Salt Lake City Car Dealer Dies After Leading Violent Coup in Congo

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A Salt Lake City car dealer was killed after leading a violent coup attempt to overthrow the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government.

Christian Malanga, 41, who moved to the United States at age 15 and gained citizenship, was killed by government forces in the capital of Kinshasa after resisting arrest at the presidential palace, Congolese army spokesman Brig. Gen. Sylvain Ekenge told the Associated Press. Six others were killed during the coup attempt, including four attackers and two guards.

Congolese security forces secure the streets after Congo’s army said it has “foiled a coup” and arrested the perpetrators, following a shootout, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Samy Ntumba Shambuyi, File)

The Congolese army found a U.S. passport on Malanga’s body and identified three other Americans among the group, including Malanga’s 21-year-old son, Marcel Malanga, one of Christian Malanga’s eight children. Two white Americans took part, with one identified by his passport as Maryland-based cannabis entrepreneur Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, 36. Zalman-Polun had been business partners with the coup leader.

Ekenge said that the coup attempt was “nipped in the bud by Congolese defense and security forces, [and] the situation is under control.” 

Christian Malanga’s family fled the Congo in the early 1990s, eventually settling as refugees in Salt Lake City. He was a U.S. JROTC Air Cadet in high school, then started a car dealership after graduating. On his website, he proudly claimed that he was “the first African/Black American in the State of Utah to register as a car dealer.”

The car dealership, Malanga Auto Sale, appears to have been active recently; its Instagram page is linked on Marcel Malanga’s Instagram page.

Activity on Marcel Malanga’s Instagram also showed him calling himself “WARCEL” and “WARBABY,” sharing videos at the firing range, pictures and videos of his high school friends, and sharing his conversion to Mormonism. He was also a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump.

Christian Malanga returned to the DRC in 2005 to join the military and then attempted to get into politics. He fled back to the U.S. after being arrested during the 2011 elections, continuing his political career among the diaspora.

Posts on his website and Facebook page show him meeting with figures from Mozambique, Sierre Leone, the Republic of Georgia, the Vatican, and former Republican New York Rep. Peter King. His party claimed that the Vatican endorsed his presidency in 2016 during his visit there, though he did not meet the Pope.

In 2017, he declared the New Zaire movement, referring to the former name for the Congo under President Mobutu Sese Seko. His profile declined in the ensuing years before dramatically reappearing in Kinshasa on Monday.

Christian Malanga and his son were joined by around 50 armed men in military fatigues. The assault on the capital began at around 4 a.m. local time, first targeting the house of a minister previously arrested on corruption charges before moving on to the Palace of the People, the office of President Felix Tshisekedi. Two other residences of government figures were attacked by portions of the force.

After breaching the Palace of the People, Christian Malanga, flanked by his son and a large portion of his force, streamed themselves over Facebook Live.

“God is great, dear brothers! We, the militants, are tired. We cannot drag on with Tshisekedi and Kamerhe. They have done too many stupid things in this country,” Christian Malanga said in Lingala in the video, translated by the Daily Mail.

Other fighters cried “Long live Zaire!” while others said, “Felix, we’re coming for you.”

The building was a strange target, as Tshisekedi wasn’t present at the time of the attack, and the palace itself is mostly ceremonial, news outlet RFI noted.

Fighting quickly turned around after the military caught wind of the assault. Armored vehicles were deployed, and other military hardware was used. Ekenge apologized after several rockets flew across the border into the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, injuring several people.

Christian Malanga was allegedly shot inside the Palace of the People after resisting arrest. His corpse was sprawled out and posted on social media. The rest of his fighters were quickly arrested.

Marcel Malanga and Zalman-Polun were seen on video being dragged out of a boat, apparently trying to flee across the border to the Republic of Congo.

Local sources quickly blamed the CIA for being behind the coup attempt, something the U.S. was quick to deny.

“I am shocked by the events of this morning and very concerned by reports of American citizens allegedly involved. 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,” U.S. Ambassador Lucy Tamlyn said.

Marcel Malanga’s mother, American Brittney Sawyer, pled for the release of her son on social media.

“All the hate in the world! It’s so sick,” she wrote on Facebook. “This was an innocent boy following his father. I’m so tired of all the videos being post all over and being sent to me. God will take care of you people! Karmas a b****!”

Brady Knox
Brady Knox
Brady Knox is a breaking news reporter with a particular focus on Russia, Eastern Europe, and foreign affairs. Hailing from Pittsburgh, he graduated from Miami University in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies and political science.

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