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In Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict, 118 min.), highly trained and well-armed North Korean terrorists storm the White House, murder nearly every Secret Service agent in Washington, DC, and take the president hostage in the underground command center. The terrorists explode large chunks of the White House, tear down its American flag in particularly heinous fashion, kill a lot of innocent civilians, and knock over the Washington Monument in the process. And a lone agent (played by Gerard Butler) is the only one who can save the day, mostly by using sharp objects, assault weapons, and Die Hard–emulating trash-talk.
Given that the real-life White House is fairly well protected—maybe with lasers—and hasn’t been burned down since the British invaded in 1814, this film isn’t going to win awards for realism. (The assumption of North Korean military competence is also really, really funny.)
But even the most intentionally unrealistic action movies aim to get some details right. The Core, a 2003 sci-fi disaster movie about scientists who travel to the center of the Earth to set off nukes, had its very own scientific consultant. And Olympus Has Fallen director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Tears of the Sun) sought out a good deal of Washington and Secret Service advice on how to craft his thriller. One of the technical consultants was Dr. Joe Bannon, a former special agent with the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice in Los Angeles, where he also worked as an allied agent with the Secret Service.
Bannon now teaches presidential and heads of state protection—as well as a form of martial arts that combines “ancient Shaolin Wisdom with Modern Medical Science“—at the Bannon Institute of Martial Arts and Executive Security International in Colorado. And as brawny as that may sound, when he talks about protective services, Bannon blends religious convictions and psychological maxims. “I understand the terrorist mindset of willing to lay down their life for what they believe in,” Bannon told me. “Not that I agree with any attack on the United States or the White House, but I have to respect that value.”
In his long career as a special agent assisting the Secret Service, Bannon served on protection details for George W. Bush, the Clintons, the Gores, Ted Kennedy, Dianne Feinstein, the Saudi royal family, the first family of Kurdistan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. “I provided close-quarter protection for the Popemobile when he gave a service at Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1987,” Bannon said. “I helped him down the stairs of the Popemobile and he smiled at me and touched me on the shoulder. Everyone wanted to rub my shoulder after that to get, like, a blessing out of me.”
In his decades-long career in law enforcement and dignitary protection, he racked up a nice roster of honors and medals; on November 14, 2006, the mayor of San Francisco officially declared it “Joe Bannon Day.”
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