Roger Stone likes to say that when Joe Biden first entered the White House as president, a “satanic portal” opened up over the building, “… and it will be closed by prayer.” No one knows whether he really believes the things he says, but there’s no doubt that his words are met with raucous applause from people attending the ReAwaken America rallies launched in April 2021 by Clay Clark, a businessman and Covid-denier from Tulsa (Oklahoma, USA) who claims he had a divine revelation in early 2020. He says he asked God for help “… to end the quarantines, curfews, vaccine mandates, and lockdowns” of the pandemic, and God answered him with “Reawaken America.”
Stone is a veteran Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns since the days of Richard Nixon. He is a stalwart of the most radical wing of a party that seems to have been hijacked by other like-minded people. These are men and women who, emboldened by the country’s deep divisions, hope to win public office at all levels of government in the November elections. Their speeches sound Trumpier than Trump himself, and often gain the support of the former president himself, although it’s sometimes unwanted. Stone, who coined the “Stop the Steal” mantra, remains one of Trump’s closest allies as the twice-impeached president teases another run in 2024.
Michael Flynn, another staunch Trump ally, is also a big draw on the ReAwaken America tour, having appeared at 17 sold-out events from California to Ohio, where tickets go for US$250. Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general who was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, was later appointed National Security Advisor by Trump in January 2017. He resigned three weeks later for lying about his communications with Russian officials. These days he has become a touchstone for extreme right-wing conspiracy mongers and QAnon followers for his bizarre theories: the coronavirus was invented to inoculate the public with mind-controlling microchips; leftist elites kidnap children to extract their blood and obtain an immortality drug called adrenochrome; and Italy used military satellites to propel Joe Biden to the presidency in 2020.
Flynn and Stone also share the distinction of having been pardoned of their crimes by their former boss during the death throes of the Trump administration. Around the same time, they became involved in the events now being scrutinized by the Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Stone has been linked to the radical Proud Boys militia and its former leader, Enrique Tarrio, who has been charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the January 6 insurrection. Flynn was at the center of a December 18 meeting in the Oval Office that is a serious contender for “the most unhinged [meeting] of the Trump era.” Flynn claimed in that meeting that “Venezuela, China, and Iran” all meddled in the November 2020 elections, and that “Nest thermostats connected to the internet” were manipulating voting machines. That meeting almost resulted in a sinister Flynn lawyer named Sidney Powell being appointed special prosecutor to investigate voter fraud, and has become one of the events most scrutinized by the January 6 select committee.
In a profile of Flynn recently published in The Atlantic magazine, a few of his former military comrades let slip some doubts about his mental health. The article also quotes Steve Bannon, the Rasputin-like figure of American populism, as saying, “I think Mike [Flynn] could well be on the list of candidates for vice president in 2024. And if President [Trump] doesn’t run, I firmly believe Mike will run.”
Bannon, recently convicted of contempt of Congress (a misdemeanor), prides himself on his ability to convince his War Room audience of almost anything. A cheaply produced podcast/TV hybrid recorded in the basement of his Washington, DC home, Bannon’s War Room aims to turn the country upside down by getting people to believe in the far-right’s wildest deliriums and place disciples in the lowest levels of public office – election officials, secretaries of state, school board commissioners, and assistant attorneys general. It’s all part of a grand plan that Bannon has dubbed the Precinct Strategy, which encourages “engaged citizens” to step up for their country and fight back against radical Democrats and establishment Republicans.
Experts warn that control of the election results certification process could end up in the hands of people who believe that the Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election. As the January 6 select committee sessions have shown, certification of Biden’s victory (legitimized by 61 of the 62 court cases challenging the election results) was possible because a handful of officials refused to bow to pressure from Trump and his followers. Even so, two thirds of the Republican electorate still believe that there was something fishy about the 2020 election.
According to a recent poll by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a majority of the people surveyed believes that the US government is corrupt, and nearly a third say it will soon be necessary to take up arms against the government. In this environment, it’s not surprising that the rhetoric of extremist candidates is capturing attention. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has begun an admittedly risky and somewhat sketchy tactic – fund the primary campaigns of the most insane Republican challengers in hopes that they will win and scare off moderate voters in the general elections. The Democrats have already started doing this in Missouri, Maryland, and Illinois.
The Democratic Party’s tactics may well work. According to The New York Times, 37 candidates for Congress espouse theories also supported by QAnon, 26 of whom have already been knocked out of the race during the primaries. Of the remaining 11 candidates, eight are behind in the polls, one is tied with his Democratic opponent, and two have a chance to win in November – Lauren Boebert (Colorado) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), notorious for being a lot Trumpier than Trump himself. According to Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, some QAnon’s ideas have caught on – the 2020 election was stolen, and Democrats are dangerously influencing children through progressive sex education that automatically makes them acquiescent victims of pedophiles.
For now, Trump and his allies don’t seem uncomfortable about being labeled as radicals. They have even been able to appropriate a slogan that Biden’s team wanted to use against Trump-supported candidates – “ultra MAGA” – for “Make America Great Again”, the former president’s favorite rallying cry that’s emblazoned across tens of thousands of red caps all over the country. When Trump first heard it, he decided to use it himself. Now the emails that flood the inboxes of anyone who has peeked into Trump’s world exhort everyone to join the “ultra MAGA movement.” And the most committed devotees are honored as “ultra MAGA kings.”