The unlikely metamorphosis of Glenn Beck from nutty right-wing conspiracy-monger to rational-seeming defender of American democracy—and opponent of all things Donald Trump—has crossed over into a new frontier.
The 53-year-old multimedia firebrand and self-described “catastrophist”—who shocked and possibly alienated his dwindling fan-base three months ago by forming an anti-Trump alliance with lefty satirist Samantha Bee—is these days spending quality time with a Pakistani-born, politically liberal, gay, Muslim television producer.
Riaz Patel—who also happens to be the parent, with his British-born husband, of an 11-month old girl conceived by artificial insemination and carried to term by a Mexican surrogate—is the Emmy-nominated principal of Axial Entertainment, a successful Los Angeles-based production company responsible for such reality TV shows as Lifetime’s How to Look Good Naked and VH1’s I Heart Nick Carter, among more than a dozen other projects.
Patel used to fear and loathe Beck’s divisive hype.
“I did use the expression ‘White Devil’,” Patel told The Daily Beast, “because I honestly thought he was hateful, angry news personified. I thought he is absolutely partly responsible for this culture of madness and chaos and rage all the time that we have right now.”
But the 43-year-old Patel, a U.S. citizen who arrived here from Karachi as a baby with his parents and two older sisters escaping political pandemonium in Pakistan, had a change of heart after meeting Beck last July and engaging in “hundreds of hours of conversation” with him since then.
The bicoastal Patel—who is negotiating to accept an editor-at-large role brainstorming ideas for shows while making films for The Blaze’s sister web site, GlennBeck.com—visits Beck’s suburban Dallas studios nearly every week to discuss possible projects, has made 15 appearances on Beck’s radio and television shows, and in February trekked to Thailand with him to film a piece about an organization that fights child sex-slavery.
“The simpatico is shocking,” Patel said about his interactions with Beck. But Patel, who has lost liberal friends over his new collaboration, added: “I’m a bridge, not a defector…I’m nobody’s pawn… I’m not a Stockholm Syndrome guy who loves my captor.”
Beck, meanwhile, was not available for comment. “We’ll leave this to Riaz,” said his New York publicist, Davidson Goldin.
Patel, who grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore with his surgeon-father and real estate entrepreneur-mother, double-majored at the University of Pennsylvania in psychology and literature and graduated with academic honors while pursuing a demanding pre-med program.
Patel is not unaware of the doubts that some have raised about Beck’s latest attempt to rebrand himself as a reasonable man.
Indeed, last September, a certain degree of skepticism greeted Beck—who had previously accused “racist” President Obama of harboring “a deep-seated hatred of white people,” and the first lady of being a “monster”—when he launched a series of remorseful mainstream media appearances with an Op-Ed in the New York Times urging empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement.
A longtime Beck associate opined at the time that Beck’s apparent transformation “is about a pattern of reinvention and cycle of apology and offense…I think he’s up to his sixth apology cycle now, where he’s onto the mainstream media when they’re supporting him, and then he realizes he’s going to get burned, and he runs away from them. He’s basically flailing.”
In an email to The Daily Beast, Patel wrote: “Gosh I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m just willing to overlook anything damaging for a show. I still need to look at myself in the mirror every evening—and that’s the biggest thing for me.”
As a result of his friendship with Beck, however, “I have caught myself recently a bunch of times in a double-standard when it comes to the ‘right’ vs. the ‘left,’ ” Patel wrote. “I’m saying a lot of this because I was forced to step completely out of my comfort zone—and by doing so, realized the other side isn’t always who I thought they were…Who is to say what is ‘right’ or the ‘right interpretation.’ I just want to share with you my personal experience—what I have seen and felt with my own eyes. That’s all.”
In an interview, Patel said: “I believe he’s sincere…We can move forward both personally and professionally when I can tell him, ‘This is what I see. This is what I fear. This is my concern.’ And if he can address all that while maintaining eye contact, we’re done.”
This, despite Beck’s inflammatory attacks on “progressives” and Muslims, two groups to which Patel belongs and historically two of Beck’s most reviled scapegoats.
Beck has compared the former group to Nazis bent on bringing totalitarianism to the Land of the Free; and he has suggested that “closer to ten percent” of Muslims are “terrorists” while authoring a 2015 book, It Is About Islam, that Salon called “300 pages of Islamophobia dressed up as scholarship.”
More recently, on Thursday, during his syndicated morning radio show simulcast on Beck’s The Blaze web site, he compared the abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood—unfavorably—to the diabolical experiments that Josef Mengele performed on Jewish victims at Auschwitz.
“Mengele had good intentions,” Beck declared, conflating the notorious SS doctor with Planned Parenthood and Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2013 in the deaths of three infants born alive during the procedures. “Mengele would sit there and tell you ‘Well, I’m trying to improve the human race.’”
Patel, who attributes some of Beck’s wackier and more offensive statements to the pitfalls of filling three hours of unscripted radio every morning, said he continues to disagree with much of Beck’s rabble-rousing rhetoric, yet sees his surprising new friend as willing to listen and maybe even reformable.
For instance, Beck has been a defender of same-sex marriage at least since December 2012, when he argued on his show, “The question is not whether gay people should be married or not, the question is why is the government involved in our marriage”; Beck added that the legal solemnization of gay relationships doesn’t “pick my pocket or break my leg.”
Beck, a Mormon convert, was not always so enlightened. In one of his previous incarnations, he speculated that same-sex marriage would destroy essential social and religious institutions and inevitably lead to legalized polygamy.
He also cozied up to a rogues’ gallery of politicians and pastors who promoted anti-LBGTQ policies and rhetoric, including James Dobson, John Hagee, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
But by December 2013, he was publicly supporting campaign group GLAAD in their opposition to Russia’s official anti-gay bigotry. “I will stand with GLAAD against Russia’s hetero-fascism,” he declared on CNN.
“I am now realizing that I was essentially uninformed when I say I hated Glenn Beck for who he was,” Patel said. “If I was really being honest, I don’t think I ever watched one of his shows. A lot of it was coming from this perception of him and my sense of what are the things he doesn’t like about me. I was pretty obnoxious in my opinions. That being said, there are things he should be held accountable for, and I do believe has done wrong.”
Patel said he read It Is About Islam at Beck’s urging, and came away both impressed and troubled.
“His opinions about Islam are very informed, but I think the framing is a bit off, and when we’re looking at it, he’s learning my point of view,” Patel said. “The tone, I felt, was a little alarmist, not an attack. But Glenn calls himself a ‘catastrophist.’”
Ironically, it was Islam and catastrophe that brought them together. Patel, wearing traditional Pakistani garb, was attending a wedding in Orlando, Fla., the weekend last June when ISIS-inspired terrorist Omar Mateen, the American-born son of Muslim Afghan parents, shot more than 100 revelers and killed 49 at the gay Orlando nightclub Pulse.
Worrying that the massacre would provoke a nationwide wave of Islamophobia, Patel—a secular Muslim—reached out to various television news outlets to explain that Mateen’s atrocity had nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, and to represent Muslims and their faith in a positive, non-threatening light.
He managed to get bookings on CNN—appearing on Don Lemon and Brooke Baldwin’s shows—and on blond bomb-thrower Tomi Lahren’s rantfest on The Blaze.
On Lahren's show, Patel challenged the bombastic host: “I could go out and do a horrible act of violence in the name of Tomi, and then suddenly you are left to defend it. If people go and do these kinds of horrible, heinous things in the name of my religion—and I have literally nothing to do with it—is it my responsibility now?”
Patel was so impassioned, eloquent and composed that a member of Lahren’s production staff recommended him as the perfect guest for Beck’s evening television program. The following month, he was Beck’s sole guest for an hour.
“Wouldn’t it be crazy if the solution to all of these problems was as simple as humbling yourself and saying, ‘OK, let me listen’?” Beck told Patel as the two sat opposite each other in overstuffed chairs and tentatively felt each other out.
“I think you’re absolutely right,” Patel said. “I believe you can create a better America with four chairs. Literally. That’s all you need. Three people having a conversation. Not two. At some point you’ll disagree and someone will walk away. You need three for a dynamic. And a fourth person has to listen.”
Thus, with Patel shrewdly engaging Beck in decidedly Beck-like language, was the beginning, apparently, of a beautiful friendship.
But what if Beck backslides and reverts to form in his longtime role as a divisive demagogue?
“Some days he’s happy, some days he’s sad, some days he’s angry, and people are tuning in to watch that person,” Patel said. “Maybe he had a rough night and he’s more edgy. Some days he is more angry. I don’t think he’ll ever walk the walk every day. But to me, that’s where his heart is.”