Loudoun Resident and Investigative Journalist Dale Van Atta

Investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling author Dale Van Atta is working on his newest book, motivated by his unyielding desire to change the world with words.

Dale Van Atta has lived a life unbeknownst to most. Between meeting presidents, terrorists, and undercover agents; narrowly escaping assassination attempts; reporting from war zones; publishing several books; and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize five times, the journalist has made an immense impact on the world through paper and pen.  

“I used to say that my job was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” Van Atta said. “I went after a lot of corrupt politicians over the years… I felt that I was a crusader.”

Van Atta’s journey as a writer began when he wrote a letter to actress Olivia Hussey, praising her. She then responded, immensely flattered, agreeing to meet with him in person.

“She said, ‘This is the most beautiful letter I’ve ever read.’” explained Van Atta. “The day I got that letter is when I became a writer forever.” 

Once he began to recognize his talents, Van Atta started a wildly popular, award-winning humor column in the BYU newspaper called the Vanattatude. As much as he loved the job, it didn’t sustain him for long. 

“At the same time, writing the humor column, which I realized I wanted to do, there was a pull of something else,” Van Atta explained. “…as it turned out, it was investigative reporting.”

Van Atta’s first calling was to write an exposé on what was widely known as one of the worst jails in the country. To do so, he voluntarily obtained a driving violation and landed a night in a jail cell with dangerous criminals, as it was “the only way [he] could find out if it was bad.” When Van Atta’s cellmates saw him taking notes, they were convinced he was undercover and began to harm him until they saw that he wasn’t writing confessions, only quotes that described the danger of the jail.

“I wasn’t trying to catch them up, but I was just this kid who wanted to remember some of the things they said,” Van Atta said. “Maybe in the end, they were proud of it.”

The impact of the piece led to a further motivation of pursuing his passion for writing, as it led to the jail’s restoration and won him an award. As Van Atta continued to pursue a career in journalism, he continued to write investigative pieces, putting his name on the map in the process. Despite his obvious talent, Van Atta’s first daily newspaper editor disparaged him and intentionally made it impossible for him to not only write well, but have any life outside of his job, likely because of religious bias. 

“Sometimes when things happen to you that are mean, there are two ways to react. As it turned out, it gave me a lot more gumption,” Van Atta said, explaining why he had to leave the job. “Anger fueled my ambition because he said… ‘You’re terrible.’ And I wasn’t.”

As Van Atta’s career advanced onto co-authoring an internationally syndicated newspaper column, so did his notoriety. The journalist landed interviews with six presidents, rock stars, spies, and revolutionary leaders and, with this, near death experiences became increasingly more common. In one case, a CIA renegade hired someone to assassinate Van Atta, and the only thing that saved his life was a secret FBI tip that led to his decision to write a column exposing the professional hitman.

“If I’m doing the right thing, I don’t think about it or have fear.” Van Atta advised. “After we die and if we are able to look back at our lives, I think I’ll see a few serious dangers that I escaped by listening to the right voice.”

To deal with the overwhelming fear of being in dangerous situations, the journalist’s strategy was to firmly believe he is doing the right thing and trust the people around him. His goal is to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”, a motto that offered him all the confidence needed to put his life on the line and serve his country. 

“I mean, there were a number of serious confrontations I was in with people with guns,” he said. “It wasn’t craziness. It was a feeling I had that I was being protected because I was trying to do the right thing. I was trying to make a difference.”

Stories of Van Atta’s bravery in dangerous situations and the lives he touched because of it all carry the common theme: his passion and motivation to make a difference.

“You really have to have to be a crusader,” Van Atta details. “There’s no way to do it without having that fire, without having a feeling like you’re doing something really different for the betterment of mankind.”

After years of terrifying experiences from assassination attempts, legal battles, warzones, and others, the journalist decided to retire and author biographies instead, making Loudoun County his home in the process.

“I had rolled the dice enough, and I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk anymore.” Van Atta said. His wife, Lynne, added, “A part of it was you just got so tired of looking for the negative, the wrongdoing, and thought, ‘Anything else I want to write… I want to look for the good.’”

After years of writing successful biographies, Van Atta has recently released a new book called The Washington D.C. Temple: Divine by Design. Its detailed writing explores the fascinating history behind the landmark Mormon temple along the beltway in Washington DC, which has been recently opened for rare public viewings . His book is being sold at Barnes & Noble and on https://dalevanatta.com

“There’s a flip side to investigative reporting,” he said, explaining his decision to begin writing biographies. “If you promote good people and establish their character so people can emulate them, you can inspire readers.”

Van Atta’s passion for writing, genuine care for people, and virtuous bravery is an immense source of pride for Loudoun County. His work will continue to change countless lives, inspiring generations of young crusaders to make a difference. 

“Words have great power, but it can be power for good or power for bad,” Van Atta said.  “It’s power for good if it’s about the truth.”

Article by Addy Cowley

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