Glenn Beck likes to say that he never endorses candidates—he just tells his followers how he feels about them. In Chris Stewart, the Republican nominee in Utah's 2nd Congressional District, Beck has found someone he feels pretty damn good about. "If he wasn't running, I'd be trying to convince him to work for me, to help me stay the course, strategize, and save the country," he said last winter, as Stewart's campaign was just getting off the ground. "I've actually tried to talk him out of running, because it's a lion's den in Washington."
But, Beck added, "I believe he's a Daniel."
Like the Old Testament figure who emerged unscathed from a pit of lions, Stewart—an Air Force pilot turned consultant turned end times novelist—is also a prophet of sorts, and his message is grim: "If we don't make some difficult decisions now, if we don't show the courage to do what we have to do to save our country, we won't make it for another 10 years," he said in February, in a campaign video that also served to promote a book he'd just published under Beck's imprint. But there was hope. "At critical times in our history…we literally had miracles where God intervened to save us," he said. Send me to Congress, Stewart seemed to imply, and it could happen again.
It's near certain that Stewart, running in a deep-red district in a deep-red state, will get his chance at fixing Washington next January. But his campaign has raised eyebrows in Utah, where Stewart has left a trail of furious Republicans calling for an investigation into electoral dirty tricks and old hands in both parties predicting the second coming of Michele Bachmann. "From time to time, we get a certified nutcase," one former Utah Republican politician told me. "And Chris Stewart truly is a certified nutcase."
A former Air Force pilot who holds the world record for fastest uninterrupted flight around the globe (36 hours, 13 minutes), Stewart first caught Beck's eye as an author. Stewart has published 15 books, but the 6 that put him on the map were the volumes of the Great and Terrible series, the last installment of which was published in 2008.
"From time to time, we get a certified nutcase," one former Utah Republican politician said. "And Chris Stewart truly is a certified nutcase."
"Warning," Beck said. "It reads a little like, in some ways, Left Behind."
Beck is hardly the first reader to make the comparison to Tim LaHaye's famous chronicle of life after the Rapture. (The books are also, by most accounts, quite riveting. One Amazon reviewer calls Stewart "a Mormon Tom Clancy.") The villain of the Great and Terrible series—other than Satan, that is—is Drexel Danbert, a cigar-smoking, white-haired, ultra-rich European émigré. Danbert controls politicians across the globe like a puppeteer and, as one would expect from an agent of Satan, has the power to control the media too.
In one scene, Danbert and a Saudi crown prince (also an agent of Satan) plot a strategy to undermine the US government by planting a fake story in the media about a massacre by American troops. "Those who hate the United States will believe it, no matter what evidence is eventually revealed. The New York Times will front page the story for five weeks, at least," the crown prince says. The pair ultimately succeed in creating global chaos by setting off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that destroys America's electrical infrastructure and forces a small group of heroes to band together to survive and defeat the forces of evil.
Stewart scoffs at the notion that his books, like the Left Behind series to which they're often compared, are religious tracts. "They're not theological books; they're not history books or predictions," he says. "They're not nonfiction. They're just novels. And we would never read anything more into them than that. They're just a way of telling a story." He adds, "The only thing that we think is meaningful in the book in terms of, 'Listen people, we should be aware of this,' again is the threat of electromagnetic pulse."
"All you've got to do is go read the Senate report on that," Stewart continues. "That's not a particularly new idea, lots of people realize the EMP would be a terrible event for our nation. And that's all I was talking about. The whole point of the Great and Terrible series is what happens to the United States if an EMP attack were to take place."
But in a 2009 interview with Meridian Magazine, an LDS-oriented publication, about the series, Stewart, who's also written a self-help book called Redefining Joy in the Last Days, suggested that the religious underpinnings of his books were more than just a plot device. "The timing for events of the last days can catch us unaware as well," he said. "It is why we listen to the prophets and why we read the scriptures to be prepared. In the Book of Mormon, Samuel the Lamanite came and gave them a five-year warning before Christ's birth. Maybe we'll get that."
(A quick glance on Amazon reveals that his readers got the message. "The author provides an eerie review of how Satan and his minions may influence us in our decision-making and life directions," writes one reviewer. Another adds: "I'm taking stock of our storage of food, water, medicines, and the means to protect ourselves and our neighborhood" in the event of an EMP strike.)