47 pages 1 hour read

Max Marshall

Among the Bros: A Fraternity Crime Story

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


Among the Bros (2023) is a non-fiction account of the 2016 College of Charleston drug bust and the murder of Patrick Moffly. It is Max Marshall’s debut book. Marshall, an American journalist and writer, belonged to a fraternity during his college years at Columbia University. In Among the Bros, he explores fraternity culture in the United States and how it has evolved over the years to incorporate increasingly intense hazing rituals. He looks at frats’ history of racism and members’ positions of social privilege. He also examines the rise in drug trafficking at frats, including the popularity of benzodiazepines like Xanax. These factors sometimes come together in tragic ways. In 2022, it was announced that the as-yet-unreleased book would receive a film adaptation.

This guide uses the 2023 Dean McMillan Marshall eBook edition. 

Content Warning: The source text includes discussions of anti-Black racism, drug dependency, murder, sexual assault, and violent hazing rituals.


Among the Bros primarily follows Mikey Schmidt, a young man who arrives at the College of Charleston (C of C), South Carolina, in 2013. Mikey will later be arrested in a major drug bust in 2016, prompting writer Max Marshall to visit C of C to learn more. It is hard for Marshall to believe the scope of the drug ring that Mikey was involved in, and finds it even more surprising that the ring was also connected to a murder.

Mikey already has extensive experience dealing weed by the time he arrives at college. He decides to join a fraternity, as C of C has a thriving fraternity and sorority culture. Although Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) has a reputation for being the best frat on campus, Mikey befriends one of the members of the smaller Kappa Alpha (KA) Order, Rob Liljeberg III

At this time, frats were generally considered a rowdy but much-loved part of American college culture. Despite this reputation, frat parties could get dangerous very fast. In 2012, for example, SAE hosted a retreat that involved days-long alcohol and drug binges, boys throwing hunting knives at a headboard above girls as they slept, and the burning and destruction of everything inside their lakeside cabins.

Mikey and Rob become close, but Mikey cannot officially join KA until he proves himself to be socially adept during several parties. He endears himself to Rob and other KAs by selling good-quality fake IDs. With most frat boys being under 21, fake IDs are a necessary part of the drinking and partying lifestyle. Mikey accepts an official offer to join KA.

Once he is a new KA pledge, Mikey has to go through a semester-long hazing process that largely involves running errands for older members. It also involves forced binge drinking, drug use, and sleep deprivation. Some fraternity pledges go through harrowing ordeals like being dropped off miles from home in the night, being tased, or being forced to drink other boys’ vomit and urine. All frats officially ban hazing, but Marshall emphasizes that these incidents are the rule, not the exception. Students who get arrested (which happens often) are usually able to get their charges dismissed, as they have access to expensive lawyers. It is not uncommon for fraternity members to die unexpectedly from accidents or overdoses. These tragic deaths never make any difference to frat culture, and the parties simply keep going.

The larger public discussion about the dangers of fraternities, especially their hazing rituals, drug cultures, and misogyny, is just beginning at this time, and kids like Mikey and Rob essentially live in a world without consequences. Xanax is becoming more and more popular as a party drug because it dramatically heightens the effects of alcohol. Mikey starts dealing Xanax, stops going to class, flunks out of school at the end of his first year, and returns to Atlanta. There, he gets a job as a valet, makes connections in the music industry, and keeps dealing drugs. He and Rob establish a huge Xanax business and make a lot of money selling to college students.

Mikey, Rob, and other students get Xanax off the dark web and sell thousands of pills to smaller dealers at their school, who then mark up the pills so that everyone profits. Students start combining Xanax, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine to create drug cocktails that often cause memory loss. Around this time, some of the leaders of the Xanax trade in the area get arrested, and Zack Kligman, who is not a college student, takes over most of the drug trafficking. He is one of Mikey’s Xanax suppliers, though he never meets Mikey.

There are repeated incidents where frat boys from KA or SAE spike a party’s alcoholic punch with Xanax. Instead of using the drink as a straightforward “roofie,” the boys give the drink to girls and drink it themselves, typically waking up with no memories of the previous night. SAE generates controversy when a video emerges of frat boys singing a racist chant. Marshall notes that racism is baked into many fraternities: The Kappa Alpha Order has long-standing ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

To supplement their income, Mikey and Rob start selling cocaine alongside weed and Xanax. Mikey buys cocaine from a contact he calls “Uncle” in Atlanta. Zack Kligman starts making his own Xanax because it is cheaper than getting real Pfizer pills. He and some other men have their own pill press, but the pills they make tend to be chalky and unreliable compared to pharmaceutical-grade Xanax.

The drug ring gets bigger and bigger until, in 2016, a young man named Patrick Moffly is murdered. Marshall interviews Patrick’s family and paints a picture of a young man with a long history of benzodiazepine misuse who often got into trouble and threw huge parties on his parents’ large property. After trying for years to get off benzodiazepines, Patrick moved to Charleston in 2015 and started selling Xanax that he bought from Zack Kligman. 

On March 4th, 2016, Patrick is shot and killed in his home in Charleston in connection to his Xanax dealing. Rob and Zack both get caught by police during a sting operation and both agree to become informants. They lead police to Mikey, who is arrested and accepts a plea deal that gets him 10 years in jail. Charles Mungin, a young Black man, is arrested and convicted of the murder of Patrick Moffly, though Marshall raises some suspicions that Charles was working on Zack Kligman’s orders. Charles receives a life sentence.

Most of the young men arrested for drug trafficking serve little to no time in jail, even though police find millions of Xanax pills in a storage locker Zack rents. KA temporarily closes down at C of C, and fraternities’ reputations diminish across the country. Despite this cultural shift, fraternity culture continues, and most of the frat boys involved in the drug ring are able to return to their lives.