Today, the New Yorker published an intriguing story recounting the rise of “the most sophisticated piracy operation in history” run by a group that called itself Rabid Neurosis or RNS. RNS leaked 22,000+ albums online — including every album ever put out by 50 Cent and Kanye West, according the story — until they were eventually raided by the FBI.
Turns out, I know someone who was part of this elite leadership in digital piracy. He helped DJ my wedding. Identified as the “ripping coordinator,” Simon (who I still think of as DJ Taiga) had access to promotional material as the music director of our college radio station, and was responsible for being the first to leak Ludacris’s “Back for the First Time” and Outkast’s “Stankonia.” It almost seems impressive and harmless, a fun modern-day organized crime tale, until you realize Simon was no longer a kid, but an Ivy League graduate building a future, when FBI agents came knocking and he faced the threat of jail time.
But the story doesn’t end with the fall of RNS. Sure, the New Yorker’s story does. But what I find especially amazing is how Simon’s story continues. In the death of RNS and the death of his pride, DJ Taiga found love, forgiveness, peace, and new life. Sometimes at the strange intersection of the cliche, nonsensical, stupefying, and glorious, God works in remarkably weird, unexpected ways. I am in awe.
Below are Simon’s words, originally posted on Facebook and re-posted here with his permission. And here is the New Yorker story. You just gotta read both of them.
Yes, the Simon Tai in this article refers to me. Being in this elite group called RNS was something I had built my identity on (albeit secret for the most part) in my late teens/early 20s. It didn’t matter that I was breaking the law & hurting companies and individuals in the process.
Although what I did seems “cool” (and I certainly thought so at the time), there was nothing cool about the FBI coming to my door & the possibility of a felony charge on my record and jail time hanging over my head for the better part of 2 years, not to mention spending 50k in lawyer fees.
I have done many things in life that I’m not proud of (including this), but through God’s grace He used this ordeal to bring me into His Kingdom. If you’re going to read the super long New Yorker article, read the following as well. This is a short testimony I gave during a Redeemer Presbyterian Church of NYC Easter service back in 2009 while the case was still going on. #truth
“Good evening, my name is Simon Tai. Let me start my story with a little background information. I grew up in a Muslim household, but was exposed to Christianity and Buddhism as a young man. In college I took classes on Buddhism and even went to church a few times. I enjoyed the positive message the sermons conveyed, but didn’t connect with the people and thought that Christians were hypocritical and judgmental. So instead, I told myself to try to be a good person and figured that karma would take its course. That allowed me to focus on my career, material wealth, girls, and things of that nature.
Around the time I turned 25, I started to think about the meaning of life. I had been working for a few years developing my career. I had dated girls and been in relationships. Yet something was missing in my life. I wasn’t happy. I would get depressed sometimes, but I wasn’t sure why. I bought material things to cheer myself up, but the relief was only temporary. I started yearning for spiritual development, but didn’t have much direction and didn’t really care for organized religions. I just remembered thinking that there was a higher being out there and wanted to develop some sort of spirituality. But nothing really came out of these vague spiritual yearnings and I continued to live as I did before.
In August of 2007, I met Monica through some mutual friends. I was interested in her, but didn’t think it would work out when I found out she was Christian. So I decided not to worry about what she thought of me and used this opportunity to try to disprove Christianity to her. I admit that I was perhaps a bit obnoxious. (She later told me the same.) But in the debates that we had, she responded in such a way that not only showed her strong beliefs in Christianity and the gospel, but also a refreshing humility and honesty. It was not something that I expected. She was nothing like the stereotype of a “hardcore” Christian that I had in my head.
One telling conversation we had was about the idea of Hell. I asked her what her definition of Hell was. Thinking that she would only speak of fire and brimstones, I was taken aback when she replied “It’s a place without God and a place without God is a place without anything good”. She began to break down my stereotypes of Christianity one by one, and it made me realize that I had no idea what the gospel truly was. Looking back now, God was starting to soften my heart.
From that point, I began to crave more knowledge. I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and the words spoke to me. Monica also pointed me to Redeemer’s website, and from there, I downloaded and listened to quite a few sermons. The idea of the gospel, Jesus, and inside out living made a lot of sense. A few weeks later, I attended my first Redeemer service.
Everything that I had heard and read I could logically agree with, but I still couldn’t give myself over to Christ. The idea of living for someone else was foreign to me and I wasn’t sure if I could ever do it. I wanted to take the leap of faith, but my selfishness and pride were in the way. Chatting with a few of my Christian friends, I realized that most of their testimonies involved a dramatic and/or traumatic life changing event. I wanted to believe so badly that I even thought to myself at one point, ‘why couldn’t that happen to me?’ I struggled with that for weeks, and then on December 20th of that year, it happened.
I had just woken up that day when I got a knock on the door. I opened it and facing me were 2 FBI agents that wanted to interrogate me about some questionable activities that had been a part of my life years back when I was in college. I had finally gotten the traumatic life changing event that I was “wishing” for. I was scared, helpless, and felt like I had hit rock bottom. That day I gave myself to Christ. It brought me the strength, hope, and calmness that I needed but was never able to get on my own.
To say the least, I have been through the most difficult time of my life in this past year and an half. I am facing a possible indictment, felony on my record, and in the worst case scenario jail time. I have spent $25,000 and counting on legal fees, most of which I had to borrow and am still paying off. And worst of all, I continue to live with this uncertainty hanging over my head.
But Christ has been with me through these trials and tribulations. And Christ has been with Monica, my now fiancée, as she has been by my side through these tough times. I am so thankful that I have found Christ and have been accepted into his community. Although I am in the worst financial and social state ever, I have never felt freer, more loved, and joyful in my life. Thank you.”