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13 Stories That Show What A Hot Mess 2017 Really Was

From ISIS's apparent defeat to nationalism's resurgence to women's voices finally being heard as they said "me too," the world seemed more turbulent than ever in 2017. BuzzFeed World was there.

Posted on December 28, 2017, at 1:40 p.m. ET

1. After the Caliphate, February 2017

Alice Martins for BuzzFeed News

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Pandemonium erupted on the bridge that leads into the central Iraqi city of Fallujah. A woman in a black, all-covering niqab, sitting in a minibus with her six kids, screamed at the uniformed security forces at the checkpoint, trying to strike them through the window.

“The Islamic State lives!” she cried out, after exchanging insults with soldiers and police officers. “Iraq is gone! But the Islamic State lives. If I had weapons, I would kill you all!”

It was a sunny autumn day late last year, and the checkpoint was clogged with vehicles, each one from a different security force, vying for position and control of the crossing. We had been waiting for half an hour to get through when the row broke out, our police escorts struggling to convince the suspicious soldiers and intelligence officials to allow our car to cross into the city, the second largest in Iraq’s Anbar province, notorious as the center of insurgent activity during the US occupation.

The cops, soldiers, and spies fought to bring the angry woman and her family under control. “Stay in the car!” one officer ordered.

The source of her anger was a kangaroo court held a few hours earlier, when her husband had been found guilty of being a leading member of ISIS

2. The Strange Case Of The Russian Diplomat Who Got His Head Smashed In On Election Day, February 2017

Lincoln Agnew for BuzzFeed News

NEW YORK — He was found just before 7 a.m. on Election Day, lying on the floor of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side.

The man was unconscious and unresponsive, with an unidentified head wound — “blunt force trauma,” in cop parlance. By the time emergency responders reached him, he was dead.

Initial reports said the nameless man had plunged to his death from the roof of the consulate. As journalists rushed to the scene, consular officials quickly changed the narrative. The anonymous man had not fallen dozens of feet from the roof of the consular building, they said, but rather had suffered a heart attack in the security office, and died.

By the time the man’s body left the morgue the next day, Donald J. Trump was president-elect of the United States. It was the culmination of a sensational, bitterly divisive political campaign that US intelligence agencies would later say Russia actively sought to manipulate and skew in Trump’s favor. With the election results, the world had turned upside down, and the death of the man at the consulate quickly faded from view.

Police officers said the death of Sergei Krivov — his name revealed here publicly for the first time — looked natural, and listed the case as closed.

But who was Krivov? And how did he really die? Three months after he was found dead, as tensions between the US and Russia reach a fever pitch, the New York City medical examiner isn’t sure he had a heart attack after all.

3. This Is What It's Like To Be Poor, Gifted, And Black In South Africa, March 2017

Sipho Mpongo for BuzzFeed News

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — On the January day three years ago that Kgomotso Tjie found out he’d made it into an elite South African university, he logged onto his Facebook page and typed a message with shaking hands. The moment he’d worked toward all his life had arrived.

“I thank God for granting me the desires of my heart,” he wrote.

For Tjie, the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was the promised land, evidence that being poor and black was no longer a barrier to success in South Africa. Born in a rural township some 400 miles northeast of Johannesburg, he'd started believing that hard work and smarts really might be enough.

It had been a lonely odyssey to get there. At his all-black high school, more girls get pregnant each year than students make it to university, and guidance from teachers on how to apply to university had been minimal. Stumbling through a stash of application forms alone at a local library, Tjie had been stumped by even the most basic bureaucratic questions. He’d never encountered officious phrases like next of kin. Back home, his mother, who sold vegetables by the roadside to help make ends meet, couldn't offer much practical advice.

Just a quarter of Tjie’s year group at the state-funded M.L. Nkuna High School got the grades required to get into university that year, reflecting the enrolment rate of black students across public schools in the country. Tjie was one of the lucky ones who got the grades and could scrape together the money for fees to actually enrol. But once he got to Wits — as the university is known to students and teachers alike — he found himself plagued as much by self-doubt as financial constraints.

“I never fool myself into thinking because I’m here — because I left most of my peers in townships and villages — I’m a ‘better black.’ The struggle doesn't end just because I made it to Wits,” he said quietly one afternoon at the end of last year, as we sat in a terraced amphitheater overlooking the campus’s Olympic-size pool.

4. How Russia Hacked Obama's Legacy, April 2017

Nico Ortega for BuzzFeed News

No one from the Obama administration seems to remember when they figured out they were falling victim to one of the greatest intelligence operations in history.

"This was the kind of realization that came incrementally," a former senior State Department official told BuzzFeed News. "There wasn’t a moment where you realized that Pearl Harbor had been hit by kamikaze or that the World Trade Center has been hit."

Now, as two congressional committees and the FBI investigate Russia's role in the election, former Obama officials find themselves grappling with a new legacy, one that formed at the 11th hour of their time in power. As they looked toward a world where pariahs like Iran and Cuba were won over with diplomacy, they fell victim to a sneak attack by an old adversary. And they let it happen, offering up stern warnings and finger-wagging instead of adequately punishing Russia for achieving something that even the Soviet Union at the height of its power couldn’t manage: meddling in the US election and rattling Americans’ trust in their democracy.

5. Why Marine Le Pen Finally Decided To Run As A Woman, April 2017

Alain Jocard / AFP / Getty Images

PARIS — Being the Mrs. is usually a problem for female politicians. Hillary Clinton was often overshadowed by her husband; some US newspapers even ran pictures of Bill Clinton with their lead stories announcing Hillary’s official nomination as a presidential candidate. During France’s 2007 presidential election, Ségolène Royal won attention largely for being a woman, rather than a serious politician, even though she became the first female candidate to make it to the final round of voting. All the talk about her skirts and her strut and her four out-of-wedlock children with François Hollande didn’t help her win, although Hollande himself did win the next presidential vote, in 2012.

But Marine Le Pen is betting that, this year, being Mrs. Anybody is a winning strategy. The Mrs. is acceptably matriarchal, and the “anybody” is unthreatening.

More than that, being Mrs. Anybody means not being the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is probably Europe’s most famous living racist. In 1972, he started the National Front and peopled it with Nazi sympathizers — some just fascists at heart and some former SS officers and other collaborators with the pro-Hitler Vichy government of World War II. His political achievements amounted largely to provocation: He’s been convicted, multiple times, of racism and Holocaust denial, and prosecuted for assaulting a female politician.

6. The Hungarian Rise And Fall Of Sebastian Gorka, April 2017

Alex Wong / Getty Images

BUDAPEST — Sebastian Gorka — national security aide and all-round Donald Trump attack dog — failed his way upwards to the White House, having been denied security clearance to work in the Hungarian parliament, defeated in a local mayoral race in the 2000s, and widely dismissed as an opportunist.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president who focuses on counterterrorism, was denied security clearance in 2002 to serve on a committee investigating the then-Hungarian prime minister’s past as a communist secret police official during Soviet times. That denial, local security officials and politicians told BuzzFeed News, effectively ended his career as a national security expert in Hungary.

Washington’s standards may be lower than Budapest’s. Gorka has been widely criticised for his lack of qualifications and connections with fringe political groups since joining the Trump administration. In the past few months, his ties with far-right Hungarian groups and past as an editor at Breitbart News have raised questions about both his ideological views and his judgment. But, back in Hungary in the 2000s, he wasn't seen as an extremist, but instead a self-promoter, who exaggerated claims about his past, including his work for the British intelligence services.

“Sebastian Gorka is not a Nazi or a security threat because he is some sort of secret British agent,” said a member of the Hungarian counter intelligence service, who has reviewed the files a security background check on Gorka from 2002. “Gorka is, how do you say in English — a peddler of snake oil.”

7. How Sweden Became “The Most Alt-Right” Country In Europe, May 2017

Krent Able for BuzzFeed News"

STOCKHOLM — The white nationalist Richard Spencer is partnering with two Swedish outfits to create a company they hope will become a media giant and keep race at the center of the new right wing.

It is envisioned, one co-creator said, as a “more ideological Breitbart.” Called the AltRight Corporation, it links Spencer with Arktos Media, a publishing house begun in Sweden to print English-language editions of esoteric nationalist books from many countries. The other Swedish partner is Red Ice, a video and podcast platform featuring white nationalists from around the globe.

It was natural for Spencer to turn to Swedes as partners in the new enterprise, given the country’s history as an exporter of white nationalist ideas. But forging formal bonds between nationalists across the Atlantic makes even more sense today, when the politics of Northern Europe is heavily driving the politics of immigration and Islam in the United States.

8. Inside The Fight For Mosul, June 2017

Warzer Jaff for BuzzFeed News

MOSUL, Iraq — In an abandoned house on the banks of northern Iraq’s Great Zab River, a soldier known as Ahmed the Bullet giggles like a child as he waves me over to see the secret cache of photos that he keeps on his phone. The burly special forces veteran has been collecting images of death throughout the long war with ISIS, which has now reached the outskirts of the militant capital of Mosul. It’s a warm afternoon in October, and soldiers from Ahmed’s elite battalion are preparing to lead the offensive for the city. Wearing a T-shirt that says “American Sniper” and a backwards baseball cap, he takes a thick finger and swipes through pictures of dead and wounded comrades.

On the dirt roads outside, soldiers shout over the rumble of Humvees as they turn an empty village near the front lines into a forward operating base. Over the last two years, as they’ve pushed back the ISIS caliphate, the process has become routine: Check houses for bombs; clear them of broken glass; rig them for electric; carry over water, rice, generators. Then move on and do it all again, a little wearier and often with fewer men.

They are Iraq’s best soldiers — the lead battalion of the three brigades of special forces that are heralded as the “Golden Division,” the almost-invincible killers of ISIS — and they know the final battle in Mosul rests on their shoulders. Passersby had honked their horns and cheered when, two days earlier, they rolled north in a convoy from Baghdad. The highway shook as flatbed trucks hauled their bullet-marked Humvees toward the front lines, each painted in the trademark black of the special forces, with the black-clad soldiers perched on top like gargoyles as Iraqi flags thrashed in the headwind.

9. The Trump Administration Has A New Plan For Dealing With Russia, September 2017

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As the White House fends off accusations of collusion with Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has taken it upon himself to guide the Trump administration’s thinking on dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The former Texas oilman, who worked extensively with Kremlin officials as CEO of Exxon Mobil, has crafted a three-point framework for future US-Russia relations that takes a narrow view of what can be achieved between the former Cold War adversaries, but seeks a constructive working relationship with Putin on a limited set of issues.

“Right now, US-Russia relations are in the gutter,” a senior State Department official familiar with the framework told BuzzFeed News. “We want to make sure it doesn’t flush into the sewer.”

The framework, a classified document that hasn't previously been revealed, has become the source of anxious speculation by US allies still puzzled about Trump's commitment to deterring Russia and bolstering NATO allies, even after his endorsement of the military alliance’s principle of collective defense.

10. This Woman Devoted Her Life To Keeping Women Safe. And Then A Man Killed Her, October 2017

Erica Canepa for BuzzFeed News

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Micaela García stood up against gender violence, devising strategies to combat machismo and organizing massive women’s marches — her notebook was full of plans to educate other women about their rights.

“Update femicide data. Women and machismo. Combating the patriarchy → what is it?” García wrote in her notebook ahead of Women’s Day earlier this year. Scrawled at the top of another page: “#VivasNosQueremos.” We want us women alive.

Which is what makes what happened next so distressing to her fellow activists.

On April 1, García went out for the night with her friends in Gualeguay, a small city 90 miles southwest of Concepción del Uruguay. But as she made her way home in the early hours of the morning, she became the latest victim to be added to the list of women murdered by men.

Like so many femicides, her death is one that could have been stopped, if only the law had been applied, if only men were properly punished for their crimes.

11. He Was Meant To Guard A Country's Votes — Instead He Was Murdered, October 2017

BuzzFeed News; Riccardo Gangale/Bloomberg via Getty Images

NAIROBI — Early in the morning on July 31, eight days before a highly contested election that would plunge the country into a crisis unlike any it had seen before, the man responsible for designing the electronic system to ensure a fair and accurate vote was found brutally murdered.

Authorities found the body of Chris Msando, the deputy IT manager of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), on the side of the road in a town called Kikuyu, about 12 miles northwest of Nairobi. Police also found the body of a 21-year-old woman next to him; both of their clothes had been removed. Early reports indicated that Msando’s arm had been chopped off, but a pathologist later clarified that he had suffered several cuts to his arm and other signs of torture. Officials said the cause for his death was strangulation. Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations continues the probe into his killing.

Nearly a month after Msando’s murder and the election that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta reelected, sparking protests around the country, its Supreme Court nullified the result, citing irregularities. Kenyans will head back to the polls on Oct. 26. But over it all hangs the shadow of Msando. Some independent journalists and politicians from the opposition party say there is a deliberate attempt to stall his murder investigation. Others have gone so far as to suggest that Msando’s death was carried out by the government because the electronic voting system he was in charge of posed a threat to a ruling party that wanted to rig the elections. In his first in-depth interview since Msando’s death, his older brother, Peter Msando, voiced skepticism over details surrounding his brother’s killing.

“His death was a bit strange and we still don’t know the motive behind his killing. This is why we want to bring it to the outside world’s attention,” Peter told BuzzFeed News.

12. This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like, October 2017

Photographed for BuzzFeed News

KASHGAR, China — This is a city where growing a beard can get you reported to the police. So can inviting too many people to your wedding, or naming your child Muhammad or Medina.

Driving or taking a bus to a neighboring town, you’d hit checkpoints where armed police officers might search your phone for banned apps like Facebook or Twitter, and scroll through your text messages to see if you had used any religious language.

You would be particularly worried about making phone calls to friends and family abroad. Hours later, you might find police officers knocking at your door and asking questions that make you suspect they were listening in the whole time.

For millions of people in China’s remote far west, this dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives. The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since this spring, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into so-called political education centers, apparently for offenses from using Western social media apps to studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained.

13. These US Troops Were Killed In Combat During Trump’s First Year In Office, December 2017

Department of Defense

The number of US troops who died in war zones rose in 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, for the first time in six years. As of Dec. 28, at least 33 military personnel had been killed in war zones overseas compared to 26 last year, according to an analysis of casualty statements released by the Pentagon. At least 21 of those died in combat, according to the Pentagon — some in places where the US presence was not widely known.

The total is a far cry from the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, when more than 1,000 US troops were killed. But the variety of places where US troops died in combat may indicate what lies ahead under an administration that has granted the military greater authority than its predecessors had to act without consulting leaders in Washington, DC.

Former military officials and experts say 2017 also showed a worrisome trend toward less transparency about how and where US troops are killed. In June, the US military said it would no longer release immediate information about US combat deaths in Afghanistan.

The Trump administration also has been opaque about troop levels in some countries such as Syria, where US officials finally acknowledged that 2,000, not 500, US forces were operating. High-profile combat deaths in Yemen, Niger, and Somalia this year led to the first realization for many Americans — and some members of Congress — that hundreds of US troops were fighting in those countries.

For more Best of 2017 content, click here!

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.