As retired Army General Michael Flynn speaks and stumps to persuade people to join his movement, he has also been busy building a network of political candidates at the federal, state and local levels.
Flynn, 63, who now lives in Englewood at Boca Royale Golf & Country Club, is a retired lieutenant general, former national security adviser and one-time anti-terrorism fighter.
Among his goals now is to find candidates to push his ideals and goals — and he’s finding them. Most of the candidates publicly either doubt or outright lie about the 2020 election where President Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump for the office. Others were among the Jan. 6 crowds and/or denounce homosexuality and gay marriage.
Flynn is among the most popular people for Republicans and conservatives now — being deemed a “new Founding Father” by a podcaster and others stating they believe everything he states in speeches.
Karen Ballash was among those heard Flynn speak in Salt Lake City.
“I totally believe in his message,” Ballash said. “We have to be the ones who make the change.”
An Associated Press and “Frontline” investigation found that Flynn has endorsed 99 candidates for the 2022 election cycle. He subsequently withdrew a handful.
The country’s most influential Republican is paying attention.
Flynn’s brother Joseph told an interviewer in May that, during a visit the Flynns made to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate this spring, Trump himself produced a list comparing the success of his endorsed candidates with Flynn’s.
Joseph Flynn, like his brother, lives in Boca Royale in Englewood. As of Tuesday, Joseph Flynn had about 300 tweets on Twitter, but after the AP and “Frontline” story was released Wednesday, they had either been deleted or set to a different privacy setting.
At least 80% of Michael Flynn’s chosen candidates have publicly spread lies or sown doubt about Trump’s 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden, or even participated in efforts to overthrow the election, the AP and “Frontline” found.
Several have suggested they would use their power if elected to change the way elections are run and how people are allowed to cast their vote.
Keith Self, a congressional candidate in Texas, has said he’s running for Congress “to defend the Judeo-Christian foundations of this nation.” Christine Villaverde, a congressional candidate in North Carolina, has vowed to fight to keep America “a Christian nation.”
At least 36 others have used similar rhetoric.
Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state lawmaker who lost a bid for Congress, recently posted on Facebook, “Only when Christians stand up & get loud, will we take this country back.”
Flynn’s support can be a sought-after prize. An AP and “Frontline” analysis of Facebook and Instagram data found ads from more than 20 candidates promoting their endorsements. Jackson Lahmeyer, an Oklahoma pastor who was defeated in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate by Sen. James Lankford, mentioned Flynn in 48 Facebook and Instagram ads, more than one-quarter of his total buy on the platforms.
Pastor Leon Benjamin, a Republican candidate for Congress in Virginia who denounced homosexuality and called gay marriages illegal in an August speech, said in an interview that Flynn’s endorsement represents “that affirmation and that understanding that we’ve got to have the right candidates in, and it’s not always popular, not always goes along with the grain.”
“If we keep doing the same things over and over again, that’s the definition of insanity,” he added. “So we got to do some different things to get different results.”
More than 40 of Flynn’s endorsements were for candidates seeking state or local posts, the AP and “Frontline” found.
Flynn endorsed two school board contenders in Missouri, candidates for sheriff in Florida, Nevada and Illinois and a city council candidate in North Carolina. He endorsed candidates for the state legislature in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Missouri. In Arizona, Michigan, California and Colorado, he gave his approval to candidates for secretary of state, a position that typically involves the administration of elections.
A dozen gubernatorial candidates won Flynn’s backing, including Pennsylvania’s Republican nominee, Doug Mastriano, a state lawmaker whom Flynn introduced at his campaign launch.
Mastriano, a retired U.S. Army colonel, floated a plan to undo Biden’s victory in his state, organized buses to the U.S. Capitol for Jan. 6 and was filmed walking past barricades and police lines that day. Mastriano has denied breaking the law and has not been charged with any crimes. Another Flynn endorsee, Dan Cox, who also organized buses for Jan. 6, won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Maryland.
Still, Flynn’s endorsement doesn’t guarantee a win. Josh Mandel, the Ohio U.S. Senate candidate, was defeated by JD Vance, who got a late endorsement from Trump. Some Flynn-backed candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert in Nevada and Colorado secretary of state candidate Tina Peters, made baseless claims of election fraud after they lost.
Flynn and his allies have suggested he wants to get back into government, and the growing influence that flows from the network he’s building may help him get there, said Ron Filipkowski, a lawyer in Sarasota and longtime Republican activist who now tracks Flynn and other far-right figures online.
“He’s going to build this grassroots movement, local elected officials beholden to him, loyal to him,” Filipkowski said.
FINANCING ELECTION DENIAL
Flynn has expanded his influence further through well-financed groups that advocate, among other things, changes to the way elections are run, based on the false premise that there is widespread voting fraud.
Flynn and Patrick Byrne, founder of Overstock.com and a Sarasota resident, last year launched The America Project, with Flynn’s brother Joseph as president.
While the Flynn brothers lives in Boca Royale in Englewood, Byrne resides in Osprey and has an office in Venice.
The group said it planned to spend $50 million in the 2021 budget year, according to a filing with North Carolina charity regulators.
But Joseph Flynn and Byrne separately told AP that it had spent tens of millions less, though each gave different totals.
While Flynn himself is not listed among its officers, he is the face of the group, and it’s described as “General Flynn and Patrick Byrne’s America Project.”
Byrne says Flynn is his closest adviser, telling the AP and “Frontline” that Flynn is his “Yoda” and “rabbi.”
In April 2021, Flynn was named chairman of America’s Future, one of the country’s oldest conservative nonprofit groups. The organization was founded in 1946 and was previously led by ultra-conservative stalwarts, including Phyllis Schlafly and retired Maj. Gen. John Singlaub.
Since Flynn took over, the group hired his sister, Mary O’Neill, as executive director and appointed Joseph Flynn to its board of directors. The group had about $3 million in assets at the end of 2020, its most recent IRS filings show. Flynn told the AP and “Frontline” in February that he had raised an estimated $1.7 million for America’s Future since becoming chairman.
The two groups worked in close coordination last year, together donating more than $4.2 million for a widely criticized and misinformation-driven review of the 2020 presidential election results commissioned by Arizona Republicans.
The America Project has given about $5 million to “grassroots organizations” around the country, Joseph Flynn said in a July appearance on an online show.
Many of the groups they support back what they call “election integrity,” a term often used by election deniers to justify making it more difficult to vote based on the falsehood that American elections are corrupt.
Campaign finance records show The America Project has given more than $150,000 to Conservatives for Election Integrity, a group that has supported several secretary of state candidates who have worked to undermine trust in 2020 election results.
The America Project gave $100,000 to a Colorado group, Citizens for Election Integrity, which used it for ads and text messages attacking a Republican candidate for secretary of state who ran against Flynn’s endorsed candidate. In Michigan, The America Project gave $100,000 in May to Secure MI Vote, which has reportedly pushed to roll back voter access.
In Georgia, they just announced they’re backing an effort to challenge voter registrations for tens of thousands of people.
Joseph Flynn said during a speech in May that The America Project also funded and advised many of what he termed “audits” of elections around the country, including in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, though he did not give specifics.
In February, Flynn stood in a burger joint in Orlando, to announce The America Project’s most public initiative, “Operation Eagles Wings,” the goal of which is to mobilize and train poll watchers and precinct captains, and to drive get-out-the-vote efforts.
“I think every single person in this country, every American citizen, now has to pay attention to politics. You know, when people go, ‘I don’t get involved. I don’t do that political stuff. That’s for the politicians.’ Well, that’s exactly why we are here. OK?” Flynn told the AP and “Frontline” during a contentious interview. “So, it’s something else that you won’t write or speak about or it’ll be edited out.”
As part of Operation Eagles Wings, The America Project has created affiliate groups in at least nine states. Its Florida affiliate said in a Facebook post last month it’s seeking “America First Poll Watchers” and will train organizations for free. State affiliates in Illinois and Virginia advertised trainings in July and August on grassroots social activism, poll watching and how to get out the vote. The promotions also promise to teach attendees to “expose weaknesses,” “monitor and evaluate absentee voting” and conduct “investigative canvassing.”
The initiative has raised alarm bells with pro-democracy advocates.
“If people who tried to overturn the 2020 election, or who are fueled by election conspiracies, are trying to recruit their followers or allies to be election workers or volunteers as part of an election denial agenda, that poses real risks to fair and free elections,” said Jacek Pruski, of the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy.
With his speeches, endorsements and outreach groups, Flynn has built a legion of acolytes who are listening closely to what he says and are ready to take action.
Ballash, 69, is the vice chair of the Summit County Republican Party in Utah.
She believes in Flynn and his push for wins in local elections.
“If we don’t do it, we won’t have a country,” Ballash said.
Delainna Prettyman said she’s just become politically engaged in the past year.
“That sent me deep down a rabbit hole. I don’t watch any news, any TV, anything. And I do a ton of research,” said Prettyman, who lives in the Salt Lake City suburbs.
She came to love Flynn, and believed “everything he says.”
“He’s got a lot of intel and insight about everything that’s going on. Of course, he can’t say everything,” she said. “We need more people like General Flynn.”
Under the tent in Batavia, New York, a crowd was thrilled to Flynn’s pronouncements from the stage.
The general they claim as their own confirmed their feeling that the U.S. is changing, and not for the better. He validated the belief that the community they have built together is under attack.
They know many people — some of their very own friends and loved ones, and even Biden — say they are a destructive force. But inside the tent, Flynn assured them, they have found their tribe and they are in the right.
“We’re not alone in this is what I’m telling you. OK? We’re not alone in what it is that we are doing,” Flynn said. “We’re not alone. I want you to know that.”