The Blast of the 7th Trumpet
……………………..Something Wicked This Way Comes…………………………
What alt-right guru Steve Bannon failed to create, German taxpayers have just stepped in to revive: a Nationalist International. Thanks to the German government, the far right is about to get its own well-heeled global think tank, complete with the sort of political academy that was so dear to Bannon’s plan for world domination.
Strangely enough, the AfD underperformed in the recent German elections, its parliamentary delegation losing 11 seats. Still, by capturing a little more than 10% of the vote, the party made it into parliament a second consecutive time. As a result, it qualifies for what all other major parties also receive: government support of its foundation. Unless legal efforts to block this largesse succeed, the Erasmus foundation will soon enjoy the equivalent of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars a year.
Consider that an extraordinary shot in the arm for the global far right, since the AfD will be funded to establish outposts of hate throughout the world. The foundation of the left-wing Die Linke party, the more appropriately labeled Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, already has offices in more than 20 countries. The Green Party’s foundation, named after Nobel Prize-winning German novelist Heinrich Böll, is in more than 30 countries. The far right hasn’t had this kind of opportunity for global expansion since fascism’s heyday in the 1930s.
The notion that the AfD could engage in anything remotely resembling “political education” should be laughable. But that’s exactly how its foundation plans to use the coming federal windfall: to recruit and train a new generation of far-right thinkers and activists. The Erasmus Stiftung aims to hire more than 900 people for its political academy and allied educational institutions. That’s even more ambitious than the academy of intellectual “gladiators” Bannon once dreamed of creating in a former monastery in the Italian countryside.
The us website says nothing about its global ambitions. Based on the AfD’s latest platform, however, expect the foundation to gather together Euroskeptics to plot the evisceration of the European Union; advance the AfD’s anti-immigrant platform with counterparts across Europe like Lega in Italy, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, and several extremist groups in the Balkans; and pour money into establishing a “respectable” face for white nationalism by networking among identitarian groups in North America, the former Soviet Union and Australasia.
This thunder on the right certainly sounds ominous. And yet, after the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, the precipitous decline in public support for President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and the ongoing efforts to counter the far right in Eastern Europe, the prospect of a Nationalist International might seem further away today than, say, four years ago.
One well-funded German foundation is not likely to change that forecast. Unfortunately, the Erasmus Foundation is anything but the only storm cloud on the political horizon.
In reality, the global disillusionment with mainstream politics that fueled the rise of Trump and his ilk has only grown more intense in these last months. New authoritarian populists have consolidated power in places like El Salvador — where President Nayib Bukele calls himself the “world’s coolest dictator” — and are poised for possible takeovers in countries like Chile and Italy. And who knows? Even Donald Trump might claw his way back into the White House in 2024.
In other words, just when you thought it might finally be safe to go back into the international community, the global situation may grow far worse. With the help of German taxpayers and aided by anger over vaccine mandates, a malfunctioning world economy and the enduring corruption of the powerful, the global right could rebound, securing greater power and influence in the years to come.
The building wave of reaction
At this point, by all the laws of politics, Donald Trump should be radioactive. He lost his re-election bid in November 2020 and his subsequent coup attempt failed. He’s had a lousy record when it comes to expanding Republican Party power, having helped that very party forfeit its House majority in 2018 and its Senate majority in 2020. He continues to face multiple lawsuits and investigations. He’s been barred from Facebook and Twitter.
For Trump, however, politics is a philosopher’s stone. He’s managed to transmute his leaden style — not to mention his countless private failings and professional bankruptcies — into political gold. The big surprise is that so many people continue to fall for such fool’s gold.
Because of his fervent, ever-loyal base of support, Trump continues to control the Republican Party and remains on track to run for president in 2024, with no credible Republican competition in sight. Even his overall popularity, which never made it above 50% when he was president, has recently improved marginally from a February low of 38.8% to an almost sunny 43.4%.
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Led by this urban elitist from New York, the Republican Party has all but given up on cities and reliably blue regions of the country. Still, it now controls all the levers of power in 23 states, while the Democrats do so in only 15. With a mixture of gerrymandering, voter suppression, federal stonewalling and a master narrative about fraudulent elections, the Republicans aim to win back control of Congress in 2022 — something the odds increasingly favor — on their way to reclaiming the White House in 2024. At the moment, Donald Trump is the bookies’ choice to win the next presidential election, largely on the strength of not being Joe Biden (just as he won in 2016 by not being Hillary Clinton)
Since he can’t run for king of the world, Trump cares little about building international alliances, but the growing potential for him to return to power in 2024 has inspired right-leaning populists globally to believe that they, too, can lead their countries without the requisite skill, experience or psychological stability. Indeed, from President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, being vulgar and vicious has already served a variety of them all too well.
Even more troubling is the new generation of Trump-style politicians coming to the fore globally. In Chile, for instance, the once-traditional conservative José Antonio Kast has remade himself as a far-right populist and in November won the first round of that country’s presidential elections. Across the Pacific in the Philippines, an all-too-literal political marriage of authoritarianism and populism is taking place as Bongbong Marcos, the son of the notorious former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has selected Sara, the daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, to be his running mate in next year’s presidential election. Polling already puts them way ahead of the competition. In France, where Marine Le Pen has had a lock on the extremist vote for a decade, journalist Éric Zemmour is challenging her from the right with his predictions of a coming civil war and Muslim takeover.
Meanwhile, Trump’s minions in America are strengthening their international connections to create a global field of dreams. For many of them, Hungary remains the home plate of that very field of dreams. Right-wingers have been flocking to Budapest to learn how that country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, transformed the most liberal corner of Eastern Europe into the region’s most reactionary country. (Admittedly, he now faces stiff competition from the Law and Justice Party in Poland and Janez Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party, among other right-wing forces in Eastern Europe.)
Typically enough, former vice president Mike Pence visited Budapest in September to praise Orbán’s “family-centric” anti-abortion version of social policy. This summer, Tucker Carlson broadcast a full week of his Fox News program from that same city. In the process, he devoted an entire show to Orbán’s virulently anti-immigrant initiatives, headlining it: “Why can’t we have this in America?” In fact, this country’s most reactionary political types are so in love with Hungary that they’re scheduling the annual Conservative Policy Action Conference for Budapest next spring, which will only cement such a transatlantic link.
Remember, in 2002, Orbán was kicked out of the prime minister’s office after one term in office, only to return to power in 2010. He’s been ruling ever since. The Trumpistas dream of pulling off just such a political comeback in America.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Spanish far-right party Vox has established its own Disenso Foundation to knit together a reactionary “Iberosphere” that includes the Mexican right, extremists in Colombia, the Bolsonaro family in Brazil and even Texas senator Ted Cruz. But the Western Europe state most likely to follow Hungary’s lead is Italy. Right now, Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, presides over a technocratic administration in Rome. Italian politics, however, is heading straight for neofascism. The party that’s only recently surged to the top of the polls, Brothers of Italy, has its roots in a group started in the wake of World War II by diehard supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. It promotes an anti-vax “Italy first” agenda and, if elections were held today, would likely create a ruling coalition with the alt-right Lega Party and right-wing populist Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy
Meanwhile, several right-wing nationalists and populists are padding their CVs for a future role as the head of any new Nationalist International. Russian President Vladimir Putin may have the strongest claim to the title, given his longstanding support for right-wing and Euroskeptical parties, as well as the way he’s positioned Russia as the preeminent anti-liberal power around.
Don’t rule out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, though. He’s mended fences with the far right in his own country, while trying to establish Turkey as a regional hegemon. Increasingly disillusioned with his NATO peers, he’s purchased weapons from Russia and even hinted at pushing Turkey into the nuclear club. And don’t forget Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi either. Working overtime to contain China, the Hindu nationalist has also been assiduously cultivating strong relations with the right wing in both the U.S. and Israel.
Creating an actual Axis of Illiberalism from such disparate countries would not be easy given geopolitical rivalries, ideological differences and personal ambitions. Still, the failures of current global institutions — and the liberal internationalism that animates them — provide a powerful glue with the potential to hold together genuinely disparate elements in an emerging right, adding up to a new version of global fascism.
When the future members of a Nationalist International argue that the status quo — a raging pandemic, runaway climate change, persistent economic inequality, staggering numbers of displaced people on the move — is broken and they have just the plan to fix it, plenty of non-extremists are likely to find the message all too compelling. Short on hope and desperate for change, the disaffected and disenfranchised have proven willing to offer the noisy nationalists and reactionary populists a shot at power (which, given their unscrupulous tactics, may be all they need).
Saving the world (from liberals)
One of the most persistent symbols of international politics has certainly been the wall. Think of the Great Wall of China, designed to protect successive dynasties from the predations of nomadic outsiders. Many metropolitan areas around the world have retained some portion of the historic walls that once established them as city-states. The Berlin Wall was the most visible symbol of the Cold War, while Trump’s border wall was the only infrastructure program of his presidency (even if it was never truly built).
The far right is now — thank you, Donald Trump! — obsessed with walls, drawing on not only history but a deep reservoir of fear of the outsider. Like “austerity” for neoliberals, “walls” have proven the far right’s one-size-fits-all answer to almost every question. Immigrants? Wall them out. Climate change? Build walls now to prevent future waves of desperate global-warming refugees. Economic decline? Hey, install those tariff walls. Angry neighbors? Walls of weaponry and anti-missile defenses are the obvious answer
The far right considers not rising sea levels but globalization — trade flows, the movement of people, expanding international governance — as the tide that needs containing. Far right populists are busy constructing dikes of all sorts to keep out such unwanted global flows and preserve national control in an increasingly chaotic world.
Moving down the great chain of governance, it’s no surprise that the far right also wants to culturally wall off communities to uphold what it calls “family values” against contrary civic values, different religious practices and alternate conceptions of sexuality and gender. It even wants to wall off individuals to “protect” them against intrusive government practices like vaccine mandates. To secure such walls, literal or metaphoric, what’s needed above all are a bloated military at the national level, paramilitaries at the community level and a semi-automatic in the hands of every red-blooded right-wing individual.
Such walls are a hedge against uncertainty, though ironically the far right’s truest contribution to modern political ideology is not certainty, but a radical skepticism. Sure, that ancient right-wing American crew, the John Birch Society, did traffic in conspiracy theories involving Communists and fluoridated water. But that was nothing compared to the way the modern political right has weaponized conspiracy theories to acquire permanent power. With claims of stolen elections, Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and others have even cast doubt on the very capacity of democracy to represent voters, emphasizing that only populist extremists can represent the “authentic” wishes of the electorate.
On the other hand, elections that far-right candidates win, like the recent gubernatorial race in Virginia, are automatically defined as free and fair. Radical skepticism about the electoral system, after all, is only a convenient ladder that, once in power, the far right is all too ready to kick away.
The final conspiracy theory to fall will undoubtedly be the nefariousness of the “globalists” who have teamed up to contaminate the “precious bodily fluids” of pure Americans (or Brazilians or Hungarians). As long as liberal internationalists run global institutions like the World Bank and the World Health Organization, “globalists” will be useful bogeys for the nationalists to rally their followers. However, if the Trumps of this world capture enough countries and successfully infiltrate global institutions, then there will be no more talk of evil globalists.
In that worst-case scenario, even a Nationalist International will no longer be necessary as we discover in Hemingway fashion that, for Trump and his kind, the sun also rises. For all practical purposes, right-wing populists will have taken over the world. Given their blithe disregard for pandemics and climate change, such a victory would, of course, be pyrrhic.
William F. Buckley and the Birchers:
A myth, a history lesson and a moral
“William F. Buckley claimed he had banished far-right paranoia from the conservative movement — but look at it now”
”The Hubris of Nebuchadnezzar”
The Death of American Conservatism
Barbara Comstock is a “respectable” and “traditional” Republican who served as a member of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019. In a recent column at The New York Times, she tries to grapple with the realities of Trumpism and American neofascism’s full control over today’s Republican Party. Her solution?
To try to rally the “good” Republicans to resist Donald Trump’s influence and power by having a proper investigation into the events of Jan. 6.
In “My Fellow Republicans, Stop Fearing This Dangerous and Diminished Man,” Comstock writes the following about Donald Trump:
Republicans, instead of opposing a commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6, need to be at the forefront of seeking answers on the insurrection and diminishing the power of QAnon and the other conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump has fueled. While he is still popular within the party, Mr. Trump is a diminished political figure: 66 percent of Americans now hope he won’t run again in 2024, including 30 percent of Republicans.
He is not the future, and Republicans need to stop fearing him. He will continue to damage the party if we don’t face the Jan. 6 facts head-on. Nothing less than a full investigation is essential….
Many Republicans rationalize ignoring his rhetoric: His speech on Saturday wasn’t even aired live on Fox or CNN, and he may end up being indicted in New York and occupied with legal and financial problems. So, this thinking goes, what’s the harm in humoring the guy a little longer?
The harm is that the lies have metastasized and could threaten public safety again. The U.S. Capitol Police report that threats against members of Congress have increased 107 percent this year. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, has noted, “There’s no reason to believe that anybody organically is going to come to the truth.” Representative Liz Cheney, another Republican, said, “It’s an ongoing threat, so silence is not an option.”
Comstock continues that her fellow Republicans “would be better advised to fight like Senator Margaret Chase Smith.
During the Joseph McCarthy era in 1950, she advised fellow Republicans that the Democrats had already provided Republicans with sufficient campaign issues, and they need not resort to McCarthy’s demagogy.” She concludes:
The same is true today. Republicans need to have more faith in their policies and stop being afraid of a dangerous and diminished man who has divided the country and now divides our party. Reconsider the commission, let the investigation go ahead, and run and win in 2022 on the truth.
“Her Republican Party (or at least the one she imagined) no longer exists.”
The End of the GOP is Seen in the Man of Lawlessness
as the Messiah of the Conservative Movement
“Comstock’s pleas for sanity are the equivalent of putting a rescue note inside of a bottle and then throwing it into the ocean over the Mariana Trench.
No help will be arriving.”
The story goes like this: in 1962, the leading conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. used his magazine National Review to condemn the far-right John Birch Society.
The denunciation isolated the Birchers and their wild conspiracy theories within America’s conservative movement and led to their downfall.
As the Republican Party grapples with QAnon believers and Trump loyalists, the myth that Buckley saved conservatism from extremists has been repeatedly cited as fact to explain how the party of Lincoln can save itself.
“The truth is far more interesting. It shows that extremism in America’s conservative movement has ebbed and flowed since the 1950s, yet never disappeared.”
Buckley claimed to have vanquished the Birchers, acting as the gatekeeper of American conservatism. Yet when Barry Goldwater became the first conservative presidential nominee of a major political party in 1964, it was the Birchers, not Buckley, who played the key role.
The Birchers had a profound impact on American conservatism, a fact Buckley wished to expunge. He wanted to make conservatism respectable.
To acknowledge the influence of the Birchers would be an admission of failure.
It’s true enough that Buckley and the Birchers represented opposite wings of American conservatism. Buckley was the erudite face of conservative intellectualism, a self-described “intellectual revolutionary“ against the liberal order. In 1955, he founded National Review, which became the publication for highbrow conservative opinion and carried conservatism into America’s mainstream intellectual discourse.
“The John Birch Society, on the other hand, preached a unique brand of paranoid reactionary conservatism.
The brainchild of retired candy manufacturer Robert Welch Jr., the society was founded in 1958 to root out communist subversives in government and American society.
Although membership was secret, it is estimated that within a few years Welch had 20,000 to 100,000 followers.“
(The actual John Birch, by the way, had nothing to do with it: He was a U.S. military intelligence officer killed by communist insurgents in China in 1945, and later embraced as a martyr by the American far right.)
Inherent in the society’s mission to challenge subversion was Welch’s conspiracy theory-laced worldview. In 1958, Welch mailed Buckley a 300-page summary of his theories entitled “The Politician.”
“The manuscript contained the lurid claim that the sitting president, Dwight Eisenhower, was a communist and that past presidents, the CIA and civil rights activists were all secretly controlled by a global communist conspiracy.”
Insane as the document was, Buckley did not denounce Welch,
nor was he openly hostile to the John Birch Society.
He instead tried to maintain cordial relations, even forewarning Welch when National Review published an essay criticizing the Bircher magazine American Opinion. “A little friendly controversy among ourselves now and then is not too bad an idea,” wrote Buckley. Welch agreed.
The society’s growing prominence alarmed Buckley, however. Such an avowedly conspiratorial group could very well hamstring American conservatism just at the moment he perceived it gaining momentum. With the Birchers in the public eye, Buckley believed he needed to make a statement. Yet he feared tearing American conservatism apart. Therefore, he directed all condemnation at Welch so as not to offend the society as a whole.
Buckley wrote two editorials, in April 1961 and February 1962, criticizing Welch. The first gently critiqued Welch’s practice of citing communist subversion when there was none and concluded by saying “I hope the Society thrives“ despite its bungling leader.
The February 1962 editorial, entitled “The Question of Robert Welch,” was more biting. Buckley wrote that Welch’s conspiracy theories made him a man “far removed from common sense.” In an effort to not offend the Birchers as a whole, however, Buckley inaccurately portrayed Welch as an aberration from the society he led.
“Buckley even tried to maintain his friendship with Welch. Shortly after the 1962 editorial, he wrote Welch, “I am very anxious to keep current on your thinking and the society’s activities, and would be grateful if you would look into this. If our subscription has expired, I should be only too happy to look to renew it.”
This was the totality of Buckley’s supposed purge.
In later years, Buckley recast these two editorials as lethal salvos that drove the John Birch Society from the conservative movement. It was a narrative suited to Buckley’s view of himself as the patrician leader of conservatism. Yet it was a fallacious portrait. In the 1960s, American conservatism was a hodgepodge of groups held together by shared principles. National Review was one part of a large movement. Buckley was in no position to isolate those he disliked. There was no mass exodus from the John Birch Society. Buckley’s editorials were a disassociation, not a purge.
“Aside from self-aggrandizement, there was another reason for Buckley’s desire to rewrite history. In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona captured the Republican presidential nomination. With conservatism now on the presidential stage, it was the Birchers, not Buckley, who became the dominant force in the movement.”
Despite Buckley’s friendship with Goldwater, he was sidelined early in Goldwater’s campaign. In a supreme irony, this effort was framed as necessary to distancing Goldwater from people who could be considered extreme. Two of Goldwater’s aides invited Buckley to dinner and then told the New York Times about the evening, disavowing Buckley in the process. Buckley thus spent the remainder of the campaign on the periphery.
The Birch Society, on the other hand, was heavily involved in Goldwater’s campaign. Since Bircher membership was secret and Goldwater had previously disavowed Welch, the Goldwater campaign had plausible deniability about Bircher support. This provided a passionate volunteer base for a contentious Republican primary. At the Republican convention, party moderates denounced Goldwater’s extremist supporters, namely the Birchers. Far from joining in the condemnation, Goldwater validated Bircher support. In his nomination acceptance speech, Goldwater famously declared “that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
His supporters practically blew the roof off the convention hall with their ecstatic cheering.
In the general election campaign, Birchers spread their beliefs on an unprecedented scale by distributing a slew of paperback books — costing a dollar or less, with a form on the last page for bulk orders — which argued for Goldwater while parroting their conspiratorial worldview.
Their three top selling books (Phyllis Schlafly’s “A Choice Not An Echo,” John Stormer’s “None Dare Call It Treason” and J. Evetts Haley’s “A Texan Looks at Lyndon“) preached the Bircher message of unwavering reactionary conservatism, repeating Welch’s conspiracy theories while claiming that Democrats were communist sympathizers and Goldwater’s opponents were un-American. By October 1964, their combined sales reached 18 million copies.
This, calculated the historian Rick Perlstein, meant the books had sold enough copies to be in the homes of one in 10 Americans. National Review’s circulation, by comparison, was infinitesimal.
“The Birchers had carried their rhetoric into the mainstream. Goldwater did not disavow the Birchers or their books. His resounding defeat in 1964 — by most measures the greatest electoral landslide in American history — was largely attributable to the widely held belief that he and his supporters were extremists.”
“Buckley and Goldwater condemned
the Birchers as a whole after Goldwater’s defeat.”
Yet the Birchers had already made their mark on the movement. Shortly thereafter, Buckley began to claim that he had purged the Birchers in the early 1960s. When, in 1966, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League claimed that the Birch Society had played a key role in Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, Buckley bristled. He would not admit there were extremists in American conservatism.
The clash between Buckley’s pretensions and reality was laid bare in his 1968 debate with the segregationist governor George Wallace, who was running as a third-party presidential candidate. Buckley tried to act as gatekeeper, saying Wallace was not supported by any prominent conservatives.
Wallace was dismissive, saying, “Let’em be against me. What difference does it make?” Buckley failed again to curtail conservative extremists. Wallace, heavily supported by the Birchers, received nearly 10 million votes and carried five states in the Deep South. (No third-party candidate since then has even won one.)
“Reactionary extremists are a part of the conservative movement. Although membership in the Birch Society began to wane in the 1970s, that had nothing to do with Buckley.
On the contrary, the Birchers’ rhetoric and tactics were now central to the Republican Party. Other conservatives — Pat Buchanan, Lee Atwater and Rush Limbaugh, among many others — carried on and perfected the Bircher tradition of reactionary conspiracy theories.”
Until Donald Trump, Republican leaders from George H.W. Bush to Mitch McConnell believed they could control the reactionaries. They failed in 2016 and they continue to fail today. Extremists have outlasted and undone all efforts to break their grip in the Republican Party.
“Buckley never purged the extremist far right from American conservatism, largely because he could not possibly have done so. Reactionary paranoia is an organic component of the American right.
Such facts, however, run contrary to the way many “mainstream” conservatives view themselves. It behooves them to present the movement as capable of expelling its extremists.”
It is comforting to present Buckley as a sort of Edmund Burke reborn, the intellectual gatekeeper of conservative decency standing against the barbarous mob. Yet it is a fantasy. Until conservatives accept this, they will continue to underestimate the extremists. And as we see clearly today, it is the extremists who control the party, not the refined intellectuals who convince themselves otherwise.
The End of American Conservatism
One of the loudest voices urging Donald Trump’s supporters to push for overturning the presidential election results was Steve Bannon.
“We’re on the point of attack,” Bannon, a former Trump adviser and far-right nationalist, pledged on his popular podcast on Jan. 5. “All hell will break loose tomorrow.”
The next morning, as thousands massed on the National Mall for a rally that turned into an attack on the Capitol, Bannon fired up his listeners: “It’s them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?”
When the insurrection failed, Bannon continued his campaign for his former boss by other means. On his “War Room” podcast, which has tens of millions of downloads, Bannon said President Trump lost because the Republican Party sold him out. “This is your call to action,” Bannon said in February, a few weeks after Trump had pardoned him of federal fraud charges.
The solution, Bannon announced, was to seize control of the GOP from the bottom up. Listeners should flood into the lowest rung of the party structure: the precincts. “It’s going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don’t have an option,” Bannon said on his show in May. “We’re going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct.”
In Wisconsin, for instance, new GOP recruits are becoming poll workers. County clerks who run elections in the state are required to hire parties’ nominees. The parties once passed on suggesting names, but now hardline Republican county chairs are moving to use those powers.
“We’re signing up election inspectors like crazy right now,” said Outagamie County party chair Matt Albert, using the state’s formal term for poll workers. Albert, who held a “Stop the Steal” rally during Wisconsin’s November recount, said Bannon’s podcast had played a role in the burst of enthusiasm.
ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since Bannon’s campaign began. At least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers (or equivalent lowest-level officials) joined those county parties. We also looked at equivalent Democratic posts and found no similar surge.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork,” said J.C. Martin, the GOP chairman in Polk County, Florida, who has added 50 new committee members since January. Martin had wanted congressional Republicans to overturn the election on Jan. 6, and he welcomed this wave of like-minded newcomers. “The most recent time we saw this type of thing was the tea party, and this is way beyond it.”
Bannon, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.
While party officials largely credited Bannon’s podcast with driving the surge of new precinct officers, it’s impossible to know the motivations of each new recruit. Precinct officers are not centrally tracked anywhere, and it was not possible to examine all 3,000 counties nationwide. ProPublica focused on politically competitive places that were discussed as targets in far-right media.
The tea party backlash to former President Barack Obama’s election foreshadowed Republican gains in the 2010 midterm. Presidential losses often energize party activists, and it would not be the first time that a candidate’s faction tried to consolidate control over the party apparatus with the aim of winning the next election.
What’s different this time is an uncompromising focus on elections themselves. The new movement is built entirely around Trump’s insistence that the electoral system failed in 2020 and that Republicans can’t let it happen again. The result is a nationwide groundswell of party activists whose central goal is not merely to win elections but to reshape their machinery.
“They feel President Trump was rightfully elected president and it was taken from him,” said Michael Barnett, the GOP chairman in Palm Beach County, Florida, who has enthusiastically added 90 executive committee members this year. “They feel their involvement in upcoming elections will prevent something like that from happening again.”
It has only been a few months — too soon to say whether the wave of newcomers will ultimately succeed in reshaping the GOP or how they will affect Republican prospects in upcoming elections. But what’s already clear is that these up-and-coming party officers have notched early wins.
In Michigan, one of the main organizers recruiting new precinct officers pushed for the ouster of the state party’s executive director, who contradicted Trump’s claim that the election was stolen and who later resigned. In Las Vegas, a handful of Proud Boys, part of the extremist group whose members have been charged in attacking the Capitol, supported a bid to topple moderates controlling the county party — a dispute that’s now in court.
In Phoenix, new precinct officers petitioned to unseat county officials who refused to cooperate with the state Senate Republicans’ “forensic audit” of 2020 ballots. Similar audits are now being pursued by new precinct officers in Michigan and the Carolinas. Outside Atlanta, new local party leaders helped elect a state lawmaker who championed Georgia’s sweeping new voting restrictions.
And precinct organizers are hoping to advance candidates such as Matthew DePerno, a Michigan attorney general hopeful who Republican state senators said in a report had spread “misleading and irresponsible” misinformation about the election, and Mark Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers militia who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and is now running to be Arizona’s top elections official. DePerno did not respond to requests for comment, and Finchem asked for questions to be sent by email and then did not respond. Finchem has said he did not enter the Capitol or have anything to do with the violence.
“He has also said the Oath Keepers are not anti-government.”
When Bannon interviewed Finchem on an April podcast, he wrapped up a segment about Arizona Republicans’ efforts to reexamine the 2020 results by asking Finchem how listeners could help. Finchem answered by promoting the precinct strategy. “The only way you’re going to see to it this doesn’t happen again is if you get involved,” Finchem said. “Become a precinct committeeman.”
Some of the new precinct officers were in the crowd that marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to interviews and social media posts; one Texas precinct chair was arrested for assaulting police in Washington. He pleaded not guilty. Many of the new activists have said publicly that they support QAnon, the online conspiracy theory that believes Trump was working to root out a global child sex trafficking ring. Organizers of the movement have encouraged supporters to bring weapons to demonstrations. In Las Vegas and Savannah, Georgia, newcomers were so disruptive that they shut down leadership elections.
“They’re not going to be welcomed with open arms,” Bannon said, addressing the altercations on an April podcast. “But hey, was it nasty at Lexington?” he said, citing the opening battle of the American Revolution. “Was it nasty at Concord? Was it nasty at Bunker Hill?”
Bannon plucked the precinct strategy out of obscurity. For more than a decade, a little-known Arizona tea party activist named Daniel J. Schultz has been preaching the plan. Schultz failed to gain traction, despite winning a $5,000 prize from conservative direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie in 2013 and making a 2015 pitch on Bannon’s far-right website, Breitbart. Schultz did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon’s podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state’s Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered, beginning to explain his plan. Bannon cut him off, offering to return to the idea another time.
That time came in February. Schultz returned to Bannon’s podcast, immediately preceding Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who spouts baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“We can take over the party if we invade it,” Schultz said. “I can’t guarantee you that we’ll save the republic, but I can guarantee you this: We’ll lose it if we conservatives don’t take over the Republican Party.”
Bannon endorsed Schultz’s plan, telling “all the unwashed masses in the MAGA movement, the deplorables” to take up this cause. Bannon said he had more than 400,000 listeners, a count that could not be independently verified.
Bannon brought Schultz back on the show at least eight more times, alongside guests such as embattled Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, a leading defender of people jailed on Capitol riot charges.
The exposure launched Schultz into a full-blown far-right media tour. In February, Schultz spoke on a podcast with Tracy “Beanz” Diaz, a leading popularizer of QAnon. In an episode titled “THIS Is How We Win,” Diaz said of Schultz, “I was waiting, I was wishing and hoping for the universe to deliver someone like him.”
Schultz himself calls QAnon “a joke.” Nevertheless, he promoted his precinct strategy on at least three more QAnon programs in recent months, according to Media Matters, a Democratic-aligned group tracking right-wing content. “I want to see many of you going and doing this,” host Zak Paine said on one of the shows in May.
Schultz’s strategy also got a boost from another prominent QAnon promoter: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who urged Trump to impose martial law and “rerun” the election. On a May online talk show, Flynn told listeners to fill “thousands of positions that are vacant at the local level.”
Precinct recruitment is now “the forefront of our mission” for Turning Point Action, according to the right-wing organization’s website. The group’s parent organization bussed Trump supporters to Washington for Jan. 6, including at least one person who was later charged with assaulting police. He pleaded not guilty. In July, Turning Point brought Trump to speak in Phoenix, where he called the 2020 election “the greatest crime in history.” Outside, red-capped volunteers signed people up to become precinct chairs.
Organizers from around the country started huddling with Schultz for weekly Zoom meetings. The meetings’ host, far-right blogger Jim Condit Jr. of Cincinnati, kicked off a July call by describing the precinct strategy as the last alternative to violence. “It’s the only idea,” Condit said, “unless you want to pick up guns like the Founding Fathers did in 1776 and start to try to take back our country by the Second Amendment, which none of us want to do.”
By the next week, though, Schultz suggested the new precinct officials might not stay peaceful. Schultz belonged to a mailing list for a group of military, law enforcement and intelligence veterans called the “1st Amendment Praetorian” that organizes security for Flynn and other pro-Trump figures. Back in the 1990s, Schultz wrote an article defending armed anti-government militias like those involved in that decade’s deadly clashes with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.
“Make sure everybody’s got a baseball bat,” Schultz said on the July strategy conference call, which was posted on YouTube. “I’m serious about this. Make sure you’ve got people who are armed.”
The sudden demand for low-profile precinct positions baffled some party leaders. In Fort Worth, county chair Rick Barnes said numerous callers asked about becoming a “precinct committeeman,” quoting the term used on Bannon’s podcast. That suggested that out-of-state encouragement played a role in prompting the calls, since Texas’s term for the position is “precinct chair.” Tarrant County has added 61 precinct chairs this year, about a 24% increase since February. “Those podcasts actually paid off,” Barnes said.
For weeks, about five people a day called to become precinct chairs in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, southwest of Green Bay. Albert, the county party chair, said he would explain that Wisconsin has no precinct chairs, but newcomers could join the county party — and then become poll workers. “We’re trying to make sure that our voice is now being reinserted into the process,” Albert said.
Similarly, the GOP in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, is fielding a surge of volunteers for precinct committee members, but also for election judges or inspectors, which are party-affiliated elected positions in that state. “Who knows what happened on Election Day for real,” county chair Lou Capozzi said in an interview. The county GOP sent two busloads of people to Washington for Jan. 6 and Capozzi said they stayed peaceful. “People want to make sure elections remain honest.”
Elsewhere, activists inspired by the precinct strategy have targeted local election boards. In DeKalb County, east of Atlanta, the GOP censured a long-serving Republican board member who rejected claims of widespread fraud in 2020. To replace him, new party chair Marci McCarthy tapped a far-right activist known for false, offensive statements. The party nominees to the election board have to be approved by a judge, and the judge in this case rejected McCarthy’s pick, citing an “extraordinary” public outcry. McCarthy defended her choice but ultimately settled for someone less controversial.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, more than 1,000 people attended the county GOP convention in March, up from the typical 300 to 400. The chair they elected, Alan Swain, swiftly formed an “election integrity committee” that’s lobbying lawmakers to restrict voting and audit the 2020 results. “We’re all about voter and election integrity,” Swain said in an interview.
In the rural western part of the state, too, a wave of people who heard Bannon’s podcast or were furious about perceived election fraud swept into county parties, according to the new district chair, Michele Woodhouse. The district’s member of Congress, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, addressed a crowd at one county headquarters on Aug. 29, at an event that included a raffle for a shotgun.
“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it’s going to lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed,” Cawthorn said, in remarks livestreamed on Facebook, shortly after holding the prize shotgun, which he autographed. “That’s right,” the audience cheered. Cawthorn went on, “As much as I’m willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there’s nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American, and the way we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states.”
After Cawthorn referred to people arrested on Jan. 6 charges as “political hostages,” someone asked, “When are you going to call us to Washington again?” The crowd laughed and clapped as Cawthorn answered, “We are actively working on that one.”
“Schultz has offered his own state of Arizona as a proof of concept for how precinct officers can reshape the party. The result, Schultz has said, is actions like the state Senate Republicans’ “forensic audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots. The “audit,” conducted by a private firm with no experience in elections and whose CEO has spread conspiracy theories, has included efforts to identify fraudulent ballots from Asia by searching for traces of bamboo. Schultz has urged activists demanding similar audits in other states to start by becoming precinct officers.”
“Because we’ve got the audit, there’s very heightened and intense public interest in the last campaign, and of course making sure election laws are tightened,” said Sandra Dowling, a district chair in northwest Maricopa and northern Yuma County whose precinct roster grew by 63% in less than six months. Though Dowling says some other district chairs screen their applicants, she doesn’t. “I don’t care,” she said.
One chair who does screen applicants is Kathy Petsas, a lifelong Republican whose district spans Phoenix and Paradise Valley. She also saw applications explode earlier this year. Many told her that Schultz had recruited them, and some said they believed in QAnon. “Being motivated by conspiracy theories is no way to go through life, and no way for us to build a high-functioning party,” Petsas said. “That attitude can’t prevail.”
As waves of new precinct officers flooded into the county party, Petsas was dismayed to see some petitioning to recall their own Republican county supervisors for refusing to cooperate with the Senate GOP’s audit.
“It is not helpful to our democracy when you have people who stand up and do the right thing and are honest communicators about what’s going on, and they get lambasted by our own party,” Petsas said. “That’s a problem.”
This spring, a team of disaffected Republican operatives put Schultz’s precinct strategy into action in South Carolina, a state that plays an outsize role in choosing presidents because of its early primaries. The operatives’ goal was to secure enough delegates to the party’s state convention to elect a new chair: far-right celebrity lawyer Lin Wood.
Wood was involved with some of the lawsuits to overturn the presidential election that courts repeatedly ruled meritless, or even sanctionable. After the election, Wood said on Bannon’s podcast, “I think the audience has to do what the people that were our Founding Fathers did in 1776.” On Twitter, Wood called for executing Vice President Mike Pence by firing squad. Wood later said it was “rhetorical hyperbole,” but that and other incendiary language got him banned from mainstream social media. He switched to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by deplatformed right-wing influencers, amassing roughly 830,000 followers while repeatedly promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Asked for comment about his political efforts, Wood responded, “Most of your ‘facts’ are either false or misrepresent the truth.” He declined to cite specifics.
Typically, precinct meetings were “a yawner,” according to Mike Connett, a longtime party member in Horry County, best known for its popular beach towns. But in April, Connett and other establishment Republicans were caught off guard when 369 people, many of them newcomers, showed up for the county convention in North Myrtle Beach. Connett lost a race for a leadership role to Diaz, the prominent QAnon supporter, and Wood’s faction captured the county’s other executive positions plus 35 of 48 delegate slots, enabling them to cast most of the county’s votes for Wood at the state convention. “It seemed like a pretty clean takeover,” Connett told ProPublica.
In Greenville, the state’s most populous county, Wood campaign organizers Jeff Davis and Pressley Stutts mobilized a surge of supporters at the county convention — about 1,400 delegates, up from roughly 550 in 2019 — and swept almost all of the 79 delegate positions. That gave Wood’s faction the vast majority of the votes in two of South Carolina’s biggest delegations.
Across the state, the precinct strategy was contributing to an unprecedented surge in local party participation, according to data provided by a state GOP spokeswoman. In 2019, 4,296 people participated. This year, 8,524 did.
“It’s a prairie fire down there in Greenville, South Carolina, brought on by the MAGA posse,” Bannon said on his podcast.
Establishment party leaders realized they had to take Wood’s challenge seriously. The incumbent chair, Drew McKissick, had Trump’s endorsement three times over — including twice after Wood entered the race. But Wood fought back by repeatedly implying that McKissick and other prominent state Republicans were corrupt and involved in various conspiracies that seemed related to QAnon. The race became heated enough that after one event, Wood and McKissick exchanged angry words face-to-face.
Wood’s rallies were raucous affairs packed with hundreds of people, energized by right-wing celebrities like Flynn and Lindell. In interviews, many attendees described the events as their first foray into politics, sometimes referencing Schultz and always citing Trump’s stolen election myth. Some said they’d resort to violence if they felt an election was stolen again.
Wood’s campaign wobbled in counties that the precinct strategy had not yet reached. At the state convention in May, Wood won about 30% of the delegates, commanding Horry, Greenville and some surrounding counties, but faltering elsewhere. A triumphant McKissick called Wood’s supporters “a fringe, rogue group” and vowed to turn them into a “leper colony” by building parallel Republican organizations in their territory.
But Wood and his partisans did not act defeated. The chairmanship election, they argued, was as rigged as the 2020 presidential race. Wood threw a lavish party at his roughly 2,000-acre low-country estate, secured by armed guards and surveillance cameras. From a stage fit for a rock concert on the lawn of one of his three mansions, Wood promised the fight would continue
Diaz and her allies in Horry County voted to censure McKissick. The county’s longtime Republicans tried, but failed, to oust Diaz and her cohort after one of the people involved in drafting Wood tackled a protester at a Flynn speech in Greenville. (This incident, the details of which are disputed, prompted Schultz to encourage precinct strategy activists to arm themselves.) Wood continued promoting the precinct strategy to his Telegram followers, and scores replied that they were signing up.
In late July, Stutts and Davis forced out Greenville County GOP’s few remaining establishment leaders, claiming that they had cheated in the first election. Then Stutts, Davis and an ally won a new election to fill those vacant seats. “They sound like Democrats, right?” Bannon asked Stutts in a podcast interview. Stutts replied, “They taught the Democrats how to cheat, Steve.”
Stutts’ group quickly pushed for an investigation of the 2020 presidential election, planning a rally featuring Davis and Wood at the end of August, and began campaigning against vaccine and school mask mandates. “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery,” Stutts had previously posted on Facebook, quoting Thomas Jefferson. Stutts continued posting messages skeptical of vaccine and mask mandates even after he entered the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19. He died on Aug. 19.
The hubbub got so loud inside the Cobb County, Georgia, Republican headquarters that it took several shouts and whistles to get everyone’s attention. It was a full house for Salleigh Grubbs’ first meeting as the county’s party chair. Grubbs ran on a vow to “clean house” in the election system, highlighting her December testimony to state lawmakers in which she raised unsubstantiated fraud allegations. Supporters praised Grubbs’ courage for following a truck she suspected of being used in a plot to shred evidence. She attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally as a VIP. She won the chairmanship decisively at an April county convention packed with an estimated 50% first-time participants.
In May, Grubbs opened her first meeting by asking everyone munching on bacon and eggs to listen to her recite the Gettysburg Address. “Think of the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today,” Grubbs said. “Those people fought and died so that you could be the precinct chair.” After the reading, first-time precinct officers stood for applause and cheers.
Their work would start right away: putting up signs, making calls and knocking on doors for a special election for the state House. The district had long leaned Republican, but after the GOP’s devastating losses up and down the ballot in 2020, they didn’t know what to expect.
“There’s so many people out there that are scared, they feel like their vote doesn’t count,” Cooper Guyon, a 17-year-old right-wing podcaster from the Atlanta area who speaks to county parties around the state, told the Cobb Republicans in July. The activists, he said, need to “get out in these communities and tell them that we are fighting to make your vote count by passing the Senate bill, the election-reform bills that are saving our elections in Georgia.”
Of the field’s two Republicans, Devan Seabaugh took the strongest stance in favor of Georgia’s new law restricting ways to vote and giving the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over running elections. “The only people who may be inconvenienced by Senate Bill 202 are those intent on committing fraud,” he wrote in response to a local newspaper’s candidate questionnaire.
Seabaugh led the June special election and won a July runoff. Grubbs cheered the win as a turning point. “We are awake. We are preparing,” she wrote on Facebook. “The conservative citizens of Cobb County are ready to defend our ballots and our county.”
Newcomers did not meet such quick success everywhere. In Savannah, a faction crashed the Chatham County convention with their own microphone, inspired by Bannon’s podcast to try to depose the incumbent party leaders who they accused of betraying Trump. Party officers blocked the newcomers’ candidacies, saying they weren’t officially nominated. Shouting erupted, and the meeting adjourned without a vote. Then the party canceled its districtwide convention.
The state party ultimately sided with the incumbent leaders. District chair Carl Smith said the uprising is bound to fail because the insurgents are mistaken in believing that he and other local leaders didn’t fight hard enough for Trump.
“You can’t build a movement on a lie,” Smith said.
In Michigan, activists who identify with a larger movement working against Republicans willing to accept Trump’s loss have captured the party leadership in about a dozen counties. They’re directly challenging state party leaders, who are trying to harness the grassroots energy without indulging demands to keep fighting over the last election.
Some of the takeovers happened before the rise of the precinct strategy. But the activists are now organizing under the banner “Precinct First” and holding regular events, complete with notaries, to sign people up to run for precinct delegate positions.
“We are reclaiming our party,” Debra Ell, one of the organizers, told ProPublica. “We’re building an ‘America First’ army.”
Under normal rules, the wave of new precinct delegates could force the party to nominate far-right candidates for key state offices. That’s because in Michigan, party nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor are chosen directly by party delegates rather than in public primaries. But the state party recently voted to hold a special convention earlier next year, which should effectively lock in candidates before the new, more radical delegates are seated.
Activist-led county parties including rural Hillsdale and Detroit-area Macomb are also censuring Republican state legislators for issuing a June report on the 2020 election that found no evidence of systemic fraud and no need for a reexamination of the results like the one in Arizona. (The censures have no enforceable impact beyond being a public rebuke of the politicians.) At the same time, county party leaders in Hillsdale and elsewhere are working on a ballot initiative to force an Arizona-style election review.
Establishment Republicans have their own idea for a ballot initiative — one that could tighten rules for voter ID and provisional ballots while sidestepping the Democratic governor’s veto. If the initiative collects hundreds of thousands of valid signatures, it would be put to a vote by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. Under a provision of the state constitution, the state Legislature can adopt the measure and it can’t be vetoed.
State party leaders recently reached out to the activists rallying around the rejection of the presidential election results, including Hillsdale Republican Party Secretary Jon Smith, for help. Smith, Ell and others agreed to join the effort, the two activists said.
“This empowers them,” Jason Roe, the state party executive director whose ouster the activists demanded because he said Trump was responsible for his own loss, told ProPublica. Roe resigned in July, citing unrelated reasons. “It’s important to get them focused on change that can actually impact” future elections, he said, “instead of keeping their feet mired in the conspiracy theories of 2020.”
Jesse Law, who ran the Trump campaign’s Election Day operations in Nevada, sued the Democratic electors, seeking to declare Trump the winner or annul the results. The judge threw out the case, saying Law’s evidence did not meet “any standard of proof,” and the Nevada Supreme Court agreed. When the Electoral College met in December, Law stood outside the state capitol to publicly cast mock votes for Trump.
This year, Law set his sights on taking over the Republican Party in the state’s largest county, Clark, which encompasses Las Vegas. He campaigned on the precinct strategy, promising 1,000 new recruits. His path to winning the county chairmanship — just like Stutts’ team in South Carolina, and Grubbs in Cobb County, Georgia — relied on turning out droves of newcomers to flood the county party and vote for him.
In Law’s case, many of those newcomers came through the Proud Boys, the all-male gang affiliated with more than two dozen people charged in the Capitol riot. The Las Vegas chapter boasted about signing up 500 new party members (not all of them belonging to the Proud Boys) to ensure their takeover of the county party. After briefly advancing their own slate of candidates to lead the Clark GOP, the Proud Boys threw their support to Law. They also helped lead a state party censure of Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, who rejected the Trump campaign’s baseless claims of fraudulent ballots.
Law, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, has declined to distance himself from the Las Vegas Proud Boys, citing Trump’s “stand back and stand by” remark at the September 2020 presidential debate. “When the president was asked if he would disavow, he said no,” Law told an independent Nevada journalist in July. “If the president is OK with that, I’m going to take the presidential stance.”
“The outgoing county chair, David Sajdak, canceled the first planned vote for his successor. He said he was worried the Proud Boys would resort to violence if their newly recruited members, who Sajdak considered illegitimate, weren’t allowed to vote”.
Sajdak tried again to hold a leadership vote in July, with a meeting in a Las Vegas high school theater, secured by police. But the crowd inside descended into shouting, while more people tried to storm past the cops guarding the back entrance, leading to scuffles. “Let us in! Let us in!” some chanted. Riling them up was at least one Proud Boy, according to multiple videos of the meeting.
At the microphone, Sajdak was running out of patience. “I’m done covering for you awful people,” he bellowed. Unable to restore order, Sajdak ended the meeting without a vote and resigned a few hours later. He’d had enough.
“They want to create mayhem,” Sajdak said.
Soon after, Law’s faction held their own meeting at a hotel-casino and overwhelmingly voted for Law as county chairman. Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, a longtime ally of Law who helped lead Trump’s futile effort to overturn the Nevada results, recognized Law as the new county chair and promoted a fundraiser to celebrate. The existing county leaders sued, seeking a court order to block Law’s “fraudulent, rogue election.” The judge preliminarily sided with the moderates, but told them to hold off on their own election until a court hearing in September.
To Sajdak, agonizing over 2020 is pointless because “there’s no mechanism for overturning an election.” Asked if Law’s allies are determined to create one, Sajdak said: “It’s a scary thought, isn’t it.”
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According to the biographer Alexander Gilchrist (1828–1861), in Blake’s print the viewer is faced with the “mad king crawling like a hunted beast into a den among the rocks; his tangled golden beard sweeping the ground, his nails like vultures’ talons, and his wild eyes full of sullen terror. The powerful frame is losing semblance of humanity, and is bestial in its rough growth of hair, reptile in the toad-like markings and spottings of the skin, which takes on unnatural hues of green, blue, and russet.”