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What would you do during the Purge?

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With The First Purge in theaters, we asked our staff how they’d spend a single night where all crime was legal

Photo: Universal Pictures

July 4th sees the release of The First Purge, which in spite of its name is the fourth film in the series that started with 2013’s The Purge. The movies all take place in a near-future America where one night a year, laws are suspended, and virtually all crimes are legal. Supposedly, the idea is that citizens “purge” their most antisocial and aggressive tendencies, which results in a more satisfied, mentally healthy population. But the films are also cynical satires about the corruption and indifference of a government that’s really out to secretly purge the most vulnerable members of society — predominantly poor and working-class people of color. 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy and 2016’s The Purge: Election Year continue the story, focusing on those vulnerable victims, and particularly on the rich, heartless sociopaths who use The Purge as an chance to murder people for sport.

But while the Purge movies wrap social commentary and analysis in horror-movie scenarios, they don’t spend much time on the crimes people might commit besides mass thrill-murder or racist genocide. We asked The Verge’s staff what they’d do if they could get away with any crimes for a single night. We initially got a lot of variants on “run, hide, and cry,” so let’s be clear here — not a lot of us are actually cut out to survive a city-wide open-season murder-fest designed for people who devote entire closets to their scary-clown mask collection and their automatic weapons. But we encouraged everyone to at least consider their fantasies of how they’d behave in a lawless society if they were relatively confident they wouldn’t just become a notch on someone else’s Uzi stock.

Liz Lopatto, Science Editor: There is a lot of truly excellent art in the world. Should I participate in a Purge, I would definitely attempt to steal as much of it as I could. Just think: theft isn’t illegal on Purge night, so I wouldn’t have trouble on the resale market — the major stoppage point for most art theft. I own that art fair and square now. It’s mine. I sure hope museums have Purge insurance.

Next comes the question: which art? I’m personally partial to Cezanne, so I’d probably start there for personal reasons. But if I’m looking to maximize my profits, well, that’s the classics: da Vinci, or really any of the old masters. Maybe I also pick up some up-and-coming artists too, as a growth portfolio. Of course the one American da Vinci is in DC, most of the famous Van Gogh is in New York, so… that’s a stolen airplane to make the most of my plan. Don’t worry, PS1, I’m coming for you too.

Probably I would need a crew to do it, so really, this is a crossover movie: Ocean’s 8 meets The Girl with the Pearl Earring meets The Purge. Let’s do it.

Tasha Robinson, Film/TV Editor: Let’s be clear, if the Purge was real, I’d be hiding in a rental bunker somewhere, possibly one of the industrial maker-spaces where Liz got to test out her new Boring Company flamethrower. (Possibly I’d be hiding behind Liz. And her flamethrower.) But imagining for a moment a world where I could go out and commit crimes during the Purge and not get instantly gacked, I’d probably focus on turning commercial billboards into political ones. There’s a long, proud tradition of vandalizing billboards in order to create memorable political messages in eye-catching spaces, which not only spreads a message, it also recontextualizes an existing message in an artistic, purposeful way, and erases one of the endless ads we’re all subjected to. I’m all for the protest groups that get up to these kinds of things without the cover of legality, but I can’t see myself joining in unless I knew I wasn’t going to end up in prison for it. Or in this case, possibly deported.

Stefan Etienne, Reviews Writer: My plan would be boarding up, acquiring weapons, and putting my martial arts/weapons training to good use… should anyone try to break in, of course. Where I think I’d get ruthless is looting the other purgers I’ve downed, as well as setting traps. I’m not interested in being a crime lord. Rather, I’d like to survive and be quiet. After all, you can’t attract too much attention when you’re trying to kill — I mean fend off — your would-be murderer.

Michael Moore, Reviews Coordinator: Either cheat at Fortnite during the one night a year I can’t be sued for cheating, or steal Lego, which is apparently the perfect crime. My crew can even use some of our stolen Lego to build a warehouse to store the rest of our stolen Lego.

Natt Garun, Technology Editor: I’d go to a two-hour-limit hot-pot buffet and stay longer than two hours. You can’t tell me how to live. But I’d also go to the zoo and let all the animals out.

Adi Robertson, Senior Reporter: I’ve never totally understood what happens to digital infrastructure during Purge Night. Like, I assume companies lock down their intranets so people don’t embezzle money or steal trade secrets, and maybe social media platforms don’t want to deal with all the legal death threats. But somebody has to be doing some hacking.

Basically, I’d join a team of vigilantes and assemble a years-long Mr. Robot-style security coup against a powerful institution, like Wells Fargo, Equifax, or the Department of Homeland Security. We’d do extensive legal-ish preparation to establish access in the months around Purge Nights, setting up a complex plan that could be executed in annual 12-hour bursts. Ideally, the organization wouldn’t realize what was going on before we seized total control and covered our tracks, so we could siphon billions of dollars or give everyone perfect credit or install a script that would surreptitiously approve all asylum applications — since, based on the conventions of the Purge franchise, any executives or high-level staffers would be busy terrorizing poor people.

Of course, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is notoriously broad, and maybe we’d get busted for something like conspiracy, or ongoing unauthorized access. Although if the crime itself happens when crime is legal, is conspiring to commit it still illegal? I need to run this plan by a good Purge lawyer.

Shannon Liao, News Writer: I would take a page out of Anna Delvey’s book of fraud and apply for a multimillion dollar bank loan, which I’d clearly no longer need to provide the legal documents for. I could just steal the money, but a loan saves me from having to pull off a sweaty bank heist and procure threatening weapons. With the funds in hand, I would launch my own conglomerate (is that how starting a business works?) and get to work acquiring and revamping old-school games like Neopets and Club Penguin and funding nonprofits of my choice. There would not be a blockchain department, for many reasons. Since I’d only have a day to get everything done, a large, efficient Human Resources department would definitely be essential.

Bijan Stephen, Reporter: I’d probably just play dead. You know, find a nice, quiet place and just lie down for a while.

Chaim Gartenberg, Writer: I am also firmly on “Team Run and Hide” — I hear Canada is lovely this time of year? But assuming I’m stuck in Purge-landia, I have several ideas. First off, I’m stealing a USPS mail truck. Not because I actually want a mail truck (I don’t) or because I think it’d be particularly interesting to drive (it’s probably not), but because it seems kind of funny, since they’re ordinarily so oddly protected by federal law. Next, I would take my mail truck and swing by the nearest liquor store for some wine and beer, and a supermarket for some snacks (the mail truck’s sizable cargo storage will come in handy here), before heading down to the docks. What’s at the docks? Stealing the biggest, most opulent yacht I can get my hands on — which, by my admittedly poor understanding of maritime law, would make me a pirate captain. Next, all that’s left is to sail the river in said yacht. Oh, and maybe launch some fireworks, since that’s still illegal in most states, and fireworks are super fun. Besides, it’s not my yacht.

Bryan Bishop, Senior Editor: This exercise is a little tricky, because there are two ways to approach it. One is what would the me of today do if I was suddenly thrust into a Purge-like scenario. After the aforementioned running, hiding, and crying, I’d probably do something performative and stupid, like stealing some Taco Bell, breaking into Disneyland, and riding Star Tours a bunch while Instagramming the entire thing. Not really Purging it up, so much as running around going “Nyah nyah nyah!” like an unpoliced child.

Then there’s the second way to approach it. That’s to ask what I would do if I lived in a society where the gap between the haves and the have-nots had continued to widen even further. One in which politicians, and the billionaires that control them, had made up a fantasy murder holiday so the oppressed would vent all their fury and righteous hatred at one another, rather than at the elite one-percenters that were actually responsible for orchestrating the uncrossable divide. In that kind of world, I would hope that my focus would reach well beyond theme parks and social media. I’d like to think that perhaps I’d organize with my fellow Americans to turn our attention towards those truly responsible, and take the opportunity to storm the gates en masse and strike down those that had created the corrupt holiday in the first place. To use the rules of The Purge to free ourselves from it, in one violent, righteous act of true American independence.

Aw, who am I kidding. I’d probably break into Disneyland anyway.

Megan Farokhmanesh, Reporter: Oh, no one here is doing murder crimes? I mean, ha ha, yeah, me neither! Boy, I can’t wait to steal… things.