LEXINGTON, KY—According to friends and colleagues, for nearly two months now, Michael Schloegel has been acting like he was interested in Afghanistan long before Sept. 11.
"Ever since the attacks, he's been making like he's been a Central Asia expert for years," said Lisa Reames, a longtime friend of the 30-year-old University of Kentucky graduate student. "Like, the other day, he was saying how after the Soviets left Afghanistan, an alliance of mujahideen set up a new government. Then, he said he remembers when the Soviet-backed government replaced President Barbrak Karmal with Muhammad Najibullah in '86. Yeah, fucking right. I'm sure he was aware of that when he was 15."
Friends concede that the intelligent and well-read Schloegel may well have known something about Afghanistan prior to the crisis, but they say he is exaggerating the depth of this knowledge.
"I'm sure Mike knew more about [Afghanistan] than I do," roommate Ben Ware said. "He probably knew what the capital was and maybe some real basic stuff about the Taliban. But I lived with him over the summer, and I don't recall him ever going off about the history of the Northern Alliance like he does these days."
Ware said Schloegel is often seen carrying books related to the crisis, including such current bestsellers as Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History and Ahmed Rashid's Taliban. Ware said he is "99.9 percent sure" that Schloegel purchased the books in recent weeks.
"Yesterday, he was saying something about Al Qaeda, and then he says, 'There's some very interesting stuff about them in Cooley's Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America And International Terrorism, which I read last year,'" Ware said. "It was so obvious he was going out of his way to mention when he read it. And what's with the last-name-only reference to the author? Like I'm supposed to know who 'Cooley' is? Like I'm actually supposed to believe that Mike knows who Cooley is? Please."
According to Reames, within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, Schloegel began to speak frequently of the history of the Afghan people. She said he implored people to not hate Arabs, urging them to "try to understand the historical conditions that led to this unfortunate situation."
"Mike said to me, 'The land has been filled with turmoil for thousands of years, since Darius I and Alexander The Great first used Afghanistan as the gateway to India,'" Reames recalled. "'Islamic conquerors arrived in the 7th century, and Genghis Khan and Tamerlane followed in the 13th and 14th. Then, we all know what happened in the 19th century: the three Anglo-Afghan Wars—let's see, 1839-42, 1878-80, and 1919—which just made everything worse.'"
While Reames called Schloegel's desire to understand world politics commendable, she said "lately it's been too much."
"Afghan history seems very interesting, and I'm glad he's into it," Reames said. "But he doesn't have to lord it over everybody, prefacing everything with, 'As I'm sure you already know...' He should just say, 'As I now know because I just read it on cnn.com about five minutes ago...' Sheesh."
Another blatantly contrived moment came Monday, when Schloegel told friends he has always wanted to visit Afghanistan but "probably won't be able to go any time soon."
"It's really too bad that Afghanistan is plunged in strife and turmoil," Schloegel said. "It's actually an amazingly beautiful place. The country is split east to west by the beautiful snowcaps of the Hindu Kush mountain range, rising in the east to heights of 24,000 feet."
Despite the fact that his expertise is only recently gained, Schloegel continues to rail against the ignorance of others.
"It's really sad how little people know about the world around them," Schloegel said. "Take the recent anthrax attacks, which I saw coming from a mile away. It's all laid out in Miller, Engelberg, and Broad's Germs: Biological Weapons And America's Secret War. In it, the authors make it plain that our government knew about the threat of just such an attack as early as 1991. But did anybody listen, much less do anything? Sadly, no."
This is not the first time Schloegel has falsely claimed current-events expertise. Last November, he spontaneously became an expert in ballot-counting procedure and election law, and earlier this year, he "wouldn't shut up" about global warming and the history of the Kyoto Protocol.