EEarly on Saturday morning, Don Winslow spotted a suspicious figure on the stage at the Santa Fe Literary Festival, quietly approaching on hands and knees through the audience. “Oh, you’re a photographer!” the 68-year-old author exhaled a moment later. “I was wondering who crawled up here. Many understand that Yes, really Do not you like me?”
In the three decades since the publication of his first private detective novel A cool breeze on the subway Winslow has managed to make his fair share of enemies. He received some particularly unwelcome attention after spending 23 years exhaustingly researching drug cartels for his insightful and award-winning Cartel Trilogy. “I was threatened by drug dealers,” he tells me shortly after making it safely off the stage. “I don’t have and don’t take them terribly seriously because there’s no benefit to them in killing an American writer in America. It would be very bad for business and at the end of the day they are businessmen.”
Nowadays, Winslow is much more wary of a different kind of threat.
“Now the threats are coming from the right,” he explains. “These are the Proud Boys. Again, I don’t take it very seriously. Most of these people are cowards, both physical and moral. I can take care of myself, but I definitely pay more attention to my surroundings at events like this.”
Winslow has drawn the wrath of Trump supporters since the 2020 presidential election, when he began devoting his time, money, and energy to fighting the Trump agenda online.
His Twitter account @DonWinslow has over 850,000 followers and regularly posts tweets and video clips criticizing Trump and supporting progressive causes. Winslow recently announced that since completing work on his city on fire Trilogy, the first book of which has just been published, he has retired from writing novels to devote himself fully to political activism. “We don’t get to choose our time,” says Winslow. “We just don’t do it, just like someone who lived quite peacefully in Ukraine until a few months ago doesn’t have a choice, not that I compare myself to them.”
Winslow says the decision to quit the career that has dominated his life for over thirty years was due to a combination of factors. “I think the kind of coincidence of coming home with this trilogy and then the events of January 6 really got me on this serious path: ‘Boy, maybe the universe is telling me something,'” he says. “It felt like it was time to put one thing down and focus on another. A fan put it very cleverly the other day. He said, “Oh, you put down the pen for the sword.” Yes that’s right.”
That city on fire The trilogy brings Winslow full circle by taking him back to his childhood Rhode Island. Winslow was born in New York City in 1953 and grew up in the small beach town of Perryville. The area was home to both the Irish and Italian mobs, who found ways to live together before a gang war tore them apart.
Years later, having taken it upon himself to read the great classics of literature, Winslow was amazed at how adroitly the mob warfare he remembered from his youth could be applied to Homers Odyssey. “I got into the classics much later in life than one normally does, and I was struck by how similar these stories were to true crime stories in America,” he explains. “All the crazy issues that we deal with in my genre, the Greeks had already taken care of it.”
After leaving Rhode Island at the age of 17, Winslow worked the world, finding jobs at a photographic safari agency in Kenya, a walking expedition company in China and directing Shakespeare plays in Oxford. He returned to Rhode Island 10 years ago to take care of his mother and has gone back to living in the home he grew up in. And during his speech, he revealed that he was sometimes approached around town by Trump supporters who were upset about the things Winslow had written on Twitter. He jokingly fires back, “If I find out who read them to you…there’ll be trouble.”
While his attacks on his political opponents often peter out, Winslow becomes passionate when he discusses his desire for Democrats to reclaim the idea of patriotism. “People drew Trump’s face on the flag, the face of a would-be dictator on the American flag, and then went into the Capitol and called themselves patriots,” he says in disbelief. “I won’t let them do it.”
He points out that his own family’s history in America goes back generations. “There is a painting of one of my ancestors hanging in the Capitol, and I can take you to the very spot where my great-great-grandfather was killed fighting slavery,” he says. “Well, when these white supremacist f***heads are talking blood and soil, I can talk blood and soil all day, but my perspective is, ‘Yeah, my family’s been here since the Mayflower, but it doesn’t matter to us native american We were immigrants.” I have as much right to this flag as the Central American who arrived here two years ago.”
Based on this belief, Winslow has decided to take up the fight, even if the type of warfare might not be what he would choose. “Clausewitz, the famous German military historian, once rightly said that one should always try to fight a battle on the ground of his choice, but that is not always possible,” he points out. “Sometimes you have to fight the fight where it is. Where it is now is social media. It’s easy. I’m not crazy about it, but that’s the fight. Because of these reasons, we will either win or lose, so we have to fight for it. That’s immodest, but I think I have certain abilities to say things succinctly. I think I have some skills that adapt well to this format. I know how to say things with three or four words. I know how to deliver that quick verbal punch or series of punches.”
The many campaign videos he has produced since 2000, including some starring celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Daniels, have garnered huge popularity on social media and have been viewed by over 250 million people. “I work on the videos with my partner Shane Salerno,” explains Winslow. “He wrote little films like Armageddon and all sequels of avatar, so he’s got some serious movie storytelling skills. I think we both know now how to make short, hard-hitting films that have people going, ‘Oh, shit. I didn’t see it that way,’ or if they already saw it that way, it cheers them on.”
Over the years of campaigning, Winslow has been the victim of various dirty tricks online. “We fight a lot of bot interference,” he says. “People have set up fake accounts claiming to be me and saying horrible things about transgender people, women and people of color. It makes me sick. It really annoys me. But in general we fight Trump and the Trumpists and the copycats. The Ted Cruzs, the Josh Hawleys and those other traitors. You can quote me on that.”
Winslow believes Joe Biden was the right choice to run in the 2020 election. “None of the other candidates would have won,” he says. “You needed this guy. They needed that middle uncle, a decent human, to win that election.”
In his presentation, Winslow said he felt, “History could record that Joe Biden saved democracy in the last election.” But he believes Democrats need to be bolder now. He has memorably accused the party of “putting the spoons in a knife fight” with its political tactics and urged the party to take the fight to Republicans.
“You have to drop the spoons and pick up the knives,” he says. “To stop backing up. To stop that language, like, ‘Oh, that’s not quite right’. How about saying, “That’s a lie and you’re a liar”? How about you say this is treason and you’re a traitor? How about you say that’s racism and you’re a racist? How about that? How about some subpoenas instead of invitations? What is this, your eighth grade cousin’s graduation? invitations? I guarantee you, you’re wrong parking out here on the street and they won’t send you an invite. They send you a summons. This is for a parking ticket. We are talking about the attempted overthrow of the democratically elected government. An invitation? I would send these guys subpoenas, get them to testify under oath in front of TV cameras, and then when they want to enforce the Fifth Amendment, what I say will tend to incriminate me, good! let the land see.”
The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, will cover every day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the headline writers. You can find more information about the festival on our Section of the Santa Fe Literary Festival or visit the Festival website.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/don-winslow-books-twitter-trump-b2084490.html Don Winslow: “We’re fighting Trump and the Trumpists and the copycats”