Takeaways from the AP/FRONTLINE Michael Flynn investigation
Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general who served as Trump's national security adviser, greets supporters near the stage during the ReAwaken America tour at Cornerstone Church, in Batavia, N.Y., Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and onetime national security adviser to President Donald Trump, has been systematically building a political movement based on Christian nationalist ideas.
Flynn was a leader of the “Stop the Steal” effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Flynn sat in the front row at a rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, when then-President Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol.
In the years since, Flynn has traversed the United States, trying to assemble his own political support.
An investigation by The Associated Press and FRONTLINE found that Flynn has used public appearances to energize voters, made political endorsements to build alliances and amassed a network of nonprofit groups to advance the movement. Along the way, Flynn and his companies have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for his efforts.
Read the full AP/FRONTLINE investigation: Michael Flynn: From Government Insider to Holy Warrior
The AP and FRONTLINE spoke with dozens of people, reviewed campaign finance records, corporate and charity filings, social media posts and similar open-source information, and attended several public events where Flynn appeared. Reporters examined dozens of Flynn’s speeches, interviews and public appearances.
Flynn himself sat down for a rare on-camera interview with what he calls the mainstream media.
Takeaways from the investigation:
A Foundation of Christian Nationalist Ideas
Flynn made more than 60 in-person speeches in 24 states, according to a count by the AP and FRONTLINE. He often asserts that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values. The bedrock, he warns, is crumbling.
Flynn often says the country is in the midst of a “spiritual war” and that many of his fellow citizens are “evil.”
“They dress like us and they talk like us, but they don’t think and act like us,” he told a podcaster recently. “And they definitely do not want what it is that we want.”
Christian nationalism seeks to merge the identity of Christians and Americans, and pushes the idea that the United States was founded on biblical principles and has a favored relationship with a Christian God, said Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma, who studies conservative Christianity and politics.
The thread of Christian nationalism runs through many of Flynn’s events.
At one fundraiser, a preacher prayed over Flynn, saying America would stay a Christian nation and that Flynn was “heavy armaments” in the Lord’s quiver. At the Christian Patriot’s Rally at a church in Northern California, Flynn was presented with an assault-style rifle on stage. In Virginia in July, he said pastors “need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible.” In Texas last November, Flynn told a crowd “this is a moment in time where this is good versus evil.”
“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God, right?” he said.
The AP and FRONTLINE found that Flynn has endorsed 99 candidates for the 2022 election cycle. At least 80% have publicly spread lies or sown doubt about Trump’s 2020 loss, or participated in efforts to overturn the election, the AP and FRONTLINE found. About two dozen of the candidates were at the Capitol on Jan. 5-6, 2021. One-third have served in the military. At least 38 have used Christian nationalist rhetoric.
More than 40 of Flynn’s endorsements were for candidates seeking state or even local posts. 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 nominees Dan Cox in Maryland and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. Both organized buses to take people to Washington for what turned out to be the siege at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Some Flynn-backed candidates made baseless claims of election fraud after they lost in the primaries.
Flynn and his allies have suggested he wants to get back into government. Some Flynn critics worry the growing influence that flows from the network he’s building may help him get there.
Financing Election Denial
Flynn has become involved in well-financed groups that advocate changes to the way elections are run, based on the false premise there is widespread voting fraud.
Flynn and Patrick Byrne, founder of Overstock.com, last year launched The America Project. The group said it planned to spend $50 million in the 2021 budget year, according to a filing with North Carolina charity regulators. Its leaders told AP that it had spent tens of millions less than that.
Flynn was named chairman of America’s Future Inc., one of the country’s oldest conservative nonprofit groups. It had about $3 million in assets at the end of 2020, and Flynn told the AP and FRONTLINE in February that he had raised an estimated $1.7 million since becoming chairman.
The two groups have spent millions on election-related endeavors, including a misinformation-driven review of the 2020 presidential election results commissioned by Arizona Republicans.
The America Project’s leadership has said it has given millions more to “grassroots organizations” around the country. Campaign finance records show it has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to various political groups. It also launched an initiative in several states to mobilize and train poll watchers and precinct captains, and to drive get-out-the-vote efforts.
The initiative has raised alarm bells with pro-democracy advocates.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner, Eric Tucker, Helen Wieffering and Aaron Kessler, photographer Carolyn Kaster and FRONTLINE producers Richard Rowley and Paul Abowd contributed to this report.