Retired professional basketball player Dennis Rodman landed in Pyongyang, North Korea yesterday to visit his old friend, dictator Kim Jong-un. And while Rodman has visited the country a few times before, this trip is even weirder.
Dennis Rodman at Beijing International Airport departing for Pyongyang, North Korea on 13 June 2017 (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)
Rodman's trip is being "sponsored" by PotCoin, a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency that's trying to be the Bitcoin of the legal weed industry. Rodman was even sporting a PotCoin.com T-shirt when he landed on a flight from Beijing to Pyongyang yesterday.
But even more bizarrely, Rodman has hinted that he's setting up a backchannel for Donald Trump to speak with Kim Jong-un. And people are taking the possibility very seriously, considering that Dennis Rodman is the only mutual friend between the two world leaders. Seriously.
First photo: Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea for the 5th time. He wouldn't tell me if he's spoken to Trump or anyone from the US gov't. pic.twitter.com/aeEvEhkNwD
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) June 13, 2017
Rodman was asked directly by CNN reporters in North Korea whether he'd spoken to President Trump or anyone else in the US government prior to his trip, and he played coy without answering the question directly.
"I'm pretty sure he's happy at the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need," Rodman told CNN, referring to Trump. Rodman was on season eight of Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice in 2009, and returned for Celebrity Apprentice 6 in 2013.
But Rodman and his agent were a bit more direct about the supposed diplomatic mission of his trip in a YouTube video that was posted earlier this week and promoted on Rodman's Twitter account.
"He has the unique, amazing relationship between both President Trump and Marshall Kim Jong-un," said Rodman's agent Chris Volo in the video. Volo has accompanied Rodman on previous trips to the dictatorship.
"He's the only man to have the relationship and be friends with both people," Volo continued. "And he's going there tomorrow to try and bridge the gap and bring peace and dialogue between both nations and PotCoin is the reason we're going out there."
Rodman thanked PotCoin in the video and said that he was travelling to support peace between the United States and North Korea. It's not immediately clear how much Rodman is being paid to promote PotCoin.
"We just want to thank the people that actually supported us, PotCoin, thank you very much, and hope that we can come back with a positive attitude," Rodman said. "And hopefully that the door can be a little bit open."
"So give us luck and praise us for doing what we're doing. It's all about doing one thing. It's all about peace," said Rodman.
Three Americans are currently known to be detained by the North Korean regime, with a the US State Department confirming that a fourth has been released late last night.
WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea releases jailed US university student Otto Warmbier, Secretary of State Tillerson says.
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) June 13, 2017
Prior to his release, CNN asked Rodman if the detained Americans would be brought up at all, and Rodman seemed to revert to old explanations for his previous trips to the country.
"Well that's not my purpose right now," said Rodman. "My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea."
Apparently the release of Otto Warmbier had nothing to do with Dennis Rodman. According to the Washington Post, the 22-year-old student has been in a coma for more than a year and was medically evacuated today. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in March of 2016 after trying to take home a propaganda poster.
American student Otto Warmbier, centre, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, on 16 March 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
From the Washington Post:
The Warmbiers were told that he had come down with a case of botulism soon after his trial — which lasted only one hour — and had been given a sleeping pill, from which he never woke up.
There is no way of knowing yet whether the North Korean version of events is true, but the Warmbiers have been told their son had been in a coma the whole time. State Department officials are accompanying Otto from Sapporo to Cincinnatti.
North Korea has woefully inadequate medical care and it is not clear how North Korean doctors had been caring for Warmbier during more than a year in an unconscious state.
Rodman has been to North Korea at least four times and there has been no discernible improvement in diplomatic relations between the country and the US as a result of any of them. If anything, things have only gotten worse. Rodman has taken heat from human rights groups over his trips given the oppression imposed by Kim Jong-un on his own people.
Earlier this week, Defence Secretary James Mattis testified to Congress that North Korea was the "most urgent" threat against the safety and security of the United States.
"The regime's nuclear weapons program is a clear and present danger to all, and the regime's provocative actions, manifestly illegal under international law, have not abated despite United Nations' censure and sanctions," Mattis said.
Rodman endorsed Trump for president in July of 2015, not long after his candidacy was announced in Trump's infamous "Mexicans are rapists" speech.
Marijuana is heavily controlled and illegal for citizens of North Korea to buy and consume. And despite the fact that it's also illegal for tourists travelling to the country, authorities often look the other way as the pot tourism industry grows. An American caught smoking pot in the country would likely be treated much more harshly than someone of another nationality.
Whatever happens with diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea, one thing's for sure: Dennis Rodman helped put PotCoin on the map. And anyone with a critical eye would likely guess that this might have been the lone goal all along.