INTERVIEW: Author Brad Thor Talks Act of War ... and Culture War
Brad Thor, bestselling author of 13 military thrillers and an unabashed conservative, is currently touring the country to promote his latest: Act of War. I caught up with him to discuss the inspiration for the book -- in promotional material, he mentioned his desire to explore the Marcus Luttrell tragedy -- and to have him share his thoughts from the tip of the spear of the culture war.
Steinberg: You’re not overtly political in the book, you don’t refer to liberals or conservatives, the words “Democrat” and “Republican” don’t appear in the book, but you certainly come away with a strong message about which orientation has their facts right in terms of national security. Do you have a prime motivation of shaping the culture, or are you focused on writing excellent military thrillers?
Thor: Yes, it’s important that we start from the beginning, which is first and foremost that I am an entertainer, David. I would never open a deli that says no blacks, no Jews, no gays, no libertarians, no Republicans. I would never hang a sign on my business -- I’m a small-business owner -- that says this group is not invited. That’s number one.
Number two, do I have a particular view of the world, of what I think is successful and what history has proven successful? Yes, I do. I write political thrillers, so politics are part of the thrillers, and it just so happens that certain political parties have certain ideals. I’m not going to hide it -- I’m a conservative through and through.
I’m in the business of making money, not necessarily statements, with the books. Can you find a particular point of view in certain characters in the books? Absolutely. Now those particular opinions matter in D.C., and those opinions are prevalent in the military and other spots in the intelligence world. The same problems we have battling liberal ideology in social media and the popular culture, that battle exists in the intelligence world, it exists in the military world. That is the great clash of ideas -- what ideas are going to advance our republic. Is it liberalism, is it conservatism, is it something else?
I would be derelict in my duty of writing authentic political thrillers if I didn’t put those ideas on the field of battle, and allow everyone to sit back with me and watch how they play out.
Steinberg: The big reveals, the big plot turns in the book, you are pulling them precisely from present day news. Now, it’s not the Law and Order example, where they draw from some event that occured that isn’t necessarily political, and just go from there. What I see in Act of War is, you’re taking the news of the day, the policies of the current administration, and then you try to nail exactly how those policies are affecting national security personnel.
Thor: My job as a thriller writer is to beat the headlines.
I want you to read one of my books, and first and foremost be entertained, say “wow, that was a great thriller.” But I want you to close the book a little bit better informed, maybe with some questions of your own.
One of the nicest emails I get from readers is when someone says “wow, I read your thrillers with my laptop open” -- I like to call my style “faction,” David -- the nicest emails are when people say “I like to read your thrillers with my laptop open because I don’t know where the facts end and the fiction begins.”
Yes, it’s not Law and Order. I’m not taking a case that already happened. What I’m doing is looking at the state of affairs. I wrote this book over the last year, so I was sitting at my laptop back then, thinking: “Where are we going to be a year from now? How do I make this book as current as possible when it comes out? How do I write a book 12 months before it comes out and make sure that its current?”
So there’s a lot of trying to peer over the horizon and read the tea leaves. You know, I nailed the whole NSA thing before Snowden in my book Blacklist.
In my book The First Commandment, on page one, it’s not four high-value Guantanamo detainees we swapped, its not six, it’s five, exactly five, on page one of the First Commandment. (Ed. note: I checked up on this. Whoa.)
So I pride myself on being able to beat the headlines, and I do that by just being a voracious consumer of the culture, the news, I watch Washington. I’m saying to myself “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes,” and history is a good guide of where we’re headed because people ignore it.
Steinberg: If PJM readers aren’t familiar with your background: you’ve done precisely this in a more clandestine manner before, correct? You’ve worked with the Department of Homeland Security.
Thor: Yes. I was invited to participate in something at the DHS that was called the Analytic Red Cell Program. They brought creative thinkers from outside the beltway like me, Michael Bay, to brainstorm terrorist scenarios in areas where terrorists might be looking to exploit and attack.
Steinberg: So they reached out to you, I was curious. It’s a fascinating job, and I wondered how someone goes about landing that. So they reached out to you?
Thor: Yes, its funny, I was jogging -- it’s almost like a scene out of a movie. I was living in Park City, Utah, at the time, and I was jogging in the mountains with my dog in an area where I never got cell reception. Yet suddenly -- my phone rang.
I was invited to come to D.C. and to be part of this program. It was an opportunity to serve my country. I wasn’t asked to pick up a rifle, but to use my creative skills to help keep my country safe. It was an incredible honor, and something that I will spend the rest of my life being proud to have been invited to participate in.
Steinberg: You do expose some very specific national security flaws, both with visas and with airport security, in Act of War. Is there ever any concern that you are giving away a roadmap to those who would do us harm, or further, have you ever been contacted by the government, saying “hey, you aired a few too many of our secrets and flaws, you publicized a little more than we’re comfortable with”?
Thor: I don’t put anything out there that I am not legally entitled as a citizen to put out there. I’m not using any top-secret, national security clearance to glean insight into soft spots to sell books. I’d never do that. First and foremost, I am a steward of the republic -- that’s my job as a citizen. That’s even more important than my job as an author. I am hoping to hand a freer, more prosperous, more secure nation to the next generation. I don’t own this country, nor do any of us. We are merely stewards for the next generation. That’s our job.
Yes, that “do no harm” thought is always foremost in my mind when writing thrillers, but part of being cutting-edge, being able to beat the headlines, is talking about things nobody else is talking about. So it’s a fine line.
The government has never told me I can’t publish this, that, or the other thing, I don’t work for them, I don’t have access to a government database that I go to work to and log in every day. I’m not using any advantage in that sense. Am I talking to men and women that are active in military, particularly the Special Ops community and law enforcement? All the time. And those people, they get to see the manuscript before it gets published.
Has it happened in the past that those people, who are subject matter experts, tell me: “Well, we told you Point A, we told you Point C, but you figured out Point B on your own, and Point B can’t be in the book. We can’t let our enemies know about that”? That’s happened. And I’ve taken Point B out.
I’ve done 15, 20 revisions before to get it to the point where my insiders say: “Ok, now we are comfortable with you publishing this.” If they ask me, absolutely -- I’m happy to do it.
But considering this administration, I would not believe them for a second if they told me one of my books is going to be a bad thing for the country. I’d just assume one of my books is going to embarrass them and they don’t want it out there. I have so little respect for the current administration. They would hold no weight with me.
If one of my own experts, or someone I respect in the intelligence world, comes to me, that carries weight. But this Obama administration, I’d laugh them out of my office.
Steinberg: You mentioned in a promo that the Marcus Luttrell story was an inspiration for this novel. That was such a terribly difficult ethical situation, the kind that confronts our personnel often. There weren’t easy answers to the Luttrell story in terms of policy. But is there anything specific -- you just mentioned your lack of respect for the current administration -- is there any policy currently in place that you think is a grave danger to national security?
Thor: Absolutely. Number one: the biggest chink in our national security armor is political correctness.
Political correctness will be the absolute death of this country. There is no greater corrosive force in America right now than political correctness. Political correctness does not strengthen the country, it weakens the country. As we sit here (Ed. note: Monday, July 14, in the morning) the headline today is that Eric Holder sees racial animus in any criticism of him or the president. The left loves to use racism as a sword, but they also want to use it as a shield to guard against any criticism of their performance.
I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, polka dot, if you are a citizen of this country, a servant of this country, then criticism of your performance in your job in service to the rest of us is warranted.
I have very little respect for politicians. You’re not special. If there are ten of us living on a block, and someone needs to go to Washington to represent us, it could’ve been me, it could’ve been you. It just so happens it was someone else who chose to go, or was elected to go. That doesn’t elevate one’s status above fellow citizens. As a matter of fact, it puts you under the greater responsibility to represent the country and the people you are supposed to serve. The key word is service. (Ed. note: Thor’s feelings on this are crystal clear in Act of War.)
Holder says he sees racial animus everywhere? The real racist in this country in this case is Holder. Anyone who would use racism to smokescreen questions about his performance? It is an absolute injustice. An absolute insult to those who have suffered actual racism in the past.
Let’s be clear. There is no more institutionalized racism in America. If you are not getting ahead, it’s not because of racism. There is no institutionalized racism that is holding anyone back from success in this country. We have a black president. Elected twice with a pretty sizable vote. The idea that somehow racism is the problem? No, the problem now is that people want to use racism against their opponents.
We hear about the “war on women,” etc. The real war in this country is the war on the truth. It is being waged relentlessly by the Left. If you disagree with gay marriage, you’re a homophobe. If you question Islamic tenets, how so many followers of Islam are inspired to terrorism by the contents of the Koran and the Hadith, you’re an Islamophobe. If you disagree with Holder and Obama on policy, you’re a racist.
Let’s be very, very clear. Out of all the bogus wars that are going on in this country, the war on women, all these different hashtags, these stupid things, the real war going on is the war on the truth, and it is being waged relentlessly by the Left. The Left always wants to be known for their good intentions, but they never want their records examined. They only want to be known for their intentions, and in their book that’s all that matters.
Steinberg: As far as that goes, I’d include what just happened in Mississippi. Racial animus was used by Thad Cochran against Chris McDaniel in the runoff election. I would add that it’s not just the Left, it’s the establishment Washington crowd in general that is willing to throw those punches.
Thor: Absolutely. On this book tour as we’ve talked about politics and D.C., I’ve shared what I tell my children about the federal government. I explain to my kids, who are 9 and 11, that the federal government is like Jabba the Hut. All Jabba does is sit there inside the beltway in D.C. gorging himself. If you suggest to Jabba that he go on a diet or be more responsible? Boba Fett comes after you. The U.S. has weaponized its agencies against the citizens of this republic. Whether it’s the IRS, the DOJ, on and on. The government has weaponized the people who legitimize the government in the first place. It has become its own living, breathing life form, our own federal government has become one of the greatest threats to liberty.
Steinberg: Are there any people you are going to be out supporting this November, or for 2016?
Thor: I have talked to several people who I won’t name, but several who are being talked about as potential GOP presidential candidates for 2016. I’ve had excellent conversations with all of them. There are things I love about each, and there are things that make me say “oh, come on, seriously?” about some. I’m not going to get a perfect candidate to support. I know that and I am ready for that. I may be surprised, I may actually get the perfect candidate, but it’s a fool's errand to think that you will. This is like getting married. If you’re hitting on four out of five cylinders, then grab that woman or man with both hands and get them to an altar. You’re never going to hit on five out of five.
But -- I know that this country, this republic cannot survive another Democrat presidency.
We cannot and will not survive that. It is incumbent upon us, even if we have to put in some wishy washy guy -- and I am going to fight in the primaries to make sure we do not get the Republican in name only -- but if that’s what it takes, than that person is better than putting a Democrat in. That being said, I think all of us are concerned about the direction of the GOP. This is the dilemma I have.
I believe America can always come back, can always be rebuilt. But I don’t want the GOP thinking they can just stick in another squishy candidate and that I will go vote for that person. I can’t tell you I would go vote for Hillary, but this is the dilemma we’ve got. The Republican Party needs to know that I will not just show up and pull the lever regardless of who they put in there.
That’s an issue for me, that’s a real dilemma. I’m looking at a GOP that takes my vote for granted. I hate the GOP with a passion. I used to be a big supporter, used to send money. Now I hate the GOP with a passion. Because the Republican Party isn’t about the American citizen. The Republican Party is about the Republican Party. The establishment GOP, of course, that’s what I’m speaking of.
I’m on this end of the culture. Breitbart was famous for saying “politics are downstream of culture.” It’s not easy, I don’t get tons and tons of mainstream media attention for my books. It’s been growing, but I don’t necessarily know that its been growing because mainstream media has become more open-minded, which you and I both know is not necessarily the case. I think their ratings have been dying. I think they realize they can’t just play to New York and San Francisco anymore, that a big swath of the country is not tuning in anymore to their television programs, and maybe the facts on the ground are forcing them to give more coverage to me.
But it’s not easy to be a conservative in the popular culture. I’m sure if I was a lefty, I would be on these shows all the time and selling three times as many books as I sell. So I always say, I hope people who do believe in the ideas of liberty and limited government will support me and buy my books -- because you know, if I kept my mouth shut I could probably sell a lot more books. If I tilted to the left, I could probably sell more books.
But again, my job, I am a steward of the republic. Listen, the “blue state” model has failed. Liberal policies, post-WWII and even before WWII, the Great Society and back even to Woodrow Wilson, it’s a failure. It is a failure. We’re coming up on 18T in debt. Liberal policies are a failure. There’s not a single successful one, and this country needs to be put on a successful track.
Eric Holder, he can stick it where the sun doesn’t shine on any of his legal briefs, when he says that people talking about “taking it back” are talking about taking it back from a black president. This has everything to do with taking it back from a leftist who has absolutely run the nation into the ground. Holder is practicing this new form of racism, using race as a shield, a sword and a shield, and it’s unconscionable.
Steinberg: Thanks for your time Brad. You gave us lots of great stuff here, and Act of War was my first Thor book, finished it up at 2:00 a.m. this morning. I will definitely be pulling up some of your other books this summer.
Thor: Awesome, take care, David.