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Erick Stakelbeck: Fighting Islamist terror with the pen

There are a handful of Americans who deserve the presidential medal of freedom but won’t get it, because it wouldn’t be politically correct. These are people laying it on the line, and the end result is, the rest of have a measure of safety not otherwise provided.

I’m thinking of people like Steve Emerson, Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer.

And Erick Stakelbeck.

The host of CBN’s “Stakelbeck on Terror” is a formidable reporter and writer, utilizing publishing opportunities I wish others would. I consider his blog to be one of the most important information sites available. Would that others would devote their time to substance over candy, but at least some frontline folks like Stakelbeck get it.

I caught up with Erick last week in the middle of his busy schedule: investigating, writing, broadcasting. I had reviewed his terrific book, “The Terrorist Next Door,” sometime back. I wanted to know a bit about how he juggles career, family, and what is surely an endeavor that goes beyond even career: exposing terrorist agendas.

Writer’s Bloc: How did you come to do what you do?

Erick Stakelbeck: I started out as a young kid. My father was a member of the 101st Airborne, the “Screaming Eagles,” and he was one of the most well-read men I’ve ever met, a voracious reader, a student of history. He was a huge supporter of Israel, a student of the Middle East. He instilled that in me at a young age. Around the dinner table, we’d talk about King David, Stalingrad, the Entebbe Raid. Needless to say, the other kids in my working-class neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia were not talking about these issues!

So your dad was a real catalyst.

I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it weren’t for him and his influence.

And this obviously had an influence on your formative years.

I continued to follow the issues, the Middle East, what was going on with Israel, national security and foreign policy in general throughout my college years, but I didn’t know I wanted to make it a living. I wanted to be a journalist, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to write and talk about.

And they say, “Write what you know.”

Right. So when I got out of college, I got a job writing about sports. I was a former basketball player and got a job at a local newspaper. After that, I got my big break, working for a basketball magazine in New York. I was interviewing pro basketball players, I was at Madison Square Garden, it was a life-long dream come true. But it wasn’t fulfilling.

And so you decided sports reporting wasn’t for you. What came next?

Well, then 9/11 happened. It shook me to my core, like every American. It changed the entire direction of my life. I already knew who Osama bin Laden was, who al-Qaida was, because I kept up with the news. So I said, “OK, what are we up against here?” So I went out the day after 9/11 and bought a copy of the Koran. I did what every elected official should have done, but most haven’t done. I set about getting to know the enemy, the first rule of war. So, the enemy was quoting from the Koran, citing the Koran as a motivation for their acts. I figured as a concerned citizen, I’d better read the Koran. I also read the hadiths, which is a supplement of the Koran.

So you entered a period of intense study.

I did this for a year. I read everything I could. It became my all-consuming passion.

What came next?

After a year of this, my wife – we’re on vacation, walking on the beach – she was listening to me talk about radical Islam, jihad. She said, “Erick, you’re a writer; why don’t you write about it?” It was like a light bulb went on over my head. I then sent some writing clips to a guy named David Horowitz; he was a guy I really looked up to. He was editor of Frontpagemag.com. To my great surprise, he got right back with me, and I began writing columns. David also asked me to work as a researcher for a book he was working on, “Campus Support for Terrorism.”

Right down your alley.

I was loving it, it was the greatest thing. I learned so much from him – it was a great way to break into this field. After about seven months, Steve Emerson noticed my work. He told me he could use a researcher like me, so before you know it, we were moving to Washington, D.C. We’ve been here for eight-and-a-half years now, and I worked with Steve on the Terrorism Project.

You also encountered some other opportunities, right?

I did. I started doing some TV, some radio, talking about these issues. I found that I liked it and liked the broad platform TV offered. CBN offered an opportunity, and I jumped at it. I wanted to make that transition into TV. I’ve now been at CBN for six-and-a-half years, and have my own show (“Stakelbeck on Terror”). If I’m not mistaken, it’s the only TV show in America devoted to the terror threat. It’s a politically incorrect show, but I try to tell the truth.

So this led to still other opportunities. How did the book deal come about?

In May, 2009, I was giving a speech at [American Israel Public Affairs Committee], about the homegrown terror threat. At the end of my talk, a woman came up to me and said, “Great job, I think you have a book in you.” Turns out she was a literary agent from Manhattan. We got the dialogue going and then I put a proposal together. A friend of mine, Michelle Malkin, wrote the foreword. We had the pieces in place and had a marketing strategy.

We found the perfect match in Regnery. They know exactly how to do terrorism and Middle East books. It took me about seven months of intensive work to do the book, and it was released on May 2, 2011.

And it’s done well.

It has performed very well. I never got calls from CNN or MSNBC, but it’s gotten positive reviews from Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto and Glenn Beck. The people who matter most to me have praised the book. I’ve traveled the country speaking to large groups (CUFI, Act for America), and also large churches. There’s a hunger out there for the truth. People might not be Middle East experts or policy wonks, but they instinctively know that something is not right. This administration is not shooting straight with us; the response has been one of shock. People are just shocked at how deep the Islamist infiltration is.

What is your average day like in terms of researching, writing, etc.? What does your day look like?

From the moment I get in the office, I’m catching up on emails, I spend the first hour reading. Then I’m talking to contacts, making phone calls, shooting emails. I set up interviews and stories. The first two hours of the day are laying the groundwork. And then the day kind of starts. Doing interview shoots, or going down to the Capitol. A lot of the time I’m writing scripts. Also meetings with various important folks, on-and-off-the-record meetings with people who are dealing with these issues.

It sounds like a fulfilling career and life.

It is!

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