Raiklin went on to say what Maddox described as “a wild, contortionist explanation of how they would reverse Biden’s election,” involving a succession of state checks. First Arizona, then Georgia, then Wisconsin and then other state legislatures would wipe out the 2020 election results, he foresaw, until Biden’s margin of victory evaporated. Maddox told Raiklin that he was skeptical. “But he said he was sure it would happen,” Maddox told me. “And he kept referring back to Mike Flynn as this spindle and cog.”
“General Flynn is at the heart of all this,” Raiklin had similarly asserted in New Hampshire when I spoke to him shortly after his speech. He declined to elaborate, so exactly what that meant was hard to say. In the feverish activity now attending the 2020 election on the right, it can be difficult to distinguish conspiracy from conspiracy — not least in Flynn’s own statements. In an interview with the right-wing conspiracy website Infowars in late January, Flynn accused George Soros, Bill Gates and others of creating the coronavirus so they could “steal an election” and “rule the world.” In another interview, he raised the rumor that “they” may be putting the vaccine in salad dressing.
But the Capitol riots showed how quickly such a plot could be put into action. The belief that the 2020 election was stolen is just as prevalent in the Republican Party now as it was then: According to a December YouGov poll, 71 percent of Republicans believe Biden was not legitimately elected. The myth of the stolen election has fused with a host of other right-wing preoccupations — the coronavirus vaccines, critical race theory, border security — into a single crisis narrative, of which Flynn is both supplier and protagonist: The deep state plans to break America as it tried to destroy Flynn. break and the man he had the audacity to serve, Donald Trump.
At the ReAwaken America event in Phoenix, I visited a booth selling art by a man named Michael Marrone. In addition to the usual hagiographical portraits of Trump in Revolutionary War garb, Marrone featured a number of Flynn and other saintly figures in the original bid to reverse the election, such as Lin Wood and Sidney Powell. On one of these, the general sat next to Powell, both in colonial garb, signing the Declaration of Independence. In another, Flynn stood with bulging jaws and eagle eyes, brandishing a musket. A third, with him next to Trump on a battlefield, bore Flynn’s signature, alongside the QAnon slogan WWG1WGA (“where we go one, we all go”).
In real life, the ties between this band started to fray. Wood and Flynn supported several Republican candidates for governor of Georgia, a state that has become central to right-wing efforts to nullify the 2020 results and exert partisan control over future elections. Their estrangement deepened and eventually became public when Wood posted text messages and excerpts of a phone conversation on the social media app Telegram. In one of them, Flynn expressed his belief that Trump had “stopped” with America.
When I spoke to Wood in December, he told me he was starting to reassess the general. Flynn had been a conspiracy partner for so long, and lately he’s begun to wonder if Flynn himself might not be what he seemed. He told me about attending a Bikers for Trump rally in South Carolina last May, where Flynn led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, but fell silent for a moment during the “and to the Republic it stands for” line. “I was trying to defend him at the time,” Wood said. ‘Now I don’t know. Who forgets the pledge of allegiance? Draw your own conclusions. It is difficult.”
It occurred to me that somehow this was probably Flynn’s life for the foreseeable future: The prospect of a normal retirement was long gone, he now belonged to a MAGA storybook world of heroes and villains and nothing in between. That world “is filled with strong personalities, which is a complication in every move,” says JD Rucker, a conservative podcaster who knows and admires Flynn. “When you fight for a goal, you fight for a spotlight within that goal. The left is less prone to that – whether they have a more collectivist view or because they are not so capitalist, I don’t know.”