The Rebel and the Kingdom
The True Story of the Secret Mission to Overthrow the North Korean Regime
How did an Ivy League activist become a global fugitive? The New York Times bestselling co-author of Billion Dollar Whale and Blood and Oil chronicles the heart-pounding tale of a self-taught operative his high-stakes attempt subvert the North Korean regime.
“Propulsive . . . Hope’s account is both deeply reported and novelistic.”—Ed Caesar, contributing staff writer for The New Yorker, author of The Moth and the Mountain
In the early 2000s, Adrian Hong was a soft-spoken Yale undergraduate looking for his place in the world. After reading a harrowing account of life inside North Korea, he realized he had found a cause so pressing that he was ready to devote his life to it.
What began as a trip down the safe and well-worn path of organizing soon morphed into something more dangerous. Hong journeyed to China, outwitting Chinese security services as he helped asylum-seeking North Koreans escape across the border. Meanwhile, Hong’s secret organization, Cheollima Civil Defense (later renamed Free Joseon), began tracking the North Korean government’s activities, and its volatile third-generation ruler, Kim Jong-un. Free Joseon targeted North Korean diplomats who might be persuaded to defect, while drawing up plans for a government-in-exile. After the shocking broad-daylight assassination in 2017 of Kim Jong-nam, the dictator’s older brother, Hong, along with U.S. Marine veteran Christopher Ahn, helped ferry Kim Jong-nam’s family to safety. Then Hong took the group a step further. He initiated a series of high-stakes direct actions, culminating in an armed raid at the North Korean embassy in Madrid—an act that would put Ahn behind bars and turn Hong into one of the world’s most unlikely fugitives.
In the tradition of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, The Rebel and the Kingdom is an exhilarating account of a man who turns his back on the status quo—to instead live boldly by his principles. Acclaimed journalist and bestselling author Bradley Hope—who broke numerous details of Hong’s operations in The Wall Street Journal—now reveals the full contours of this remarkable story of idealism and insanity, hubris and heroism, all set within the secret battle for the future of the world’s most mysterious and unsettling nation.
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Journalist Bradley Hope’s account of an unlikely freedom fighter proves that one person can truly make a difference. Adrian Hong first became preoccupied with North Korea’s institutionalized atrocities while attending Yale. In the 2000s and 2010s, he founded a number of international human rights organizations to aid North Korean refugees—but that wasn’t all. Hong went way further, leading undercover operations in China and Spain intended to liberate North Koreans. Along the way, he served a short but scary stint in a Chinese prison and suffered other repercussions. Hope’s exhaustively detailed reporting ensures that Hong’s dangerous adventures never overshadow the cause he’s fighting for. He’s the kind of character we usually read about in political thrillers, and his real-life story will leave you breathless.
Wall Street Journal reporter Hope (coauthor, Blood and Oil) delivers a riveting saga of one man's unlikely crusade to free North Korea. Adrian Hong, the son of South Korean missionaries, formed the activist group Liberation in North Korea while attending Yale University in 2004. Inspired by Kang Chol-hwan's book The Aquariums of Pyongyang and the documentary film Seoul Train, Hong arranged for three North Korean teenagers to leave China for the U.S. A subsequent attempt to help six more defectors failed, however, and Hong spent 10 days in a Chinese prison before returning to America. He founded a secret new group, now known as Free Joseon, dedicated to overthrowing dictator Kim Jong-un's regime. In February 2019, Hong and other group members broke into the North Korean embassy in Madrid and took the staff hostage for five hours before fleeing. They claim the break-in was a ruse staged to help the North Korean ambassador and his family defect, but the plan fell apart when the wife of an embassy official jumped from a second-floor window and alerted the police. Hong is currently in hiding, while one of his accomplices is in U.S. custody and fighting extradition to Spain. Hope has impressive access to Free Joseon and other activist groups and draws a vivid portrait of Hong, whose mix of courage, opportunism, and yearning fascinates. This is the stuff great political thrillers are made of.