kill you then, but it’ll kill you that night or the second night if you don’t get checked out. People bleed out internally, get an edema. Again, the whole aspect of me showing how some of these things, not only some of these methodologies and somehow people prepare for violence and how people experience violence, how they make their weapons, how the people fight in the streets and stuff like that.
It’s to recognize that behavior from the inception. There’s a video I show where there’s a bunch of street kids in Rio de Janeiro. I think it’s during the Olympics where they’re snatching chains and cell phones from people. And it’s a fun video. The first thing you learn about it is how they target people. Who are they going after? There’s a bunch of people there. Why are they going after that specific person?
And they start learning about profiling and how they identify victim mentality or the perfect victim. Lack of awareness. They keep on a straight line. Avoidance. Avoidance of eye contact if they’re doing something nefarious or wrong. And how they pick who they’re going to go after. The small people, the women, even some of the men. And they separate the men that they’re perfect victims versus the men that’s going to turn around and punch them in the face. What are they looking for?
First off, you notice that the men that are in that environment that look at them and are aware of their presence, the hyper-aware, are the ones that are not good to target. So that’s the first lesson there. So it’s probably a good idea not only to be hyper-aware but to recognize that hyper-awareness in others.
If I want to separate myself from the victim crowd. Another thing you notice is these are kids going after some grown adults. And some of these grown adult men are with women. And you see them getting outside of the grasp of these kids that are trying to rip their chains off their neck or their cell phones. And they have no consideration for the women around them. You see other men that are with women and you see them grab the women and put them behind them.
And immediately they’ll say, this is the wrong one, let me move on to the next one. So that small little lesson in those videos will show you first how these kids are growing up to profile and target who the perfect victims are. That’s a school for them. And that is an adversarial school. We should look at that school and apply to ourselves.
Lex Fridman (02:41:56):
So in general, you think conflict, ultimately the people that are doing conflict are looking for weakness?
Ed Calderon (02:42:03):
I mean, they’re looking for opportunity. Opportunistic, that’s the predators. That’s what they do. They look for an opportunity. From jumping down from a tree and getting the slowest gazelle to looking for the opportune moment to pounce on something that’s probably big, but the risk is worth it.
Lex Fridman (02:42:20):
I feel like there’s several motivations. But isn’t there also a power hierarchy motivation as well? Like you, there’s something about the big guy that tempts you to send a message, especially with gangs. Aren’t they constantly trying to signal that they’re the alpha?
Ed Calderon (02:42:40):
I mean, there’s different situations. You could be facing a sociopathic predator who is looking for something in you that you’re the resource that they’re looking after. Maybe it’s a woman. It could be a group of people that don’t like the fact that you have a specific nationality or your passport is stamped in a specific way or that you pray to whatever god. All these factor in. But in the end, they all do the same thing. They look for an advantageous position. If I were to target you, I would put you in between that wall and me. So you have two avenues of exits. And I would step on one of your feet to keep that avenue closed. So you have to go this way. So this is where my knife is going to be. You see that behavior mirrored everywhere in the world. First off, you look for advantages. If it’s something that’s unavoidable, like you’re in between me and my ability to go home, or you’re in between me and my ability to feed my family, or you’re in between me and my ability to posture to the people that are behind me, the young guys, that I’m in charge, I will do everything in my power to end you.
The motivations are not in my realm, but the ways they do it are, and basically the advantage part of it.
Lex Fridman (02:44:02):
So desperation is dangerous.
Ed Calderon (02:44:06):
It’s a dangerous school. When I say dangerous school, I mean the most dangerous people usually come from those desperate environments. You can have people in Coronado holding onto logs in the ocean and go through this millions of dollars worth of training and just be professional killers for the government and just be these incredible human beings. And then there’s a kid that will walk up to one of them when he’s off and put an ice pick right into his chest when he’s least expecting it. And that doesn’t mean that one is superior than the other. It just means that there’s more than one way to become that.
Lex Fridman (02:44:44):
Teenagers terrify me. It feels like the intensity of desperation, like the capacity of a teenager, like 16, 17, to be desperate and also not have the matured understanding of ethics of the world, like they have this intensity of feeling that is unlike anything else.
Ed Calderon (02:45:08):
They don’t have a volume knob to that. So it’s like a garden hose without a nozzle on it so you can regulate it. They haven’t developed that. They haven’t learned that maybe from somebody else. It used to be warrior cultures. You would be an apprentice under somebody or you would learn some of these things from other people. Even some modern gangs have a little bit of that. But if you’re not and you’re just this kid that’s been playing Call of Duty all of his life or has been witnessing violence in media and there’s no sense of, it’s probably a bad idea to go off and do this because of all these repercussions, I could see how that could be a danger to society. And some of the volume knobs, some of the countermeasures to people exploding on somebody else with a weapon, you see videos constantly online. I remember seeing this one of these two teenage girls somewhere in the U.S. and one of them just, there’s a fight, there’s a hair-pulling competition and all of a sudden one of them takes out a knife.
And it just happens like that. And it’s just pure unrestrained downward stabbing. You’re like, wait, where’s that come from? Well, she’s from an environment where she saw that as an option. She didn’t see the repercussions of it and she found herself in a place where she thought that was the only viable option, pulling out a weapon. I think that’s the dangerous part of it.
Lex Fridman (02:46:40):
So how do you prepare to win those kinds of situations, to escape those kinds of situations? Like you said, it’s training, it’s exposing your mind.
Ed Calderon (02:46:50):
I always tell people if you don’t have a combative base, you don’t have a base, boxing, jiu-jitsu.
Lex Fridman (02:46:56):
And that gives you what, like an awareness of your body kind of thing?
Ed Calderon (02:46:59):
It gives you an awareness of your body, give you a spatial awareness. If you can’t see the points with your peripheral vision, if you can’t see the points of somebody’s feet in your peripheral vision, they are in range to stab you in the heart if they wanted to.
And that’s something you learn from boxing, that you learn from jiu-jitsu, you learn from a bunch of combat arts where you learn about distance and angling people. That comes from this experience that you have. Again, a lot of these things were just horseplay when we were growing up in some cultures or rough and tumble with your brothers and shit like that. But some of us are growing up in single kid homes now and we don’t get that, we’re missing that. And if you don’t have it, then you find it in the… You find it in a jiu-jitsu gym, you find it in a boxing gym, you find it in a Thai boxing gym, you find it in places where they specialize in focusing on certain aspects of this whole combative whole.
It used to be, before UFC, you know, the Kung Fu Man, you know, that Kung Fu guy, that’s just street lethal shit. You can’t use it in the sporting… You can’t show you this because it’ll kill you.
Now we pretty much know that most of that was, you know, flights of fancy or BS. And it pains me too, man. I wanted to learn some of the D-Mach, single punching and killing technique, you know, I remember those books. But that’s just not… I’m still on the lookout for that. Maybe somewhere, I don’t know. Maybe if you put a pen in your hand, that might turn into that. That’s the only way, right? But a lot of these myths are kind of like faded away and now you see people that have different combative bases, combining them all and becoming a fighter.
Now, UFC fight, two people fighting each other is one thing. You know, you being in the middle of the Portland riots and a bunch of state troopers throwing gas at rioters and then rioters themselves fighting each other and you finding yourself in the middle of that, that’s a completely different thing.
And if you think you’re going to, you know, go on the ground and get in a guard with a guy swinging around a piece of a shovel handle, right? As tear gas is going on because you got stopped there and your car was, you know, windows were broken and your family’s in the backseat. You know, that is a different situation. So, you know, getting medical, learning about weaponry, you know. I personally don’t really like fighting on the ground, but that’s why I force myself to go to train with different people out there, you know, on the ground. Jiu-jitsu, catch wrestling. So, top and bottom, neither, you don’t like either. Personally, I like being in a car and running everybody over. That would be great, you know, if I could. Or driving really far away.
Or I had this experience in Utah. Some friends of mine, military, some of your best shooters, some of the best shooters in the U.S., you know, coming from the Marine Corps, were showing me how they, you know, would shoot something from really far away. And I was like, you don’t even have to be in the same vicinity. The scope of violence, how far you can be from it or how close you can be from it.
Lex Fridman (02:50:13):
Just wait till we get to see what we can do in the cyber attack world. We can destroy your whole well-being, your whole life, your identity. That’s another aspect of it, too. Financial, and then figure out where you live, in terms of ambush. Yeah. Figuring out everything about you, such that hurting you is easy.
Ed Calderon (02:50:35):
I have a class where we specifically work on social engineering and kind of how you can go about something at a micro level. I do a class with a guy named Matt Fidler, who does a… Basically, he’s one of the premier experts on how to get into and bypass locks, basically. He’ll show you how to open up every single, or bypass every single commercial lock available in the United States. Like, he’ll spread it out and open up everything. And that’s like…
And my part in his class is I talk about how you can pull some of that off in a public space and not get caught, or how you would employ some of these things in a context where it’s useful for law enforcement, for the military, stuff like that. And so we have this exercise in a public space where there’s a bunch of padlocks in the environment. Right? And we paint them pink, so people know it’s our padlocks and we’re not breaking into anybody else’s padlocks if we get approached and asked about it.
But I ask the students, like, so you have to gather all these padlocks from this public space, you know? So how would you do it? So a lot of them are trying to pick them. They’re very suspiciously picking them and stuff like that, that you get caught. It’s a whole situation. But the smart ones will basically develop a social media campaign related to the padlocks, right? A beautiful example of this. And this actually happened here in Texas.
I did a class out in Dallas. We put the padlocks all over this public mall and the students basically came up with a breast cancer awareness campaign online that they made fake, well, they made flyers for it. They did the social media page on a campaign. They did this email chain. So when they went there, people were expecting them. So they normalized the behavior through social media and they were walking around with bowl cutters in the middle of a mall, cutting these things off.
That’s a beautiful, that’s a beautiful solution to a complex problem of that nature. And again, the weaponizing part of it. Anything can be, all knowledge can be weaponized. And it’s, if you focus on getting in a street fight with somebody with your fist or a knife, you know, you’re missing out on the whole complexity of violence and the way that it’s now being utilized.
Lex Fridman (02:52:55):
So in terms of breaking out locks and the restraints and captivity, let’s talk about a dark topic that you’re one of the world experts in, kidnapping. So you teach courses on counter kidnapping and terrorism. I read an estimate that criminal gangs get $500 million a year in ransom payments from kidnapping. So just at a high level, what is kidnapping? Who does it and why? What are some insights that can help us understand what is this problem in the world?
Ed Calderon (02:53:28):
It happens in different ways in different parts of the world. I mean, I just sent off a group of people that trained some of the Ukrainians and some of the stuff that they were showing them was some of the counter custody stuff that I showed them. A friend of mine named Vince went out there and was showing them some of the aspects of how to utilize things like Kevlar cordage and how to infuse it in their uniform. So if they get zip-tied to cut them open. It’s a war setting, so it talks about being captive in a war zone. But the information or the methodology actually comes from Mexico. That methodology, as far as how I learned it. In terms of how to escape from restraints and stuff like that. Yeah, so in Mexico you have abductions happening where cartels who hold control over a specific place or zone are having a hard time with financial situations as far as maybe they’re not making enough money to pay everybody off. So they let them freelance basically.
A lot of ways some of these criminal groups freelance or some of these groups actually professionalize to abduct businessmen, abduct the sons of businessmen or people that have money to ask for ransoms for them, basically.
And they’ve taken captivity and abduction to an art form in places like Mexico. And it has a history all over the world, but specifically my experience with it was going to cartel safe houses that turned into holding places. You would see homemade prison cells and stuff like that and people being held in captivity for months, if not years, as they were milking their family for everything they owned.
Lex Fridman (02:55:06):
So it turns out that when people turn into a business, they’re not actually even interested in hurting the people physically. They’re interested in hurting them financially.
Ed Calderon (02:55:15):
Financially, and also if they get hurt, they’re hurt for a purpose, which is to make their family pay up faster or more. Some of the abduction groups that I’ve seen out there, professional ones in Mexico, basically make it a living to target people that have abduction insurance or that work for companies that have good abduction insurance. So it’s almost like an ATM for them. It’s like, ah, here again. So there’s some of that going on. Some not so much. Some abductions are express. I mean, I’ll grab you with an in-gun point, take you to an ATM, you empty it out, and then you’re on your way. That’s an express kidnapping. That might not be worth you doing anything insane. You just go with the motions.
But some people do get picked up. I have trained people with prior experiences of abductions in Mexico and here in the United States, people that have spent some time in captivity with loved ones here, like ex-boyfriends or boyfriends, that tie them up and beat the shit out of them. And the restraints they utilize are zip ties and handcuffs sometimes or duct tape or their own clothing, things of this nature. Basically what somebody’s looking for when they tie anybody up is to convince you that they are in control, that they are God, and that any hope of you releasing those restraints or getting out of that situation is hopeless.
From a cartel group picking you up in the middle of a dirt road somewhere in Cancun to an ex-boyfriend showing up at your house and tying you up until you agree to get back with him. It’s the same thing. And some of the restraints that are being utilized come from different places. I mean, I remember an instructor I had way back when told me that the proliferation of zip ties as a restraint in criminal abductions came up after the movie Heat came out, because everybody wanted to be Robert De Niro zip-tying people in the bank robbery at the end of the movie. Criminals saw that and it became a thing. It’s hilarious.
Lex Fridman (02:57:10):
Can you actually speak to the… Is it possible to systematically learn how to escape restraints like handcuffs, rope, zip ties?
Ed Calderon (02:57:17):
The best at it are not the military, the Nazi or program people. They are criminals. I learned how to get out of handcuffs from a 15-year-old who was in charge of meth sales in La Avenida Revolución in Tijuana. Is there a system to it? I mean, it’s not specifically a system. Usually what happens is they’ll buy a set of handcuffs and they will mess around with them in a playing feature. So one thing I do in a class is, first off, I’m honest about the fact that all restraints are temporary, even marriage.
Lex Fridman (02:57:48):
Wait, can we just pause in the deep philosophical… You’re like Miyamoto Musashi with that statement.
Ed Calderon (02:57:55):
All restraints are temporary, even marriage. I just like adding that one in there for last because this is a dark subject. Every cage can be escaped. All restraints are temporary. You either free yourselves from the restraints, somebody else takes them off, or you die and your body rots away around them. Those are the options. And I like that first option myself. The second option is pretty cool if you can convince somebody to do that for you. But that first option is an interesting one.
You have to deconstruct restraints. Not all restraints are made the same. You can train to get out of handcuffs here in the U.S. and focus on a pair of Smith & Wesson handcuffs, which are kind of the most common brand of handcuffs here. But if you find yourself in detention somewhere in Russia, the handcuffs out there are completely different. The key way is different. The mechanism is different. But some of the same ways of bypassing those mechanisms are…
Lex Fridman (02:58:46):
Let me write this down. So in Russia, what kind are they using in Russia? I think they’re traveling there.
Ed Calderon (02:58:50):
I need this information. I’ll send you a specific model and details on how to get out of those. Just asking for a friend. I’m sorry. So what I do is I take a pair of Smith & Wesson handcuffs. I put them in the middle of three people in a class. I spread them out. And I have them place them on each other in a just plain manner. I have handcuffs keys there. And I have a pair of bolt cutters there in case somebody gets stuck, does something stupid. So they play with each other as far as putting them on randomly. I show them how to put them on appropriately. And then I show them a handcuff key. And a handcuff key will open up handcuffs.
Interestingly enough. But the thing about a handcuff key is it’s not made to be used by the person that is in those handcuffs. So that’s the first lesson there. If you have a handcuff key, handcuff keys are the most used tool to open up handcuffs in custody situations. You know, both criminals escaping from the police to people escaping from criminals. Just a standard hidden handcuff key. So I show them how to modify the handcuff key so it’s more optimal to use on yourself with just basic garbage that you can find. A piece of wire, a zip tie piece. Basically how to put a leverage arm on the handcuff key. So you can actually spin it in the key way behind your back or in front of you.
Lex Fridman (03:00:07):
I’m trying to think. I don’t think I’ve ever been in handcuffs.
Ed Calderon (03:00:11):
Appropriate way to handcuff somebody is palms out. How much restriction is there in terms of… There’s a lot. If it’s a hinge handcuff, there’s a lot of restriction. With no chain in the middle. Can you reach back? You could try and reach back or you can basically put yourself in a not compromised position and feed the most of your palm meat into the handcuff way so when they shut it on you, you have more space to work with. So you can spin your hand. We call it a passive resistance. Again, you go through a process with them where you deconstruct how people are handcuffed, handcuff keys and how to modify a handcuff key to be able to use on yourself. And all of these things they’re constructing as we go.
So they basically… Hey, what’s a grinding surface? Well, there’s concrete outside. So they grind an angle on the key so you can get a key not to go straight into the key way, but you can get it into the key way at an angle, for example. It’s something that is out there as far as a method. You can’t spin a key behind your back because it’s small. It’s designed to be used by somebody else opening those handcuffs on you. So you put an arm on it so you can leverage your arm so you can spin it behind your back. You learn how to put yourself in not a compromised position.
If somebody asks you for your hands so they could be cuffed, you don’t do this. You do that or you put yourself in a cable grip behind your back, which is a pretty strong grip and it’s hard to spread those hands apart. It’s also something that people go into automatically when they’re in fear. So all of these things are advantageous for you. And you learn how not only people get restrained, but you see videos of them because I show a bunch of abduction that’s actually happening live. Again, the best thing is avoidance, but specifically when you work around restraints is, number one, learn how some of these restraints work. Number two is learning how some of the ready-made tools to get out of the restraints look like, function.
And number three, which is the advanced level, is learn how to construct all of these things yourself, which is I think that is the best thing you can show somebody. For handcuffs, I just use a standard pair of handcuffs, and then we deconstruct other very specialized handcuffs that might be out there. And you show them. If you’re going to travel somewhere, learn what restraints are commonly available in the environment.
Somebody going to Sub-Saharan Africa carrying a plastic handcuff key, that’s going to be useless out there because there’s not going to be standard handcuffs out there that would be open with that type of key. Out there, you’re probably going to be tied up with a chain and a padlock of some sort, maybe a 40 millimeter Chinese padlock with a plastic core that you can open with a lighter.
If you can burn the core, melt the core open. Or if you can leverage that open, that’s a pretty easy thing to open. Or a bobby pin, you could reach all the way in the back and open the latch. What about rope? Is that common? Yeah, it is common. This is one of my favorite things for rope. It’s something I usually carry in some places. Another gift for you if you want. It’s a ceramic razor blade. Nice. Is it capable of cutting? Nice. It’s small. You can put it behind a label. I’ve seen some students put the Levi’s label on there and just sew it back on.
It is non-magnetic, non-ferrous, so in and out of that type of situation, you can get in it and it’s something you can have with you everywhere. This is a pretty fancy one, or you can just grab a simple razor blade. Actually learning how to use or leverage a razor blade between your palms and know how to go up and down with it to be able to cut yourself on a rope. And of course, that’s just practice to do that well. It’s practice and it’s also exposure to just, this is a possibility. This is how you could hide it. Again, the whole smuggling aspect comes from a criminal mindset type setting. So how things are hidden, where they’re hidden.
And when I talk about concealing objects of this nature, it usually comes from smuggling. The fact that I have something in a notebook comes from heroin smuggling. If you’re not looking at the school of criminality, you’re missing out on a big part of the equation.
Lex Fridman (03:04:25):
So for people who want to learn about this, do you teach courses on this? Do you know what’s the, how do you get in touch with you or learn from you? Do you have stuff online or is it only?
Ed Calderon (03:04:37):
So I have some stuff on my Patreon specifically. I have a Patreon where I share a lot of the online material, basically a bunch of, this is my notebook. I have a bunch of stuff that I, I just met somebody in Philadelphia that showed me a pretty unique way of utilizing a box cutter as a weapon. So I wrote some of that down.
I filmed some of it. And it’s not for any other reason. I’m not trying to create dangerous people out there. It’s like, Hey, look at this. This is something that’s out there, right? So a lot of that information, some of those notes and stuff like that, I keep on my Patreon. I used to share it openly on Facebook and Instagram, but that has not been possible anymore.
Lex Fridman (03:05:18):
Well, I’m a member of your Patreon and I recommend people sign up. It’s really great because you also have philosophy. You’re the Mexican Miyamoto Musashi. It’s not just these skills. It’s also the philosophy around it.
Ed Calderon (03:05:33):
Like I got that book of five rings before I went into training. And I took that with me through training. The whole aspect of, you know, go to places frightening to the common brand of men, you know, be put in jail and extricate yourself with your own wisdom. I think he was speaking about experiencing experience, you know, the whole warrior’s journey, the hero’s journey of going out there and actually risking. I think that’s a pretty big basis and aspect of what the work I do and showing some of these things. There’s a tendency to people say, Hey, I’m afraid to go to Mexico. What do I need to know? Like, well, if you’re afraid to go to Mexico, go to Mexico.
I mean, I was in Detroit. I was pretty afraid when I was in Detroit and some parts of Detroit and the South side of Chicago. But I don’t want to be dictated where I can go and where I can’t go because of safety. I want to take responsibility for that myself and figure out ways of being more capable and an asset to the people around me and myself. And that comes from experience. And people don’t want to risk getting a shoulder injury, rolling in jujitsu or don’t want to risk getting a bloody nose in boxing, but that is the way.
Lex Fridman (03:06:39):
Well, there’s some aspect to fitting in. You quote Katori Hanzo on imitation. The most important thing you should keep in mind when you go on a shinobi mission is to imitate well the language of the target province and the ways of the local people. This includes their appearances, the way of wearing clothes, the way of shaving their head, the way of making up their hair, the way of making up a sword or short sword, and the way of refinement and luxury. So how do you fit into some of those places? So you know Mexico, but a person like me that doesn’t know anything about Mexico and say I’m interviewing somebody in a leadership position in a drug cartel, how quickly do you learn how to fit in?
Ed Calderon (03:07:22):
I mean, it’s not about fitting in. It’s about coming up with a narrative for yourself. What that book is talking, that’s a, that’s a quote from the book called a shoninki, which is like a, an actual legit ninja manual from like the 1500s or something like that. And they’re not talking about blending in. They’re talking about creating a narrative or a lie through your appearance and your behavior and your knowledge base. That’s what they’re talking about. So I would say first, if you’re going to go to a place like that, first off, learn what is common there, what type of common restraints might be placed on you, what criminal groups work out there, what type of guns they have, not only what type of guns they have, but go to the gun range in Vegas and learn how to fire some of these firearms yourself. So you know how to load them in case you run into a bad situation, how to tie the sword, you know, how they, how they wear their short swords could equate to how, you know, if you run into some issues, also it will give you a good idea how many rounds those hold so you can run at the right moment.
Lex Fridman (03:08:19):
I like how you focus in on the, on the tools of violence, but there’s also the social engineering deescalation, right?
Ed Calderon (03:08:26):
Yeah. So if you are in an environment like that and you are carrying around a camera, that might be an issue. Or the opposite and not be an issue. Well, if you’re asked like, were you with I’m with the news organization or am I with a Christian aid group here? Yeah. And if you are with a Christian aid group, it’s probably a good idea to learn some of the Bible, right? If you, if you want a quick way of having somebody out there, try and stop talking to you, you’re going to start talking about Jesus in the middle of a little cartel territory when they approach you and take out the Bible, that that’ll quickly deescalate.
Lex Fridman (03:08:58):
What I usually prefer to do is I find somebody from the New York times and the Wall Street Journal and beat them up in front of the, just to send a signal that I’m not a journalist. And I too don’t like journalists. That could, that could be, that could be a way.
Ed Calderon (03:09:08):
But to send a message. I think a lot of us miss the fact that we are capable of taking control of our own narrative and what we communicate to people around us. I could show up here drinking a monster energy drink, dumping it on the ground, scratching, you know what? And just sit down and just be a rude motherfucker. That’s not who I am, but I can do that. And you will believe me if I am good at it. Some of us miss the, some of us don’t know this aspect because it’s something we consider predatory or something that is wrong or negative or bad. And some of these aspects are actually, you know, they’re pretty useful.
I learned most of my trade craft and skill craft from panhandlers and street performers. And when I had some training related to social engineering, those were the people that I learned from. I remember we were doing surveillance and there was a guy there that showed us how to do surveillance, you know, on the street. And he said, if you can find a way for somebody to smell you before they see you, you will become invisible. And I was like, that’s bullshit. If you can find a way of somebody smelling you before they see you become invisible. I didn’t understand what that meant.
So we went on a three day bender, didn’t take a shower, smell like shit, no deodorant. You know, you smell like a homeless person. You look like a homeless person and you approach somebody asking for the time and they smell you before they see you and you are not there. You’re not a human, you don’t exist. So that was a pretty valuable lesson that I got there.
Lex Fridman (03:10:36):
Yeah. So that’s interesting. But like, I have this belief. It has to do with the way I operate in this world, I suppose. But if you come off as a person legitimately, I guess you could fake it, but I think it just feels like you can be extremely good, possibly the best in the world.
If you practice it your whole life at being you, at being authentic, at being, at showing like you have nothing to hide. A true believer is what I mean, a true believer. So like, yes, you can come up with a fake narrative, but then what I mean is like live that narrative your whole life then. Yeah, I understand. And then never falter from that. Like you are this person. That’s what I’m trying to, I have nothing to hide.
Ed Calderon (03:11:24):
I consider that a true believer and yeah, that is a unique person when you meet them and they are out there. There are people that will fucking walk into places. This is who I am. I don’t give a fuck. This is who I am. If you don’t trust me, well, shoot me, fuck it. This is my honesty. And if you don’t trust me, well, look at all these people that I’ve interacted with in the past and you can ask them about it or you can see my effects on other people. That’s going to be my presentation card.
Lex Fridman (03:11:49):
The way you said it now is using words and it’s blunt. Usually if somebody is blunt like that, like I’m a no bullshit person, that means they’re not. That means they’re a full of shit actually.
Ed Calderon (03:11:59):
But you do that through, I mean, I’m saying I’m verbalizing your behavior, just walking somewhere. Let’s say you’re going to interview somebody very dangerous down there and you walk into a room without worry. That is a presentation to you. I know that’s a pretty interesting introduction. You’re not a threat because you don’t consider yourself a threat and you’re walking in there with the confidence that you don’t consider yourself a threat, which is an interesting way of going about it. My life experiences have been different. I wasn’t programmed that way from an early age and it’s hard for me to go into that line.
Although more and more as I get older and as I learn more about the world and I’ve failed a few more times, I can understand or more cognizant of the fact that you don’t really have to try that much if you believe in yourself and who you are, if you know yourself. I think that is at the core of it. If you know yourself enough to be able to kind of communicate that to people around you.
Lex Fridman (03:13:08):
And you’re not hiding from yourself or from the world your flaws too. That was the other thing you spoke to that is probably inspiring to others is being honest about your flaws, about your weaknesses as a human being.
Ed Calderon (03:13:21):
You can’t pickpocket a naked man. That’s right. If you know how to be naked, and again, I’m not there. I think I’m working towards that just by hopefully going through shit and showing people, not telling them. Show me, don’t tell me is another valuable lesson that I got long ago. I travel across the country and I not only get to show people what I know how to do, but I give examples of it through things that I do out there. I say this a lot. When I travel out there, I’m never alone. There’s couches out there waiting for me. There’s homes that I can go and stay at.
Friends that I have out there that I have never even met. But that’s been about me not only wearing some of those mistakes and past failures on my sleeve, but also turning them into lessons for people. And just telling people the fact that I know how to do all this weird stuff and I show people how to do it. But here’s a bunch of weird memes that are very humorous about my culture and about going through therapy. This is me doing something goofy, and this is me being an idiot in front of all you guys as well. This is me being the fool. I think that’s another aspect of it.
Lex Fridman (03:14:38):
I love that as part of that journey you made enemies with the rodeo clown and made up with him afterwards.
Ed Calderon (03:14:43):
Oh, we’re still in a very toxic relationship. He knows who he is. He’s probably out there listening. Love and hate all there. We stopped talking to each other for months and then just send a dick message of some sort, and we’re back at it.
Lex Fridman (03:14:58):
Back, yes. Love expressed through anger. I love it. It’s therapeutic. You have both very interesting career paths. If we can just jump back to a really interesting topic that I wanted to mention on narco-cultism. What are narco-cults? What’s the relationship between? You kind of mentioned religion a little bit. What’s the relationship between religious culture and drug culture?
Ed Calderon (03:15:23):
First off, Mexico is one of the most Catholic countries on the planet, if not the most Catholic country on the planet. Not only that, it is a country that has a root in spirituality through its ethnic culture. Other parts of the world got most of that taken away or suppressed or killed or taken away. When the Spanish came to Mexico, they were a product of a recently liberated group of people. They just got done being invaded by the Moors, basically.
And they brought with them the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the Virgin of Guadalupe. And Hernán Cortés’ vision of that or version of that was a lady holding a crystal scepter, baby Jesus, and standing on a crescent moon. That’s what he brought with him to the Americas. And when the conquest happened, a lot of people say, yeah, the Spanish came and conquested the Aztec empire. The enemies of the Aztec allied themselves with the Spanish and they took them down. That’s what happened. And the rest was famine and sickness.
That’s what killed most of them. They realized that it was going to be hard to suppress some of the spiritual practices in Mexico, so they decided to meld them with Catholic iconography. So you see this cult to Tuanatzin, which is like a fertility variant of a mother goddess in Aztec culture. And they turned her into La Virgen de Guadalupe, which is the icon that a lot of Mexicans venerate as the La Virgen, the Virgin.
But in her, she conceals cultural elements from the past. She has a black sash across her stomach, which means she’s pregnant, something common in the Aztec culture and the Mexica culture. She’s standing on a cherub that has eagle wings. That is a war god. That’s the symbol of the war god down there. She has stars on her, which is a veil of certain stars that are related to some of the spiritual practices from before. Basically, they hid these things in that setting. Now you skip forward hundreds of years, and you start seeing things like Malverde, who was a bandit that lived in Sinaloa way back in the day. He would rob rich farmers that would go through the countryside. One time he was almost caught, and he was shot and injured, and he was wanted by the government. So he told one of his friends to tell them where he was and to give the reward money to the townspeople. So he did that.
He was hung from a tree, and the order was not to bury him, just to let his body rot. His body rotted away until it fell onto the ground, the bones. Each of the townspeople would go over and put a rock on top of his corpse until it became a pile of rocks. Then he started granting miracles. So again, this whole aspect of these criminals becoming saints, and also a middle finger from the downward local populace to the church in a way, because he’s not a recognized saint, but he has an altar, and people venerate that. Then you have cartels that have a spiritual practice or spirituality behind what they do, which is part of their culture, but is also a tool they use to ingratiate themselves with the local populace or the population around them. They’re icons of power, and sometimes of almost a symbol of rebellion.
You see El Chapo’s son, when he was arrested, had a Santo Niño de Atocha on his chest, which is a holy kid of Atocha. The Spanish legend during the Moorish conquest, they said that a statue of that saint would go around and feed some of the hungry. That was the legend. And he’s a saint of the persecuted.
The fact that when he was arrested, you see him wearing that, and then he was liberated, is a miracle in and of itself. So it’s proof that that works. You can find one of those scapuladios anywhere in Mexico. It was the most highly sold one. So you see them utilizing some of these aspects in their own belief system as a symbol or as iconography, basically, for some of the things they do. Then you go into some of the other aspects of it that are out there, like Santa Muerte, which is actually a faith that I grew up in.
Mexico has a weird relationship to death. We have parties at the cemetery on Day of the Dead, and I just went through one recently. It was November 2nd. So we celebrate our dead, and we celebrate death in a way that I don’t think a lot of cultures out there do. So it’s a joyful occasion. It is a celebration, yeah. My 8-year-old put two beers on an altar, one for my mom, one for my brother.
She bought a Snickers bar for my mom and a bag of Pops for my brother, flower petals and marigolds and pictures of them on an altar. That’s amazing. What kind of beer? Tecate. Tecate Roja for my mother, because she was hardcore, and Tecate Light for my brother. He was more of an endurance drinker.
And it’s also, for me, the relationship to death down there is different. So there’s an icon in Mexico. It’s actually one of the fastest-growing alternative spiritual practices in Mexico, not only in Mexico, but here in the U.S. I’ve been to Santa Muerte temples across the country. I found one in Connecticut, out of all places. How I grew up with it, where I saw it, is my family was all Guadalupanos. We were Catholic, and we venerated the Virgin of Guadalupe specifically, the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
But every now and then, there were winks and nods to a skeletal saint in family practices. And even when I went to work, the older guys that I was working with would tell me, like, hey, we’ve got to go ask for protection.
So they would drive me over to the church, and I thought I was going to the cathedral. And then we made a left turn, and it wasn’t the cathedral. It was the market next to the cathedral in Tijuana. And in the little corner, there was a big Santa Muerte reaper effigy. And then I knew why I had to bring a bottle of tequila. I was like, why am I bringing a bottle of tequila to the church? It was for her, for death, la muerte. It was partly hazing, and also they did believe that they were basically imbued with being agents of death in a way. So it was like a cultural thing as well, something that they wore on them as not only protection, but as also like a samurai would wear this death iconography on them, or how the Maori would do haka dances to some of these guys in their kind of warrior culture that they were growing up with or trying to imbue on us. The young guys, they would take us there, and they would imbue us with iconography of Santa Muerte to be like a psychological thing.
Lex Fridman (03:23:08):
So that gives you strength and meaning in the face of struggle, like in the face of difficulties in life?
Ed Calderon (03:23:14):
I think, you know, your closeness to death and having a relationship to death in the form of a symbolic representation of it like Santa Muerte or an icon like that makes it not as scary, I guess. Or not only that, but it’s also something that the other side, the enemy, the cartels groups, they would venerate it as well. So when they would see it on you, it was almost debilitating to them. They were like, oh, are you guys cops? Why are you wearing that? So there was an aspect of that to it, a momento mori type thing, where, you know, remember death, you know, type thing.
Lex Fridman (03:23:52):
Is there some aspect in which you don’t want to mess with a person who meditates on death?
Ed Calderon (03:23:57):
There was some of that, yeah. There was a saying, I think they probably took it from a movie or something like that, but I don’t know where they got it. May I earn your need and be your wrath.
Lex Fridman (03:24:11):
Oh, man, that’s a good line.
Ed Calderon (03:24:13):
They would say that to the statue of La Santa, you know. Another thing people, it’s not a cartel-specific saint, though. It’s like everybody, at all levels, from the lady that sells tortillas to the cops, to the military. There’s some people in the military that venerate it. There’s a very specific symbol of how this is like a weird relationship, specifically in Santa Marta in Mexico.
There’s a shrine outside of Tijuana, right across the La Presa. It’s like a water reservoir right outside Tijuana. And there was a big Santa Muerte altar there, like on the roadside. And my former boss, Leza Ola, ordered that thing destroyed. So he ordered a truck to destroy it. It was a famous thing. And it was rebuilt the next night. And I know for a fact that some of the people that rebuilt that were some of the same guys that were destroying it.
Lex Fridman (03:25:12):
Oh, man, that’s pretty symbolic. So it’s just not something that can be killed. It’s a part of the spirit of the people.
Ed Calderon (03:25:19):
It keeps getting destroyed by ultra-Christian groups or Catholic groups, and it keeps getting rebuilt. Personally, for me, as a… I don’t believe that there’s a reaper skeleton in the sky protecting me. But I do believe in the aspect of an ending, and how it’s important to… The ending is important in all things, and death should be present in life. And if it’s not, then you’re delusional about things.
Lex Fridman (03:25:49):
So to you, it’s a mechanism to meditate on death once again.
Ed Calderon (03:25:53):
Yeah. Having my daughter, who’s eight, view it as a benevolent thing. She’s a kid, and she sees a skeleton that represents death, and she’s just like… I think, in a way, Mexicans have taken some of those aspects, be it Day of the Dead, some of these practices related to some occultism aspects around St. Judas, San Judas.
St. Judas is the patron saint of lost causes, and it’s one of the most venerated saints in Mexico. Jesus is probably the fourth or fifth you pray to, which is pretty funny and ridiculous. But the reason why… And this is something I heard from somebody that was actually… I found him with a gun, and on his gun he had a St. Judas effigy. And he said, like, why St. Judas? ¿Por qué San Judas?
And he’s like, well, he’s the last saint you pray to. What do you mean? Well, on the list of saints you pray to, he’s the last one, because when you pray to Judas, you might get the other Judas on the line. Yeah. That’s the last one you pray to. That’s why he’s like the lost causes saint. Because I remember, like, even how we try and bribe or, like, maneuver our way, even in spirituality. It’s spiritual practices. Yeah.
Lex Fridman (03:27:21):
You know? Such a fascinating culture that’s unlike anything else. And it’s right now.
Ed Calderon (03:27:29):
And it’s here, too. Again, I found an altar in Connecticut, which is pretty fascinating. There’s one in Arizona. Again, it’s one of the fastest-growing spiritual practices, and not only in the U.S., but, like, across the world. There’s somebody from Russia reached out. There’s an altar out there. And there’s a group of people praying to Santa Marta. And I’ve been posting and writing a lot about it recently, just from my own experience and some of the stuff that I gather for myself. And it’s all the way out there. People are fascinated by some of those aspects.
Lex Fridman (03:28:02):
So I’ve got to ask you about the dark turn of that spirituality. Or maybe you’ll place this elsewhere, but who was Adolfo Costanzo, El Padrino?
Ed Calderon (03:28:11):
This is a guy that comes up in a period. I think he’s at that initial period of cartels. This is before my time, and I’ve talked to some of the people that were there for some of that.
Lex Fridman (03:28:24):
I mean, he kills a lot of people.
Ed Calderon (03:28:25):
He was exposed and learned through his family ties about some of the Afro-Caribbean spiritualities that are now also exploding, as far as influences across the world, Latin America and in the U.S. When I talk about that, I mean Santeria, Palo Mayombe, basically some old spiritual practices coming out of Africa that utilize things like ngangas, which are basically spiritual vessels that have to be loaded with human remains in some cases.
He was basically a spiritual practitioner that certain cartel groups would hire for them to curse the other side, to imbue them with invisibility to be able to transport their drugs or protection spells and stuff like that. He was very successful at it, apparently, or at least that is the experience of the people paying for some of these practices.
As his spells and his work kept getting bigger and bigger and more and more complicated, the ingredients he needed for these ngangas or these spells, these cauldrons that he would fill with certain elements, grew in complexity. Until finally he said he needed the brain of a highly educated American of some sort, which led to his eventual downfall. He was basically responsible for abducting and murdering a young American who was a university college student, I think.
Lex Fridman (03:30:02):
Do you think he believed the… So this guy’s murdering people to create what, magical potions? Vessels, yeah.
Ed Calderon (03:30:10):
Yeah, I think he truly believed that he was capable of doing what he was doing, I guess.
Lex Fridman (03:30:18):
And there was a culture that’s spiritually inclined that kind of was on the same wavelength as him.
Ed Calderon (03:30:26):
Yeah, it jived. I mean, some of these spiritual practices, again, there’s a ritualistic cannibalism done by some of these cartel groups out there. Was he involved in cannibalism as well? He wasn’t involved in cannibalism that I know of, but most of the things that he was kind of known for was basically requesting human body parts for some of the spell works he was doing. And then going to such a level where he needed a specific brain or head of somebody that was educated and American.
So that, again, led to his eventual downfall. His ranch was raided. They found the body parts inside of these cauldrons that he was preparing. That’s an interesting example of somebody. There’s a cartel head somewhere in central Mexico as well. El Mas Loco was his nickname. And he basically forced the citizenship around him to turn him into a saint. So he made a statue of himself. He was very big into Christianity, specifically kind of like the crusader mentality and all of that.
Kind of imbued himself and some of the people that were around him with that. And there’s still altars to his death, to him, after he died. He died two times. One time the government declared him that he was killing a shootout, and it turns out he wasn’t dead. So that was his first miracle. And then when he was really dead, some of his people and his loyal followers were at gunpoint, kind of still forced to go and give flowers and venerate these effigies and statues of him as a saint. It’s a powerful weapon. Spirituality in Mexico is a powerful weapon.
And the Catholic Church in Mexico has a pretty bad track record. But as far as that being used to control populace and stuff like that, and I think it’s just another aspect that is being exploited in Mexico in some communities as far as the spirituality and the desperate need for people to believe in something. And how that leads for some people to go into some horrible predatory behavior around it.
Lex Fridman (03:32:30):
There’s a fascinating dynamic at play here. So it’s not just the United States and Mexico. It’s also China that you talk about. China is the primary source of fentanyl in the world. So fentanyl is an opioid that leads to 70,000 plus or minus overdose deaths in the U.S. every year. So reading from Wikipedia, quote, compared with heroin it is more potent, has higher profit margins, and because it is compact has simpler logistics. It can be cut into or even replaced entirely the supply of heroin and other opiates. What do you think is important to understand about fentanyl as a drug?
Ed Calderon (03:33:08):
There was a prescription opiate epidemic in the United States that kind of went down or stopped. Well, it’s still out there, but like the epidemic specific around it kind of petered out. And there was also marijuana legalization happening at kind of the same time period, which people talking about marijuana legalization thought it was going to hit the cartels in their pockets and it was going to be like a death blow to these criminal groups.
Well, now there’s illegal pot groves in the United States being run by cartels in federal lands. There’s illegal pot groves that are in some way, shape, or form influenced and or run or owned by some criminal groups that are kind of utilizing that. The marijuana fields in Mexico turned into poppy fields once again. The problem is that some of these lands were leached of all the nutrients and they’re not as good as something you would find somewhere in Afghanistan, so the yield and the quality of it wasn’t as strong as it could be. So somebody thought about the right idea of putting fentanyl into the mix.
And not only that, but also figuring out how to get fentanyl into Mexico. Mexico has a giant pharmaceutical industry that people kind of also don’t kind of know or factor into this equation, which leads into the free ability of chemicals going in and out of the country and legal means of it happening. So not only the precursors to make it, but also the chemist and the industry to create it in Mexico as well. Some clandestine factories of fentanyl have been found in Mexico, but realistically it’s not needed with the ways that the ports and the borders are down in Mexico. You started seeing an influx and a flood of fentanyl into Mexico, specifically related to infusing it into heroin, and not only using that to feed local drug markets, but send it up into the United States, which started off this process that we’re kind of going through still.
Lex Fridman (03:35:24):
Are these like similar highs drug-wise? Why do you infuse? I mean, probably you’re not the right person to have this biochemical discussion.
Ed Calderon (03:35:33):
I don’t know about the biochemical aspect of it, but like speaking to guys that do Chiba down there, that’s what they call heroin down there. It’s like a nickname for it. Having them describe some of the older, stinkier, darker heroin they used to get before this whole fentanyl thing, and the highs they would get and how much they would have to take, versus some of the stuff loaded with fentanyl that they have to slow it down.
Lex Fridman (03:35:58):
So there’s a higher potency.
Ed Calderon (03:35:60):
Yeah, there’s a higher potency to it. And also there’s more money to be made, easier to transport.
Lex Fridman (03:36:04):
But then is this how China starts becoming part of the picture?
Ed Calderon (03:36:12):
One aspect to it that people kind of miss is that there’s no Chinese cartel. There’s no criminal Chinese organization working unseen, getting around government oversight in China. I don’t know of any such organization.
Lex Fridman (03:36:28):
So anything that could be labeled as a criminal organization is deeply integrated with the government.
Ed Calderon (03:36:35):
I mean, I’ve never heard of a giant criminal enterprise in China operating. So we have to assume then. Independent of the state. I would have to assume that some of these things are happening with the know-how and inaction of the government out there. When COVID hit, there was a shortage of fentanyl on the northern side of Mexico, specifically related to the Sinaloa cartel. These guys were actually trafficking fentanyl from the U.S. down to Mexico to infuse their product.
But not the New Generation cartel, which operates out of the central part of Mexico, the Colima area, which have access to the seaside ports. So even during the shutdown, they were getting supplied. Which means, to me at least, or for anybody observing it, that the supply chain was not cut. And whatever was coming out of China was being let out of China by whatever official channels would be able to shut down or stop it.
Lex Fridman (03:37:36):
I would love to know the organizational structure, the governmental structure of China. How they enable it. Because I can’t imagine, at the very top, there’s a portfolio of things we’re doing, and one of them is fentanyl trade.
Ed Calderon (03:37:54):
I think it’s more inaction, or just the know-how that is happening, but just hands off. Just let this fly. I don’t know.
Lex Fridman (03:38:02):
If I were to understand how large bureaucracies work, it’s looking the other way.
Ed Calderon (03:38:08):
You are now seeing pill presses brought to Mexico, industrial-level pill presses found in clandestine laboratories, where they’re not only infusing the yields that they’re doing with fentanyl, but also making fake pain medication that is flooding US markets everywhere. That’s where it is. Is that pain medication, or is that fentanyl?
Who knows? And that’s how you see a lot of people dying from ODs that are supposedly taking pain pills, and that’s not what they’re doing. So the evolution right now you’re seeing is making something look legit as far as pain medication that it isn’t. Fentanyl is everywhere. They’re infusing cocaine with it. I’ve been getting stories from the US of people buying it through Alibaba or just weird online sources, and it coming in different packages and just infusing it into whatever is out there. It is killing off a whole generation of people.
And it comes from one place? Or it’s manufactured somewhere where it’s being manufactured with the precursors and the elements and know-how that comes from one place?
Lex Fridman (03:39:23):
Are we talking about China? Talking about China. Because Mexico seems to have… This is such a complicated… And how do you start to talk about the drug war when more and more and more China is the source of the drug? Is there a drug war going on with China?
Ed Calderon (03:39:42):
There’s probably an economic war. There’s another side to China. And this is something that’s come out recently, a few years back, I think. Basically, the ways you would move money back into Mexico after you have a load up here is that you would give it to a Chinese money broker. They would put it into a Chinese banking system and it immediately would just disappear from American eyes. And then another money broker in Mexico would receive it through a money transfer from China.
Lex Fridman (03:40:10):
China’s incredibly good at money laundering.
Ed Calderon (03:40:14):
That’s another aspect to it. I mean, their banking system is invisible to the US, basically. Which allows… Which allows the monies to move from one point to another. So money brokers and people moving money for the groups down there are Chinese. So that’s another aspect or element of China, as far as its presence.
Lex Fridman (03:40:32):
What’s the role of intelligence in all of this? FBI, CIA, the Chinese intelligence agencies?
Ed Calderon (03:40:41):
Right now, Mexico is going through a nationalistic resurgence and a leftist presidency, which is not friendly to US interests in a lot of ways. The US has had a pretty bad track record with its foreign policy in Mexico, with a lot of damage being done by the last president, as far as his rhetoric. Donald Trump? Which has been weaponized and utilized by the left down in Mexico.
So America is not seen positively? No. Every now and then I post something about Mexico, some horrible thing happening down there. It’s like, why doesn’t the US send people down there? Are Mexicans looking for US intervention? It’s like, no. That is beyond what anybody in Mexico would want. Specifically, you see the sentiment out there. They don’t view the US as somebody that’s going to come in and fix anything or somebody that’s going to help or is a friend. When the Ukrainian conflict happened, Mexico basically abstained from saying anything, which is a wink and a nod to Russia. It has openly been pro Maduro and openly celebrated some of these regimes popping up across Latin America.
That is what people voted for. That is a sentiment down there. They’re going towards the left of the political spectrum because they’ve been basically violated over and over again by all these different presidencies that have promised change, brought corruption with them, and they are our choices. This is the best we have right now. All of the enemies of the United States are taking full advantage of that. We recently had a general kind of address at a Senate committee hearing, I think. He was talking about the prevalence of foreign intelligence services in Mexico and why that is. Mexico has a lot of the mineable lithium on the planet underneath parts of it, specifically in the north. It is going through a process. They call it the Cuarta Transformación, the Fourth Transformation, is what the president of Mexico calls it, which is, in a way, it’s basically we’re here to stay type thing. They just nationalized mining lithium and taking control of that and using that as leverage. If the United States ever wants to go to Mexico, it’s probably not going to be related to cartel issues. It’s going to probably relate to energy, I think. They’re kind of thinking ahead, I guess.
Lex Fridman (03:43:12):
Well, what about also, just imagine a world where India and China are doing fentanyl trade with Mexico or whatever transport. Imagine Chinese military moves, makes an agreement, a NATO type of agreement with Mexico.
Ed Calderon (03:43:32):
That’s pretty possible. Again, we’re seeing a militarized Mexico. It’s another aspect of Mexico that, again, I haven’t seen talked about a lot here in the U.S. The main promise that the current president had was he was going to make the police, the federal police and the security issues in Mexico civilian. He was going to do exactly the opposite as his main rival, Felipe Calderón, the guy that started off the drug war officially.
And what does he do? He dissolves the civilian leadership of the federal police, dissolves the federal police, creates the National Guard, which is a military unit, and he puts the military in charge of that. Now the military has a full monopoly over all federal policing.
When you cross into Mexico, you’ll see them wearing these white camouflage uniforms. Those are National Guard people, but they’re the military. So now you’re seeing a militarized Mexico with some of these leaks that happened during the Guacamaya, the Guacamaya leaks. You’re now seeing that Mexico has been hosting members of the Haitian military, and they’ve been training them up to go back to police their country. That’s not something that Mexico has been known for, hosting other nations and training them in such a way.
It’s an interesting maneuver. Mexico has been historically neutral about getting involved in foreign conflicts, about voting and resolutions as far as invading or not invading or doing all these things. Mexico has been historically kind of neutral when it comes to some of these things, and now we’re training foreign military forces to go and do that role somewhere else. We have the military building airports and building infrastructure in Mexico, and a lot of their higher-ups getting very wealthy around it.
And they basically have a monopoly over who gets to have guns down there. There’s one gun store in all of Mexico, and it’s run by the military. And the only way you can buy a gun there is if you can buy a plane ticket to fly there and have enough money to sustain that right or that privilege.
So you’re seeing the military not being in its traditional role of just being the security force. Now it’s policing. It’s getting involved in politics in a big way. Legislation has passed to keep it on the streets in a policing role for more years now. So that should be looked at closer by anybody observing it from afar, the militarization of Mexico and where it’s going.
Lex Fridman (03:46:09):
Because if you move towards a world where a World War III happens, it feels like Mexico will be the center because a hot war would be fought on the ground.
And so you have a very difficult parallel between Mexico and Ukraine. Both don’t have nuclear weapons. Both have relationships. So Ukraine has a relationship or a pull towards the European Union and NATO. Mexico, at least currently, has a kind of slow pull towards China, India potentially, and Russia. And you have this divide between power centers in the world. And in terms of just imagine hundreds of thousands of Mexican troops, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops on the border, on the U.S. border, on the Mexican side.
Ed Calderon (03:47:01):
And also the fact that that border doesn’t mean anything to any sort of conflict that would happen regionally because that’s a very easy-to-cross border. Doesn’t matter how many walls you put across it. People are already here. This is not going to be a war fought off in some overseas place. Like, you’re not going to… This is something, if it happens, if destabilization is utilized in Mexico to cause a conflict there and it turns into a Vietnam or a proxy war down there of a sort, which I think, in a way, you’re already kind of seeing some of that through some of the conflicts going on down there. You have a new generation cartel that is being fed fentanyl from the Pacific side ports.
And suspiciously, you want to think that maybe it’s favored by a foreign government of some sort, in some way, shape, or form. Who knows? And then you have a historically in-control Sinaloa cartel that may or may not be favored by the U.S. in some way, shape, or form. You can imagine further conflict down there and people fostering it and seeing the effects of basically setting a fire on the feet of the United States. Its second-largest consumer of U.S. products is Mexico.
The massive wave of immigration that is going to be basically weaponized. You saw the collapse of the border security structure with a contingent of 3,000 Honduran-Guatemalan immigrants in that first wave of caravans coming to Tijuana. You saw it was pretty bad. It was pretty bad and it could have gotten worse.
Now, what is going to happen when that wave is no longer 3,000, but a million people being displaced by violence or being in fear of whatever conflict might originate down there and just that massive wave of migration and move? I think that’s an interesting thing that people should look at and how can you effect change to try and stop some of these things to happen.
Lex Fridman (03:49:14):
Well, let me ask you at a philosophical, at a human level, what do you think about immigration? Illegal and legal immigration from the direction of Mexico to the United States. So we have an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and an estimated 45 million legal immigrants in the United States.
Ed Calderon (03:49:37):
A few things about that. When COVID hit, there was no shortages of produce in the supermarkets, which means that, I mean, illegal immigration is pretty much the backbone of all produce and some of the farming industries out there, most of it. So illegal immigration and illegal workers in those fields are essential workers in a way. I think there’s a weird relationship in the United States with some of these workers and how they’re demonized and how they’re called criminals. I think there was a state out there that passed anti-illegal immigrant worker legislation.
The farmers had to look elsewhere for people to show up to work in some of these fields, which basically caused millions of dollars worth of losses for some of these farms. Anywhere you go out there in the United States, you go into the kitchens and there’s going to be paisanos there, French, high-level French restaurants.
You’ll see people from Puebla there that made their way illegally and might have legalized or regularized their way into the country or in a sanctuary city. You go to the service industry, hotels, those are the people changing the blankets, those are the people in the washrooms. You have them doing jobs that no American wants to do, realistically, and they’re everywhere in this country and they are the backbone of some of these industries that are essential in this country.
Lex Fridman (03:51:05):
Do you think there’s a deep sense in which they are American?
Ed Calderon (03:51:08):
I think they’re indispensable and anybody that says they aren’t is delusional. If you take every single legal worker out of the industry in the United States and send them back, like there’s a movie out there called Diez Mexicanas, A Day Without Mexicans, you know, everything would stop. So the relationship is there. People talk about the history of slavery in this country, like it’s a thing that’s in the past.
There’s endangered slaves in the country right now, people that are paying off their people smugglers because they brought them into this country and they haven’t been able to pay that fine or that fee yet and are basically being held hostage by that here in the United States. So there’s slaves right now in the United States, you know, people are talking about, it’s a historical context.
Lex Fridman (03:51:58):
What do we do about it?
Ed Calderon (03:51:59):
How are we supposed to think about it? We’re going to have to rethink how we look at immigration, illegal or legal immigration from Mexico and how we view Mexico as a foreign country. Your relationship to Canada is one thing, your relationship to Mexico is another. The foreign policy towards Mexico has been pretty nefarious as far as the United States in a lot of ways. You know, you can go back. There was a student massacre during the Olympics and the president in turn at that time was on the CIA payroll and it was a counter communist type maneuver that they were doing down there. But there’s some bloody hands on the U.S. side of some of the things that have been happening in Mexico as far as destabilization and influencing and meddling in foreign policy out there. Most of the guns that are used down there come from the U.S., you know, and that’s another interesting aspect and responsibility that people should kind of think about up here.
Lex Fridman (03:52:59):
So there is, on the drug war side, a machine that’s fueling the drug war.
Ed Calderon (03:53:04):
I mean, there’s a giant drug habit up here, you know.
Lex Fridman (03:53:07):
But also a governmental intelligence and military support through the sale of weapons. I don’t know about the sale of weapons,
Ed Calderon (03:53:14):
but, you know, there’s some very… You talk about porous borders coming up. There’s porous borders also going down, you know. There’s a flow of guns going down and munitions, which again, they don’t kill anybody by themselves. They get put in the hands of the desperate that are trying to feed a giant drug market to the south, to the north. You know, Mexico has a saying.
Mexico, lejos de Dios, pero cerca de los Estados Unidos. Mexico, far from God, but close to the United States. And there’s definitely a responsibility on both sides. This is no longer a Mexico problem, a U.S. problem. This is a regional problem.
And if we don’t think of it as a regional problem with our brothers on the southern side of it, and with family, we’re related in blood. Mexico and the United States are like this, but it’s become popular in politics. They just throw a line, right? And I think we need to get to a place where we can figure out how to make those connections and repair some of the damage done by just years and years of bad policy on both sides of the border.
Lex Fridman (03:54:27):
Policy and rhetoric, the way we talk about it, the way we think about it, not just the actual policy, but seeing the humanity in the people that are here.
Ed Calderon (03:54:35):
Yeah, it’s an easy thing. They’re coming to take our jobs, is something you hear. There was a state out there that passed some anti-legislation as far as illegal workers on fields, and it led to massive losses. Nobody wanted to show up for those jobs, basically. People would show up one day, and they wouldn’t come back, and they were doing jobs that people just don’t want to do. Are they taking that from the locals? Or are they filling an essential role that we feel guilty about, and the rhetoric around it is more about guilt than anything?
I am an immigrant myself. I’ve gone through the experience of doing it legally, and I’ve seen people not do it legally and are in way better places than I am, basically, by going around some of the system. The system itself, the immigration system here in the US, there’s something wrong. It’s kind of broken. And people coming here illegally are not only, they’re looking for a better life for themselves, a better life for people. This whole aspect of vilifying them, and they’re like, oh, this immigrant did this horrible thing, this immigrant did that horrible thing.
And people saying, go back to your country. At the same time, they go to a hotel where all the service staff is from that part of the world, and they’re here irregularly. Or they go to the Whole Foods, and they get some produce there, and it’s picked by some of the same people they’re vilifying. And again, we need to kind of think about that and analyze that for ourselves.
Lex Fridman (03:56:16):
Yeah, the idea of go back to your country and finding the other and having a disdain and a hate towards the other. Ever since I had a recent conversation with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, I got to hear a few things from, let’s say, unfriendly messages from white nationalists. And I got to learn about this world. I continue on the journey of learning, which is the idea that the United States, this country, should look a certain way, should have a certain skin color, should have a certain religion, and everything else is a pollution, is a poison to this. I may sound hateful right now, but they usually frame it in a positive way, like the purity. I’m sure Hitler also phrased everything in a positive way, especially in the 1930s, about the purity of Germany. But the reality of the United States, and one of the things that makes it, at least the ideal of the United States, is the soup, the mix. Unlike so many nations I’ve traveled to, the diversity, the good kind of diversity, is what makes this country great. I think it needs to be based on accepting the different subgroups that make up the United States versus trying to purify it. And I think Mexican immigrants is just another flavor of saying, this is the other, let’s reject the other.
Ed Calderon (03:57:39):
I saw that interview, by the way. You showed a basic restraint in that interview. My experience, and I came up here, again, Trump was elected when I came up here, so it was a weird time for me, as far as being an immigrant and the immigrant experience for myself, by both being basically the bad, the ones that were talked about in that way, and also having a bunch of my friends who were very conservative and wearing some of those MAGA hats around me, and like, hey, Ed, like, well, I mean, I’m a guest here, so I have to, but it’s a balancing act, is what I’ve been looking at it as. On one side, there’s the woke side of it, which everything goes, and then the other side is like, let’s hold on to some of these things that make us who we are.
On my end, I want to get to a place where I can smoke a joint, conceal, carry a firearm, be at my gay best friend’s wedding, and I want the government not to say anything about it, and I think there’s parts in the United States here that kind of feel the same way. But there’s extremes on both sides that are pulling you to one side or the other, and I’ve seen more of the United States than most Americans. I’m in a different state every weekend, so I get to go to, going to Tampa tomorrow, then I’m going back to California, then I’m going to Tennessee later, then Kentucky, so I get to see all types of people and all types of mentalities and ways that people live, and this country is more diverse than most would think, you know, if you only see it through the lens of television or media. What I keep seeing out there that, for me, is like the reason I came here, I guess, and a lot of the reasons that I feel a vested interest in this country, not just because, again, my kid’s American, so I have a very, very big interest in this country doing well, but the thing I see is there’s still the opportunity and the ability to do something with yourself and opportunities out there for people like me that come here with nothing. I came here with an experience base, a truck,
Lex Fridman (03:59:53):
and some demons,
Ed Calderon (03:59:54):
and, yeah, and a bunch of demons in a bag, and I’m here with you talking right now about some of those experiences. To another immigrant. To another immigrant, and both of us are reaching people out there that might not, might haven’t heard a voice of people like us that come here with our own bag of demons, but where else in the world can two people like us have a conversation with an audience like us and not be shot outside of this because of the stuff we’re saying?
Lex Fridman (04:00:26):
Yeah, listen to with love and respect, not derision. Let me ask you for advice. What would you say to young folks wherever they come from? So in high school and college, they’re thinking of how to live a life, have a career they can be proud of, and especially if they’re struggling, especially if they’re at a low point like you were when you came here. Travel.
Ed Calderon (04:00:55):
Travel is one of the biggest things in the world that I would ask people to kind of go out to, see how other people live. Don’t go there with your own preconceived notions or trying to make people act like you act. Go out there and travel and actually experience the world. It doesn’t have to be another country. Going from Tennessee to Seattle, it’s a pretty interesting change of scenery.
Lex Fridman (04:01:21):
Who’s better at knife fighting? Just kidding. You don’t have to answer that.
Ed Calderon (04:01:25):
But traveling is one, and knowing how other people live is one aspect of it that I would tell people. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. But that is part of the journey is one of the things I would ask people, young people to kind of consider. Service is essential, and it should be at the basis of all of our lives. Service. Start there. Start with service.
In any industry, you’re going to go start your own restaurant, you have to work in the kitchen first. Service. If you’re going to be a part, a productive member of this country, service. And I’m not talking just about the military because the military, it’s a process and it’s a lifestyle and it’s a thing for some people out there. It’s not even a choice for other people if they want an education, and I get that. Community service of any kind is an essential thing.
The ability to go out there and interact with the people that you would normally not interact with, the homeless population that, you know, there is in this country, the older population that, in Mexico, our old die in our homes, you know, but here you send them off somewhere else to die, which is an interesting, weird detachment that I’ve seen in the US as far as how the elders are cast aside. If I can say anything to young people is to start figuring out a life of service and that’s going to expose you to a bunch of experiences, to a bunch of people out there that you might not regularly kind of meet and see and realities. Education is out there.
It is expensive, but I’ve sat through a bunch of really expensive classes that I’ve managed to see on YouTube and learned a lot from them. So education is out there, but it doesn’t have to be as expensive as they make it. It’s all about the individual and what he does with that education. The dream is free and the hustle is sold separately is something else I watch somewhere online, but the ability to take information process and use it. We’re expecting everything to be safe process and given to us in a platter and taking that and digesting and thinking that’s going to make us somebody that’s going to be productive or valuable in society.
What’s up to us? The US talks a lot about freedoms, but doesn’t talk a lot about responsibilities. And I think that’s a big part of, you know, take responsibility for it. Like I came here without anything. And the first thing I thought was I have responsibility for the people that I’ve worked with and the people that are going through the same problems as I am. How can I figure out a way to help?
Lex Fridman (04:04:01):
Yeah, the dark side of thinking a lot about freedom is thinking too individualistically, meaning thinking about me, how to optimize my situation, forgetting that the deepest growth you can do as an individual is by taking care of others, by helping others, by being of service, by being useful to your community locally, and then hopefully also at scale. And that’s how you grow. And that’s responsibility of like helping those around you.
Ed Calderon (04:04:27):
There’s an isolationist aspect to culture now. It’s like we are separate. There’s almost like a spiritual or cultural amputation in a way where, you know, when I was a kid, the house where all the bikes outside of it, that was where all the kids were hanging out. And now everybody’s on their phone, you know, in their separate houses, chatting on whatever. There’s a detachment to there. That’s a weird aspect to it. And also the aspect of I need to be safe. I can’t be offended. Don’t hurt me, safe spaces. This is my right. This is my right. This is my reality. You need to respect it.
Yeah, respect is earned. And where I come from, respect is earned. There’s freedoms, but there’s dangerous freedoms. Any freedom that you have in Mexico is a dangerous freedom in a way. You can drive home drunk in Mexico. You can, if you bribe a cop on your way there and if you don’t die or crash into somebody else. That’s a dangerous aspect of freedom. But there’s a responsibility to all of it. It is a twisted responsibility in a twisted way to talk about it and describe it. But I think the aspect of people screaming for freedom up here or their rights or their privilege without the responsibility. What are you doing for your community? You’re complaining about this. What are you doing about it? Another thing I’ve noticed in traveling around that’s scary is the whole people getting shouted down or canceled because of what they express or say.
Some of the creepiest experiences I’ve had in the U.S. has been through universities or just seeing young people that have an opinion that is completely outside of reality. People telling me how things are in Mexico because they learned it through a college course. And seeing sons of immigrants criticizing me because of my opinion of Mexico or what I have to say about it. And if you want to encounter the worst enemy of a Mexican it’s usually a second, third generation Mexican up here that shouts you down for what you’re saying.
Lex Fridman (04:06:44):
I mean, in general, entitlement, all of those kinds of things. Some of that comes with just being young in general. But yes, humility at a societal scale would benefit significantly, especially the young. So I would say some of the service that you’re speaking to comes with being humbled. And that is one of the best things you can do as a young person. Whilst maintaining the dream and the ambition, humble yourself to the reality of the world. Yeah.
Ed Calderon (04:07:16):
One small example, a micro example of this. My kid, there was a homeless guy. She was out with family members. This homeless guy showed up, he was erratic, mentally disturbed, created a scene. She was upset. There was a little bit of trauma there. She was like, oh, now all homeless people are bad.
So with her, she does art pieces sometimes for me and helps me make designs for the clothing brand that I have. And we take some of that money and we buy socks and underwear, you know? And sometimes I have them in the car, sometimes I drive around and see somebody that needs something and I give it to her. I says, you helped me earn this money that’s gonna help these people, so you should just give them these. And she’s like, you know? I’m like, ah, thank you. She’s like, hey, cool. Roll up the window. She used to roll up the window really quick, now she doesn’t.
They cease to be scary because now some of them have names. Now some of them know her name, you know, when she crosses by there, so there’s contact there. She’s more connected than I am in some of these places now, you know? She has friends in low places and in high places. That comes later, I guess. But she is learning about service. She’s learning about not everybody out there is an enemy or bad or scary. She’s learning about service. And she’s basically learning that lesson that I got from my mom long ago. You know, nobody’s against you, they’re for themselves. Don’t take anything personal. And if you’re not doing something for other people while you’re working, then you’re not doing anything.
Lex Fridman (04:09:06):
So when you were young, you were pretty sure you were going to die before you were 30. Yeah. What’s your relationship with death today? Do you think about your mortality? Are you afraid of it?
Ed Calderon (04:09:17):
I’m not afraid of it. If anything, I’m afraid of meaningless death or at least a meaningless walk towards it. I’m afraid of losing the use of my legs, I guess. I’m afraid of not being able to go out there and do things anymore. I’m afraid that I’m not physically capable of doing the job that I used to do. So if anything, I’m afraid of stillness. You know, something I always quote a lot in my writings, stillness is death.
Lex Fridman (04:09:47):
So you always want to be challenging yourself, moving, growing, like you’re traveling so you get all these experiences and filling your life with all these experiences. And if it ends, when it ends, you’re ready for it.
Ed Calderon (04:09:59):
Yeah. I’m not afraid of the end. The ending is important in all things. First time I got a promotion, I got two silver coins handed to me. Here’s a silver coin, and this is another silver coin. He said, I’ll give you the other one when your job ends. Yeah. It depends on you if you wanted to have it over your eyes or in your pocket, right? And the lesson there is that, you know, this job you’re getting, it’s pretty cool, and you’re going to be in charge of all these people, and it’s pretty important, but it’s going to end. So you always have to, the ending is important in all things. If we don’t keep that in mind, then if you think we’re immortal and nothing’s going to end, I think there’s an atrophy, a spiritual atrophy in that.
Lex Fridman (04:10:41):
For the sake of spiritual flourishing, this conversation too must come to an end. So I think a beautiful way to end it, and I’m a huge fan of yours. Thank you for being a man with a life well lived, and for talking with me today. It’s an honor, man. It was an awesome conversation. Thank you for having me on. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Ed Calderon. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, let me leave you with some words from Al Pacino’s character in Scarface, Tony Montana.
You don’t have the guts to be what you want to be. You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, that’s the bad guy. Thanks for listening. I hope to see you next time.
- Felipe Calderón
- Kanye West
- Tony Montana
- Donald Trump
- Al Pacino
- Nazario Moreno González
- Robin Hood
- Ismael %22El Mayo%22 Zambada
- Andr%C3%A9s Manuel L%C3%B3pez Obrador
- Joaqu%C3%ADn %22El Chapo%22 Guzm%C3%A1n
- Sean Penn
- Jos%C3%A9 Guadalupe Osuna Mill%C3%A1n
- David Goggins
- Canelo %C3%81lvarez
- Joe Rogan
- Jason Bourne
- Jocko Willink
- Royce Gracie
- Bruce Lee
- Ernest Emerson
- John Wick
- Jordan Peterson
- Robert De Niro
- Miyamoto Musashi
- Hattori Hanz%C5%8D
- Hern%C3%A1n Cort%C3%A9s
- El Padrino
Ed Calderon is a security specialist who worked on counter-narcotics and organized crime investigation in Mexico. Please support this podcast by checking out our sponsors:
– Policygenius: https://www.policygenius.com/
– Bambee: https://bambee.com and use code LEX to get free HR audit
– Onnit: https://lexfridman.com/onnit to get up to 10% off
– InsideTracker: https://insidetracker.com/lex to get 20% off
Ed’s Instagram: https://instagram.com/manifestoradiopodcast
Ed’s Patreon: https://patreon.com/edsmanifesto
Ed’s Website: https://edsmanifesto.com
Ed’s Field Notes: https://edsmanifesto.com/field-notes
Ed’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/eds_manifesto
Podcast website: https://lexfridman.com/podcast
Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/2lwqZIr
YouTube Full Episodes: https://youtube.com/lexfridman
YouTube Clips: https://youtube.com/lexclips
SUPPORT & CONNECT:
– Check out the sponsors above, it’s the best way to support this podcast
– Support on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/lexfridman
– Twitter: https://twitter.com/lexfridman
– Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lexfridman
– LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lexfridman
– Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lexfridman
– Medium: https://medium.com/@lexfridman
Here’s the timestamps for the episode. On some podcast players you should be able to click the timestamp to jump to that time.
(00:00) – Introduction
(07:13) – Corruption
(40:55) – Cartels
(56:16) – El Chapo
(1:13:27) – Weapons
(1:25:33) – Assassinations
(1:34:20) – Counter-ambush teams
(1:57:46) – PTSD and alcohol
(2:20:25) – Improvised weapons
(2:23:57) – Street fights
(2:52:54) – Kidnapping
(2:57:10) – Escaping restraints
(3:06:38) – Imitation
(3:15:06) – Narco cults
(3:28:01) – Adolfo Constanzo
(3:32:29) – Fentanyl
(3:49:14) – Immigration
(4:00:34) – Advice for young people
(4:09:06) – Mortality
Podscript is a personal project to make podcast transcripts available to everyone for free. Please support this project by following us on Twitter.