Norman Brewer – Blending In with Homegrown Terrorists

Do they blend? Norm Brewer finds out…

Homegrown Terrorism Author Norm BrewerHello all and welcome to our continuing series of author interviews. Today’s guest will have you looking over your shoulder, wondering about the person standing next to you in the check-out line, befriending swarthy foreigners and avoiding clean-cut churchgoers.

Yes, it’s Norm Brewer, author of BLENDING IN – A TALE OF HOMEGROWN TERRORISM. Everyone, please give Norm Brewer a big round of applause for taking part in our exciting adventure. Because if you don’t…

I drew on the experiences we had with those three people in creating situations involving Wilbur’s dementia


Norm Brewer’s Bio
Norman Brewer is an award-winning reporter and editor who worked for The Des Moines Register and Tribune and for Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C. He was also Director of Employee Communications at the Transportation Security Administration in the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. Blending In – A Tale of Homegrown Terrorism, a novel, is Brewer’s first book. He and Judy are retired in Bethesda, MD, a Washington suburb.

What if you had a couple of well-trained terrorists who were disciplined, who did plan, who weren’t interested in martyrdom, who were prepared to abort a mission to escape so they could attack again?

Norm and I talked about how being an award winning reporter influences his fiction, how his family’s experiences with dementia worked their way into his novel, how anxious we should be regarding the threat of homegrown terrorists, how many bullets you can have in a thriller, the use of humor and humanity in writing a terrorist thriller, keeping cultural, family and farm values in the background, editors as teachers, getting into the minds of terrorists, a love of history, being influenced by Walter Isaacson, Pat Conroy and Sara Gruen and how to improve my interviewing style.

The outcomes would be far worse than anything we’ve experienced to date.

You can find links to Norm’s book and social networks at the bottom of this post (depending on your device).

The most useful thing in learning to write was learning to read.

The Interview

Write as hard as the facts will allow.

Norm’s Links
Norm on Amazon
Follow and Friend Norm on Facebook
Follow Norm on Twitter

I’ve had military and law enforcement people tell me they found it realistic.

Chapter 1
Without warning the rocket-propelled grenade fell just short of the press conference getting underway near the gates of the Russian Embassy. Shrapnel ripped into the shoulder-to-shoulder reporters and cameramen and on to the two men standing at the podium. Cries rang out and shredded bodies flew. Russia’s ambassador was killed instantly. The U.S. secretary of state went down with multiple wounds.

On the opposite side of 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., a wiry man in a tan trench coat had just limped down a side street, away from the heavy black gates, when the RPG struck. “Damn, I said ‘Not a go!’” the spotter screamed into his phone. He quickly composed himself, taking in what he could see through the dust and debris. “Okay, one notch up. One notch left.”

After the briefest pause, a zip-like flight and instantaneous explosion again pierced the air as a second grenade hit the diplomats and media. “Dead on. Fire again,” ordered the spotter. Behind him, he heard a man shouting in his ear. “You son-of-a-bitch, you are part of this.”

The spotter saw the third explosion, erupting through the expanding cloud of dust. “You’re good. Get out of there.” He turned to face the wizened man who had been approaching when he told his shooter, “Not a go.”

Suddenly the old man, spittle flying in his excitement, attacked with his cane. “I’m a vet and I know when someone’s calling in artillery! Damn you! Damn you!” The spotter raised his arms to ward off the wild blows, uncertain how best to counter his feeble assailant.

The threat turned real when a Metropolitan Washington police cruiser careened onto Wisconsin just a block away. The old man kept screaming, “He did this! He did this!” as the officer spun from his car, reaching for his handgun.

The spotter’s Glock was already out of his coat pocket. He coldly leveled it, firing two shots into the officer’s face. With his left hand he grabbed the old man’s belt buckle, pulled him forward and shoved hard, shooting him twice in the chest as he stumbled backward into shrubbery.

Walking north on Wisconsin, the spotter felt lucky that the old man hadn’t knocked off his wide-brimmed fedora or the false gray beard and sunglasses protecting him from the embassy’s prying security cameras. As uniformed guards stumbled from the carnage, frantically trying to spot the assailant, he broke into a brisk walk, forgetting his limp.

Alarmed residents streamed from their homes, onto the sidewalks and into the street. The spotter was willingly swallowed by the rapidly forming crowd. As approaching sirens wailed from all directions, what had been a quiet rush hour in upper Georgetown dissolved into confusion. People scurried about in search of answers, wandering into the street and further clogging traffic. Angry drivers swore, some trying to reverse direction. Police struggled to set up a perimeter, finally halting Wisconsin traffic north and south of the embassy gates. But no way could first responders control the frantic pedestrians.

The spotter easily worked his way across the intersection at Massachusetts Avenue, beyond the law’s immediate reach, and walked north up Wisconsin past Washington National Cathedral. It was the highest point in the city, with the central Gloria in Excelsis tower soaring nearly three hundred feet above street level. Millions of people from around the world have sought solace and peace within its gently lit cross-shaped nave. Now the iconic landmark had an infamous chapter.

The spotter’s flight nearly paralleled that of another man walking north on Thirty-eighth Street, away from the cathedral. He had a purposeful stride. Blocky but lean, he wore sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. Though the winter day was chilly, he could feel a light sweat beneath his workman’s clothes, perhaps from exertion, perhaps from stress. Approaching a non-descript sedan, he hit a button on his key fob, pulled a distinctive backpack from his shoulders and dropped it in the trunk.

As the spotter crossed Woodley Road a dumpster caught his eye. He resisted an urge to toss his Glock, taking a calculated risk should he be stopped. But he knew every dumpster, grate and crevice in the area was sure to be searched. He wanted to dispose of the gun and his silly but effective disguise. But properly, far from Washington. Besides, should something go horribly wrong, the gun would enable him to wreak further mayhem – or to deny authorities a live suspect. He walked on.

The gunner turned left on Macomb and, as planned, stopped the sedan just before Wisconsin. He had to double park. In short order, he saw a car approaching in his rearview mirror and knew he would be expected to drive on. But as he put the car in gear he saw the spotter, walking briskly. Within seconds they blended into traffic fleeing the chaos of the attack.

Six thousand miles away a man of mixed Asian descent stood in a Kapakahi Air ticket line at Hana Airport in Maui. He carried a small backpack and a well-traveled black suitcase with a yellow name tag. Reaching the counter he placed the suitcase on the scale. Twenty-four pounds, well over the limit for free checking. He handed cash to the uniformed ticket clerk, then stood on the scale. With his backpack, one hundred fifty-eight pounds. The clerk dutifully noted the weight, helpful for assigning the nine passenger seats in the small plane. The man went to the waiting area, the last to check in. Outside, another airline employee loaded bags into the belly of the small turbo-prop. The black bag with the yellow name tag went in third. The mixed Asian glanced at his watch as he settled into his seat. They would be leaving Maui a few minutes late.

Across the island at Kapalua Airport a skinny weathered man of about fifty had to pay the baggage fee, too. His flight was to depart shortly before six that evening, a few minutes ahead of the one from Hana. He was assigned the oversized seat at the back of the plane, which also carried a full passenger load. As the pilot went through his checklist, the bored co-pilot dutifully chanted passenger safety instructions. Reminded that cell phones must be turned off, the skinny man reached in a pants pocket, opened an old flip-style phone and pressed “end.” The phone chimed and the man dropped it in his shirt pocket. On time, they ascended into a beautiful sky just as dusk began to dapple the horizon.

Ten minutes into the flight the skinny man was fidgety. Drawing the back row was a plus, to not be so obvious to other passengers, he thought. The armpits of his shirt were wet and a line of perspiration ran across the two-day growth above his lip. He glanced at his watch again and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Out the starboard window he could see, perhaps a couple of miles away, another small plane. Wonder if that’s my friend from Hana? Looking at his watch again, he moved his thumb to the phone’s “8” button. He was watching the other plane when it suddenly became a bright orange flash that rained toward the Pacific in pieces – or bodies. The skinny man clenched his teeth, tightly shut his eyes and pressed “8.”

… We now take you to Kahului Airport on Maui for this exclusive report from Rick Tweed …

Thanks, Mike. Two Kapakahi Air commuter planes suddenly disappeared from radar as they flew over the Pailolo Channel this evening. Each plane was fully loaded with nine passengers and pilot and co-pilot. All are feared dead, and the planes’ disappearance is increasingly taking on ominous overtones. The passenger manifests have not been released. Kapakahi Air has not identified the pilots or co-pilots.

Dusk was approaching as the Honolulu-bound planes took off, one from Hana and the other from Kapalua. Just minutes ago I talked with a Kahului Airport official who has been in contact with investigators. He refused to be identified but said a sailor told investigators he saw two explosions over the channel about the time the planes disappeared from radar. The explosions appeared to be a few thousand feet high, probably a mile or so apart and nearly simultaneous, the sailor reportedly told the Coast Guard. The airport official also said the Coast Guard has found debris in two areas that are near where radar contact was lost. He said there has been no mention of bodies being recovered.

Local investigators have been joined by federal officials, including the Department of Homeland Security. So far there is no evidence that I know of that terrorism is involved. However, that is an unspoken concern, as my source at the airport acknowledged. That concern is heightened because the Transportation Security Administration does not screen passengers or bags for commuter flights from Hana or Kapalua. As you’ll recall, Mike, that was a point of controversy in 2002 when security at Hawaii’s airports was rolled out in the wake of 9/11. And finally, you have to wonder about the timing of this tragedy coming the day after that unbelievable attack on the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Back to you, Mike.

There’s alot of soft spots in our security systems.


4 thoughts on “Norman Brewer – Blending In with Homegrown Terrorists”

  1. Hi Joseph
    This guy can write. I’m often a harsh critic, but his story just keeps moving.
    About terrorism. I’ve been to Ben Gurion airport in Israel a few times. You would expect to see it crawling with soldiers, toting sub-machine guns. But no. Just a few guards at the counters, and no guns visible. I asked somebody about that once, and she said that if you know what you’re looking for, you see them everywhere. They look for profiles, hints that somebody doesn’t quite fit in.
    And El Al will ask you weird questions, just to see if you’re legit, like what restaurants you want to visit, or what synagogue you go to if you’re Jewish.
    Security is built layer upon layer, with all sorts of intelligence assets taking part. What you see at an airport , or at a news conference,is usually the last layer.

    1. Thank you, Philip. You are too generous.
      Regarding airport security, the Transportation Security Administration takes a multi-layered approach, also. A lot of attention was given to the Israeli model during my time there (2002-11). While Israel had lessons for the then-new TSA, the bottom line was this: Americans, who place a high value on freedom of movement, would not accept the restraints on travel (detailed questioning, for example) that you find at Ben-Gurion.
      Best regards, Norm

      1. Hi Norman. Listening to talk by comics, or radio people, the system you have now isn’t all that popular either. It may also be that the training given to Israeli security is beyond the budget of US airports. Of course, breathe the word “profile” and the legal types will let loose with affidavits, law suits and all sorts of well meaning nonsense.
        Thanks for the response.