When President Trump summoned his supporters to Washington, DC for Congress’ certification of the electoral vote with his Dec. 19, 2020 tweet promising that it would “be wild,” a host of social media influencers and podcasters with a history of trafficking in disinformation and conspiracy theories were poised to mobilize their followers with incendiary messages bristling with violence and darkly warning against “Deep State” treachery.
Some of the influencers claim connections to the Trump campaign or high-level allies of the former president, and their role in mobilizing thousands of supporters to flood into Washington, DC on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021 illuminates the web of relationships currently under review in the parallel inquires of US Justice Department and House select committee that are seeking to understand who planned and financed the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Even as they urged supporters to get to DC at all costs, the activists, influencers and operatives responsible for organizing the rallies and mobilizing turnout for Jan. 5 and 6 vibrated with intrigue, dangling an epic cliffhanger before their followers: Would Vice President Pence reject the electors from battleground states narrowly won by Joe Biden, or would he preside over the formality of certifying Biden as the next president? Would Trump invoke the Insurrection Act and order the military to seize the ballots, as retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and other Stop the Steal proponents insisted he must?
With three days to go before the big day, Charlene Bollinger — who was slated to host the satellite MAGA Freedom Rally about a block away from the Capitol on Jan. 6 — joined Sean G. Turnbull, a far-right podcaster from Minnesota who has promoted COVID denialism and the flat-earth conspiracy, among other fringe beliefs. Charlene Bollinger and her husband, Ty, a retired bodybuilder maintain a website called The Truth About Cancer that assails the conventional wisdom on cancer treatment and hawks an array of alternative wellness products.
Underscoring the urgency of the campaign to overturn the election on Jan. 6, the headline of Turnbull’s Jan. 3 interview with Charlene Bollinger was delivered with a sledgehammer: “MUST LISTEN!! PATRIOTS: THE TIME IS NOW!!”
“One of the things that really inspires us all are those prayer circles, you know, Diamond and Silk and others in the Oval Office, you know, these pictures of these prayer circles, and people praying for this man — now I’m going to get choked up — praying for our republic, because God bless America, we cannot lose this,” Turnbull said. “And if we lose it, we’re gonna live under people like Klaus Schwab [executive chairman of the World Economic Forum] and the Great Reset and Bill Gates and really, really evil people for — in perpetuity. This is it. This is the moment. We save the country for our kids, our progeny, or we lose it forever.
“Let me ask you, if you don’t mind, if you could speculate for us, what do you think will happen in the government on January 6th with the electoral votes?” Turnbull asked Bollinger.
Imran Ahmed, the CEO of Center for Countering Digital Hate said it’s common for people who believe in one conspiracy theory to migrate to others.
“The type of people drawn to conspiracy theories are people who have high levels of epistemic anxiety,” he said. “They struggle with making sense of the world. There’s been a high level of anxiety during the pandemic…. Conspiracy theories don’t sate epistemic anxiety; they lead you to rabbit holes. They’re like the junk food of knowledge.”
As groups that embrace different conspiracy theories network, the conspiracy theories mutate and evolve.
“When groups converge, they hybridize their conspiracy theories,” he said. “The conspiracy theory that has come out of Jan. 6 is the Great Reset. The Great Reset is basically QAnon-minus-[pedophiles]-plus-vaccines. They’re saying that this elite group is trying to kill everybody with vaccines. QAnon itself was just the New World Order-plus-pedos.”
Turnbull told Bollinger he seeks information from Jeffrey Prather, a former DEA agent who has launched a second career as a podcaster preaching a message that malevolent forces have corrupted the American government from the inside. Turnbull also cited Mike Adams, a former software executive whose Natural News website has been described by Vox as “a hub for climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers,” as a trusted source.
“And frankly, nobody really knows,” Turnbull told Bollinger. “It’s a tossup. There’s all sorts of speculation about Pence. Is he a traitor? Look if you’re following Twitter, it’s just easy to get really confused about what might happen on January 6th, but it’s gonna go one way or the other. What are your thoughts?”
Bollinger listened and nodded. She agreed that Jan. 6 would “go one way or the other” without providing any additional insight. But she hinted that she knew more than she was going to say publicly.
“And you’re listening to Mike Adams; we do, too,” Bollinger told Turnbull. “And we talk offline with him, so a lot of things he doesn’t say online, we’re talking about offline. So, there’s a lot of paths to this victory.”
Among many conspiracy theories espoused by Adams was the false claim that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a false flag — one of many since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
“I’m not saying that nobody died there,” Adams said of Sandy Hook on the Dec. 30, 2020 edition of his “Situation Update” podcast. “They killed real children. But then they augmented it with fake parents for the CNN cameras. Okay, they killed children elsewhere. Probably dragged ’em in there and set it up. But it’s the same thing, all staged, all these events, even though there are real deaths, and there are real explosives, real bombs, the narratives are faked, and they always destroy the evidence. They always make sure the building is knocked down, or 9/11 Ground Zero is completely trucked away and cleaned up before there can be any forensic audit of the building.”
Adams also looked to Prather for wisdom, describing himself as a “real fan” and commending his listeners to the former DEA agent in the Dec. 30 podcast, five days before Bollinger’s conversation with Turnbull.
Clay Clark, whose “ThriveTime Show” podcast projects a persona that is equal parts cheerful AM talk-radio host, business consultant and nondenominational pastor says in a blurb supplied for Prather’s website: “Jeffrey Prather shares the truth in a world that is swirling. He is the Yoda of intel.”
On Dec. 30, before he’d had the opportunity to confer with Prather, Adams was lamenting that his sources were going cold.
“And I’m calling my contacts, but the last day or two everybody’s just gone into radio silence,” Adams told his listeners. “It’s crazy. It’s like, number one, I can’t reach any of my contacts right now, and then, except for a couple that called me asking, ‘Have you heard anything? You got anything new?’ Like no, nobody’s talking right now.
“Something’s going on,” he continued. “I don’t know what it is. Everybody’s really quiet. It’s almost like they’ve been told, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ You know, ‘Zip it, because something big’s about to come down.”
Despite his frustration that he was in the dark about the forecast for Jan. 6, Adams was ready to draw his own conclusions. Following an extended rant accusing FBI agents loyal to President Obama of colluding with China and Anthony Fauci to create COVID-19 as a “bioweapon” to “crush America and try to destroy Trump,” Adams told his listeners: “The only two options that were ever going to work were, number one, the military, and, number two, We the People.”
For whatever reason, Trump did not wind up invoking the Insurrection Act or declaring martial law, as his supporters had hoped. Instead, they attacked the Capitol as Trump watched the assault from the safety of the White House. “We The People” would prove to be a nearly ubiquitous catchphrase of the insurrection, representing the idea that when a representative government no longer holds legitimacy, authority and power ultimately defaults to a self-selected segment of the citizenry. One man, who has been charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct at the Capitol, wore a black sweatshirt with the lettering “WE THE PEOPLE” arranged to look like a rifle. Another boasted on Facebook after the assault: “We the People have spoken and we are pissed! No antifa, no BLM…. We The People took the Capitol! Every American ethnicity was here. Democratic tyranny WILL NOT STAND! WE HAVE SPOKEN!!”
While Adams appeared to be in the dark on Dec. 30, court records indicate that by that time militia organizers were talking about a specific objective for Jan. 6.
“We need to make those senators feel very uncomfortable with all of us being a few hundred feet away,” Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs wrote in a thread entitled “OKFL Hangout Chat” on the encrypted app Signal on Christmas day, according to an indictment unveiled on Wednesday.
“I think Congress will screw him [President Trump] over,” Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes reportedly replied. “The only chance we/he has is if we scare the shit out of them and convince them it will be torches and pitchforks is [sic] they don’t do the right thing. But I don’t think they will listen.”
On Dec. 31, Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell — assigned to head an armed quick reaction force outside of DC on Jan. 6 — allegedly told a contact on Facebook: “This kettle’s set to boil…. It begins for real Jan. 5 and 6 on Washington, DC when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets.”
And on Dec. 30, Lucas Denney, a militia leader in Texas who privately told friends he was communicating with the Proud Boys, shared memes on Facebook that depicted the US Capitol accompanied by text reading: “Occupy Congress: If they won’t hear us, they will fear us. The great betrayal is over. Election fraud is treason. January 6, 2021.”
Leigh Dundas, an anti-vax activist, also shared a graphic referencing the Capitol as a focal point for the upcoming protests in late December. Announcing on Facebook the day after Christmas that she would be speaking on the steps of the Supreme Court on Jan. 5 and “staying on for the March on the 6th,” she posted a graphic depicting Trump facing the Capitol building, accompanied by the text, “March on Congress for Donald J. Trump. Jan. 6th, 7 am at US Capitol.”
Mike Adams, who had lamented that he was in the dark what lay on the horizon during his Dec. 30, would get the opportunity to speak with Jeffrey Prather in two days. Prather’s remarks during the exchange were light on specifics, but he outlined a philosophy that helped focus listeners on an enemy.
Prather’s resume on LinkedIn indicates he served as an intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, from 1992 to 2009, and his personal brand trades on that experience. Prather’s website declares: “Meet your intelligence officer. Retired Special Operations soldier, former DIA intelligence collector, and ex-DEA special agent, targeted by the Deep State, turned whistle-blower, now your intelligence officer exposing fake news!”
Prather regularly tells listeners that the United States is already in the midst of a war that he describes as “unrestricted, unconventional covert World War IV,” and he opens his podcast in a spiel that sounds like a radio broadcast designed to demoralize an enemy force. “Dear Deep State Dems, antifa, BLM, RINOs and assorted traitors and enemies, foreign and domestic,” Prather says. “You’re not as disciplined as the British. You’re not as organized as the Nazis. You’re not as fierce as the imperial Japanese. You’re not as brutal as ISIS. And we… beat… them… all. You’re next.”
Prather is candid about how he conceives his role.
“I report intelligence without flashy graphic, music, leggy blondes or tanned talking heads,” he said in his podcast on the eve of the Jan. 6 insurrection. “And you all support and echo me. I do deep dives, not superficial fluff. You take notes and spread the word.”
Speaking with Mike Adams on Jan. 1, Prather made it clear that he’s not a disinterested purveyor of information, and that his content has a particular purpose. Repeating the false claims of election fraud, Prather said: “Everybody has now seen overwhelming video and photographic and testimony and witness evidence of election interference. Nobody believes that there wasn’t election interference. Not at all. That is — intelligence is preparation of the battlefield. And psychological operations and preparation of the battlefield. And mainly this battlefield is the human terrain of psychological operations and informational warfare. And I think that’s what’s happening.”
Prather also explained to Adams why he uses the term “feral cities” when speaking of urban areas in the United States, saying that it came out of US military doctrine that was applied to defeat ISIS.
“When we look at what’s going on in America, the Chinese are engaging us in fifth-generational unrestricted global warfare — covert warfare — which is what they doing, which is a new form of warfare, they’re bringing their guerillas and their proxy guerillas into cities to hold cities,” Prather said. “And so, that’s what is happening in Portland…. It would be as if the Chinese were hitting the beaches with their marines, except they’re doing it through this covert war doctrine and controlling those areas. That’s what ‘feral cities’ means.”
It is difficult to discern whether Prather believes what he says, or if he is knowingly promoting false claims that are calculated to delegitimize the government. He invited Raw Story to call him on Friday, but then did not respond to multiple voicemail messages and follow-up emails.
Imran Ahmed of the Center for Countering Digital Hate told Raw Story that the individuals who promoted the Stop the Steal campaign “are very adept at instrumentalizing conspiracy movements.” In turn, the effort to overturn the 2020 election provided an array of conspiracy theorists representing varied strains of delusion with the opportunity to promote themselves. “They act as an anchor for conspiracy theorists to latch onto,” Ahmed said of the Stop the Steal organizers. “It’s like Comic-Con for every nutcase. Everyone is coming to sell their wares.”
Donald Trump himself is notorious for promoting conspiracy theories, most notably the false claim that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States and was therefore ineligible to serve as president. Whether or not Trump believes the conspiracy theories he shares is not clear and is ultimately beside the point, Ahmed said, adding, “What he’s very good at is telling conspiracy theorists: ‘I’m one of you.’”
As plans took shape for the MAGA Freedom Rally, Charlene Bollinger noted one boldface name during her Jan. 3 interview with Sean G. Turnbull. She told Turnbull that she and her husband had secured a permit, and would be partnering with two groups — Virginia Freedom Keepers and Latinos for Trump — to put on the event, adding that there were a limited number of slots.
“Roger Stone’s gonna close it out,” Bollinger said. “He’s gonna be hanging out with us backstage.”
A longtime right-wing political operative and confidant of Donald Trump, Stone’s name carries significant cachet among the former president’s supporters. Although Stone received top billing for the MAGA Freedom Rally, it appears that he did not end up speaking at the event. Pastor Mark Burns tweeted photos of himself with Stone at the Willard Hotel, where he said “we watched all this unfold” on Jan. 6. Despite ghosting on the Jan. 6 MAGA Freedom Rally, Stone has stayed in touch with the Bollingers: In October 2021, he was a keynote speaker — along with Eric Trump, one of Donald Trump’s sons, and anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — at the Bollingers’ The Truth About Cancer event at Opryland in Nashville.
Stone has also been closely tied with the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, the two far-right extremist groups that played a significant role in the insurrection.
A mentor to Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, Stone was flanked by Tarrio and Proud Boy Ethan Nordean when he spoke on the steps of the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC on Dec. 11, 2020. “Nothing is over until we say it is,” Stone said. “We will fight until the bitter end for an honest count of the 2020 election. Never give up. Never quit. Never surrender, and fight for America.”
Nordean is currently in jail awaiting trial on conspiracy charges. Tarrio is serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to burning a Black Lives Matter flag on Dec. 12, 2020 and carrying ammunition in DC on Jan. 4, 2021.
Before he gave his remarks at the JW Marriott on Dec. 11, Stone was introduced by InfoWars host Owen Shroyer, who now faces charges for being on restricted grounds at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Samuel Montoya, a correspondent for InfoWars, has also been charged. InfoWars and its primary host, Alex Jones, are renowned for spreading conspiracy theories, including the claim that Sandy Hook was a false flag. Several people who face charges in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, including Daniel Rodriguez, who administered an electro-shock device on Metropolitan police Officer Michael Fanone, claim InfoWars as an inspiration.
Six Oath Keepers members Robert Minuta and Joshua James reportedly provided security for Stone on Jan. 5. On Jan. 6, Minuta and James raced to the Capitol on a golf cart, and then forcibly entered the Capitol in a formation described by the government as “Stack 2.” On Wednesday, Minuta and James were indicted alongside Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and eight others for seditious conspiracy.
On Jan. 4, Matt Couch, who promoted the conspiracy theory that Seth Rich was responsible for the 2016 leak of the Democratic National Committee emails to Wikileaks, joined Sean G. Turnbull’s “SGT Report” podcast, along with Cordie Williams, a Marine Corps veteran who became active in anti-lockdown activism in southern California in the spring of 2020.
Rich was murdered in a botched robbery in DC in 2016. His brother sued Couch for mental anguish and emotional distress, and Couch eventually retracted his claims and apologized to Rich’s family.
Couch and Williams told Turnbull they would both be speaking at the MAGA Freedom Rally hosted by the Bollingers on Jan. 6, although Couch was not featured on the event website.
“I want you to come here,” Couch told Turnbull’s listeners. “I want you to understand: Don’t worry about antifa. The Proud Boys are even going to be dressing like antifa to infiltrate them. I have operations teams on the ground from a security standpoint that are already infiltrating and getting intel on the ground on where these guys are. There are some high-level intelligence groups — the same guys that guard myself and Cordie are also guarding other people. I’m not going to mention here just because I don’t want to dox folks. But it’s a high-level operation that’s going on here. You will be safe, and I want to encourage people to come to DC.”
In an interview for a different podcast with host Pete Santilli on Dec. 29, Couch told listeners that he had participated in a meeting with Roger Stone and 50 to 60 other people at the Willard Hotel in DC on Dec. 12, and that Stone pulled him aside and invited him to join him down the street at a cigar bar.
“If Roger Stone asks you to go have a cigar, you go have a cigar,” Couch said.
Williams, who founded a conservative advocacy organization called 1776 Forever Free, described the tangle of events and organizations behind the Jan. 6 mobilization in an interview for another podcast on Dec. 29.
“There’s two or three groups doing events,” Williams said. “We’re doing ours at Freedom Plaza. It’s sponsored by all sorts of folks. An amazing lady named Cindy. And I’m not gonna reveal her last name for a bunch of reasons. But an amazing lady named Cindy is with a bunch of sponsors and cosponsors and is running the whole deal.”
Cindy Chafian co-hosted the Rally to Revival with Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander at Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5. Chafian also obtained the permit for the Nov. 14, 2020 Trump rally in DC on behalf of Women for America First, an organization run by Amy Kremer. On Jan. 6, Chafian and her husband would travel in a convoy of golf carts to the Capitol, ferrying Alex Jones’ wife, Erika Wulff Jones. The entourage made its way to the west side of the Capitol, and Cindy Chafian got close enough to observe the assault on Officer Michael Fanone near the entrance to the tunnel on the Lower West Terrace. Chafian previously told Raw Story that a video posted on Twitter that shows her near the assault was “deceptively edited” and requested that Raw Story not contact her again.
Nathan Hughes, an Arkansas man who rode to the Capitol with Chafian’s husband, joined a battle against the Metropolitan police inside the tunnel and was part of a crowd that swarmed around Fanone while he was being assaulted, based on multiple videos reviewed by Raw Story. Hughes has not been arrested and it is not clear whether he participated in the assault or attempted to assist Fanone.
Hughes filmed Trump’s motorcade passing the Nov. 14 rally at Freedom Plaza, and his video was used in a report produced by Couch’s DC Patriot news site. In a commentary opposing mask mandates in Arkansas in August, Couch referred to Hughes as “my good friend” while lauding him for “leading the charge” against COVID restrictions in the state.
In his guest appearance on the Dec. 29, 2020 podcast, Williams said, “And even our so-called ambassadors of freedom, our so-called politicians, if you will, that are selling out their country, they’re all treasonous traitors. And last time I checked… you know, treason is a federal crime. It’s a capital crime. And firing squad or hanging, right?” He added, “And I’m not inciting violence now. I’m not inciting that I would do this to someone, but I am talking about federal law.”
Williams is currently running for US Senate in California, and has received the endorsement of Sebastian Gorka, a former deputy assistant to President Trump in the Defense Department.
Couch made a similar remark when he joined Williams on the “SGT Report” podcast on Jan. 4.
“Our founders would have already been dragging people by their feet out into the middle of the street, and beating the hell out of them for what we’re being put through,” he said.
Williams and Couch did not respond to requests for comment from Raw Story.
By Dec. 28, podcasters and social media influencers were loudly urging their followers to travel to Washington, DC when Congress was expected to certify the election.
“And should you go to DC? Definitely,” Jeffrey Prather told his listeners. “Because we need to show the wavering politicians that we are standing behind America First and our president. And we will not put up with this election being stolen.”
Prather also referenced the ongoing rallies in Arizona to try to pressure state officials to overturn the election result, adding, “I have a small part in that, proud to say about that.”
In a Facebook Live video that was viewed 33,000 times, Leigh Dundas told her followers on Dec. 29 that Trump’s followers “need to show up in force in Washington, DC on January 6th.” She continued: “Their house is actually our house. And when those votes are counted by Pence and his friends on January 6th, we need to be there in person to ensure there is integrity in that process, and also to send one hell of a message as to what will happen, if there’s not.” Then she promised her followers that she would see them in DC on “January 6th all over the Capitol.”
Dundas repeated the message the following day in a video that reached 42,000 viewers: “We need to be outside the Capitol January 5th and 6th.”
Dundas had told her followers in an earlier video recorded on the Saturday after the election that she had joined “a conference call with President Trump’s campaign and their lawyers,” adding, “What Donald Trump wants the world to know at this point is that this is no longer at this point a fight about a president or a presidency. This is a fight about the very bedrock of our constitutional republic and the democratic process.”
On Dec. 30, Williams tweeted out a video urging his followers to “come to DC on the 6th.” On Jan. 6, a man named Thomas Paul Conover from Keller, Texas wore a “1776 Forever Free” sweatshirt inside the Capitol building while drinking a Coors Light.
In a Periscope video on Jan. 3, Couch told more than 100,000 viewers on Periscope that he had walked the Capitol grounds.
“We have guys on the ground doing ahead-of-the-game surveillance from different groups that we’re in coordination and talks with,” Couch said. “There’s a lot of things happening here. A lot of moving parts. You will be safe. We need to send a loud message that we need you in Washington, DC.
“God is leading the charge, and patriots are heeding his call,” Couch said, adding that “the time to fight is now.” He added a disclaimer: “These are peaceful events.”
Prather told listeners to his podcast that if they had body armor, they should wear it in DC on Jan. 6. While Prather did not go to DC himself, he advised his listeners: “Freedom is dangerous, and it is worth the risk. But who should be out there in particular is all the unmarried guys, especially if they’re not in the military. Don’t take your children to DC. But find ways around. There’s plenty — when we’re doing special operations in a foreign country, we find veterans who have retired there, and go into their homes. You can do the same thing in DC. Find alternatives. Don’t be stopped. Be unstoppable. Be relentless.”
On Jan. 6, Charlene Bollinger spoke from the stage a block away from the Capitol at the MAGA Freedom rally.
“We pray for the patriots that are there now, inside — they’re trying to get inside that Capitol,” she said, in a video published by CNN. “Lord, use these people to eradicate this evil, these swamp creatures, this cesspool of waste and filth.”
Later, Charlene Bollinger said she had spoken to her husband, Ty, and asked him if he was at the Capitol. She said he replied that he was “outside it.”
“The Capitol has been stormed by patriots,” Charlene Bollinger reported. “We’re here for this reason. We are winning.”
Late in the evening of Jan. 6, Prather posted a new video that he described as an “emergency broadcast.”
“This is definitely a false-flag event,” he said. “We are already confirming multiple sources, especially the buffalo-horned, painted BLantifa guy that has been shown at Black Lives Matter and antifa demonstrations before. This is definitely a false flag. It was definitely planned.”
Intel is preparation of the battlefield. And mainly the battlefield is the human terrain of psychological operations and informational warfare.