It was a dark and stormy night and Scat Horbath was glad to be out of the weather in the Washington DC metro, where he was to meet the sinister Ali Ben al-Masseur in the last car of the Blue Train.
Al-Masseur ran the Brothers Of Islam Charity Center in Arlington, and he held the clue to a two-thousand-year-old secret that had been scratched in code into the bottom of John Hancock’s pewter chamber pot. The fate of the free world hung in the balance.
The doors opened, and Scat entered the nearly empty car. As the car moved off he became aware of the subtle smell of falafal. Then he saw his man, seated at the end of the car chewing as he read from a copy of The Koran.
Al-Masseur looked up and flicked his tongue, projecting little pieces of yogurt sauce into the air.
“So, Scat, we meet again.”
That’s the opening of my new thriller, The Last Zealots, to be published under my pseudonym Rand Wotan. It’s the first in a series featuring Scat Horbath, a US assassin suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who, for reasons of grave national security, is recruited back into the business by his colleagues in The Agency.
You know the drill: Scat has to come in from the cold and do one last mission.
If my calculations are correct, the novel will bring a fatwah down on me, and the book will sell millions. I plan to Save America one bestseller at a time.
OK. OK. All the above is hogwash. It’s actually a lame satire on the bestselling thrillers of Brad Thor, author of The Last Patriot and The Apostle. Thor is a regular on the Glenn Beck Show and on blogs like Military.Com where he sells his clever books and spreads anti-Islamic phobia.
The similarities between Thor’s fantasy approach to history and that of certain right wing commentators and politicians would seem to suggest a trend.
For example, Rep. Michele Bachman confidently presents a totally whacked narrative of US history in which “our founding fathers worked tirelessly to overturn slavery,” while Glenn Beck spins a fictional narrative in which the 14-year-old Jewish George Soros — being hidden by Christians — was actually “a collaborator with the Nazis … helping the Nazis to send Jews to the camps.”
Thomas Jefferson and the Secret Revelation From Allah
Shamefully exploitative thrillers and irresponsible history are not new, of course, and have never precluded popularity or electability. But some of this stuff feels more Joseph McCarthy than Ian Fleming.
Thor’s The Last Patriot revolves around a preposterous plot in which a historian discovers a clue in Thomas Jefferson’s copy of Don Quixote that leads to a secret compartment in a mantlepiece in one of Jefferson’s homes that reveals an ancient clock that, when properly engaged, types out the long-lost secret of the final “revelation” from Allah to Mohammed.
Let’s listen in as President Jack Rutledge tells our hero Scot Harvath about the revelation:
“ ‘In a nutshell, if you believe it, Mohammed was told that war and conquest were not the answers. He was told to put down the sword and live peacefully among people of other faiths.’ ”
In the Thor version — “if you believe it” — the revelation is why Mohammed was assassinated: So Muslims would never get the word of peace. Jefferson, we’re told, became interested in Islam and the thwarted final revelation because he was the first American president to go to war against Radical Islam – that is, the Barbary pirates who plagued US commercial ships.
In the novel, “Islamists” have infiltrated the Defense Department and all levels of the US government. On the first day The Last Patriot was appearing in bookstores, Thor told Beck this:
“There has been a plot afoot that was set in motion by the Muslim Brotherhood in this country to undermine the United States and to basically destroy the Constitution and to replace our democracy – as crazy and far-fetched as it sounds – with Sharia Law.”
While Thor never served in the military, he told Military.Com, “I have the greatest respect for the warrior class.” His dad was a Marine, though “a strictly support person.” For his novel The Apostle he says he “shadowed” a special-ops assassin team in Afghanistan.
With all his manic energy, Glenn Beck has also written a thriller called The Overton Window about a mysterious power to shape the future, that, according to the back cover, “manipulates public perception so that ideas once seen as radical become acceptable over time.”
Following “a horrible terrorist attack, … an apathetic young man is plunged into the maelstrom of political discourse.” In the course of the book, he uncovers the conspiracy behind the terrorist attack and “saves the woman he loves and the freedoms he once took for granted.”
In an introduction, Beck says he really loves the thriller genre, especially “fiction rooted in fact,” which he calls “faction.”
We live in an entertainment culture so dominated by fantasy and so corrupted by special effects that the real world is becoming boring. And that seems to apply to real history. As “exceptional” people, we seem to now require more than reality. The Romans famously encouraged “bread and circus” to keep their citizenry distracted and unquestioning.
As irony and slapstick overlaps the news on the left with John Stewart and The Daily Show and as Howard Beal went rogue in the film Network, the paranoid thriller similarly seems to be overlapping and seeping into the world of rightwing politics. When Beck and Bachman perform, they seem to feel liberated to spin paranoid fictional plots from their very active minds. And the scary part, people seem to eat it up.
Thor assures us he’s only a writer of “fiction,” but then he brags he was a member of the Department Of Homeland Security’s Analytic Red Cell Program, which is an effort to mine the popular mind for terrorist ideas.
The New York Times recently reported that Thor is working with Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, the CIA agent convicted of lying to Congress about his murderous activities in Nicaragua recruiting the Contras, people he himself referred to as “like a bunch of cattle rustlers. Bandits.”
I recall that period well from a half-dozen trips to Nicaragua and El Salvador. For anyone who got off the couch and witnessed Reagan’s proxy war, Clarridge’s Contras were noted for brutal attacks on innocent villages and for killings of good people like US development worker Ben Linder. These were real murders, not silly thriller scenarios.
Along with Oliver North, now a writer and TV personality, Thor is regularly fed information from the rogue Clarridge’s current “off the books” operation in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The Times called this information “an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports.”
In May, Thor claimed he had insider information that Mullah Omar was being held by Pakistanis without US knowledge. By all accounts the story was garbage. The irony is, if it had been true, it might have compromised a secret US mission and put him up there with WikiLeaks.
In an interview with Military.Com, Thor unabashedly advocates the need for “pro American propaganda” and “stories that highlight American Exceptionalism.” He ridicules Hollywood for not having the courage to make movies of his pro-American propaganda.
“We have been the greatest nation for good in the history of the world. And this is something we should be championing,” he says.
In places like Afghanistan, he says, “We are forced to fight with both hands and one leg tied behind our backs.” And: “Our enemies are cowards hiding behind women and children.” And, my favorite: “Stop the feminization of warfare. We can’t give them any quarter. I’m against capturing them on the battlefield. … As long as we continue to capture these idiots, instead of killing them, we’ll have this problem.”
Take no prisoners and exterminate the brutes. Or, better yet: Sit back in your beach chair turning the pages of The Apostle and let General David Petraeus decide who to exterminate.
Unfortunately, the real world and real history is much messier than Thor would like. As William R. Polk points out over and over in Violent Politics, his brilliant primer on counter-insurgency warfare, “the heart of insurgency is essentially anti-foreign.” In Afghanistan, WE are those foreigners. And as Polk says, “foreigners cannot militarily defeat a determined insurgency except by virtual genocide.”
The Thriller as Old Fashioned Propaganda
People like Brad Thor, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachman are classic propagandists in this fight. They don’t care that someone like Polk carefully studied the Algerian War and other doomed counter-insurgency wars in detail for decades.
Propaganda doesn’t have to be produced by a government office and it doesn’t even have to be false information. It just has to be a narrow and relentless assault of information and/or entertainment with no inherent respect for dialogue that drills and drills over and over the same relentless line. In this case, it’s a particularly insidious plot formula that simplifies and demonizes an entire people and their religion as “the enemy” – just as blatantly as was done during World War Two with those drawings of near-sighted, buck-toothed “Japs” with babies on their bayonets.
“Propaganda has become an inescapable influence in the modern world,” wrote the French sociologist Jacques Ellul in 1962 in Propaganda: The Formation Of Men’s Attitudes. Forty-nine years later, societies like ours depend on it the same way the human body depends on oxygen.
The anti-Islamic thriller formula is one powerful stream forming the minds of men and women in the post 9/11 world. Thor’s formula perfectly breaks down into a mix of the two classic types of propaganda Ellul talks about: Agitation propaganda and Integration propaganda.
“The first, which aims at rapid, violent actions, must arouse feelings of frustration, conflict, and aggression, which lead individuals to action. The latter, which seeks man’s conformity to his group (including participation in action), will aim at the reduction of tensions, adjustment to the environment, and acceptance of the symbols of authority.”
First, there’s the demonization of Muslim terrorists that expands in the mind like an inkblot – to borrow a popular counter-insurgency concept – to encompass the entire religion and all Muslims. Then, there’s the mythic cult of the warrior (no one is a “soldier” anymore) that supports the killing of those demonized.
The former agitates and justifies violent action, while the latter passively integrates the citizen into the warrior cult with an acceptance of the killing. And those who don’t go along with the formula soon get included in the demonization process.
Brad Thor shrugs and says he’s writing fiction. But, I submit, his harsh attitudes about Muslims and his so fervent public advocacy for untying the hands of assassination teams and for killing those “idiots” and “cowards” in Afghanistan is simply an abstract effort to lower the moral barrier for the “virtual genocide” Polk suggests is the endgame all counter-insurgency campaigns devolve into.
As it stands, the grocery store book shelves, our television line-up and our movie screens are filled with this crap. Hateful “faction” seems to be growing.
Though Thor and Beck would disdain the Frenchman Ellul, he gets the last word:
“Propaganda cannot run counter to an epoch’s deep-seated trends and collective presuppositions. … From the moment the individual is caught, he needs his ration of pseudo-intellectual nourishment, of nervous and emotional stimulation, of catchwords, and of social integration. Propaganda must therefore be unceasing.”