Brad Thor's War Gaming on North Korea Might Keep You Up All Night

Author Brad Thor has done his fair share of war gaming for research on books like Use of Force, his latest thriller. What does he think about the situation brewing in North Korea? He joined Glenn on Tuesday to war game scenarios. Grab a teddy bear, this might keep you up all night.

"A lot of people scoffed and laughed when they did their nuke tests, when they detonated underground, and said, wow, these are relatively small, low-yield things. Ha, ha, ha, they can't really build a serious big bomb," Thor joked.

"Well, if you think they're going to put them on top of a missile, you may not be worried about, you know, this thing being equivalent to what the Russians have. But, you know, the North Koreans have put a couple of satellites into outer space. And if they put one of these low-yield bombs into a satellite and detonate it over the United States, the electromagnetic pulse is going to wipe us out. We're going to go back to the 1800s in the blink of an eye."

Glenn reacted with surprise.

"Jeez, I haven't even thought of a satellite. Thank you, Brad. Thank you for that," Glenn said.

"Yeah, you're welcome. Sleep well tonight. Tania, I'm sorry," Thor responded.

So, how does this whole thing end with North Korea?

"My money would be on actually some sort of a coup and China being the brains behind it. That would be what I hope," Thor said.

Now what about Russia and the Middle East?

Listen to this segment from The Glenn Beck Program:

GLENN: Welcome to the program, Mr. Brad Thor.

BRAD: Hello, Glenn.

GLENN: How are you, Brad?

BRAD: How are you, my friend?

GLENN: I'm good. How are you?

BRAD: I'm excellent. And thank you for your praise of this book.

You know, the entire time I was writing it with my Navy SEAL protagonist who was working for the CIA. I just said, "You know what, what might Pat do in this situation, you know, or Stu or Jeffy?

GLENN: Right. Right.

BRAD: Dropped in a dangerous foreign country, what might they do? And they were really my North Star.

GLENN: It was the --

PAT: That's understandable.

JEFFY: You're welcome. I know.

GLENN: Because I read the book. It was to point you in the direction of, don't go there, right?

BRAD: Right. Right. It was kind of the George Costanza thriller this year. Just go the opposite direction. Opposite direction.

GLENN: Right. Right.

Brad, I want to talk to you about a lot of things. How much time do we have? Do we have quite a bit of time?

BRAD: I'm as you need. No. Let's -- everybody else can wait. I want to do this --

GLENN: We had such a good conversation yesterday. And it happens to people -- I know. It happens to people all the time where they're on Jimmy Kimmel or something. And Jimmy will just stall and stall and stall then the guest walks out halfway through and is like, "Oh, sorry. I forgot." You know. So --

BRAD: Hey, man. Sorry. Thanks for coming on, man. That's all the time we have today.

GLENN: Brad -- what did you say?

BRAD: No, that's what Jimmy says to Matt, when he cheats him out of time. But we'll have you back.

GLENN: Yeah, yeah. We'll have you back.

Brad, in reading the book, there's a couple of things that I'd like to talk about and not really give away the plot of the book. Because everybody has to discover it themselves

But you are talking at the beginning about the -- the way these -- I guess what you call refugee ships are being packaged over in the Middle East. Who is packaging them? And how they're doing it. And it is obscene.

BRAD: Yeah, it's bad.

GLENN: I mean, I have not yet -- and you would think with liberals, you would see these kinds of reports. I have not seen reporting like this at all. Is that really the way it happens?

BRAD: It is. And I have to tell you, there is a lovely, lovely reporter at the Daily Beast. I give her a big shout-out. Two big shout-outs actually in the acknowledgments of this book, that is the Rome Bureau Chief for the Daily Best.

And I reached out to her. Befriended her on social media. And she was incredibly helpful. Because I was reading her articles about the refugees, the connection with the Mafia and ISIS. And you're the one that coined the term faction, Glenn. And what I do is faction. Where you don't know where the facts end and the fiction begins. But the refugee crisis and how ISIS is using it and how the Mafia is even involved, and how they're smuggling weapons into Europe for terrorist attacks is amazing. But this person, Barbie, at the Daily Beast in Rome couldn't have been nicer. She really was terrific.

GLENN: And she has to be brave. Really brave.

BRAD: Oh, yeah.

GLENN: Explain a little -- without giving, you know, any of this away, because it's so great the way you lay it out, but explain what's happening with the refugees.

BRAD: So in -- in my thriller, the way it kicks off is, in real life, we discovered a laptop in a terrorist safe house. And when they opened it up, it looked like it had just come from Best Buy. Never been used. But when they drilled down, they found real life all of these chilling plots, things they had planned for Dallas and New York and Rome and Paris and London. And the CIA never caught the guy.

And so I had been reading Barbie's stuff on the Daily Beast about the refugee crisis. I'm concerned. ISIS has threatened to sneak people into Europe -- terrorists in via the refugee crisis on these boats.

And I started reading about it and looking. And these smugglers are bad. I mean, they are putting people -- I mean, people are suffocating in the holds of these fishing boats that are not even seaworthy. It's bad.

GLENN: It is -- it is worse than the slave trade ever was.

BRAD: Yes. They are torturing and raping people. They are splitting families up and deciding, you get to go to Europe. But we're going to keep your daughter and your wife here. There are people that have never captained a boat before. And they're putting a Kalashnikov to guys' heads saying, okay. You, who paid us your life savings to go to Europe, you're going to pilot this boat. And they give them enough fuel to just get outside the territorial waters of Libya, and then they hand them -- they've given them a satellite phone with one phone number preprogrammed into it. And that is the Italian Coast Guard. And these boats are sinking. And thousands of people are dying -- it is a humanitarian -- I mean, it is beyond barbaric, beyond horrific what is going on.

And I just thought, you know, this to me was fascinating. And if I can, through my thriller, bring a little light to this and how evil these smugglers are and how well-connected they are with ISIS and the Mafia, I might be doing some good with it.

GLENN: So why are they putting these boats are that are just not seaworthy, not giving them enough fuel? Is it just to cause massive chaos on the seas so the boats and the refugees that are working with them get in?

BRAD: Well, it -- that is a big -- that is a big part of it. So they -- it's Libya, right? So they don't have like a great shipbuilding infrastructure there, and they're taking boats that even these poor fishermen won't use to go out and fish on anymore. And they're filling them full as many as they can, and they're just shoving them out. It is a money-making operation.

I mean, these -- you know, these guys are the scum of the earth. They are trading in human misery the things that these people go through -- and these refugees are trying to escape their countries to get a better life. We can argue about what the best way is to do it. But, you know, you've got these people -- women. If God forbid a woman is pregnant or menstruating with some of these Muslim men, they have thrown women over. I mean, bad stuff. Very, very bad.

GLENN: Horrible.

So you go -- and I don't -- I don't want to give the story away. But I want to take you to one place that I just thought was riveting. Is when Scot comes in, the main character -- what is this, the 17th book with him?

BRAD: My 17th thriller. Yeah, yeah. And you can read them in any order. If you haven't read a Brad Thor book, you can start with Use of Force. You don't need to have read anything of mine before.

GLENN: So Scot is the main character. And he's going in to get a really bad guy. And he -- he goes into a store. I don't even remember where it was. Is it Libya. Where is it --

BRAD: With the satellite phones. Yeah, that would be the way you would track a smuggler down. Is if you found a satellite phone. You would want to know who sold it to whom, and you would pick up the trail there.

GLENN: Now, is -- just explain the store scene. Is that from real life?

BRAD: There's a lot of this that's real. So these smugglers all buy their satellite phones from the same company in the Emirates, because they have the best coverage over the Mediterranean. So give them that piece of humanity, that they actually want the satellite phone to work when the boat is sinking and these people are being fed upon by sharks. You know, you hope that the Italian Coast Guard, which is hours away, can find a way to rescue them.

So the scene with my guy -- so a terrorist mastermind's body washes ashore in Italy. The CIA panics, and they send Scot Harvath, my protagonist, out to retrace this guy's steps to say, what was he up to? And are we going to see some mega attacks in the US this summer? Go retrace his footsteps. And Harvath, knowing that these guys used the same satellite company, figures out who bought this satellite phone, and it tracks to a small electronic shop in Libya, which is based on a real little shop that was trafficking in these phones. And Harvath goes in to try to bribe this guy, give him cash first. And the guy won't take it. And in the middle of trying to convince this guy to give up the smuggler, Libya is overrun with different militia groups. I mean, they are a failed state. It is bad in Libya. Three militia members pull up outside to actually do a transaction with this guy. Now, Harvath is stuck. He's got three militia guys coming in. And what's he going to do? And it devolves very quickly, as these scenes do. And that scene was actually based on something one of my former special operation guys told me about.

GLENN: It was -- it's a pretty terrifying scene, the way Americans take charge. And then they take him out to get some information. And the technology that you describe is in some ways comforting. In other ways, absolutely horrifying. And I want to get to that here in just a second with Brad Thor.

The book is use of force. I want to talk to him about this. I want to talk to him about the assassination attempt in the ballpark a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps some of the cloak-and-dagger stuff that is happening now in Washington, DC. We'll get to that in just a second, when we come back.


GLENN: Welcome back with Brad Thor. Brad, explain the technology that you -- that you show in use of force. And I don't think this is going to surprise anyone. But it is the way your character uses it. Has it been used this way? What else -- what -- else is it used for? And explain it. Start there first.

BRAD: Okay. Are you referring to the way that Harvath breaks the satellite phone salesman?

GLENN: Uh-huh.

BRAD: All right. So this is real. And this has been used by somebody that I know. And essentially, what he did was open up a laptop in front of the suspect -- he wasn't going to drill him through the kneecaps or anything. But positioned a drone over this guy's house and did a split screen that showed the guy's wife and kids basically in the backyard. And then showed a screen that's got the underbelly of the drone with the weapon's package so that he could say, "All right. Activate this hellfire missile," if you will. And basically terrified this guy into, if you don't give up the really bad dude you're working with, then we're going to kill your family. That was the threat, that we know where you live, we've got your wife and children in the cross-hairs, and you better give us this bad guy we want, or there's going to be trouble.

GLENN: So the way you wrote it -- that just doesn't sound -- that sounds amazing. But when you read it and the way he didn't believe it at first and then he went over -- the drone flew over his house -- flew over his store and he saw that it had been burned to the ground and he saw in realtime --

BRAD: Right.

GLENN: And then the drone starts to fly over to the house and he starts to sweat, and he then sees his wife and his child step out on the back patio. It is -- it's quite terrifying.

How do you feel about that ethically?

BRAD: Well, I'll tell you, the guy in question -- and readers will get this. The guy in question is a really, really bad guy.

And the main character that's doing this to him has no intention to harm his wife or children. It's a psychological ploy here. And that's what we -- our men and women are away doing some of the country's most dangerous business. They have to make calls and have to decide how to do things.

GLENN: So hang on just a second. I don't have a problem if we are using that and we don't kill his family. But then how do you have any credibility -- I mean, he has to die at that point. If he says no, he has to die. Because he'll go back and say, "Hey, they used this ploy on me. They'll never use it."

BRAD: Right. It doesn't work. They don't follow through on it. They draw a line in the sand, and I jumped right over it, and there were no consequences.

GLENN: Yeah. Right. Right.

BRAD: Yeah, I mean, you would have to. And that's the benefit I get as a fiction author. I get to ultimately choose how the guy is going to react to this. But, again, it was from talking to someone who had done something similar and was able to assess what -- I mean, that's what they do. They look at these people that they have to interrogate and decide what's going to work with them. That -- the more information you can have about a subject before you even sit down to talk to them, the better off you're going to be.

GLENN: Right.

BRAD: And sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. That's a big thing I talk about in the book. It's like, okay. We're a nation of laws, not a nation of men. And we put rules on our intelligence services and our special operations community. And should they be allowed to cut corners?

And, you know, how desperate do things have to be? Is it worth it for one American life?

You and I talked about Benghazi. I don't care that they couldn't refuel jets. They should have been going supersonic with American jets from Italy over Benghazi, breaking every piece of glass in that town, and then run them until they run out of fuel and dump them in the med. And we'll pick up the pilots. We can build more planes.

GLENN: Yeah.

BRAD: So I'm a big believer. And I think that's the fun part of my books, is you read these, and you're like, okay. Not only does that make sense, but I really hope that's what we're doing out there with the bad guys.

GLENN: So, Brad, we are looking at a much more dangerous world than we were when we first started talking. You and I were much more hypothetical, really, you know, when we started talking ten years ago on what this world could be like.

BRAD: Uh-huh.

GLENN: Your book is now absolutely, these things are going on. And we are facing these kinds of threats. No doubt in mind that what you talk about with the refugees, what you show happening in Paris in your book, is absolutely happening right now.

Are you more optimistic or less optimistic than you were five or ten years ago on the state of the western world?

BRAD: I'm actually more optimistic on how we're going to combat it. Okay? I actually think -- and you know. I was not a Trump supporter. I worked on Rick Perry's campaign. My family and I pray for Donald Trump and the people around him on a daily basis, that they are going to be successful, because we'll all be successful.

GLENN: So are we. So are we. Yep.

BRAD: I actually think that that administration can take the big leaps and do the hard work that needs to be done. I number one think -- you know, we hear after the Orlando massacre, that this guy was on the FBI's radar. There wasn't enough to get him. So they had to let him go. Our intelligence services in the western world are drowning. We've got open ISIS cases in all 50 states in the US. It's happening in Brussels and in Great Britain. There's just not enough intelligence officers and police officers to follow these guys. And I think we need to lower the prosecutorial bar. We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child porn. If you're surfing that stuff on the internet, you're going to jail. And I think we ought to identify the gateway drugs, the on-ramps for jihadism. I think we ought to make it a lot easier to prosecute these guys.

And if somebody even sleeps on your couch and you know that they're planning an attack, you ought to go away, not for years, but for decades. And if people die in that attack, you ought to go away for your entire life. Let's raise the price.

GLENN: Okay. I want to continue our conversation with Brad Thor. His new book is Use of Force. We're going to talk about what the Supreme Court did yesterday about bringing in refugees from other countries. We talk about that and so much more when we come back with Brad Thor.

(OUT AT 10:33AM)

GLENN: I honestly think that the -- the best thinkers on the planet for geopolitical consequences and moves and countermoves, are the guys who write what I call faction. Fiction that is driven by the facts of today. People like Tom Clancy was, when I was growing up -- that's Brad Thor today.

You know, people -- the Russians actually thought he was a CIA plant, that they were -- that the CIA was trying to get Russia to think that that's how the Americans will move, because he was so accurate and spot-on.

Brad has been a good friend and adviser of mine for a while because the fiction writers -- this is what they have to do. And they have to make sense.

Real life doesn't have to make sense. Fiction has to make sense.

So, Brad, with that, let's war game a couple of things because I can't find a way out that I'm comfortable on a lot of these things. Let's start with North Korea. We have three carrier battle groups out now. The only time in history that that has ever happened, where we've had three. We've always gone to war.

We have Otto Warmbier, being drugged and beaten now, according to one general, that they used Sodium Pentothal on him so much, it addled his brain. They were beating him. They dumped him on our doorstep like a mob hit. And we -- they're also putting into production long-range missiles. And we don't really seem to have a line because the -- crossing that line for us is all bad stuff. What do we do?

BRAD: Well, I'll take it up another notch for you, to add to your anxiety over North Korea.

GLENN: Thank you.

BRAD: You know, a lot of people scoffed and laughed when they did their nuke tests, when they detonated underground. And said, wow, these are relatively small, low-yield things. Ha-ha-ha. They can't really build a serious big bomb.

Well, if you think they're going to put them on top of a missile, you may not be worried about, you know, this thing being equivalent to what the Russians have. But, you know, the North Koreans have put a couple of satellites into outer space. And if they put one of these low-yield bombs into a satellite and detonate it over the United States, the electromagnetic pulse is going to wipe us out. It's going to -- we're going to go back to the 1800s in the blink of an eye.

GLENN: Jeez, I haven't even thought of a satellite. Thank you, Brad. Thank you for that.

BRAD: Yeah. You're welcome. Sleep well tonight.

Tania, I'm sorry.

GLENN: I know. I don't sleep as it is. Now you give me that.

BRAD: As it is. I know. I know.

GLENN: Okay. So what do we do? What should we do?

BRAD: Well, so Kim Jong-un isn't the problem. It's the military and political structure that holds him up as a figurehead. The reason he's got that stupid haircut, is it's supposed to hearken back to the days of his grandfather.

GLENN: Correct.

BRAD: Which, interesting for me, is that they decided to assassinate his older half brother in an airport where they put up those two dupes, those massage -- masseuses or whatever it was, and they killed the older half-brother, which is a really interesting move. I don't know why they did that. What they were worried about, what kind of chess pieces were being moved.

GLENN: Weren't they sending a message to the West, first sending a message to their own people, look at what the West has done, but also maybe sending a message to his -- the people he's afraid of. That I'll get you wherever you are. And also, a message to the West, I don't care if you have it on tape. I'm not afraid. Possibility?

BRAD: Yeah, that's possible. No, it's totally possible. And it's possible that they were worried there was some plot afoot to overthrow things and to use the older half brother as somebody to install a new, more democratic regime there. I mean, it's hard to understand. They're nuts. They're absolutely nuts. And there isn't a good way out of this, particularly because you've got Seoul sitting on the other side of the DMZ. And Seoul -- when you think about it, with 11 million people there, they are the Israel of that area. There's bunkers underneath everything because they're worried about incoming from the North Koreans.

There is not a good way out of this. And it's another place -- you know, you would have thought that we had Saddam Hussein's inner circle very well penetrated before we went into the Gulf War scenario, and we didn't. And we're even more blind when it comes to North Korea. We need to get inside -- these guys all have skeletons in their closet, the generals and the politicos behind them. We need to work it from the inside out.

GLENN: Okay. So are a -- I've got a gun to your head. I'm forcing you to put your house down on the betting table. You bet this ends in our favor, or it ends with war?

BRAD: I think China goes in and does something. I think the Chinese are better equipped to overthrow that government. But the problem for China is they don't want the mass of humanity running in. That's the big thing. South Korea and the Chinese want to contain it. But my money would be on actually some sort of a coup and China being the brains behind it. That would be what I hope.

GLENN: Okay. All right. Next scenario. I've got two scenarios left here. Next one, Russia. The election. We know -- we've known forever they were going to try to influence our election. They are looking for chaos. They weren't trying to get Trump in. Although, they didn't like Hillary Clinton. That was an extra bonus. What they're trying to do is cause chaos and have us lose faith in our own system. And be able to manipulate.

We are arguing about politics. We're not really facing the problem, and that is that Russia -- Romney was right. Russia is our biggest geopolitical foe right now and is a direct threat to the United States.

How does this one end?

BRAD: Well, I'll tell you, I know what we should do, and it was Bill O'Reilly's idea. I don't think we should be -- I don't think American credit card companies should be honoring any transactions inside Russia. That would be devastating for them. Absolutely devastating. And if we can help drive down oil prices by flooding the market, that will also hurt Putin. He's only got the energy --

GLENN: We really are -- you know, our fracking, it was too late to stop -- the Saudis tried to stop us from fracking. It's already too late for that. And we are a big reason that oil prices are as low. They are in deep trouble, economically. Does that not make them more desperate?

BRAD: It's going to make them more desperate. But I think that with the internet and the ability of good Russian people to see stories about liberty and freedom from around the world, I think we should be fomenting unrest in Russia. We should be doing everything we can. You know what, you're going to do it to us? It's like the whole Untouchables thing. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send two of theirs to the morgue. I think we ought to outmanipulate them. But do it with the truth.

I think we should ignite the lamp of liberty in the hearts of the Russian people. Because once those lamps are lit, there is no extinguishing it. And let's beat them with the truth. Because there's a lot of bad things in Russia. And the more we can do to help expose it and get those people to rise up, the better it will be for the rest of the world. Putin needs to go and all of those sleazy corrupt people around him.

GLENN: Do we actually come to our senses as -- as Republicans and Democrats and actually deal with the fact that they're already here and infiltrating and working on 2018 and 2020? Do see us actually getting there or just using all of these investigations to hurt one side or the other?

BRAD: Listen, I know that there are good people on both sides of the aisle that are concerned about this -- because the shoe can be on the other foot tomorrow. It can be a Republican today, a Democrat tomorrow, that's being either helped or hurt by these efforts. This is an American issue, and that's the way we need to focus on it. You know, Trump is -- it's the one issue he will not touch. He will not condemn the Russians, to come right out and say, "If this happens again, you know, this is going to be the consequence." I don't know why he won't.


BRAD: I don't know. I think he -- I think -- listen, I think he felt a lot more comfortable in Saudi Arabia than he did at the NATO summit. I think he admires what he thinks are strong leaders. And dictators are not leaders. They are despots. They are tyrants.

And for some reason, he feels an affinity with them. He likes tough guys. I think that's a mistake. I think real American leadership would be saying, you know what, you did some pretty bad stuff. And, no, we're not going to ease sanctions on you.

I mean, it's insane that Congress has got to do what's best for the country, by blocking the loosening of sanctions, and the president is lobbying for that. That's insane. If I had written this in a book, I would have been tossed out of my editor's office.

GLENN: Brad Thor is the author of the new book, Use of Force. If you've never read a Brad Thor book, start with this one, Use of Force. It's really, really good. 11.3 million copies of his books in print today, which is a staggering number.

Brad, last scenario. The Middle East. We are now siding with the Syrian Kurds who are Marxist revolutionaries and terrorists. We are using them as proxies to fight the Russians and the Iranians and the Syrians. It's going to come and bite us in the ass. Iran is now trying to sweep into a crescent, to start their own caliphate. Turkey wants theirs. ISIS is kind of on the run, but they're more of a global operation now. And we seem to have our head in the sand, still, although we are getting better. How does this one end?

BRAD: Well, I think that the current administration has opened up good channels of communication with the Saudis. The Saudis hate the Iranians. And I think we need to continue to -- listen, this doesn't end well. This is a long, protracted lukewarm war, if you will, where we're not necessarily firing the shots, but we're actively supporting people that are.

So we're going to see a lot more of this proxy stuff. This does not end well. But the one thing, again, that I think the Trump administration can do is every time there's an act of Islamic terrorism somewhere in the West, I think we ought to ring another concession out of the Muslim world. So another drop of Western blood is spilled, we are merciless in having Trump hammer them publicly for this backwards ideology. And not only to condemn radical Islamism, but to say, okay. By the way, when are you guys going to start allowing women to vote in Saudi Arabia? And just to hammer that, to just bring unrelenting pressure for reform in the Muslim world. Because until that point, we're going to be playing Whack-A-Mole with terrorists. And we really need -- Judaism has been reformed. Christianity has undergone a reformation. Islam has not. And it's long past due.

GLENN: Brad, the Supreme Court ruled that the president can say for the safety of Americans, we're not going to take these refugees until we've worked this out. Is there an honest effort to try to figure out a way to bring people into the country and -- and have an idea of whether they're good or bad? You know, we've worked it out with Mercury One and the Nazarene Fund. But it would be politically incorrect to do that, as a nation. How do you do it? Is there a way to do it?

BRAD: Well, there's a couple of different ways. And one of the things is -- bad communication on part of the Trump administration. These six countries were identified by the Obama administration because they couldn't even tell you people getting on planes had parking tickets or overdue library books. And we need to screen -- I mean, you get on a plane in London, anywhere else in the world, your name is sent to the United States. They know before that plane takes off who is getting on the plane. And that's important. So that's not an anti-Muslim thing. You need that from any country in the world, to know who's getting on these planes. That's number one.

Number two, the refugees come through UN intake centers. They are like -- they're like Brad prison yards. Okay? If you ID as a Christian when you check into these places, you're going to get killed. Bad things are going to happen in these refugee camps, which is why Christians don't self-identify there. And I want everybody who is a good, honest person, be it a Muslim, Christian, whatever, to have an opportunity to get to the US. I want you to be a productive citizen.

But we need this idea -- again, Bill O'Reilly, another great idea when he talked about setting up safe zones within Syria, within the Muslim world, so that we don't have to take people here, so that they can remain culturally where they are most comfortable. Because they're running away from something. They're not running to the United States. They're running away from their own problems. And I think we need to keep them in that region where they're culturally adept. They understand the culture.

If you want to come to America, that's a separate story. But if you're coming to America just because we've thrown open the doors and you're getting away from something, that's not exactly a tier one refugee that we -- that we want, if that makes sense.

I'm not saying we shouldn't take people in times of war and in strife and things like that. But I want to make sure that we're making plenty of room for people who are, you know, standing in line and have devoted themselves fully to being here. But I look at the faces of those children, and you want to help those people as much as you can. I want anybody who wants to be a good American, I want them here and I want to help them. But we need to vet people. We need to vet them.

So I actually think Stu, Pat, Jeffy -- I think all those guys, I think we ought to put them on the front lines. Just sit down, have a Coke with these guys. Kind of like five bullet points.

GLENN: And bring your vest. Bring your vest. It's a three-piece suit list --

BRAD: I trust them. You know, Glenn, you've been carrying these guys for years. I think the show would be fine without them. Let them go do some good for the country --

GLENN: Right. Right.


BRAD: The guy that claims he got you out of the mullet haircut, you know, I think there's some guys that could do some good work over there, starting with your show.

GLENN: Got me into the mullet haircut.

Brad, thank you so much. God bless you. The name of the book is Use of Force. Pick it up. Available today. Bookstores everywhere. Use of Force. Another thriller from America's favorite writer, Brad Thor.

He may not be a super hero like he plays in the movies, but Chris Pratt is proving once again why he's a hero to so many. The silver screen protector of the universe announced on his Instagram page a contest that will benefit the Brain Treatment Foundation, who is a partner of Mercury One that does amazing work with veterans. The Brain Treatment Foundation specializes in helping combat veterans who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The contest asks fans to donate $10 to the foundation for a chance to win a trip to drop in on the Guardians of the Galaxy star on the set of his new film Tomorrow War.

Watch his video below to hear all the details.

Ryan: The Ascent of Kanye West

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Apollo, god of poetry, light, prophecy, dance. Star of Greek mythology, rivaled only by Zeus, his father. God of justice. God of purification, knowledge, healing. God of the Sun. But most of all, god of music. So they called him the Leader of the Muses.

And on a bright Sunday morning midway through November, at the tail end of a decade, Kanye West looked out at the congregation of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, a 16,000-seater originally built for the Houston Rockets, and said, "Jesus has won the victory: Now the greatest artist God ever created is now working for him."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye's newest album, Jesus Is King, had been out for three weeks, and like every Kanye album, it was controversial, as adored as it was unaccepted.

Critics had shown a mostly tepid response, but nobody could tell if their disinterest was genuine, or if it was politically motivated.

After all, for the past year, Kanye had once again managed to penetrate the epicenter of American society. The last two Presidents had literally shamed and cursed Kanye, but, still, who could've guessed he would befriend this one?

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The week after Kanye's Olsteen appearance, at the House impeachment hearings, as the entire country watched and listened, Congressmen and diplomats would mention longtime Kanye collaborator A$AP Rocky no less than five times, in casual reference to the Kardashians and the deal between Trump and Sweden, struck at the urging of Kanye West.

Meanwhile, Jesus is King became the ninth consecutive Kanye album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 — a feat he shares with Eminem and The Beatles — and the sixth time in the 2010s alone. And, to be fair, his only studio album not to debut at number one was The College Dropout, his first, which went triple platinum and earned the third-most Grammy nominations in one night, winning Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song with "Jesus Walks."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Jesus is King was also the first record ever to top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Rap Albums, Christian Albums, and Gospel Albums simultaneously. All eleven tracks charted on the US Billboard 100, joining the other 96 Kanye songs to have landed on the Top 100.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

This album was different, and not just because of Kenny G. For the first time, Kanye was not a god or a self-destructive fallen angel. He was a father, a husband, a son, and, most important, a man full of belief, with his hands outstretched, surrounded by a choir.

"I remember sitting in the hospital at UCLA after having a breakdown," he told the congregation, "and there's documentations of me drawing a church and writing about starting a church in the middle of Calabasas."

That night, following an afternoon of ice-skating at the Galleria, Kanye returned to Lakewood Church and performed a concert. Imagine hearing a his electro-gospel opera in an arena designed, acoustically, for professional basketball games. Only better, because everything had been padded. With LSD graphics on the swirly blue carpet.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When we experience art, it changes us.

So there I was, four rows from the stage, crying in front of FoxNews. Because Kanye had brought his Sunday Service choir with him, and they were singing "Ultralight Beam," one of the few perfect songs ever made, a song that played during my wedding ceremony, the song my daughter, God willing, will be born to, a song I have never once listened to without at least tearing up.

“Jesus Is King" A Sunday Service Experience at Lakewood Church with Kanye West

"This is a God dream, this is a God dream. This is everything."

Kanye was the only person onstage dressed in his own clothing, a neatened blazer. The choir were draped in grey, like holy silhouettes.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

So who cares about FoxNews and their snotty reporters in their shoulder-padded blazers. The rest of us had drifted into the immediacy of it all. And I wasn't about to play stoic journalist here. I wasn't a reporter first and a human or an American later.

The choir zigzagged on the loft flanking the stage. Each of them had a headset microphone, like Garth Brooks.

God only knew how they sang so perfectly. How did they project their voices like that? More beautiful than anything we had ever heard, more beautiful than water.

After "Ultralight Beam," it was "Every Hour," the mesmeric opening track of Jesus Is King.

Sing every hour, Every minute, Every second, Sing each and every millisecond, We need you

Every Hour

The performance felt all the more sacred because this was church, where people gathered to lose themselves, to sing as a chorus, to confront who they really are.

Across the street, one protestor stood hollering.

Meanwhile thousands of people waited at the entrance, giddy to get in. They would join us in no time. Soon, they would fill every seat in this church.


That morning, Kanye told Olsteen,

"It's like the devil stole all the good producers, all the good musicians, all the good artists, all the good designers, all the good business people and said, 'you gotta come over and work for me.' And now the trend, the shift, is going to change."

Jesus Is King was the result of a new cultural and artistic movement that more or less started with 2016's Life of Pablo, Kanye's closeted gospel album. Which was a surprising departure from 2013's Yeezus, with its tangled social commentary and fashionable solipsism. And that drum sound, the one every half-decent producer has spent the last six years failing to emulate.

The 2010's saw him grow more cerebral. He even teased a book of philosophy titled Break the Simulation.

Then, in 2018, he released Ye, the second of five albums in a Kanye-produced series, all recorded at his Wyoming studio. In keeping with the criticisms of hip-hop he voiced on "Ye vs. The People"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye eschewed many of the themes he'd embraced for so long, replacing them with meditations on mental illness, fatherhood, suicide, love, and addiction. The album's working title had been "LOVE EVERYONE."

On "I Thought About Killing You," he raps,

The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.

The title "Ye" is not just the diminutive of "Kanye."

As he said in an interview

I believe 'ye' is the most commonly used word in the Bible, and, in the Bible, it means 'you,' so it's [saying] "I'm you, I'm us, it's us." It went from being Kanye, which means the only one, to just ye – just being a reflection of our good, our bad, our confused, everything, that I'm just more of a reflection of who we are, just as beings.

Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that

All individuality is a manifestation of universal life, and hence everyone carries a tiny bit of everyone else with him, so that divination is simulated by comparison with oneself.

In the months following the release of Ye, Kanye would live out this idea, and build his own movement, a reflection of who we are, then begin his church in Calabasas.


At 10:30 that morning, the three of us — Samantha Sullivan, my wife Caroline, and me —- strolled into the arena and claimed seats in the media section.

That place resembled the inside of an ant colony. We were three ants.

The service began with errorless music, then shifted into a quick, stirring message by Osteen, who always seemed to appear onstage from nowhere, privvy to the kind of big-money stage tricks you find at a Shania Twain concert.

The entire place and all the Jumbo-Trons and all the people, it all had a cinematic presence.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

A preliminary giddiness spread through the room. Then, Kanye emerged, there on the stage, and the place erupted.

A man in a "Jesus is King" shirt danced around his seat.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Everyone took their seats, but one man standing in the crowd shouted affirmations. "Speak truth my brother," he shouted.

The man shouted several more times, then Kanye politely told the guy to hold off on the support because it wasn't helping, because Kanye needed relative quiet to capture and release his flow.

The ceiling glowed in skittish purple.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye described the corrupting force of the media. A chill came over the room. Behind him, the unapologetic blue of Jesus Is King.

It was my first encounter with Joel Osteen, and I was surprised and somewhat baffled to find him likeable, based on everything I'd ever heard about the man.

Kanye said as much, that Osteen is nothing like the version of Osteen many people have broadcast.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Osteen laughed, "When you've got Kanye defending you, you've made it, man."

Rays of light danced through the arena. I'm talking Pink Floyd light show levels.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

With 21 Grammys, Kanye is tied with Jay-Z as the most decorated hip-hop artist of all time.

Osteen asked Kanye what he would say to his younger self, if he could go back in time.

"You know, it's nothing I can say to the younger Kanye through words," he said. "I could speak to the younger Kanye through music."


Osteen played the middle section of "God Is," arguably the focal point of the album.

And Kanye danced and rapped along with it. And the surreality of the situation was daunting. Was that really Kanye West up there? with Joel Osteen? dancing to his gospel song?

Six or seven years ago, I saw Kanye a mile away at the Toyota Center — coincidentally, the current home of the Houston Rockets — for his and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne tour. It was a much different experience than this.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When Kanye finished, the media flooded out. As did a quarter of the people in the congregation. This bothered many of the regulars.

Security and ushers yanked big grey mop buckets from cabinets, and dispersed them down aisles, and money music played.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then the time for prayer. Prayer leaders lined the walls and pews. And anyone could walk over to them and pray. Men and women clung to strangers, crying sometimes, hugging. Holding hands, whispering phrases.


One of the media coordinators pulled us out of the sermon, led us through passageways and elevators, past classrooms and security guards, through a black sheet, then behind a barricade.

This is where all the media had rushed off to like old folks trying to get the best seat for bingo.

Each news outlet was allowed one question.

After 15 minutes, the energy changed and you could tell they were near.

Then, Kim Kardashian-West was walking our way, holding her daughter's hand, followed by Kanye, who was followed by Osteen.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

"Nice tags," Kanye said, referring to my "GOOD" necklace.


Brief interview with Kanye West and Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church, Nov. 17 in Houston, TX

Some of the outlets asked more than one question, but that was on them. They were the ones sinning in church.


As Kanye and Olsteen shuffled away, down the line of journalists, I said hello to a small crew from FoxNews as they packed their equipment.

"We're from TheBlaze," I said, smiling. To which they sneered and glanced at one another then got back to their conversation.
Samantha rolled her eyes and the three of us wandered around for an exit.

"Did we just get stiff-armed by Fox News?" Said one of us. "I didn't think they were allowed to look down on anybody."
"I've had that with people from Fox on several occasions," one of us replied.

"I mean, I thought I was doing them a favor a favor by acknowledging them. Nobody else does."

Then it happened again, a few minutes later, this time with someone we had worked with, someone who knew us.
You bet we were salty.

Bad as it felt to be judged like that, it was good to be underestimated. A relief. It meant we could perform without anyone caring or watching.

They had no idea who we were or what we were really doing. Good.


In November 2007, Kanye's mother died during a routine surgery. He and his mom, Dr. Donda West, had always been incredibly close. She raised him alone, after Kanye's father left, when Kanye was three.

A few months later, his engagement with Alexis Phifer abruptly ended.

He was 30 at the time.

Oddly, this tragic sequence of events would cause the birth of auto-tune in rap. Broken-hearted, Kanye wanted to sing. So he ran his voice through a vocoder.

Kanye's album 808s & Heartbreak, which like Jesus is King has no curse words, shoved music ahead at least two decades, into a world of synth-driven robotic R&B/Rap love songs belted out in janky auto-tune. That description doesn't sound ridiculous today. But that's only because Kanye eschewed the stale hip-hop of the early 2000s and reinvented the genre, something he has accomplished with every album.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then, he went on tour. But he never took off any time following his mother's death. And, by the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, he'd fallen to what he calls his sunken place.

He and then-girlfriend Amber Rose brought a bottle of Hennessy with them to the award show. They took slugs in the limo. Then on the red carpet.

When Taylor Swift won the award for Best Female Video, Kanye stormed the podium, sunglasses on, and grabbed the microphone, said "Imma let you finish," then let everyone know the award should've gone to Beyoncé, for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."

He was kicked out immediately. He tweeted, "Everybody wanna booooo me but I'm a fan of real pop culture... I'm not crazy y'all, I'm just real."

Followed by an apology. Then a few days later, during an appearance on debut episode of "The Jay Leno Show"

Leno asked Kanye, "What do you think [your mom] would have said about this?"

That hit Kanyelike a punch to the jaw. He teared up, froze.

He publicly apologized to Swift. Several times.

But it did little to quell the blowback. Once again, it felt like the entire nation hated Kanye. Compounded by a hot-mic recording of Barack Obama — the country's first black President — calling Kanye a jackass.

So the embattled Kanye retreated to Hawaii to record a masterpiece, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.


"We are a Christian country," Kanye said at one point, to uproarious applause.

The vast majority of Americans, 90 percent, believe in a higher power.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

And America has the largest number of Christians in the world, with roughly 167,000,000, comprising 65-to-70 percent of the population. But that's down from 80 percent, as part of a downward trend over the last two decades.

The percent of Americans who attend a religious service of any kind — church, synagogue, or mosque — is even lower, less than half.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

One political scientist blamed the public's growing distrust in institutions. Another blamed conservatives. A writer from New York Magazine took it a step further.

Meanwhile, David French.

As always, the issue is far more nuanced than either side will admit.

Somehow, in the last twenty years, church and religion had become not just uncool, but slightly villainous.

All day, every time I looked around — at people singing, at people dancing, at people crying in joy or in the relief and recognition of their pain — I thought, "How could this ever be a bad thing?"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

I had spent my life going to concerts, had seen Kanye West numerous times, and this was something other than a concert, and unlike anything I'd seen from Kanye. It was also more than just religious or spiritual.

A family of strangers in a city of 6 million, in a world of 7-and-a-half billion, broadcast live, led by a man who fought off the devil in front of us for years. Who struggled with life just like we do, only we could nitpick through the one-way mirrors of our phones and our TVs.

But, now, he had been baptized in public.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Some people were still negative about Kanye's recent faith, especially Christians. As Kanye raps on "Hands On"

What have you been hearin' from the Christians?
They'll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

Consensus was, they couldn't believe him. As a Kanye fan since I was 13, I can tell you that he is genuine. It's really his only setting. Plus, his spiritual transformation has been building for quite some time.


By the time we returned to Lakewood that evening, the sky had turned dark blue, and frantic with airplanes.

The sidewalks around the arena overflowed with people. Police cars jutted out in crooked lines to block entrances or exits, the strobe of red-white-blue whirling onto pedestrians' faces.

Across the street, facing the giant arena, a man with a bullhorn ranted about the evils of sinful music.

Earlier that day, sheepish protestors had occupied the spot, holding red poster-sized letters that spelled out "I M P E A C H." There were only four of them, though, so they had to double up and share, and sometimes the "H" slanted down or the "I" slipped loose.

"Impeach Kanye?" one of us said, laughing.

"Kanye 2020," shouted someone.

The air was electric. People bounced when they stepped, or walked faster than normal, or turned oddly as they spoke like a third-year professor.

They sang along as they passed traffic-jam cars, most of which were blasting Kanye.

A chorus of police whistles and the usual rumble of semi-trucks passing on US-59. Just down the street, porn shops and strip clubs and a Ferrari dealership. Immediately Southwest, the Mahatma Ghandi District. West, the Galleria, home of the opulent Galleria mall, where Kanye and Kim and family gone ice-skating earlier.

Inside the arena, a different world, low-lit and glowing. A dreamscape of lambent crimsons and violets, a deeper, warmer, slower take on the lights atop the police cars outside. Globular squares of blue were arrayed along the ceiling.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When the musicians emerged to their instruments, the arena was still half-empty. The show had already been delayed 40 minutes. The demand to get in was so ferocious that the security gate was jammed up like a glass Ketchup jar.

Then, like spirits, men and women drifted onstage in all-grey uniforms and matching hats that looked like they should say "VIETNAM VETERAN" but actually said "Sunday Service."

Every single member wore brand-new grey YEEZY Boosts.

From the start, the performance was cinematic, a sort of new-world opera sung by a chorus of young American muses with nose rings or gold chains or dreadlocks or pink hair.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

From the huddle, a young man rose, and began reciting a poem. It was the invocation of the muse.

Gadamer wrote that poetry "becomes a test of what is true, in that the poem awakens a secret life in words that had seemed to be used up and worn out, and tells us of ourselves"


After a whirling rendition of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna," the choir began "Ultralight Beam."

They let the song spread. It grew enormous.

The air swirled as the song widened.

Kanye waited out of view, then appeared without ceremony.

A collective gasp when people recognized the melody of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." Which sounds like a dream already, with all that wilderness.

So it was even stranger when the song morphed into SWV's "Weak," a skating rink anthem written by Charlie Wilson of the GAP Band. A classic.

The choir were their own countervailing force. Yet they also connected us to the drama of the performance.
Looking back, I wish I could live in those moments forever.


Then came their cover of "Father Stretch My Hands" by Pastor T.L. Barrett And the Youth for Christ Choir.

Father Stretch My Hands

Kanye has paid homage to Barrett's track on two different songs, from two different albums.

It was his prayer.

Pastor T.L. Barrett, a man who's lived an exciting and at times difficult life, only to become a Pentecostal preacher on Chicago's south side, and form a choir of 40 teenagers from his weekly choir practice.

If you dive into Barrett, you'll better understand what Kanye is doing.


Ten seats from Kim Kardashian-West, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX) stared ahead in a neat grey suit, occasionally poking at his phone and blasting people on Twitter.

Which means there were at least two people in the building who have appeared on Saturday Night Live.

There were other politicians, including Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. And even more at the earlier service. You could tell they were politicians the same you can tell a vegan burger from a real Whopper. Several times, Kanye held up his phone up and read the words from his newer songs.

Like "Selah," which built into "Hallelujah"s at the end, intoxicating and perfect, like being sucked into an undertow. Which led into "Follow God," a continuation of "Father I Stretch My Hands."

Kanye uses the image of stretched hands to express his own submission and the process that leads to his healing. As a reference to John 21:18

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

But the song is also about Kanye's literal father, and an argument they had. Then, under it all, he adds a sample of "Can You Lose By Following God" by Whole Truth. He ended the song with his Kanye shriek, somewhat confusing and abrasive with a choir present.

Then — something I did not expect. The thumping bass of Cajmere's "Brighter Days (Underground Goodie Mix)."

And now this was cosmic gospel.

It felt like a rave. Have you been to a rave? It's people dancing, taking MDMA. That is what it felt like.

Flourishes like that were part of Kanye's genius. No other gospel performance would dare. You won't find that kind of diversity at any other hip-hop show, either. The acoustic instruments, the choir. Maybe during a set by electronic musicians like Moodyman or DJ Koze. But, no choir. Yet here Kanye was, at Joel Osteen's church, blasting classic techno.

Oddly enough, though, the most popular song of the night was "Closed on Sunday," Kanye's ode to Chic-Fil-A.

Everyone in the arena knew the words. So then there were two choirs, in a dialogue. I didn't think it was possible, but the collective harmony got even more intense and engulfing than it had all night. So much so that the house speakers started to peak in one corner of the arena.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The Ancient Greeks were the first to use a chorus. In the 5th Century B.C., 50 actors would gather in the orchestra pit and sing in unison, commenting on the action of the play, describing scenes to the audience. They were a collective force. They represented one character, who was able to connect the audience to the characters and events onstage.

Kim Kardashian was front and center filming with her phone, as two of the West kids jumped around on the trippy blue carpet.

The performance was nearing its end, and suddenly Kanye was dressed like everybody else in the choir. Grey Yeezy kit and the Sunday Service hat. His transformation. From Kanye West to Pastor Ye, stretching hands.

Then, he was gone.
One by one, the choir began fluttering off the stage, to the Clark Sisters' "You Brought the Sunshine."

Half were gone, when I noticed the singer with braided hair crying. With every exhale, she collapsed her hands into the floor. Let them fall like tired flowers. Arrayed in fitful blue. She gasped. She heaved her shoulders like a wingspan. For a moment it was like she would actually take flight.

A security guard peered over the railing from above the stage. He looked like God.Symbolically, he was.

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at

Don't believe in time travel? Think it's just a wild conspiracy theory reserved for late night alien radio programs? Well, we have unearthed bombshell evidence that will blow you away and have you questioning everything!

A 120-year-old photo PROVES climate change activist teen Greta Thunberg is actually a time traveler warning all generations of the dangers of global warming.

Glenn did some exhaustive research and found several other photos and subjects in historical paintings. Check them out here and see if you are now a believer:

Warning Elvis fans

Ryan: Suction energy, pt. 1

Photo by Sean Ryan

After his speech at the Boone County fairgrounds, Joe Biden nodded and people engulfed him like he was their oxygen. Journalists shouted questions, photographers shoved people aside. Biden's bodyguards even drew closer. I found a good oak tree and hid out in the shade, 100 yards from the chaotic huddle.

Photo by Sean Ryan

They shoved closer and closer and closer, with a vacant urgency to their eyes. They had to get as close as possible. It was like some force of nature had taken control of everyone, and now their only goal was to merge their lifeforce with Biden's.

The frenzy of writhing arms and contorted bodies reminded me of Shark Week, when the hulking Great White breaks through the protective cage and how's the diver gonna make it out alive this time?


A need for convergence, often leading to upheaval.

Most of the Democratic candidates caused this effect. As did their opponent, to a far greater degree. Because he was the president, and he was Donald Trump, so, for the time being, he embodied this magnetism more fully than anyone else in the entire world.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time Trump entered a room or a building or a space of any kind, every person within a reasonable distance felt it. And they couldn't help but bob their head around, and arch up on their tiptoes, scouring till they saw him, and then all they could do was lean forward and wonder if it was actually him.

Some of the Democratic candidates had a stronger magnetism than others. Which meant the gravitational pull had laws that guided it. The term I started using for it was "suction energy."

It was something you could physically feel.

At the Iowa State Fair, Bernie Sanders' suction energy was so intense, so visceral that it reminded me of a hurricane.

Photo by Sean Ryan

People wanted to be as close to the man as possible. They wanted a picture. Proof that it happened—that they had actually seen someone that famous.

And they were perfectly right. And their reactions were understandable and lovely even, and altogether innocent. Encouraging. Because they were genuine.

Even journalists were susceptible to suction energy. In fact, they could spazz even harder. Unlike the public, they were there as workers.


Suction energy is an art, something you cultivate. But it's also a result of luck and reality. Some people will just never have an ounce of it.

Take, for instance, Jay Insleey, who was apparently a Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 election. At some point in my travels, I wound up in the same place as him.

Maybe it was a couple times. A couple, two, three. I can't remember.

All I know is that I went to Clear Lake, Iowa for the Democratic Wing Ding, to see Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren and the 20 other candidates, and this guy Jay Insless ... sorry, I mean Inslee took the stage at some point. It's hard to say when exactly because, as I mentioned, he was impressively forgettable, like a human thumbtack.

Wing Ding featured Jay Insee?Photo by Sean Ryan

He was yammering about something, and, man, he looked and sounded like P.C. Principal, from South Park, and that was pretty funny.

I told my dad, and then we were both laughing. Then my dad did an imitation of P.C. Principal, and we were really hooting.
Then all I could think about was P.C. Principal. So I ducked out into the hall to watch a P.C. Principal clip compilation, and I laughed and laughed and nobody went "Shush!," because there were plenty of others like me.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And, boy, I laughed. I was actually a bit sad when the clip was over. I'd forgotten where I was, and when I caught a glimpse of the guy onstage, my sadness deepened into pity. The feeling you get when you realize that the amateur thinks he can beat the professional. When the replacements think they will know valor. When your dog thinks they're going to the park, but really it's the vet, and they wake up without balls.

Do we have an obligation, a moral imperative, to tell a Square when she's trying to shove into a Triangle hole? How much teeth-lettuce does a person lodge into their incisors before you are inclined to alert them?

Like, after this speech, that guy John Insley, would wander around the walkways of the Surf Ballroom, same as Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang, only he'd lack their glow.

Crowds flocking to Kamala HarrisPhoto by Sean Ryan

At one point, he'd clench his jaw into what must have been a smile, ready for any nearby journalists to sneak a candid photo or rush forward for a quote.

Photo by Sean Ryan

If any of the others noticed, they didn't let on. So here was this chubby kid in a costume knocking on the front door, and I know full well Halloween was weeks ago, but who's gonna feed the harmless lie if I don't?

Photo by Sean Ryan

Nobody, that's who.

So I groaned and shrugged and told my dad, "Let's give the tubby kid some Starburst."

"Wha?" he asked.

Then I asked would he get a picture of that candidate over there.

"Who," he replied. As in, "I can't see an important person over there, which one is running for president?"

In other words, Insleep had absolutely zero suction energy. To a near-magical extent.

Within a few weeks, he would announce the end of his campaign on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Yet there he was, somehow center stage, looking out at the packed Surf Ballroom, where, on February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly played his last show.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Buddy Holly, now there's a man with suction energy. So much suction energy that, when he died, music went with him.


When I saw Kamala during the week of the Iowa State Fair, she was at the height of her campaign, having climbed to second place, within nine points of Biden.

Everywhere I went, there was Harris, with her personalized KAMALA bus, and her chartered press pool, and her entourage of staff and fans and media.

Photo by Sean Ryan

On the first Saturday of the Fair, my dad and I wound up seeing Harris five times. Five times! In part because she could hustle. She wanted that job. But also because she understood power and optics.

Before her speech at Jasper Winery, (when she played savage 4D chess with Andrew Yang, she spoke to several hundred people packed into the atrium of Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, her fourth rally of that day.

Photo by Sean Ryan

When she finished her speech, a horde surged straight for her, eighty or so.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Just a month earlier, The New Yorker had run a glowing profile on Harris. That was huge. As of the release of this story, Harris was the only 2020 presidential candidate that The New Yorker had featured.

Photo by Sean Ryan

At that point of the election, excitement for Harris was so intense that it seemed obvious she would get the nomination, or close to it. So I wrote five pieces about her.

But by the time I finished all five stories and added them to the publishing schedule, Harris had sunk 11 points to 4 percent, which put her in 8th place. In New Hampshire, the first state to hold primaries, she was polling at 1 percent. By comparison, Biden, Warren, and Sanders were locked at 19.

Now, the only headlines were about her foundering campaign and her dwindling cash and her downsized staff. In each case, the sentiment was the same, "Whatever happened to Kamala Harris?"

Which answer a question I posed in my first story. Would Harris "I got this one in the bag" attitude help her or ruin her? Turns out the ostentatious bus and the unnecessary press accommodations had been a premature move, and now she just seemed cocky.
Because suction energy can, and often does, vanish in an instant.

A Bernie can always become a Jay InslepInslee. Nobody is immune, no matter how powerful they appear. Look at Bill Cosby. Harvey Weistein. Both were godlike in their power. Both had a gravitational pull so intense that they raped women for decades and nobody did a thing. Cosby's suction energy was so intense that he collected honorary degrees like a vacuum collects dog hair. 70 of them. Then, off to prison to eat pudding in the dark.

By the time I saw Harris at the Democratic Debate in Houston, a month after she stormed Iowa, she'd begun transforming into Joe Biden, focused on all the wrong things, laughing at her own jokes, without realizing that nobody else was laughing.

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at