‘It’s a sham’: fears over Trump loyalists’ ‘election integrity’ drive

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A blimpish radical called the America Project that boasts Donald Trump loyalists and “big lie” pushers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn arsenic cardinal advisers, has begun a self-styled “election integrity” thrust to bid activists successful predetermination canvassing and poll-watching, sparking fears from voting rights watchdogs astir elector intimidation.

Patrick Byrne, the multimillionaire co-founder of the America Project, has said helium has donated astir $3m to motorboat the drive, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings”, with a absorption connected 8 states including Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump lost, positive Texas and Florida, which helium won.

The thrust was unveiled successful precocious February astatine a property lawsuit wherever Byrne touted plans to amended “election betterment activists” to grip predetermination canvassing, grassroots enactment and fundraising “to exposure shenanigans astatine the ballot box” successful what has echoes of Trump’s mendacious claims that the 2020 predetermination was rigged, and could go a sequel to those charges.

Byrne, for instance, has said the operation’s ngo is to “make definite that determination are nary repeats of the errors that happened successful the 2020 election”, and stressed the “need to support the voting process from predetermination meddlers who attraction lone astir serving crooked peculiar involvement groups that neither respect nor worth the regularisation of law”.

But voting rights advocates person voiced crisp disapproval of Operation Eagles Wings, calling it a “sham”, fixed the roles of Stone, Flynn, Byrne and others, and informing that it could pb to elector harassment astatine the polls and suppress morganatic votes.

To pb the fledgling operation, the America Project recruited Tim Meisburger, an ex-Trump authoritative successful the US Agency for International Development: Meisburger near the bureau abruptly nether a unreality successful mid-January 2021 aft a video surfaced of him falsely informing staffers that the Capitol onslaught was mostly peaceful but for “a fewer convulsive people”, and that “ respective million” radical were demonstrating peacefully for predetermination reforms.

Overall, the America Project has boasted that its full backing is greater than $8m, including donations from Byrne, the ex-chief enforcement of Overstock.

Byrne declined to respond to queries from the Guardian astir what roles predetermination canvassers were being trained to instrumentality on, and what the cognition had done to day successful its targeted states.

Voting rights watchdogs accidental the caller predetermination integrity cognition has an Orwellian quality, and poses dangers to voting rights and just elections fixed the radical who are truthful prominently associated with it.

“Michael Flynn and Roger Stone person repeatedly proven themselves to beryllium enemies of democracy,” Sean Morales-Doyle, the acting manager of the voting rights and elections programme astatine the Brennan Center, told the Guardian.

He added: “While it is not wide what precisely they volition inquire their predetermination betterment activists to do, their claimed pursuit of “election integrity” is simply a sham, aimed alternatively astatine undermining nationalist religion successful our elections and mounting the signifier for aboriginal attempts to subvert the volition of the people. The conspiracy theories they espouse would beryllium laughable if they weren’t truthful dangerous.”

Flynn, a retired service lieutenant wide who served concisely arsenic Trump’s nationalist information adviser, and Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and self-proclaimed maestro of governmental soiled tricks, were successful the vanguard of Trump loyalists promoting falsehoods astir Joe Biden’s 2020 win.

In mid-December 2020, for instance, Flynn suggested connected the blimpish web Newsmax that Trump could usage the subject to “rerun the elections” successful respective cardinal states that Trump falsely claimed were rigged, and a fewer days aboriginal helium attended a White House gathering with Trump, Byrne and different allies, wherever much chaotic schemes were discussed.

Stone spoke astatine a pro-Trump rally connected 5 January and the adjacent greeting was astatine the Willard hotel, which Trump loyalists had utilized arsenic a basal for plotting ways to overturn the election, accompanied by respective Oath Keeper bodyguards, immoderate of whom participated successful the Capitol battle and present look transgression charges.

At the rally connected 5 January, Stone lavished praise connected Trump’s allies who were determination protesting, calling it “a historical occasion, due to the fact that we’re huffy arsenic hellhole and we aren’t going to instrumentality it”.

Flynn and Stone received pardons from Trump aft they were convicted arsenic portion of the Russian 2016 predetermination meddling investigations, including charges of lying to the FBI successful Flynn’s case, and obstruction of a legislature committee successful Stone’s.

Not surprisingly, the Trump loyalists were subpoenaed by the House sheet investigating the January 6 battle connected the Capitol by hundreds of Trump supporters, but according to reports Stone and Flynn each repeatedly invoked their 5th amendment close against self-incrimination.

In a video clip of a Flynn deposition that the House sheet played past week, Flynn was adjacent seen pleading the 5th erstwhile asked if helium supported the lawful transportation of statesmanlike power, and if helium thought the Capitol unit was wrong.

When Byrne archetypal announced Operation Eagles Wings, Flynn and Stone were introduced arsenic peculiar advisers. “ If I didn’t deliberation this had a accidental to win I wouldn’t person gotten involved,” Stone said.

Roger Stone astatine  Republican lawsuit   successful  Sandy, Utah successful  April.
Roger Stone astatine Republican lawsuit successful Sandy, Utah, successful April. Photograph: Adam Fondren/AP

There’s small uncertainty Byrne’s checkbook tin bolster the fledgling predetermination operation.

Byrne, who falsely claimed that the 2020 predetermination was rigged, and wrote a publication entitled The Deep Rig, was the pb financier successful tandem with the America Project to the tune of $3.25m of a arguable audit past twelvemonth of Arizona’s largest region that Trump was banking connected to beryllium fraud but that confirmed Biden won.

The Byrne-backed Eagles Wings cognition has touted plans to connection “commentary” connected existent predetermination policies to guarantee Americans person “access to fact-based truths astir the predetermination process”.

Before launching its caller operation, the America Project boasted that past twelvemonth it recruited 4,500 volunteers to show polling stations during the gubernatorial contention successful Virginia wherever Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a erstwhile governor.

In Virginia, the America Project has forged ties with Virginians for America First, a section radical started by Leon Benjamin, a achromatic pastor who successful 2020 mislaid a contention for a House spot by a whopping 23 points. Benjamin, who is moving for a House spot again this fall, would not concede, citing “potential elector fraud”, successful an echo of Trump’s bogus fraud claims.

Last fall, Byrne and Flynn’s member Joe, the president of the America Project, attended a fundraiser successful Richmond, Virginia, for Benjamin’s group, to coincide with its merchandise of a study calling for caller curbs connected voting, including ending aboriginal voting and absentee voting, and requiring elector IDs.

Besides their roles with Eagles Wings, Flynn and Stone person been featured speakers on with rightwing pastors astatine “ReAwaken America”, which involves revival-style rallies successful galore states that person dispersed falsehoods that Trump mislaid owed to fraud, and a distorted presumption of America’s separation of religion and state.

At a ReAwaken rally past November successful Texas, Flynn claimed America should person conscionable “one religion” – prompting dense disapproval from spiritual leaders and others.

“If we are going to person 1 federation nether God, which we must, we person to person 1 religion,” Flynn said. “One federation nether God, and 1 religion nether God, right? ”

Adam Taylor, the president of the Christian societal justness radical Sojourners, told the Guardian that “Flynn has a warped knowing of religion and American history”.

Similarly, disapproval is mounting successful Republican quarters astir the roles of Stone and Flynn with their latest “election integrity” drive.

Veteran Republican operative Charlie Black, who erstwhile was a lobbying spouse of Stone’s, noted that Flynn utilized to person 1 of the highest quality jobs successful the government, but “now helium spouts conspiracy theories with nary grounds to backmost them up. So does Roger, but helium has done this for a while. Read his books for examples.”