Washington Examiner

Americans involved in Congo coup: Unveiling the individuals linked to the unsuccessful coup

The failed coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo involved an unexpected trio, ⁢including a⁢ Utah ​high school football player, a friend, and a convicted drug trafficker. Christian Malanga, a former Utah car dealer, ‍recruited individuals, leading to​ unexpected consequences. The involvement of these Americans ⁤in the coup has sparked shock and concern ‍internationally. The failed‍ coup in‍ the Democratic Republic of Congo entangled an ⁢unlikely trio:⁤ a Utah ⁣high school football player, a friend, and a ‍convicted drug trafficker. Recruited by Christian Malanga, a former Utah car dealer, their involvement has stirred shock and concern worldwide.

A Utah high school football player, his friend, and a convicted drug trafficker are an unlikely trio swept up in a failed coup in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stuck in the country thanks to a former car dealer.

Christian Malanga, whose website touted his success setting up a car dealership in Utah, is believed to have recruited his son, his son’s friend, and a business associate who moonlighted as a marijuana dealer to help him overthrow the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government.

Congolese security forces secure the streets after Congolese army officials said it “foiled a coup” and arrested the perpetrators following a shootout on Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Six people were killed during brazen attacks. (AP Photo/Samy Ntumba Shambuyi, File)

Malanga died in the attack. He had painted himself on social media as a devoted husband and father of eight who rubbed elbows with high-level officials in Washington and the Vatican. Despite the high praise of himself, Malanga had a police record.

In 2001, he was convicted in Utah for incidents including assault with a firearm. He was also charged with domestic violence, battery, and disturbing the peace. He pleaded not guilty, and both cases were dismissed. Three years later, he was charged with domestic violence with the threat of using a dangerous weapon.

At some point, he decided to leave the United States and return to Congo with the mission of overturning the government.

He allegedly convinced one of his sons, Marcel, a high school football player, to join him in trying to unseat the leader of one of Africa’s largest nations. The other Americans accused of participating in the coup are Tyler Thompson, a Utah resident who told his parents he would be vacationing in South Africa with his friend Marcel’s family, and convicted marijuana trafficker, Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun.

Lucy Tamlyn, the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, expressed “shock and concern” at the coup attempt in a Sunday statement on X, stating that any Americans involved would be held accountable.

Je suis choquée par les événements de ce matin et très préoccupée par les rapports faisant état de citoyens américains prétendument impliqués. Soyez assurés que nous coopérerons avec les autorités de la RDC dans toute la mesure du possible alors qu’elles enquêtent sur ces actes…

— Ambassadeur Lucy Tamlyn (@USAmbDRC) May 19, 2024

“Please be assured that we will cooperate with the DRC authorities to the fullest extent as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any U.S. citizen involved in criminal acts,” she said in a translated post.

A State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday that the department was aware of the reports that U.S. citizens “might have been involved in Sunday’s events.”

“We will cooperate with DRC authorities to the fullest extent possible as they investigate these violent acts,” the spokesperson said. “When a U.S. citizen is detained abroad, consular officers seek to aid him or her with all appropriate assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”

As the wheels of justice start to turn in Congo, here’s what we know so far about the Americans arrested in the coup attempt.

Marcel Malanga

Malanga, 21, grew up in Utah. He was a star varsity football player at Copper Hills High School who posted pictures of himself on Christmas in his pajamas. After high school, Malanga went on to play for the Utah Islanders, a team that helps develop high school players into college players.

His mother, Brittney Sawyer, also plastered pictures of him celebrating wins with his football team, lifting weights, and dancing.

In a recent Facebook post she insisted he was “an innocent boy following his father.”

Despite the G-rated content on her social media pages, her son posted pictures with weapons and cash, and he referred to himself as a “Warbaby.”

On Instagram, he referred to himself as “WARCEL” and shared photos and videos with him, his father, and guns.

Almost a year ago, he shared a picture of himself with his father on Father’s Day that had the caption “honored to have you have my earthly father.”

“I can’t wait to change the world with you,” he added.

Most of his friends and family members said his involvement in the coup came as a complete shock.

Tyler Thompson

Thompson was first mistakenly identified as Taylor Thompson.

The baseball cap-wearing 21-year-old grew up in West Jordan, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

His stepmother, Miranda Thompson, told ABC News on Wednesday that Thompson was a happy child who grew up playing football. His big dream was to one day build and flip houses.

He had never been on a plane by himself before leaving on “vacation” with the Malanga family.

Miranda Thompson said she experienced “complete and utter shock” when she saw images of her stepson being detained and beaten by Congolese soldiers.

“It doesn’t feel real,” she added.

Thompson flew to Johannesburg in mid-April. He linked up with Marcel and Christian Malanga and traveled with them to Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. He told his stepmom that the trip was to visit family. He later called home to say his vacation had been interrupted by “a bout of malaria.” It’s unclear if he was the one who had it. He told his family that Christian Malanga had offered to pay for him to stay longer.

Miranda Thompson said she had no idea her stepson had any plans to travel to Congo and that his involvement in Sunday’s coup attempt did not align with the man she had helped raise for more than a decade.

Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun

Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, 36, graduated from the University of Colorado and attended business administration classes at Georgetown University.

He eventually started a commodity trading business but also worked as a courier and Uber driver, the Associated Press reported.

He and Christian Malanga knew each other through a gold mining company that had been set up in Mozambique in 2022, according to a journal published by Mozambique’s government and a report by Africa Intelligence.

Cole Ducey, an American businessman also named as an official in the Mozambique journal, said he met Christian Malanga through a mutual acquaintance. Ducey also met Zalman-Polun, who Malanga met in Washington, the AP reported.

He said they never discussed the political instability in Congo or Malanga’ s failed coup. In fact, Ducey said he decided not to go into business with Zalman-Polun or Malanga, who he described as not being “very intelligent.”


In 2014, Zalman-Polun pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. He admitted to shipping at least 20 kilograms of marijuana from a location in Lake Tahoe, California, to customers across the U.S.

Prosecutors asked the court for leniency on his behalf because he had provided information in their investigation.

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