Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In the wake of the Biden administration’s catastrophic exit from Afghanistan, which has left a militarily-empowered Taliban in control of that graveyard of empires, Islamic terrorism is set to become resurgent all across the Western world. The fact that we are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks lends the threat a grim symbolism.
Coincidentally, a new thriller novel is now available that addresses the subversive Islamist threat that already exists in America – not a fictional one, but the very real and insidious presence here of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Before turning to full-time writing, the book’s author, Jeffrey James Higgins, had a varied and extraordinary career in counterterrorism and international drug law enforcement, as you will read in our interview below. His first novel, Furious: Sailing into Terror, is a cinematic page-turner in which a traumatized woman is trapped aboard a sailboat in shark-infested seas, at the mercy of a singularly horrifying predator onboard with her. Now Higgins has released a new novel from Black Rose Writing, called Unseen: Evil Lurks Among Us. In it, a rookie detective on the trail of a serial killer in Washington D.C. has his eyes opened about an even greater danger – Islamist infiltration in the nation’s capitol.
I reached out to Higgins with a few questions about the book and his work.
Mark Tapson: Jeffrey, tell us first a bit about your counter-terrorism career and what led you into it. Are there any lessons learned from it that you think the average citizen needs to be aware of?
Jeffrey James Higgins: I took a strange path into counterterrorism. I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, and after college I worked as a journalist to pay the bills. When I was between reporter positions, I took a job as a private investigator, thinking it would help my detective fiction. I became enthralled with the excitement and nobility of police work, and I joined a sheriff’s office, then DEA. That led to a twenty-five-year career in law enforcement.
Ironically, I’m libertarian and believe in legalizing most drugs, so during my career with DEA, I focused on violent offenders. I started in NYC and investigated transnational criminal groups who were killing and abducting people—then 9/11 changed everything. I was in the first group of people to arrive at the collapsed north tower of the World Trade Center, where I carried bodies out of the rubble. Standing in the remains of those glorious monuments to capitalism, I swore I’d hunt down the monsters behind the attacks.
I assisted the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force with the PENTBOMB investigation of the al-Qaeda attacks, and when my partner and I identified a man who allegedly conspired with the hijackers, I knew DEA’s drug enforcement tactics were effective against terror cells. As a DEA liaison to Department of Homeland Security Operations Center, I advocated for DEA’s inclusion in counterterrorism operation, despite pushback from bureaucrats who wanted to keep DEA as a single-mission agency.
I volunteered for DEA’s nascent office in Kabul, Afghanistan, and there, I battled bureaucrats to go after the people I’d vowed to hunt on 9/11. I wrestled a suicide bomber, accompanied the military on a terrorist raid, and fought a Taliban operative. Our office trained the Afghan Counter Narcotics Police and led them on their first mission out of Kabul, where we arrested Taliban drug traffickers and freed a sex slave. As the first DEA undercover in Afghanistan since before the Russian invasion, I negotiated with a Pakistan drug trafficker for the delivery of 500 kilograms of heroin to NYC. I clashed with the military, intelligence community, and diplomats who refused to acknowledge the nexus between drugs and terrorism. Even DEA tried to stop me from investigating terrorism, but I persisted.
I joined DEA’s new FAST team, a foreign-deployed tactical team, and returned to Afghanistan. Finally, in 2006, congress passed 21 USC 960 (a), the narco-terrorism law, and I made the first arrest and conviction under that law and cemented DEA’s involvement in counterterrorism. I also investigated Haji Bagcho, a Taliban supporter and drug trafficker responsible for at least 19.7% of the world’s heroin supply. When I transferred to DEA’s Narco-Terrorism Group, I took Haji Bagcho to trial, and he became the most prolific heroin trafficker ever convicted in the United States.
I also investigated many other interesting cases, including the arrest and conviction of an Iranian operative who tried to purchase surface-to-air-missiles. I was extremely fortunate to serve my country, travel the world, and conduct historic investigations.
The most important lesson I learned from my years investigating narco-terrorism is simple—evil people exist in the world. They do not use Western epistemology or share American values or desire peace. Radical Islamists seek a global caliphate and death is not a deterrent to them; it’s an honor. They seek death—yours and theirs. To quote Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, “Death is [an] art, a truly beautiful art.”
MT: Even though truth is often stranger than fiction, storytelling can be a more powerful, effective method of taking your message to people than nonfiction. Is that why you made the shift to writing short stories and novels?
JJH: Nonfiction and fiction can both be powerful tools. I’ve published a half dozen nonfiction stories and written a nonfiction book about terrorism titled Blood and Powder. It’s a first-person account of my journey from the World Trade Center through the first narco-terrorism arrest. I have a sequel to Blood and Powder outlined, titled The Mountain Poet, which is about the conviction of Haji Bagcho and a Taliban commander’s plot to attack the United States. Much of my nonfiction read like thrillers, but they also convey important information.
I made the jump to fiction because I’m a storyteller, and when my imagination runs wild, I must share the stories. Every few days I read a news story or hear about an incident, and I think, what if . . . and that turns into another idea for a novel or short story. Writing fiction also allows me to explore controversial ideas and share ideas readers may not be open to receive in nonfiction. People are tribalistic, and when information comes from the other side of the aisle, they raise their defenses. But when the ideas are delivered through fiction, readers are more likely to pay attention. Sharing ideas through fiction is a way to influence the culture.
Andrew Breitbart famously said, “Politics is downstream from culture,” and I agree. The Left has been propagandizing Americans for generations, and they manipulate the prevailing narrative. They have infected most American institutions, including Hollywood, academia, and social media. I’m astonished by the amount of propaganda and disinformation in everything from beer commercials to children’s television. Entire academic programs convey the Left’s “woke” platform. It’s been happening for a century, but the mask is finally off and their ideology, strategy, and tactics are in plain view. I think we are rapidly approaching an inflection point.
People read books, watch television, and see movies to be entertained, but that’s where they consume subliminal Leftist messaging. I wrote Unseen to make people aware of Islamic infiltration. Educating the public about the dangers of radical Islam is difficult, but I can educate people through entertainment. The Left has been fighting the culture war for years, and Unseen is my attempt to fight back.
MT: Your novel’s protagonist Malachi begins under the assumption that the serial killer he’s pursuing might be motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry. Was it part of your intent in this novel to enlighten the reader about the very real, subversive threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in America, just like Malachi himself has his naivete challenged?
JJH: My primary goal was to deliver an action-packed thriller to entertain readers, because that’s my job as a novelist, but a secondary and more culturally important aim was to warn people about the insidious threat lurking among them.
Malachi Wolf is a new detective trying to solve his first homicide, and he’s not political. Like many people, he has accepted the Left’s narrative about Islamophobia and not done his own research to discover the truth. He’s been dealing with personal issues and trying to live his life. When the specter of radical Islam appears, his limited knowledge of terrorism forces him to study the topic. Malachi is a former economist with a rational, objective mind, so when he contacts Zahra Mansour, a Fellow at a think tank, he slowly realizes facts do not support common beliefs. I wanted readers to take that journey with him.
Some readers may not want to experience cognitive dissonance from hearing facts that contradict with beliefs they have accepted, but everything I wrote about the Brotherhood’s strategy of infiltration is true. Readers can decide if they want to hide behind the comfort of popular but false notions or see reality. I hope they choose the latter.
MT: Contrary to complaints from the left and purported civil rights groups like CAIR about Muslim stereotypes, stories in which Islamists are the bad guys are actually uncommon because, even post-9/11 (in fact, especially post-9/11), no one wants to be smeared as a so-called “Islamophobe.” Were and are you concerned about any backlash you and the book might receive from politically correct scolds in our current “cancel culture”?
JJH: That’s a great question. Before I answer it, let’s be clear that the Council on American-Islamic Relations claims to be a civil rights organization, but it’s a front group created by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas, a State-Department-designated terrorist organization. The United Arab Emirates, a Muslim country, has labeled CAIR a terrorist entity. The Muslim Brotherhood uses front groups and terrorist groups operating under different banners to conduct Civilization Jihad.
You’re correct about social blowback against anyone who disagrees with the radical Left’s narrative, whether you’re talking about radical Islam, socialism, or any other evil ideology. Cancel culture is an instrument the Left uses to stifle dissent. The problem is people can’t remain silent while Leftists and Islamists destroy the West. Self-censorship is even worse than governmental or social prohibitions, because when you restrict your own speech, it damages your soul. You can’t repeat a lie or stay quiet in the face of prevarications and falsities without destroying your self-esteem.
I generally try to keep politics out of my fiction, because I want readers from across the political spectrum to enjoy my stories. Movies and books should be a place where all Americans can come together and around common human emotions and experience, but even that has become polarized.
I discussed the politics of radical Islam in Unseen because Islamists have infiltrated the United States and targeted it for destruction. That’s not just me saying that—it’s Muslim Brotherhood leaders. We have a serious problem when Islamists like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are elected, the Democratic Party spreads antisemitism, and members of CAIR and other Brotherhood front groups lobby Congress.
Am I worried about being branded as an Islamophobe? No. I don’t criticize Muslims, just radical Islamists who use violence to enforce their totalitarian supremacist ideology, and everything I explain about the Muslim Brotherhood is factually accurate and provable. I should not be branded as an Islamophobe—but I expect it. Ad hominem attacks are what Leftists and Islamists use when they can’t refute an argument with data and facts. Despite that possibility, I won’t stay silent while my country is under attack.
MT: Speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood, your wife is scholar Cynthia Farahat, Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum, who is notable in her own right for her research into the Brotherhood. How has her work influenced yours, and what does she think about your shift from being in the field to writing fiction?
JJH: My wife, Cynthia was thrilled when I retired. I think anyone would breathe a sigh of relief when their spouse removed themselves from harm’s way.
Cynthia is the most courageous woman I have ever met. She fought against tyranny in Egypt with only her wits and cunning for protection. In contrast, I had the power of the US government behind me when I fought terrorism. As a young girl in Egypt, Cynthia just wanted to become a sculptor, but the combination of Egypt’s socialist government and the force of Sharia law prevented her from studying art. She shifted her focus and studied enough Islamic jurisprudence to become a mufti if she was Muslim. Cynthia co-founded the first secular political party in the history of Egypt and advocated freedom of speech, capitalism, and individual rights. She defended minorities, including moderate Muslims, who are still her biggest fan base. She has helped transform Egyptian society.
I could not have written Unseen without my wife. I’m an expert in narco-terrorism, and I spent many years in Afghanistan and investigating terrorism, but Cynthia’s expertise in the Muslim Brotherhood is unparalleled. Her upcoming nonfiction book, The Secret Apparatus, will expose the Brotherhood as the font of all Islamic terrorism. The plot and characters in Unseen are pure fiction, but the underlying conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood is real.
MT: What is your next writing project? I hope you’re planning more terrorism-related thrillers.
JJH: Writing about federal criminal investigations of terrorists and transnational criminals is certainly my wheelhouse, and I can write about law enforcement with authenticity. If my readers enjoy Unseen, I will make it a series. I have a outlines for two more books in the series, both of which involve terrorism.
I mentioned my nonfiction book, Blood and Powder, which my agent has submitted to publishers. I’m hoping it finds a suitable home soon. The logline is, “Battling bureaucrats and terrorists, a special agent pushes DEA into war and makes the first narco-terrorism arrest—forever changing how terrorists are prosecuted.” It’s Blackhawk Down meets The Good Soldiers.
I grew up in the small New England town of Harvard, Massachusetts, and I set another murder mystery there. Battling bipolar disorder, Emily Miller lands her dream job as a reporter and returns to her New England hometown, but when her brother becomes a suspect in a gruesome murder, she must identify the killer to save her family, her job, and her life. It’s Sharp Objects meets The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. Shaking is out to publishers, so fingers crossed.
I’m editing a techno-thriller, The Forever Game, and I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. All my books are thrillers, but each is in a separate sub-genre, which makes it more difficult to acquire readers. I’d like to write more about terrorism, intelligence, and federal law enforcement, but I have dozens of ideas for novels. I spent so many years not writing, I’m compelled to get my stories on paper, regardless of genre.
The response I’ve received from readers has overwhelmed me. Knowing people are enjoying my novels fills me with joy. If people are interested in reading my novels, nonfiction, short stories, and essays, they can find links at https://JeffreyJamesHiggins.com. If they sign up for my newsletter, it will notify them whenever I publish.
MT: Jeffrey Higgins, thanks for a fascinating interview, and keep up the good work.