The Congressman, The Afghan Freedom Fighter, and Me
By Ray Lindstrom
In the late 1980’s I had made my mark in broadcasting by creating the infomercial industry and was well known in the business…running half hour shows selling all kinds of stuff to viewers mostly in the late hours of the day.
Years earlier I had owned an advertising agency where during election seasons I did TV work for politicians. In the 1976 Arizona senatorial election I was active in a brutal Republican primary between two congressmen, John Conlan and Sam Steiger. Steiger won the close race, but it was so rough that it allowed the Democrat Dennis DeConcini to win the general election and serve for 3 terms. I had done the TV for Conlan. So, I was surprised that many years later, his opponent, Sam Steiger called me. He was then a former congressman and had a no-nonsense “take no prisoners” way of doing business. A real character. He said he heard that I was in the infomercial business, and he wanted to make one. Not to sell anything, but to raise money for what he considered an important project of “vital national interest.”
I went to his office, and we talked.
He said, “Ray, there’s a war going on right now in Afghanistan between the well-equipped Soviet Army, and a rag-tag group of Afghan Freedom Fighters. We can’t let the Soviets win. I have a group of Republican donors who want to raise money to help these Afghans beat the Commies. They are already doing great, taking down helicopters with shoulder mounted missiles. The Afghans are riding mules while the Reds have sophisticated tanks and other expensive equipment. Despite all this, the Afghans are holding their own! They are clever and they know the territory. With our help, I believe they can win and send the Commies back home.”
He mentioned a guy with one of those strange middle eastern names, hard to remember, and said, “He’s the leader, a smart young Freedom Fighter who could get the job done.”
Sam continued, “So we thought we could do a half hour TV fund-raising program called ‘A Mule for Abdul’. It wouldn’t be easy, but we could sneak a film crew in through Pakistan and get footage of the land and where they train. Whaddya think? Want to give it a try?”
To be honest, I was tired of selling real estate courses, kitchen gadgets, and diet programs…this would be a welcome change. It sounded exciting. I told Sam to get the money together and I would work on the program, which I did.
I called a buddy of mine, a legendary independent Phoenix TV producer/director, Maurie Helle. I told him about the project; sneaking into a God-forsaken land on mule back, taking movies while trying to avoid getting shot, and interviewing soldiers in a strange language. Would he be interested? Maurie said, “You bet. I’ll get the guys to do it, but it won’t be cheap. You get the money and I can do the rest.”
In the meantime, I kept in touch with Sam who said, “Give me a few days, I’m almost there with the money. The days turned into weeks and finally he called to tell me his money sources dried up.
Apparently, there were serious laws about US Citizens interfering with other nations especially in time of war. I called Maurie and gave him the news. He was disappointed. A few years later I sold my company and went on to other projects.
Over a decade went by. I never really gave “A Mule for Abdul” any more thought. That was until the morning of 9/11/2001 when our nation was being attacked by foreign terrorists. I watched in horror on television as the twin towers in New York collapsed. Then I heard that strange Middle Eastern name…it was the name of the young Afghan Freedom Fighter. The one I was asked to raise money for. Osama Bin Laden.