Trump's 'sabotage' plan: Career staffers embedded by former president urged to 'be the resistance' against Biden

Government watchdog groups are calling on congressional committees to release the names of Trump political appointees who have "burrowed" into career civil service positions over concerns they may attempt to "sabotage" the Biden administration.

Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order in October that stripped career civil servants of employment protections and opened the door for political appointees to "burrow" into career positions inside the government. The move came as Trump Cabinet members like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged staffers to "be the resistance" to the incoming Democratic administration. President Joe Biden rescinded the order in his first days in office, but it remains unclear how many such appointees may have burrowed into career positions inside their departments.

Trump installed at least 26 political appointees in career civil service jobs in the first 10 months of 2020, according to data provided by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to Congress, but most conversions likely happened in the final months of Trump's presidency and those reports have not yet been turned over to Congress. The Washington Post reported last month that the White House was reviewing 425 officials that might move to career positions, but the Trump administration likely ran out of time to install all of them before Biden took office.

In a letter obtained exclusively by Salon, multiple watchdog groups called on key congressional committees — which receive reports detailing the conversion of political appointees to civil servant positions from the OPM — to release the names of any such appointees.

"Some of the Trump administration's political appointees may be lingering within agencies, seeking conversions to career civil service positions, a process commonly referred to as 'burrowing,'" the watchdog groups said in a letter to Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., head of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The letter was signed by government watchdog groups Accountable.US, American Oversight, Public Citizen, Campaign for Accountability, Government Information Watch and the Government Accountability Project. Accountable.US has also filed 60 public records requests to various government agencies, seeking the release of reports regarding political appointees who have been transferred to permanent career positions.

"In his final days as president, Donald Trump refused to work with the incoming administration to deal with historic crises he only made worse, and instead made it easier to pack the government with his crony political appointees," Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "If any former Trump political operative is now working to sabotage and obstruct action against the pandemic and recession, the public deserves to know their names."

The Trump administration had previously pushed for Congress to change civil service laws over concerns that Obama administration holdovers might "try to set up … roadblocks" for the new administration. Just four years later, "many of his political appointees are attempting to retain power through the same process Trump preciously repudiated," the watchdog groups said in the letter.

Though Biden ultimately rescinded Trump's order, the letter continued, "the will of the American people is now at risk of being undermined by a potentially historic number of holdovers from the previous administration."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., along with multiple advocacy groups, has already called for the Biden administration to oust Mark Brown, who was appointed by DeVos to head the Education Department's Office of Federal Student Aid through 2022, over concerns that he could undermine new changes sought by Democrats. Biden can easily remove Brown, but career civil service jobs "come with job protections that will make it difficult for Biden to fire them," Politico noted in a report detailing the "'deep state' of loyalists Trump is leaving behind for Biden."

"We've identified some people already, but we don't know how many there are in total, or where exactly they're placed," a source close to Biden told Politico during the presidential transition.

Biden and his team have already removed top officials at the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and has also purged hundreds of Pentagon advisory board members to root out Trump loyalists. But "burrowing" officials are often classified as "Schedule F" employees, who do not receive the same protections as traditional civil service employees, but are protected against removal over their political affiliation.

One such official is Michael Ellis, a former top aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who served as a top legal adviser at the National Security Council before moving to a career position as top legal counsel to the National Security Agency despite reportedly lacking the necessary qualifications. Ellis was placed on paid leave within hours of taking over the new job after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to the Pentagon calling the "eleventh-hour" appointment "highly suspect."

Others were moved to senior roles as assistant U.S. attorneys, general counsels, intelligence officials and immigration judges, The Washington Post reported last month.

Jordan Von Bokern, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett who served as a counsel at the Justice Department, got a pay raise of more than $15,000 when he became a career trial attorney at the DOJ's civil division.

Prekak Shah, a member of the Federalist Society who worked for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, before joining the Justice Department, was appointed to a career position as an assistant U.S. attorney in Texas.

Michael Brown, a former coal executive who worked on former HUD Secretary Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign and later as a lawyer for the Energy Department, recently moved to a permanent position representing the Energy Department in Saudi Arabia. Kyle Nicholas, another adviser at the department, landed a similar job in Brussels.

Many of these hires quickly raised eyebrows. In one case, Christopher Prandoni, a young aide to former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, was named as a judge in the Interior Department's Office of Hearings and Appeals, even though he was only three years out of law school.

"The job that Prandoni was given was a gift," Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity told ProPublica last year. "He never in a thousand years would have gotten this job if he hadn't worked directly with David Bernhardt for months at a time implementing the Trump agenda."

Tracy Short, a former legal adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, landed a $185,368-per-year position as the top immigration judge at the Justice Department.

"He just doesn't have the courtroom experience to be a chief judge," Denise Slavin, the longtime former president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told ProPublica.

Brandon Middleton, a former aide to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, was first hired at the Justice Department's environmental division after Sessions became attorney general, and later got a $172,508-per-year job as chief counsel for an Energy Department office that oversees toxic waste cleanup.

"He has the kind of background that makes me concerned that he might use his new career position for ideological purposes," Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight told Politico last month.

Senate Democrats have also sounded the alarm over the DOJ's hiring of gun rights advocate John Lott to serve as a senior adviser in the Office of Justice Programs, which they said in a letter raised "concerns about the Department's compliance with requirements designed to maintain the continued integrity of the nonpartisan career civil service."

It might be difficult to fire some of these officials, but the Biden administration could reassign them.

"Our options to respond to burrowing are really limited, which is why they do it," a Democratic aide working on the issue told Politico. "It's like whack-a-mole. Once you have found them, you can't fire them. Your recourse is to transfer them to somewhere they don't want to be, isolate them, and make working conditions bad to the extent you can, without crossing lines put in place to protect the civil service."

National Guard preps for March 4 — the day QAnon followers think Trump will still be inaugurated

Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops are expected to stay in Washington for at least another three weeks amid concerns over potential violence from QAnon adherents, some of whom believe former President Donald Trump will be inaugurated on March 4.

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., cited QAnon chatter surrounding March 4 during a hearing this week with defense officials flagged by CNN.

"Some of these people have figured out that apparently 75 years ago, the president used to be inaugurated on March 4," Smith said. "Now why that's relevant, God knows. At any rate, now they are thinking maybe we should gather again and storm the Capitol on March 4 ... that is circulating online."

Pentagon official Robert Salesses said at the hearing that 4,900 National Guard troops will remain in D.C. through March 12 at the request of Capitol Police in response to "different missions" that the troops will support. He said there isn't a specific threat that the National Guard is tracking but the Pentagon will work with law enforcement agencies to evaluate any potential threats.

The Trump Organization appears to have taken notice of the chatter too. The Trump International Hotel in Washington has jacked up its room rates for March 3 and 4 by nearly $1,000, Forbes first reported. It was the only hotel in the nation's capital to increase rates for those days — and has not increased them on surrounding days. The hotel similarly raised its prices dramatically for Jan. 5 and 6, the dates around the deadly Capitol riot.

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which is effectively based on the fictitious idea that Trump is secretly fighting a satanic cabal of child-trafficking Democrats, have struggled to cope with President Joe Biden's inauguration. Many of them had expected that Inauguration Day would bring "The Storm," when, according to clues left by an anonymous message board poster known as "Q," Trump would lead the National Guard in mass arrests of his political enemies. The "storm" never came, leaving many to grapple with reality as Q stopped posting shortly after the election. Some QAnon followers have since hatched their own conspiracy theory, claiming that Trump will return for the "real" inauguration on March 4.

Setting unrealistic timelines for world-changing events is nothing new in QAnon world, said Julian Feeld, co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast, which details the "best conspiracies of the post-truth era." QAnon followers previously wrongly predicted that Trump would usher in "The Storm" in October 2018, which they dubbed "Red October," and again in December 2018, and then again in March 2019, just to name a few.

"It's kind of like an evangelical cult waiting for the rapture," said Robert Guffey, an author and lecturer at California State University, Long Beach, who tracks the movement. "It doesn't happen so you've got to push the day back, and then it doesn't happen again — push the day back."

But the March 4 conspiracy theory is unique, Feeld said, because it did not come from a clue posted by Q, but from followers themselves.

"They believe essentially that the 14th Amendment is the last valid amendment, and that basically, the last valid president was Ulysses S. Grant," Feeld said in an interview. "So the idea here is that Trump would be inaugurated as the rightful 19th president, after Grant, and they chose March 4 is because that used to be the day of the inauguration in the time period that they idealize."

That theory is itself based on an even more brain-melting conspiracy theory that seems borne entirely out of a tragically comical misreading of a 150-year-old law. The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 formally incorporated the Washington, D.C., municipal government. Some QAnon followers have mistaken that to mean that as of that year the entire United States was incorporated like a business.

"They believe that the United States was turned into a corporation and that invalidated, in their minds, everything that happened after that," Feeld said. "They believe, essentially, that a company was created called the United States of America Inc., or something like that. And that meant that we stopped being a country, like, it broke the Constitution, and made everything after that basically an act of sedition and treason."

This baffling idea is actually not entirely new, and stems from a related set of delusional beliefs known as Sovereign Citizen ideology.

"Sovereign citizens have had crossover with QAnon for a while," Feeld said. "But this is the first time that it's so central."

The QAnon-Sovereign Citizen mind-meld may have been sparked by social media algorithms, which have long been criticized as radicalization engines for recommending increasingly extreme content to users.

"This is kind of an autonomous, QAnon-like decentralized problem that we have on social media platforms," Feeld said, "where algorithms and engagement contribute to floating the wildest things that agree with people's profound inability to face reality in a very difficult time." These systems kind of just self-replicate and they go on and on."

Feeld said it's possible that these conspiracy theories could produce lone-wolf style attacks, but he doubts there will be anything like a repeat of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, mostly because Trump is no longer present as an inciting factor.

"The Capitol was a perfect storm of so many things," he said. "It is actually very difficult to get a group of people in America that worked up and that violent unless there is profound actual injustice or a president that goes, 'Hey, you should walk to that place close to here and get pissed off.'"

Guffey noted that some QAnon followers have already picked the next date if March 4 doesn't pan out: May 20, which is 120 days after January 20. That date stems from an economic recovery plan called NESARA, the National Economic Security and Recovery Act, proposed during the Clinton administration by an obscure engineering consultant named Harvey Barnard, who authored a book called "Draining the Swamp."

"Somehow this obscure failed attempt to basically reset and forgive the national debt has gotten woven into QAnon mythology," Guffey explained. "The way they see it, NESARA was enacted on Jan. 20 by Trump and under the precepts of this proposal, after 120 days, that's when the military can come in and take over. And then the entire country will be reset back to before the United States became USA Inc.

"Trump will come back and the military will pull Biden out of the White House. Then all the debt goes away and the IRS is abolished. And then, at that point, Trump starts releasing all these hidden patents for free energy. It's going to be utopia and all the Democrats will be in Gitmo. Then, when that doesn't happen, they'll either create another fake date or cobble up reasons why Joe Biden is actually a hologram and Trump is actually in the White House."

The diverging conspiracy theories and growing skepticism inside the movement suggest that Trump's defeat has left the Q community in a state of chaos that could manifest itself in potentially violent ways.

"These communities are encouraged to share memes, they're not usually encouraged to violence," Feeld said. "But lately, there have been more calls that could be interpreted as calls for violence, because they're no longer on the platforms where that stuff would have gotten them banned."

Social media platforms have increasingly cracked down on QAnon-related content since the Jan. 6 riot, which has sparked an exodus of QAnon followers to platforms like Telegram, Gab and the recently-relaunched Parler -- which was also used to coordinate the Capitol attack. Other followers have started to avoid terms directly linked to QAnon, like "Pizzagate," but instead use terms like "pedo-gate" to avoid getting flagged on more mainstream social networks.

More importantly, QAnon has birthed an entire autonomous online subculture that no longer relies on clues from Q.

"As COVID continues, we're going to see a growth in some of the belief systems that exist within QAnon and always have, because it's a type of umbrella movement," Feeld said, noting that many have tied QAnon ideology into videos and posts about New Age beliefs and meditation.

"We have seen a generation of influencers that are younger, that are perhaps into Tarot cards and all this," he said. "But the end result is always the same. Their politics shift to the far right, and they think Donald Trump is some form of messianic figure or essential element in this great awakening."

Many of these followers view themselves as "digital soldiers" in a war that goes far beyond Trump.

"It's a broader war against what they see as Communist, anti-Christian, Satanic pedophiles that have taken over things like Netflix," he said, citing the QAnon community's uproar over the streaming network's film "Cuties."

"So it's not just about the president. There's a cultural war boiling underneath this," Feeld said. "We'll see less direct mentions of the word 'QAnon' but we will continue to see people being digital soldiers on a kind of battlefield where good and evil are the two sides and the stakes are saving our world under the light of Christ and God."

Guffey agreed that QAnon is going to evolve "without Q."

There's a large contingent of Christians involved in QAnon but "it's almost like a secular religion because you have people attracted to it who are not necessarily evangelical Christians," he said. "It also appeals to people who are into the paranormal, people who are into conspiracy theories, accelerationists. I know former Democrats who just went down the rabbit hole and are now completely for Q and for Trump."

The "Save the Children" campaign, a splinter movement from QAnon that has spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories about child trafficking, is a particularly effective recruiting tool because it is not overtly tied to QAnon or Trump.

"It's being fed by a new wave of young people who used to perhaps be liberal or not think too much about politics and have now become born-again Christians or digital warriors," Guffey said. "Then they sw-ng far-right and believe there is a kind of demonic invasion all around them. They're reading these patterns in the endless media they're being fed."

It's ironic, Guffey said, that QAnon adherents who often use military language and pride themselves on their pattern-recognition ability "seem incapable of recognizing the most obvious."

Social media platforms feed into this confusion because "all information is flat" in user feeds, Feeld argued. "Conspiracy theories sit next to historical facts very comfortably. Someone's blog post sits next to an article by a renowned journalist."

Some QAnon followers have even bigger plans, potentially following in the footsteps of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., in bringing fringe ideas into national politics. Gene Ho, a frequent speaker at QAnon events who has accused liberal elites of drinking children's blood, is running for mayor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Jo Rae Perkins, who has pledged her support to QAnon, won the Republican Senate primary in Oregon last year. An analysis by the watchdog group Media Matters identified two dozen Republican candidates in last year's election cycle who had espoused or flirted with QAnon beliefs.

While QAnon has largely been a Republican-linked phenomenon, many true believers "consider most Republicans to be RINOs, or Republicans in name only," Feeld said. "They have a hatred for a majority of the Republican Party. If you've betrayed the MAGA movement in some way, you're persona non grata.

"They have a radical new project for the Republican Party and they see them as a vehicle that is not extreme enough and is not willing to get its hands dirty in the ways that they would imagine. They just don't understand why Hillary Clinton is not behind bars or why there are no trials in Guantánamo Bay. They're often fascists. Under the Julius Evola definition, you could call them 'super fascists,' since their fascism is completely outside the bounds of reality."

Guffey said he sees QAnon as "veering more toward the religious end of the spectrum rather than the political end of the spectrum, almost like if the Church of Scientology, back in the 1950s, had branched off into 50 different subsets, all of whom were accusing each other of secretly working with the government."

The disparate subgroups forming out of the core QAnon movement suggest that many followers may be outgrowing their singular focus on Trump, and that the movement may morph into something entirely different, even while retaining core QAnon beliefs.

"This will be with us for at least a generation," Feeld said. "These are beliefs that will be held by parents and their offspring. We'll have grandparents gathering children around the fireplace, telling them the story of how Hillary Clinton sheared the face off a baby and danced with it and ate the child. These are the stories that are being told in our culture for a variety of reasons. That's something we're going to have to contend with in a broader way than just labeling it QAnon."

Six Capitol Police suspended, 29 others under investigation for alleged roles in riot

Capitol Police announced on Thursday that the agency has suspended six officers for their alleged role in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and that dozens of other officers are under investigation.

A spokesman for the Capitol Police told WTTG that 35 officers in total are under investigation in connection to the riot, which killed five people and injured dozens of Capitol and Washington, D.C., police officers.

"Our Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the actions of 35 police officers from that day. We currently have suspended six of those officers with pay," a spokesman said in a statement to the outlet. "Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman has directed that any member of her department whose behavior is not in keeping with the Department's Rules of Conduct will face appropriate discipline."

CNN previously reported last month that at least 10 officers were under investigation and two had been suspended.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who chairs an appropriations subcommittee that oversees Capitol Police funding, told the network last month that one of the officers was suspended for taking a selfie with the rioters while the other wore a "Make America Great Again" hat and was seen directing people around the Capitol complex. Lt. Tarik Khalid Johnson, the Black officer who wore the MAGA hat, told The Wall Street Journal that he put the hat on in an effort to help rescue one of his colleagues.

Videos taken on Jan. 6 show that the perimeter set up by Capitol and D.C. police was quickly overrun by violent Trump supporters, some of whom are reportedly members of hate groups like the Proud Boys and extremist groups like the Oath Keepers. But some videos showed officers standing by as the pro-Trump crowd funneled through the Capitol doors.

At least 13 off-duty police officers from around the country took part in the riot, according to The Washington Post, some of whom have been arrested or face disciplinary action from their departments.

Some Black Capitol Police officers, who reportedly faced a barrage of racial slurs during the riot, have faulted the department for failing to respond to racism within its ranks, telling ProPublica that they had repeatedly sued the department and issued warnings about racist officers.

"We got Jan. 6 because no one took us seriously," former officer Sharon Blackmon-Malloy told the outlet.

Some officers said that department leaders had actively prevented officers from responding more forcefully to the invading mob.

"There were command-level people telling (officers) to put their sticks away," one officer told CNN. "One came up and grabbed his arm ... and said, 'Stop, stop, we don't do that to protesters.'"

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned after the riot after saying that his requests for National Guard backup had repeatedly been denied due to concerns about "optics" expressed by former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, both of whom resigned shortly after the riot. Some officials have also said that the Pentagon delayed its response to the Capitol despite pleas from Congress, governors and D.C. local officials.

Pittman, who replaced Sund, said in January that the department "has been actively reviewing video and other open source materials of some USCP officers and officials that appear to be in violation of Department regulations and policies."

Pittman, who was Sund's top deputy, told Congress last month that the department had "failed to meet its own high standards" and did not take the necessary steps in response to the "strong potential for violence."

"We knew that militia groups and white supremacist organizations would be attending," she said. "We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target."

Gus Papathanasiou, the head of the Capitol Police union, said after Pittman's testimony that department leadership had failed to warn officers of the threat.

"The disclosure that the entire executive team knew what was coming but did not better prepare us for potential violence, including the possible use of firearms against us, is unconscionable," he said in a statement. "They have a lot to atone for."

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died following the attack, though the circumstances around his death are unclear. Sicknick collapsed at his division office and later died "due to injuries sustained while on-duty," the department has said. Investigators now believe initial reports that Sicknick had been struck with a fire extinguisher are inaccurate, although he was reportedly sprayed with a chemical irritant by the rioters. Sicknick's brother told ProPublica that he died of a stroke resulting from a blood clot.

About 140 Capitol and D.C. officers were injured in the attack. Two other Capitol Police officers died by suicide in the weeks following the riot.

Earlier this week, the Capitol Police union issued a vote of no-confidence in Pittman and six other department leaders.

"The results of our No Confidence vote are overwhelming because our leadership clearly failed us," Papathanasiou said in a statement. "We know because we were there."

The Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees will hold a joint hearing next week to examine the security failures that resulted in the Capitol breach. Sund, Irving, Stenger and acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee have been asked to testify.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called for a "9/11-type commission" to investigate the Capitol riot. Pelosi also appointed retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to review the Capitol's security leading up to the riot.

Honoré told WVUE that Capitol officers who "were doing their job showed a lot of constraint" but faulted the department's leadership for the security failure.

"I've just never seen so much incompetence, so they're either that stupid, or ignorant or complicit. I think they were complicit," he told the outlet, later adding that the failure to assemble enough officers ahead of the event "has led me to believe that there was some complicity on behalf of the Capitol police and that will come out in the investigation. I hope I'm wrong."

How one billionaire family bankrolled election lies, white nationalism — and the Capitol riot

Four years before Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pumped his fist to a supportive mob that would soon overrun the Capitol Police and hunt lawmakers through the halls of Congress, the former Missouri attorney general needed a deep-pocketed patron. Naturally, he called on the man who helped bankroll former President Donald Trump's rise: hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, whom he would soon describe as a friend while name-dropping him to court support from far-right figures like Steve Bannon, a longtime Mercer ally. It's unclear what came of Hawley's meeting with Mercer, but the Club for Growth, which has received millions from the Mercer family, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, which also got Mercer donations, quickly became Hawley's biggest financial backers, by far. Mercer's daughter Rebekah kicked in a near-maximum donation to his 2018 Senate campaign for good measure.

While Charles Koch and his late brother David have dominated Republican fundraising in recent decades, the Mercers' recent strategic investments in far-right candidates bought them a disproportionate level of influence in the Republican Party before culminating in an effort to subvert the election that fueled the deadly Capitol siege.

"The Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution," Bannon told The New Yorker in 2017. "Irrefutably, when you look at donors during the past four years, they have had the single biggest impact of anybody, including the Kochs." Steve Schmidt, a former Republican strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, sees it differently. Rebekah Mercer, he said in an interview with Salon, is the "chief financier or one of the chief financiers of the fascist movement, and that's what it is."

Hours after the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, killing five people and injuring dozens of police officers in a futile bid to stop the counting of electoral votes, Hawley joined with top Mercer beneficiaries in objecting to the results to back Trump's "big lie" that the election was somehow stolen. There was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whose super PAC got $13.5 million from the Mercers during the 2016 presidential campaign — before the family dropped another $15.5 million to back Trump. There was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., defending the majority of the GOP House caucus voting to overturn legal election results after his Congressional Leadership Fund received $1.5 million from the Mercers. And there was Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who received $21,600 from the Mercers before speaking at the rally that preceded the riot and objecting to the results. Brooks was later named by "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander as having helped orchestrate the event, though his office said he has "no recollection communicating in any way with whoever Ali Alexander is."

Alexander himself may have benefited from the Mercers' millions while working for the Black Conservative Fund, a small and mysterious group that received $60,000 from Robert Mercer in 2016. Though the group did not raise any money in 2020, it promoted the White House rally to tens of thousands of followers, according to CNBC.

The Mercers funded numerous key players who helped foment the Jan. 6 insurrection, though their full involvement remains unclear. Along with far-right candidates and groups, they have also funded the far-right social network Parler, which was used to coordinate the Capitol siege, and Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct London-based data firm that stole Facebook user data to help Trump's 2016 campaign target potential voters.

"As I discovered first-hand, the Mercers are exceptionally skillful at obfuscating and masking their political enterprises," David Carroll, a professor at The New School in Manhattan who sued Cambridge Analytica for his data in London, said in an email to Salon. "I marveled at how their ownership of Cambridge Analytica was effectively shielded from the U.K. courts where they were prosecuted."

Now that the Mercers have survived the scrutiny of the Federal Trade Commission and former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Carroll added, "I would assume the family has doubled-down on investing in its own privacy."

Schmidt agreed that "it's hard to keep track of the money" the Mercers have doled out to their pet causes.

"In this movement, the money is a fundamentally important part of it. It fuels the movement and that movement is an extremist movement," he said. "Is there a better than even chance that the Mercer money is flowing, like so many tributaries, right into a larger seditious stream on this? Of course there is."

Lax laws surrounding dark money donated to nonprofit entities mean it will likely be "several years before the public will have a complete sense of how much the Mercers spent," wrote The Intercept's Matthew Cunningham-Cook.

Publicly available data shows that the Mercers helped fund numerous players who pushed the "big lie." The family donated $3.8 million to Citizens United, which is run by longtime Trump adviser David Bossie, who was tapped to lead the former president's legal challenges. Though the Mercers have pulled back their financial support in recent election cycles amid growing scrutiny, they donated $300,000 during this past cycle to the Republican National Committee, which joined Trump's legal battle.

The Mercers were also the top donors to Arizona Republican Party chairwoman Kelli Ward, a devoted Trump loyalist, The Intercept reported last week. Ward joined the lawsuit led by the Republican attorney general of Texas that sought to overturn the results of the election in multiple states and spoke at a December rally that featured Alexander to push Trump's election conspiracy theories. On Twitter, Ward promoted her appearance at a "Stop the Steal" rally alongside former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who urged Trump to invoke martial law to rerun the election and posted the hashtag "#CrossTheRubicon," a phrase that refers to Julius Caesar marching his army into Rome to declare himself a dictator. The Arizona GOP also promoted Alexander's tweets, which included his declaration that he was "willing to give up my life for this fight."

"Live for nothing, or die for something," the party tweeted about a month before the Capitol riot.

More recently, Rebekah Mercer co-founded Parler, ostensibly a "libertarian" moderation-free social network that quickly became a megaphone for far-right figures like Alexander and fellow organizer Alex Jones, both of whom had been banned from mainstream social networks for spreading disinformation. Alexander, Jones and others used Parler to spread falsehoods about the election while others simply trafficked in white supremacist content, according to the Anti-Defamation League. "Holocaust denial, antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry are also easy to find," the ADL said.

Parler was used by some of the Capitol rioters to plan and coordinate the attack. The site was briefly taken offline by Amazon before finding a new host, though its apps have been removed from the Apple and Google app stores. Rebekah Mercer said in a Parler post that she started the social network to combat the "increasing tyranny" of our "tech overlords," slamming mainstream social networks over "data mining" — which is exactly what the Mercers' former company, Cambridge Analytica, exploited to steal Facebook users' personal data to help Trump in 2016. Although Mercer touted Parler's protection of user data, hackers were able to easily gain access to unsecured user data, which showed that Parler users had penetrated deep inside the Capitol and shared videos and photos of their crimes.

Before Trump, the family for years bankrolled Breitbart News, formerly run by Steve Bannon, who affectionately termed it the platform of the alt-right. Along with Breitbart, which received a $10 million investment from the family, the Mercers also funded Bannon projects like Glittering Steel, a film production company, and the Government Accountability Institute, whose president authored the anti-Hillary bestseller "Clinton Cash" and later pushed discredited conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and his son Hunter's work overseas. Bannon's appointment to Trump's White House, after Rebekah Mercer pushed for him to take over Trump's campaign, was celebrated by the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party. Though Bannon fell out with Trump after a few months in the White House, both he and Breitbart aggressively pushed Trump's false narrative following the election.

The Mercers also funded conservative groups that helped push Trump's election lies and spread hate. An analysis by Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative, which researches the spread of Islamophobia, extensively detailed the Mercers' donations to groups that promote "racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism," and that have since moved on to pushing election conspiracy theories.

In 2017, the Mercers donated $200,000 to the Gatestone Institute, where Rebekah Mercer sat on the board of governors. The group spent years pushing anti-Islam writings before echoing Trump's baseless fraud claims following the election. That same year, the Mercers gave $1.725 million and another $500,000 the following year to the Bannon-founded Government Accountability Institute, whose research director Eric Eggers pushed unfounded fraud claims on Sean Hannity's radio show. In 2018, they gave $8.1 million to DonorsTrust, which later donated $1.5 million to the white nationalist group VDARE, which subsequently promoted conspiracy theories about the election.

"Any examination of the growth of the far-right today in the U.S. must take into account the role of the Mercer family," said Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at Bridge who authored the report, in an email to Salon. "Rebekah Mercer, in particular, has provided financial support to politicians who amplify white nationalist sentiments, and platforms like Breitbart and Parler that magnify far-right conspiracy theories."

Tazamal added that the Capitol riot should not be understood as "an organic event" but rather as a "coordinated attack."

"By strategically funneling millions into known hate groups, platforms amplifying racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, and politicians who pushed forth outright lies of a stolen election, Rebekah Mercer played a role in inciting the violence by providing material support," she said. "The billionaire family has used their extraordinary wealth to bankroll the rise of violent white nationalism in this country."

Rebekah Mercer defended herself in a 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed, claiming that she "welcomes immigrants and refugees" and rejects "any discrimination based on race, gender, creed, ethnicity or sexual orientation," despite repeatedly funding lawmakers and groups accused of trafficking hate. She said she supported Trump "because he promised to tackle entrenched corruption on both sides of the aisle," even though he did far more to fill the swamp than drain it. She insisted that she had "no editorial authority" at Breitbart and argued that Bannon took the outlet in the "wrong direction," though The New Yorker reported that the family had invested $10 million in the outlet on the condition that Bannon would be placed on the company's board. The report also said that she is "highly engaged" with the site's content and "often points out areas of coverage that she thinks require more attention."

"She reads every story, and calls when there are grammatical errors or typos," a source told the outlet.

The Mercers were also the principal patrons for far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos. After Yiannopoulos was fired by Breitbart for comments defending pedophilia, he received a wire transfer from Robert Mercer's accountant, according to BuzzFeed News. "Rebekah Mercer loves Milo," a source told the outlet. "They always stood behind him, and their support never wavered."

Politico in 2016 dubbed Rebekah Mercer the "most powerful woman in GOP politics." Newsmax founder Chris Ruddy, whose outlet also pushed the "big lie," labeled Mercer the "first lady of the alt-right." Though her father signed the large checks, Politico reported, it's Rebekah Mercer who is "running the family operation" and whose "frustration" with the Koch brothers' donor network — in which the Mercers previously participated — led her to start a "rival operation."

Rebekah Mercer heads the Mercer family's foundation, which donated $35 million to right-wing think tanks and policy groups between 2009 and 2014, according to the Washington Post. It marked a massive shift for the family, which donated just $37,800 in 2006, including a $4,200 check from Robert Mercer's wife Diana to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. The election of Barack Obama changed everything, leading the family to pump at least $77 million in political donations into conservative candidates and causes between 2008 and 2016. Though their early forays into politics in New York and Oregon were utter failures, and Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign crumbled under the weight of relentless attacks from Trump and general bipartisan disdain, their investment in Trump quickly paid dividends.

Rebekah Mercer reportedly led a major reorganization of Trump's 2016 campaign, connecting him with Bannon and former Cruz adviser Kellyanne Conway, who would replace Paul Manafort at the helm of the team. Mercer, who also served on the Trump transition's executive committee, pushed for Trump to hire Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who was forced to resign less than a month into Trump's presidency amid a criminal investigation and now spreads QAnon conspiracy theories online.

It's unclear why the Mercers fund so many far-right causes, though sources close to the family told Politico in 2016 that they "harbor a deep and abiding enmity toward the political establishment." Robert Mercer has been described as a "reclusive" former IBM computer scientist who made his fortune as co-CEO of the algorithmic trading company Renaissance Technologies. Sources close to him told The New Yorker that he is a conspiracy theorist who believes the Clintons had opponents murdered and were involved in a drug-running ring with the CIA. He has also described the Civil Rights Act as a mistake, arguing that Black people were better off financially before the passage of the landmark law, according to the same New Yorker report. Racism in the U.S. is "exaggerated," Mercer reportedly said, attributing most of it to "Black racists." He has likewise argued that climate change is not a problem and would actually be beneficial for the Earth, sources told the magazine.

"Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make," David Magerman, a former colleague of Mercer who later sued him for unlawful termination, told the New Yorker. "A cat has value, he's said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he's a thousand times more valuable."

Magerman warned in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Mercer was "effectively buying shares in the candidate."

"Robert Mercer now owns a sizable share of the United States Presidency," he wrote.

While painting herself as a philanthropist who supports small government and personal responsibility, Rebekah Mercer, who reportedly home-schools her four children in a $28 million Trump-branded apartment in New York that she shares with her husband, a Morgan Stanley banker, described the state of the country in apocalyptic terms in a 2019 book first flagged by The Intercept.

"[W]hat is the state of [the American] experiment today?" Mercer asked. "'Now we are engaged in a great civil war,' said Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863. One hundred and fifty-five years later, it is barely hyperbolic to echo the Great Emancipator." She added, "We are not yet in armed conflict, but we are facing an ever more belligerent, frantic, and absurd group of radicals in a struggle for the soul of our country."

The report added that the Mercers own Centre Firearms, a company that claims to have the "country's largest private cache of machine guns," and has a Queens warehouse filled with guns and "an Mk 19 belt-fed grenade launcher, capable of hurling 60 explosives per minute."

The Mercers' extremist sympathies set them apart from other big Republican donors like the Kochs, whom Schmidt described as transactional limited-government ideologues who "got none of what they were seeking" from their Republican funding.

The Kochs "wanted conservative governance," said Schmidt, who was senior strategist for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "They didn't get that. They got big government, they got big-spending, out-of-control government, led by the Republican Party. That's the complete opposite of what they invested in."

But the Mercers "invested in a different cause," he added.

"That cause is not a democratic cause. It's not a limited-government cause. It seems that the Mercers invested in chaos and they got exactly what they wanted. It seems like they invested in someone who didn't believe in American democracy, and they got someone who tried to burn it down."

How Qanon believers are really struggling with reality

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have for years believed, in the face of all available evidence, that Donald Trump would soon begin mass arrests of his political foes and retain power indefinitely. Many of them appear to be struggling to cope with reality after President Joe Biden was sworn in on Wednesday and the mass arrests never came.

Many diehard conspiracy theorists, stoked by Trump and his top allies, have long predicted "The Storm," a day of reckoning Trump would lead the National Guard in mass arrests of Democrats, "deep state" elites and Hollywood celebrities whom Q fans believed were running a cannibalistic, satanic child trafficking ring. This would in turn usher in the "Great Awakening," when the world would discover that Trump had been leading the fight against this cabal all along. But the "storm" never came, and Trump flew off to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort as expected while Biden was sworn in as the 46th president. The only "mass arrests" were of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, many of whom were dressed head-to-toe in QAnon gear.

"It's over and nothing makes sense," one QAnon forum user wrote. "Q was a LARP the entire fucking time," wrote another, describing the entire conspiracy theory as a live-action roleplaying game.

QAnon, which is effectively a greatly amplified version of the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory, began in October 2017 when an anonymous poster on the far-right imageboard 4chan who went by "Q," and who claimed to be a high-level government official, and began to post "clues" about Trump's secret plot to take down the deep state, Democrats like former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and celebrities like Tom Hanks and Chrissy Teigen. QAnon adherents had cited many previous dates in their past mass-arrest predictions that all came and went, but some still held out hope that Trump would lead the mass arrests right up until Biden was sworn in shortly before noon Eastern time on Wednesday. Some claimed that the National Guard troops deployed to protect Biden's swearing-in were actually there to carry out the mass arrests.

"Well I'm the official laughing stock of my family," a user wrote in a QAnon group chat. Another questioned whether Biden was a "hologram."

Speculation has swirled for years about who was behind the Q account, which stopped posting shortly after Trump's election defeat. A 2018 NBC News investigation concluded that Q could likely be traced back to three people who first pushed the posts on 4chan and 8chan and had created similar accounts in the past. Some have speculated that Q was Ron Watkins, the former administrator of 8chan, which has since changed its name to 8kun after it was kicked offline after the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooter published his manifesto on the platform.

Watkins posted a message on Telegram urging people to "go back" to their lives and "remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years." Some users in the channel responded by accusing him of being a CIA "plant."

Biden's inauguration set off a wave of confusion and numerous varieties of grief among the true believers.

"I dont think this is supposed to happen?" one user wrote during Biden's swearing-in. "How long does it take the fed to run up the stairs and arrest him?"

Opinions appeared divided on what the future may hold. Some predicted that Trump and the military still "have a plan" that will kick in at some point after Biden takes office. Many looked for hints or "clues" in Trump's farewell speech and the statements made by his children. Others urged patience, insisting that the former president still had some sort of mysterious "Trump card" to play.

Others even sought to change direction, suggesting that "Biden has been part of QAnon all along."

"The more I think about it, I do think it's very possible that Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger," one user wrote in a popular QAnon Telegram channel.

"The most hardcore QAnon followers are in disarray," Daniel Jones, the president of extremism watchdog Advance Democracy, told CNN. "After years of waiting for the 'Great Awakening,' QAnon adherents seemed genuinely shocked to see President Biden successfully inaugurated. A significant percentage online are writing that they are now done with the QAnon, while others are doubling down and promoting new conspiracies."

"What we're seeing is a trend in increasingly bunker-down, apocalyptic language," Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the anti-disinformation group Network Contagion Research Institute, told The Washington Post. "It's gone from [talk of] a revolution to a civilization-ending kind of collapse."

QAnon followers have largely been relegated to message boards and apps like Telegram and the right-wing social network Gab after Twitter and Facebook cracked down on accounts associated with the conspiracy theory. Screenshots of QAnon adherents shocked by the inauguration quickly went viral and drew rampant mockery. Now white supremacists have seized on the disillusionment on these platforms and are actively trying to recruit members to their cause, according to Nick Backovic, a researcher at Logically.AI, which identifies disinformation online.

"There are lots of people feeling shocked, cheated and angry. As scary as that is on its own, it's the rest I'm most worried about," he told NBC News. "We're seeing a lot of neo-Nazis preying on the potentially disenchanted Q people."

"Focus less on trying to red pill [i.e., recruit] them on WW2 and more on how to make them angrier about the election and the new Democrat regime," a white supremacist recruitment message on Telegram said, according to the report. "Heighten their burning hatred of injustice."

Other experts worried that the QAnon conspiracy theory had spread overseas to countries like Germany and Japan.

"They're going to reemerge at some point because they've internationalized," Finkelstein told the Post. "There's a metastization of QAnon from a national story to a global revolution."

Trump spends final moments in the White House raging at Republican leaders on Capitol Hill: report

With no one else to blame for his own election defeat, President Trump has zeroed in on one of his earliest Congressional backers, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA.

According to the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, Trump is spending his final moments in the White House fuming because he is still convinced that he won the election. In keeping with his aversion to personal responsibility, Trump has now put a target on his once stalwart ally, who has, as of late, not shown the unconditional support he demands.

McCarthy –– who supported the President's crusade to overturn the election and voted against the electoral certification of President-elect Joe Biden –– surprised his colleagues on the House floor last week when he cast slight aspersion on Trump following the riot on Capitol Hill. "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," McCarthy said, treading a fine line, "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

After condemning the riot despite propagating the very lies which incited it, McCarthy stopped short of calling for Trump's impeachment, instead suggesting that censure or a bi-partisan investigation would be better suited for the circumstances. Although McCarthy said just about the bare minimum to oppose Trump, the President is reportedly furious with him for not staying true to the Big Lie. The President's sudden disownment of one of his most loyal boosters comes just after Trump's bizarre disavowal of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump asked to do the impossible by invalidating the Electoral College votes.

After supporting Trump's baseless election fraud crusade, but condemning the Capitol riot while defending Trump against a second impeachment, McCarthy has now alienated himself on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans alike demanding that he step down.

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political action committee, denounced McCarthy as a "pathetic enabler," telling the congressman to "pack up [his] desk." A blistering op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, a paper-based in McCarthy's home state of California called him a "soulless anti-democracy conspirator." Even McCarthy's very own mentor retired California Congressman Bill Thomas tarred his former protégé as a "hypocrite" for supporting the "the phony lies the President perpetuated."

McCarthy has also faced significant backlash from his own hometown constituency in Bakersfield, California, where Republicans feel he did not go far enough to defend the commander-in-chief. Speaking for many conservatives in Bakersfield, activist Kenneth L. Mettler told the Times, "I'll just boil it down: He's a RINO traitor [...] President Trump did nothing wrong. President Trump communicated his case. He did not incite anybody. I do honestly think there were agitators, infiltrators."

Like many Republican members of Congress who supported Trump, McCarthy faces the choice between doubling down to maintain Trump's voting block and cutting his losses to curry favor with a new administration. As Trump's term comes to an end, it is becoming abundantly clear that many will not be permitted to walk the line.

"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday of the Jan. 6 incident. McConnell's statement as Trump leaves office signals support for the impeachment of a former president.

Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley became DC pariahs — but their 'cynical ploy' for 2024 may have worked anyway

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have faced widespread condemnation for their roles in pushing the false election-rigging narrative that fueled the Capitol riot. But some political insiders think their stunt could still aid their 2024 Republican primary hopes, despite the violence it wrought.

Hawley and Cruz, without any evidence of widespread fraud, led the objections to the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress that was ultimately delayed several hours when a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters overran Capitol Police and stormed the halls of Congress. The senators' electoral challenge was slammed by many as a "cynical ploy" intended to gin up 2024 primary support among Trump's base, but it seemed to have struck a chord among the Trump diehards hunting for lawmakers throughout the building. "I think Cruz would want us to do this," one rioter said in a video that showed the mob rummaging through drawers in the Senate chamber. "So I think we're good."

The blowback for the two senators was swift. Hawley, in particular, lost his book deal, a major donor, his Republican mentor and financial backing from a growing number of corporate PACs after he pumped his fist to the pro-Trump rioters before they stormed the Capitol. Two of the biggest Missouri newspapers called for his resignation. One of Cruz's top aides resigned in response to the riot. Dozens of Democrats have called for both to resign and have suggested censuring them. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., even called for Cruz and Hawley to be put on the FBI's no-fly list.

But while mainstream figures have been quick to condemn the two lawmakers, "they're probably not the ones that Hawley is appealing to," argued Adam Jentleson, who served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "After the violence, 138 Republicans took stock and decided it was still in their interests to stick with Hawley. He wants to be a hero to the right. Seems to be working."

Jentleson noted that Republican voters have been loyal to Trump since 2016, and there's not much reason to think they will now reject loyalists like Hawley.

"Hawley is likely to emerge with the political upper hand... and it's important to be clear-eyed about that," he said. "Elite opinion may pile on him for a while. But by this time next year his GOP colleagues will be begging him to do fundraising events for them."

What do the polls say now?

Early polling suggests that becoming mainstream pariahs has not hurt Hawley's nor Cruz's brands among the party's base. An Economist/YouGov poll found that although their general favorability is underwater, Republican voters back Cruz 61-20 and Hawley by a 2-to-1 margin, though the latter is still largely unknown to the majority of voters. An Axios/Ipsos poll similarly found that most voters disapprove of the senators' "recent behavior," but 61% of Republicans said they approve of Cruz's actions, and 46% of Republicans approve of Hawley's.

Trump voters have largely stayed supportive. More than 90% of his supporters back his attempt to challenge results of the election he lost and want him to run again in 2024, according to the Axios/Ipsos survey. And while less than half of "traditional" GOP voters said they felt the same in that survey, a new CNN poll found that 75% of Republicans believe Biden did not legitimately win the election. On the other hand, Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last week, predicted that he "may very well have" ended his political career just days after taking office.

"I don't trust any polling right now," Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist who served as the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio's, R-Fla., 2016 presidential campaign, said in an interview with Salon. He added that it was "too soon to say" how the fallout from the riot would affect the 2024 primary picture but acknowledged that the senators' attempts to cast themselves as victims of the left in response to the backlash could be effective, as it has been for Trump.

And, like Trump, both senators have been unrepentant about their own actions since the Capitol siege, despite condemning the violence. Cruz has denied any involvement in fueling the riot while blaming Trump's "rhetoric." Hawley said he "will never apologize for giving voice to the millions of Missourians and Americans who have concerns about the integrity of our elections."

"Some wondered why I stuck with my objection following the violence at the Capitol," he wrote in a subsequent op-ed. "The reason is simple: I will not bow to a lawless mob, or allow criminals to drown out the legitimate concerns of my constituents."

But how significant is their support?

Conant, who also worked in the George W. Bush administration and as the top spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that backing Trump's electoral challenge was a "dumb idea" that "clearly turned off a lot of voters and other key people inside the party are really upset with them."

"I don't think that they're any more popular now with Trump's base," he said. "Let's be honest, Trump's base is… small relative to the nation as a whole and… they're loyal to Trump and I don't think that support is going to be transferrable to Hawley or Cruz or anyone else because of a vote they took."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat who ran for president in 2004, agreed that Trump's relatively small base was likely to warm up to Cruz and Hawley in response to their backing but predicted it would doom the Republican Party.

"Yeah, Josh and Cruz might make it easier for themselves to win the Republican primary, but I think the Republican party is going to suffer enormously if it's still going on in 2024," Dean said in an interview, adding, "that's assuming we can hold the line against violence."

Dean predicted that "there's going to be more violence" but believes that the serious and public consequences facing the perpetrators may make "all these conspirators — not the crazy people who stormed Washington — but the 70 million people who are delusional about the election" rethink their politics. This is "not a revolutionary moment," he said, "it's a movement that's been hijacked by people who are basically authoritarians and fascists."

"Basically, we are where we are because there are a whole class of people who basically surrendered their agency in some desperation to Donald Trump," he said. "It's exactly the same phenomenon as Hitler or Mussolini or people like that. And they exist in this conspiracy theorist world as a defense… So a lot of those people are going to change that unconscious defense when it doesn't work for them anymore… When the situation becomes intolerable as a result of believing in the conspiracy theory, a lot of people who are not crazy but may be embracing the conspiracy theory, they're going to stop it because it doesn't suit them anymore.

"I can't imagine we're going to be at the same place in 2024, because I don't think the country will survive another three years of this," he added.

How radicalized is the Republican party now?

While Trump's influence is likely to wane, especially if he remains banned from mainstream social networks, the hold that his supporters have on the party may not. Some Republicans reportedly worried that they could face violence from their own supporters if they "voted the wrong way" on the Electoral College challenge and Trump's impeachment, noted Kurt Braddock, an extremism expert at American University.

Braddock said he was not surprised how many people in the party "have been radicalized by the far-right" and predicted those emboldened by Trump's presidency are not likely to quickly go back "underground."

"Truth be told, those individuals have always been there," he said. "Trump gave them a symbol to kind of rally around and to make them think that their beliefs were normalized and they were justified in the sorts of things they were doing."

"It's very difficult to see which direction" the party will go in the coming years, he added. "If you asked me six months ago if I thought QAnon adherents would be elected to Congress I would have said no. But, I mean, here we are."

Braddock, who has called for Hawley and Cruz to be investigated for their roles in the riot, said the two should face sanctions for fueling the narrative that led to the attack, but agreed that very little of the blowback has come from the right. He said he hopes that the ongoing condemnation could sway some Republicans.

"I think that the Republicans aren't pushing back on Hawley too much, but the pushback on Hawley by the general population… will be seen by some Republicans and that kind of phenomenon when they see the larger population rejecting it so soundly, I don't know if it will have a huge effect but I'd like to think it will have some effect," he said.

Jentleson said there was little intra-party blowback toward Hawley and Cruz because of "what the modern GOP has become."

"It is a party that will ultimately reward the kind of reprehensible behavior Hawley has displayed," he wrote on Twitter.

Where does this leave Mike Pence?

While Hawley and Cruz tried to appeal to Trump's supporters by backing his false election-rigging claims, Vice President Mike Pence, who stood loyally at Trump's side for four years, has been repeatedly criticized by the president for failing to circumvent the Constitution to overturn the election on January 6, framing it as a betrayal. Though Pence has drawn praise for standing up to Trump's tantrums, it's unclear if the party's base will look favorably on the president's longtime stoic sidekick.

"It's very hard to predict what voters are going to want years from now," said Conant. "In the long run, I don't think there's any question that what he did last week will look very good. History will remember his actions well, and he will end up defining his time as vice president. Clearly, I think there's some backlash in the moment from some of Trump's most hardcore supporters, but how relevant that is from three years from now, I don't know."

Braddock said the turn against Pence was one of the most "amazing, incredible, difficult to believe" things about the whole ordeal.

"In the span of 12 hours, Mike Pence [went from] the hero of the Trump Republicans to 'hang Mike Pence' at the Capitol building," he said, referring to the chants of some Trump supporters as they stormed through the halls of Congress.

"As long as the party is beholden to Trumpism… I don't think there is a place for Mike Pence, because if the party goes in the direction of the people outside the Capitol on January 6, I don't see people who were calling for his hanging to vote for him anytime soon," he said.

Mainstream Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appear eager to "cast off the shadow of Trump," he added. "If they're able to do that, there might be a place for people like Mike Pence. If they can't, it's difficult seeing Trumpism or Trump Republicans ever really going for someone like him again."

Will the backlash last?

Dean said the "more significant" aspect of the fallout is the corporate backlash against the lawmakers who backed Trump's election objections.

"The business community has tremendous leverage here," he said. "It was the business community who stepped up in the Civil Rights movement and even to a lesser extent in the climate change movement when government wasn't acting. And so if business makes good on their threats not to fund Republicans who are denying the election, that's pretty significant."

Dean said that members like Hawley and Cruz should be "expelled from the Senate" for their role in the riot in order for the country to try to move past the Trump era but doesn't think Congress should pursue large numbers of expulsions like the ones called for by freshman Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo.

"Because the truth is if you do that, most of them will get reelected in their special elections. So I think expulsion from Congress should be used very judiciously," he said. "What we really need is a truth and reconciliation commission. But in order to do that, the Republicans have to be willing to admit guilt and they're not there yet. And our job is to make their lives so unpleasant politically that they'll get there."

Deadly Capitol raid would have still happened without Parler — but not without Facebook: media watchdog

The far-right social media platform Parler has shouldered much of the blame for last week's Capitol riot — and may since have been rendered permanently defunct. But watchdog groups say much larger companies like Facebook carry more of the responsibility for the lead-up to the pro-Trump siege.

Amazon Web Services, which hosted Parler, took the platform offline last week after Apple and Google removed it from their app stores, arguing Parler was not doing enough to moderate content that could incite violence. Amazon in court documents detailed extensive violent threats on Parler that the company "systemically failed" to remove. Hacked GPS metadata analyzed by Gizmodo shows that "at least several" Parler users managed to penetrate deep inside the Capitol.

"From what I've seen, people were actually coordinating on Parler, logistics and tactics and things like that," Kurt Braddock, an extremism expert at American University and the author of "Weaponized Words," said in an interview with Salon. "That's a step beyond the pale. So Parler, in terms of planning and coordination, probably was the biggest player in terms of the social media environment."

Parler, which billed itself as a free-speech alternative to social networks that moderated posts and claims to have more than 12 million users, no doubt helped fuel last week's violence. But its role pales in comparison to social media behemoths like Facebook, which is used by nearly 70% of American adults, said Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the watchdog group Media Matters.

"If you took Parler out of the equation, you would still almost certainly have what happened at the Capitol," he told Salon. "If you took Facebook out of the equation before that, you would not. To me, when Apple and Google sent their letter to Parler, I was a little bit confused why Facebook didn't get one."

Larger companies were eager to single out Parler to avoid the "potential legal implications" from "associating yourself with an app or platform that is encouraging and inviting actions that will lead to violence," said Yosef Getachew, director of the media and democracy program at the watchdog group Common Cause.

Parler played a role in the "organizing" of the siege and amplified calls to violence but "it wasn't just Parler, it was social media platforms across the board," Getachew said. Facebook in particular has "done a poor job of consistently enforcing their content moderation policies," he added.

This isn't just a case of "one platform is a bad actor," Getachew said. "All platforms have not done what they need to do to prohibit this type of disinformation and incitement of violence."

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, has sought to deflect blame to other social networks following last week's siege.

"We again took down QAnon, Proud Boys, Stop the Steal, anything that was talking about possible violence last week," Sandberg said in an interview with Reuters on Monday. "Our enforcement is never perfect, so I'm sure there were still things on Facebook. I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don't have our abilities to stop hate, don't have our standards and don't have our transparency."

But available data suggests that Facebook played a much larger role than Sandberg suggested. As many as 128,000 people used the #StoptheSteal hashtag promoted by Trump and his allies until Monday, Eric Feinberg, a vice president with the Coalition for a Safer Web, told The Washington Post. At least two dozen Republican officials and organizations in at least a dozen states used the social network to plan bus trips to the rally that preceded the riot, according to a Media Matters analysis. Media Matters also identified at least 70 active Facebook groups related to "Stop the Steal," against which the platform could have acted long before the riot. Days after the siege, Facebook's algorithm was still suggesting events hosted by some of the same groups that organized the Stop the Steal rally.

These groups didn't just spread misinformation but actively "encouraged people to attend the riot last week and to potentially arm themselves and to potentially engage in other violent acts," Getachew said. "These are the types of things from a public interest side that make it harder to monitor because the groups are closed, right? You need permission to enter and Facebook isn't doing a good enough job of actually facilitating or moderating these groups to prohibit this type of content, or to ban these groups altogether."

"To date, we've banned over 250 white supremacist groups and have been enforcing our rules that prohibit QAnon and militia groups from organizing on our platform," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to Salon. "We work with experts in global terrorism and cyber intelligence to identify calls for violence and remove harmful content that could lead to further violence. We are continuing all of these efforts and working with law enforcement to prevent direct threats to public safety."

Conservatives have repeatedly accused Facebook of censorship even though leaked materials obtained by NBC News show that the company has gone out of its way to ease its false information policy for conservative pages over concerns about "bias" claims. An analysis by The Washington Post found that about 40% of the top 10 performing Facebook posts on any given day between the November election and the Jan. 6 riot were from right-wing personalities and media, and another 15% were from Trump, his campaign or his administration. National and local media outlets made up about a quarter of the top posts — and left-wing accounts barely made a blip.

Facebook's algorithm has also placed ads for body armor, gun holsters and other military equipment next to content promoting election misinformation and the Capitol riot, according to BuzzFeed News.

Facebook previously came under fire for failing to crack down on extremist content ahead of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist rally. It was used to organize numerous protests against coronavirus restrictions earlier this year, including an armed invasion of the Michigan state capitol. Facebook later removed certain pages linked to the Charlottesville rally and announced plans to remove thousands of QAnon-related accounts. These actions have all been "too little, too late," Getachew says.

Braddock believes Parler's role is different than that of Facebook, however, because "it went beyond just rhetoric."

"The other social networks … have groups where people can go and discuss topics related to Trump and the election and things like that, but from what I've seen Parler was the key player in not only perpetuating the rhetoric … and serving as an amplifier for it but even planning the attack itself," he said. "So if we're developing a hierarchy of culpability for this, I think Parler is at the top of that list."

Carusone argued that Facebook "had a much bigger role" in the riot, noting that Media Matters and others "brought to their attention" numerous "red flags" they spotted in the lead-up to the riot, but Facebook managers "still didn't do anything about it."

"Apple and Google were being extraordinarily myopic and, frankly, hypocritical in singling out Parler," he said. "Not because I want to defend Parler, but the math is the math. Facebook was worse."

Numerous social networks, including Twitter, have permanently banned President Trump in the wake of the riot. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would suspend the president at least until President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week.

Carusone called on Facebook to extend the ban permanently.

"Facebook has done all these performative things," he said. "We're giving Facebook far too much credit. We're letting them play sleight of hand. Their ban for Trump wasn't even a ban. They came out and issued a two-week suspension. … There's still this open question of, if the temperature dials back, do they let Trump back on? I think that fight and that conversation is going to be very different when we're three or six months removed from this event."

Sandberg told Reuters that the network has "no plans to lift" Trump's ban.

"This showed that even a president is not above the policies we have," she said.

Carusone predicted that Facebook will likely "backslide" because "they've done it every time … when the heat is off." He added that Facebook needs to expand its policies on moderating closed groups and expand their threat detection beyond content on its platform.

Getachew said that Facebook and others need to more consistently enforce their policies, and also expand them to more effectively combat disinformation and online voter suppression.

Braddock agreed that larger social networks like Facebook need to be better at "getting rid of disinformation on the platforms, because that's kind of the tie that binds all these groups together."

"The central theme in all this was 'the election was stolen,' and there's no evidence for it. But you can go on any social media platform right now and find any amount of information on that," he said. "So de-platforming is one thing … but I do think social media companies need to be better and faster at getting rid of disinformation that can have the kinds of effects we saw the other day."

Twitter, which served as a megaphone of hate for the president for years, has also faced blame for helping Trump and his allies spread misinformation. But as with Parler, its user base is a fraction of Facebook's or YouTube's. While YouTube is used by more than 70% of American adults, just 22% use Twitter, a smaller proportion than social networks like Snapchat and Pinterest, according to Pew Research.

Advocates have criticized Apple and Google, which owns YouTube, for their own roles in fueling misinformation. Media Matters reported on Wednesday that Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts have failed to crack down on QAnon-related podcasts that celebrated the Capitol siege. And YouTube has long been criticized as a "radicalization engine" over its recommendation algorithm's propensity to push users toward increasingly extreme content.

"Google's role in all of this is … significant," Carusone said. Even more than Facebook, he said, "YouTube had the worst election disinformation policy."

A Media Matters analysis found that 47 of the top 100 YouTube videos about mail-in voting contained "misinformation" and "straight-up lies."

Facebook management "basically let it be a free for all," Carusone said. "They were very limited in terms of what they would enforce. They would demonetize some things, but their biggest problem was that they decided they were going to boost 'authoritative' content — but one of the sources they put in there as authoritative was Fox News."

Despite officially recognizing Biden's victory, Fox News has aired content suggesting that the election was stolen, undermined or involved in a conspiracy more than "600 times," Carusone noted.

Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for YouTube, said in a statement to Salon that the company has cracked down on election misinformation.

"Over the last month, we've removed thousands of videos claiming that widespread voter fraud changed the result of the 2020 election," Choi said. "In fact, many figures that were related to or participated in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol had their channels terminated months prior, for violating our policies. Additionally, we're continuing to raise up authoritative news sources on our home page, in search results and in recommendations, and saw that the most viewed and recommended election-related channels and videos are from news channels like NBC and CBS."

Carusone pointed to misinformation from the ardently pro-Trump propaganda shop One America News Network, which has repeatedly gone far beyond even Fox News in pushing Trump's baseless election-fraud narrative.

"They didn't take any action to neutralize the effect of the virality of One America News' videos during that time period," he added. "Because of the nature of the content, you were falling into these rabbit holes where ... before long, you were getting the Lin Wood kind of crazy stuff." (Wood is an Atlanta attorney who has consistently echoed or amplified the most far-fetched, delusional and conspiratorial claims of Trump and his supporters.)

YouTube says it has consistently removed videos from OAN that violate their policies, and OAN does not currently feature prominently in its recommendations nor does it appear in searches related to the election. All videos about the election now include a message noting that President-elect Joe Biden was the winner, and include a link to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's "Rumor Control" page.

YouTube also removed more than 1.8 million channels in the third quarter of last year for violating policies regarding hate speech, harassment, incitement to violence, harmful conspiracy theories and presidential election integrity, the company reports, as well as tens of thousands of videos and hundreds of channels related to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Despite YouTube's more proactive approach to dangerous material in recent months, it still needs greater "algorithmic transparency," Getachew said.

"These are systems that are being developed in a black box. Oftentimes the individuals who are developing these algorithms are homogeneous in that they are white men," he said. "They aren't even diverse in terms of other perspectives, to actually create algorithms where they won't lead you down these rabbit holes. We need diversity in developing these algorithms, but also we need transparency in how these algorithms are being developed, audits and other tests. ... The company shouldn't be looking for ways to maximize engagement by sending you more and more extreme content through algorithms."

Braddock said that YouTube employees have told him they are "aware" of this problem and are trying "to counter that as best they can."

"Something about YouTube that the other platforms don't have is that organizations in the counter-radicalization space have kind of taken advantage of that algorithm," he noted. "So if someone is looking at, say, ISIS videos, there are certain organizations that can embed videos that are counter-ISIS, that kind of hack the algorithm. So one benefit of the YouTube algorithm is that it can be used for the benefit of counter-radicalization. You don't really have that on something like Parler."

Carusone said it was striking that YouTube employees "themselves acknowledge" both the power and deficiencies of the recommendation engine, "because they felt the need to short-circuit it."

"Don't short-circuit it now. Fix it," he said. "YouTube [is] the one platform that probably needs to do the least amount of active enforcement by comparison to others. When YouTube makes changes to how things are monetized, and they start demonetizing stuff or cracking down on channels a little bit, creators understand that. They may complain, they may gripe, they may tear it apart. But the one thing they do is to ensure that the next video they put out doesn't fall victim to the new changes."

The social network crackdowns and the takedown of Parler has led to an explosion of new users to encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram, sparking some concern that extremists will be able to now be able to hatch plots out of sight.

"Encrypted apps have their purpose in terms of protecting the privacy of users," Getachew said. "But that should not absolve companies from taking steps that prohibit the spread of disinformation, or at the very least taking steps so their platforms aren't being used to facilitate disinformation and other content that could lead to offline violence."

"Other terrorist groups from around the world have gone to these encrypted apps," said Braddock. "None of this is good, but if there's a good thing that comes from moving to Telegram it's that it's much more difficult to coordinate large-scale events like Jan. 6 on an app like that than on a domain where many thousands of people can discuss in the same thread. So it becomes more difficult logistically, but it's problematic that there's a way for individuals like this to be able to plan in any capacity."

'Terrorists' Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley should be on no-fly list: House homeland security chair

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, suggested that, if found liable for inciting the violent unrest at the Capitol last week, Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Josh Hawley, R-MO, could be put on a no-fly list.

Cruz and Hawley, who were arguably the most vocal congressional opponents of Biden's electoral victory, have faced a tidal wave of condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans following last week's chaos on Capitol Hill. Calls for Hawley and Cruz to be censured and even expelled have surfaced in the House, placing the two Senators on thin ice with their Congressional foes and allies alike.

Rep. Bennie Thompson –– the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee –– joined the chorus of condemnation on Monday in a SiriusXM interview, pointing out that, if found guilty of encouraging last week's uprising, Hawley and Cruz should be formally ousted from government.

"Even a member of Congress that commits a crime…they expel from the body," the Congressman explained, "There are ethics charges that can be brought against those individuals. And people are looking at all this. What Hawley did and what Cruz did was horrible."

Regarding the rioters, Thompson thought there was "no question" about whether they should be labeled as terrorists. "These folks, in my opinion, can be classified as domestic terrorists," he said, "A terrorist is a terrorist, no matter who you are."

Thompson also outlined the "protocols" in place to work jointly with the TSA and the FBI –– whom he urged into action last Thursday –– on identifying high-risk individuals and barring them from air travel. Several airlines have already begun imposing lifetime travel bans on participants of the violent mob. According to ABC News, United Airlines banned sixty participants last week, while Alaska Airlines has banned fourteen.

The Congressman also revealed that the Congressional Black Caucus –– of which he is a key member –– is set to hold its own investigation of the weak police presence and response at the Capitol.

"Somebody's going to have to tell us why it occurred," he demanded, "Other than the fact that there white people involved and you treat white protesters with kid gloves, and black and white protesters you threw the full faith and power of the government on them to suppress them. It ought to be one policy."

"There's suspicion that some of the sympathizers were also employees of the Capitol Police," the Congressman added, alluding to the officers seen letting rioters simply waltz into the Capitol and even taking selfies with them. In a separate probe from the CBC's, two Capitol Police officers have already been suspended, and over ten officers, according to CNN, are currently being investigated.

Thompson has been steadfast in his commitment to punish everyone responsible for the insurrection, making no exception for elected officials. One Twitter user criticized him for publicly indicting Cruz and Hawley, saying he should be "ashamed." Thompson rebutted, "I am not ashamed. However, they should be."

Expelling Senators Cruz and Hawley would require a two-thirds vote in the upper chamber of Congress, and is therefore unlikely, given the GOP's penchant for unconditional tribalism, even in the face of complete moral bankruptcy. However, a censure –– which necessitates just a majority vote in the Senate –– is much more likely since the Democrats managed to eke out a newly won Senate majority following the Georgia State runoffs.

'Hit him where it hurts': Corporate America dumping Trump and GOP after deadly Capitol riot

Major corporations are taking steps to cut ties with President Donald Trump and his allies after they pushed false conspiracy theories about the election that fueled last week's deadly Capitol riot.

The PGA announced on Sunday that it would strip Trump's Bedminster golf course of a major tournament in response to the riot, which left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. The payment processor Stripe says it will no longer process donations to the president's campaign. Every mainstream social network has locked or restricted the president's accounts. A growing number of companies vowed to stop funding other Republicans who backed Trump's attempt to disenfranchise millions of legal voters and overturn his election loss.

While Trump faces a potential impeachment and legal liability for his role in fomenting Wednesday's siege, many journalists noted that the financial consequences "hit him where it hurts."

The PGA Board of Directors voted on Sunday to "terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster," Jim Richerson, the president of the PGA, said in a statement. Richerson said in a video accompanying the statement that it became clear that holding the event at Bedminster "would be detrimental" for the organization.

"Our feeling was given the tragic events of Wednesday that we could no longer hold it at Bedminster," Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA, told the Associated Press. "The damage could have been irreparable. The only real course of action was to leave."

The PGA previously canceled an event at Trump's National Los Angeles Golf Club in 2015 after he made racist comments about Mexican immigrants on the campaign trail, but the PGA Championship was a particular source of pride for the president.

"Certainly when you have courses, when you get acknowledged to have one of the majors ... having the PGA is a very, very big deal," Trump said after the PGA announced the event in 2014. "So it's very important to me. It's a great honor for me and it's a tremendous honor for both of those clubs."

The Trump Organization told the AP that it has "a beautiful partnership with the PGA of America and are incredibly disappointed with their decision." The company said it had already invested "many, many millions" into the event and accused the PGA of a "breach of a binding contract."

Stripe, the payment processing company, is also cutting off the Trump campaign for violating its policies against "encouraging violence," sources told The Wall Street Journal. Shopify, an e-commerce platform, also took down two online stores affiliated with the president for violating a similar policy.

"Shopify does not tolerate actions that invite violence," a spokesperson told The Financial Times. "Based on recent events, we have determined that the actions by President Donald J. Trump violate our acceptable Use Policy, which prohibits promotion or support of organizations, platforms or people that threaten or condone violence to further a cause."

Numerous online platforms have banned or restricted the president in response to Wednesday's violence. Twitter announced that it permanently banned him from publishing on the platform "due to the risk of further incitement of violence," citing plans proliferating on the platform of a "proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17."

Facebook and Instagram also banned Trump from posting indefinitely, and at least until President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the "risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great."

Twitch, the livestreaming platform, disabled Trump's channel, citing the president's "incendiary rhetoric" and the "shocking attack on the Capitol." SnapChat also disabled the president's account.

Reddit banned the "r/DonaldTrump" sub-reddit on Friday, citing violations of policies against "content that promotes hate, or encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence against groups of people or individuals." YouTube and TikTok said they would crack down on videos that circulate "false claims" of election fraud pushed by Trump.

The far-right social network Parler, which promoted itself as an alternative to mainstream social networks, was also removed from the Apple and Google app stores over the weekend. Amazon, which hosted the website, said it would no longer work with the social network due to a "steady increase" of violent content and the company's refusal to police it, according to BuzzFeed News. Parler CEO John Matze bragged that the site would only be down for about a week because it was well-prepared for the situation, but later acknowledged that the service will "likely be down longer than expected" because "most of our other vendors" and "most people with enough servers to host us have shut their doors to us."

Cumulus Media, a radio giant whose lineup includes Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino, also warned its pro-Trump hosts against pushing Trump's baseless fraud conspiracy theories.

"We need to help induce national calm NOW," Cumulus executive Brian Phillips said in a memo obtained by The Washington Post. "[Cumulus and its syndication partners] will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved and there are no alternate acceptable 'paths'…If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately."

Republican lawmakers who backed Trump's futile bid to overturn his election loss on January 6 are increasingly facing blowback as well. Last week, Simon & Schuster announced that they canceled Sen. Josh Hawley's, R-Mo., upcoming book about the "tyranny" of big tech because it could not support him "after his role in what became a dangerous threat." One of Hawley's top donors also disavowed the senator, who was the first in the chamber to announce plans to object to the Electoral College results.

The hotel giant Marriott will temporarily cut off donations to Republicans who voted against certifying the Electoral College results.

"We have taken the destructive events at the Capitol to undermine a legitimate and fair election into consideration and will be pausing political giving from our Political Action Committee to those who voted against certification of the election," a spokesperson told Business Insider.

Financial giants Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley said they will pause all political contributions after what Democrats have described as an "attempted coup."

"We want you to be assured that we will not support candidates who do not respect the rule of law," Citi official Candi Wolff said in a memo to employees, according to Bloomberg.

The insurer network BlueCross Blue Shield and Commerce Bank owner Commerce Bankshares said they will cut off donations to lawmakers who objected to the results as well, according to Popular Information. Bank of America, Ford, AT&T, CVS, Exxon Mobil and Wells Fargo were among the companies that told the outlet they would review their political donation policies.

The riot may have caused some major individual Republican donors to rethink things as well. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, a longtime supporter of Trump, told Business Insider that the "insurrection that followed the President's remarks … is appalling."

"I am shocked and horrified by this mob's attempt to undermine our constitution," he said.

The National Association of Manufacturers, an industry group that has supported Trump for years, condemned the president and called for his Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

"Throughout this whole disgusting episode, Trump has been cheered on by members of his own party, adding fuel to the distrust that has enflamed violent anger," NAM CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement. "This is not law and order. This is chaos. It is mob rule. It is dangerous. This is sedition and should be treated as such. The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy. Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit."

Facial recognition company cited in 'antifa' claims spread by TrumpWorld media says entire report is a lie

Some of President Trump's supporters have tried to blame Wednesday's mob assault on the U.S. Capitol on left-wing "antifa" protesters — even though numerous prominent Trump fans posed for photos during the riot and bragged about their involvement after publicly planning the assault for weeks.

Many of these claims are based on a Washington Times report that cited facial recognition company XRVision, claiming it had "matched" two purported antifa members to "men inside the Senate." The company issued a statement calling the report a lie and clarifying that it had actually matched the photos to two members of a neo-Nazi organization and a QAnon supporter. The statement confirmed what was already obvious from countless photos, videos and live-streams posted by the rioters themselves while waving Trump flags and wearing MAGA gear.

By the time the statement was issued, the false antifa claim had already made its way across social media to Fox News and even the floor of the House of Representatives.

Admitting that he did not know "if the reports are true," Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., declared that "some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa."

Other lawmakers pushed the claim as well. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who led the challenge to his state's electoral votes during the joint session of Congress that was targeted by the attackers, claimed on Twitter without evidence that "this has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation." Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs that "there is some indication that fascist antifa elements were involved, that they embedded themselves in the Trump protests."

Some Fox News hosts have themselves insisted that Trump supporters could not possibly be behind the riot — which immediately followed Trump's speech urging supporters to go to the Capitol while falsely claiming the election had been rigged against him. Donald Trump Jr. told supporters at the preceding rally to "stand up and fight." Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani proposed settling the election by "trial by combat."

"I'd like to know who the agitators were," Fox News host Sean Hannity said Wednesday, claiming that "those who truly support President Trump … do not support those that commit acts of violence."

"They were likely not all Trump supporters," host Laura Ingraham said in the following hour, alluding to the debunked report. "I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks — the uniforms you saw in some of these crowd shots."

"We may never know the truth here," fellow Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed earlier in the evening. "I keep seeing all kinds of accounts of who they were and what their motives might have been."

Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin told Fox News host Martha MacCallum that "a lot of it is the antifa folks," citing "pictures" that someone sent her.

Similar claims were pushed on heavily pro-Trump Newsmax and Sinclair stations and were shared on Twitter by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood and longtime Trump supporter Pastor Mark Burns, whose tweet was "liked" by Eric Trump.

Though some Trump supporters based their frivolous claims on photos that spread across social media, the Washington Times story appears to be at the center of many of these allegations. The conservative newspaper claimed that XRVision "used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia Antifa members to two men inside the Senate." The report claimed that one of the men "has a tattoo that indicates he is a Stalinist sympathizer" and the other "is someone who shows up at climate and Black Lives Matter protests in the West."

The company strongly denied the report and demanded a retraction and apology.

"XRVision views the Washington Times publication as outright false, misleading, and defamatory," the company said in a statement. "Our attorney has contacted the Washington Times and has instructed them to 'Cease and Desist' from any claims regarding the sourcing of XRVision analytics, retract their current claims, and publish an apology."

"We concluded that two of the individuals (Jason Tankersley and Matthew Heimbach) were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements," the statement said. "These two are known Nazi organizations; they are not Antifa. The third individual identified (Jake Angeli) is an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either."

Fact-checkers at The New York Times, Politifact and Snopes all confirmed that there was "no evidence of anyone but a mob of Trump supporters" involved in the melee. Many of them had openly plotted for weeks on social media, posed for photos during the siege and posted messages on conservative social media sites Gab and Parler as they tried to "hunt down" Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol.

Angeli, better known in MAGA world as "Q Shaman," is a prominent figure in QAnon circles. He was seen in countless photos and videos wearing a horned and furry bison costume that he has worn to many other pro-Trump events. At one point, he was seen standing on the dais in the Senate chamber.

People in QAnon garb were also seen chasing and confronting Capitol Police officers.

Heimbach is a prominent white nationalist who helped promote the deadly Charlottesville protest in 2017 and was jailed for shoving a protester at a Trump rally.

Other rioters included Tim Gionet, better known online as Baked Alaska, a far-right live streamer who frequently interviews white nationalists.

Another person identified in the riot is Derrick Evans, who live-streamed himself inside the Capitol. Evans is a newly-elected member of the West Virginia state legislature.

The man seen in viral photos ransacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and stealing her mail identified himself as Richard "Bigo" Barnett, and bragged to reporters about the incident.

The FBI issued a statement on Wednesday asking the public for help identifying other rioters.

"The FBI is seeking information that will assist in identifying individuals who are actively instigating violence in Washington, DC," the bureau said on its website. "The FBI is accepting tips and digital media depicting rioting and violence in the U.S. Capitol Building and surrounding area in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021."

People can submit photos or images to and report any relevant information to 1-800-CALL-FBI or

Democrats immediately reject Trump’s coronavirus relief demands, push for higher stimulus checks

House Democrats quickly shot down President Trump's demanded changes to the coronavirus relief bill he held up for days before belatedly signing the legislation on Sunday — after a critical unemployment insurance extension expired.

Trump finally signed the $900 billion coronavirus relief deal and a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill while vacationing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after suddenly balking at the $600 stimulus checks and foreign aid included in the package. Though his own administration called for cutting the checks to $600 apiece, Trump called to increase the direct payments to $2,000 after the bill passed both the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-led Senate despite being absent from negotiations for months. The foreign aid included in the omnibus government spending bill that Trump called "wasteful" was also requested by his administration. Trump's delayed signing of the legislation resulted in lapsed unemployment benefits for about 14 million Americans while millions of others likely lost a full week of enhanced federal unemployment benefits included in the bill.

Trump said in a statement on Sunday that he signed the bill because the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, plans to vote on Monday on a bill to increase the direct payments to $2,000, even though the measure is opposed by his own party, and claimed that Congress has "promised" to review Section 230, a law that shields social media companies from liability for content posted on their platforms, and to "focus very strongly on the very substantial voter fraud" that he claims took place in the election despite no evidence and repeated rebukes from members of his own administration. The president also said that he is "demanding many rescissions" in the bill because "wasteful items need to be removed."

"I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill," he said.

Though presidents can request changes by Congress they do not have the power to veto individual measures in bills they sign. The New York Times noted that the 25-day time frame for Congress to consider the requests will also extend past President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration and House Democrats have no plans to revisit the bill the president already approved.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., slammed Trump over his "shameful" delay of critical relief funding and for trying to "reverse funding his own administration requested and undo the careful bipartisan agreement he has just signed."

"The House Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over rescissions, and our Democratic Majority will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump," she said in a statement, adding that Congress plans to work on additional relief measures once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Politico's Jake Sherman noted that Congress has also been "reviewing" Section 230 for years and that it was highly doubtful that many Republicans in Congress would be interested in pursuing his baseless voter fraud claims. Meanwhile his demand for increased payments "will split the Republican Party on the way out the door" while his "redlined" changes stand zero chance of being approved, he added.

"What a bizarre, embarrassing episode for the president," Sherman wrote. "He opposed a bill his administration negotiated. He had no discernible strategy and no hand to play… If he was going to give up this easy, he should've just kept quiet and signed the bill. It would've been less embarrassing."

But the delay had significant real-world consequences. Because the president waited until Sunday night to sign the bill, about 14 million people laid off amid the pandemic lost a full week of benefits when they lapsed on Saturday. Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, pointed out that the delay also cut the number of weeks of enhanced federal unemployment benefits in the bill from 11 to 10, costing millions of others $300. It's unclear if the benefits could be paid retroactively.

"They might get it at the back end, but there are bills tomorrow," Evermore told the Times. "It's just so frustrating that he couldn't have figured this out yesterday. One day of delay is catastrophe for millions."

The delay may also push back the arrival of the stimulus checks, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted would be sent out this week after the bill's passage.

"His stalling only intensified anxiety and hardship for workers and families who are collateral damage in his political games," House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement. "Now, people will need to wait even longer for direct payments and other vital assistance to arrive."

Trump said the Senate would "start the process" on voting for increased stimulus checks but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not even mention the payments in a statement on Sunday. The larger payments have long been opposed by many Republicans.

"I applaud President Trump's decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial Covid-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible," McConnell said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who along with many Democrats quickly endorsed the president's demand for larger checks that his own party opposed, said the president "must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction" and support the increased payments during a floor vote on Monday.

"Every Republican vote against this bill," she said in a statement, "is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need."

Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Newsmax sued by Dominion executive forced into hiding

A top employee at Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine company at the heart of Trumpworld's baseless allegation that votes were flipped to President-elect Joe Biden, filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign and conservative media outlets for defamation.

This article first appeared In Salon.

Eric Coomer, the director of product strategy and security at the Denver-based firm, accused Trump allies of pushing conspiracy theories about him and his company of intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy in a Denver court. The lawsuit names Trump's campaign, attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, pro-Trump news outlets Newsmax and One America News Network, and multiple other conservative outlets and commentators.

Giuliani during a news conference called Coomer "a vicious, vicious man. He wrote horrible things about the president ... He is completely warped," the lawsuit noted.

"Today I have filed a lawsuit in Colorado in an effort to unwind as much of the damage as possible done to me, my family, my life, and my livelihood as a result of the numerous false public statements that I was somehow responsible for 'rigging' the 2020 presidential election," Coomer said in a statement.

The lawsuit says that the unfounded conspiracy theories about Coomer have resulted in death threats, repeated harassment, and "untold damage to his reputation as a national expert on voting systems." Coomer fled his home a week after the election and is staying at an undisclosed location, the suit said.

"The widespread dissemination of false conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election has had devastating consequences both for me personally and for many of the thousands of American election workers and officials, both Republican and Democratic, who put aside their political beliefs to run free, fair, and transparent elections. Elections are not about politics; they are about accurately tabulating legally cast votes," Coomer said.

Coomer told Colorado Public Radio that the conspiracy theories about him began when conservative activist Joe Oltmann, one of the people named in the suit, spread an allegation on his podcast that Coomer told "antifa" members that he "made effing sure" Trump would not win the election. Coomer said the conversation never took place and that he has no links to any political group.

The suit also names OAN reporter Chanel Rion, who reported the allegations; conservative bloggers Jim Hoft and Michelle Malkin, who interviewed Oltmann about his allegation; and conservative commentator Eric Metaxas, among others.

Fox News was not named in the lawsuit, and the complaint actually cited Fox News' Tucker Carlson's rejection of Powell's evidence-free claim about vote-switching to back its argument.

Coomer said his, his family's, and his friends' home addresses have been posted online and some have received threatening messages.

"It's terrifying," he told NBC News. "I've worked in international elections in all sorts of post-conflict countries where election violence is real and people are getting killed over it. And I feel that we're on the verge of that."

Dominion, which provides election equipment and software in 28 states, is not part of the lawsuit. But the company has also threatened legal action against Powell and the Trump campaign if they do not retract their false claims about the company.

Powell, who Trump reportedly considered appointing as a special counsel to investigate baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, has pushed a bizarre conspiracy theory that Dominion, as part of a plot hatched by long-dead Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and bankrolled by countries like China and Cuba, sent votes to be tabulated overseas and switched votes from Trump to Biden. She has provided no evidence of her claim, her expert witnesses were discredited, and she has lost every lawsuit seeking to overturn election results. She was ousted from Trump's legal team after alleging that Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was paid off to stay quiet about the fictitious scheme.

"Your reckless disinformation campaign is predicated on lies that have endangered Dominion's business and the lives of its employees," Dominion said in a letter to Powell. "…Your outlandish accusations are demonstrably false. While soliciting people to send you 'millions of dollars' and holding yourself out as a beacon of truth, you have purposely avoided naming Dominion as a defendant in your sham litigation -- effectively denying Dominion the opportunity to disprove your false accusations in court."

Giuliani has tried to distance Trump from Powell but she has shown up at the White House for numerous meetings in the past week. Giuliani himself has pushed the vote-switching conspiracy without evidence and even falsely alleged that Dominion was a "front" for another voting software firm called Smartmatic. The two companies have no ties and Smartmatic's software was only used in Los Angeles County in the election.

The company issued an extensive lawsuit threat to Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN for airing the baseless allegations, arguing that the networks "engaged in a concerted disinformation campaign." The threat prompted Fox News to air segments debunking the false claims made by its hosts and guests about Smartmatic and multiple Newsmax hosts were forced to give on-air clarifications about the fraudulent claims.

The Trump campaign has apparently expected to face legal trouble over Powell's conspiracy theory. Trump's campaign legal team sent a memo to dozen of staffers obtained by CNN that warned them to preserve all documents related to Dominion and Powell. A law firm representing Dominion later sent a letter to Giuliani and White House counsel Pat Cipollone instructing them to preserve all records related to the company, warning that legal action was "imminent," according to the network.

The letter demanded that Giuliani stop making "defamatory claims against Dominion" and ensure there is "no confusion about your obligation to preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company."

Trump's border wall and a “three-martini lunch”: What the GOP fought to save in a second COVID bill

Congressional leaders on Sunday said they reached an agreement on a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief bill just days before many of the programs in the first round of stimulus passed in the spring were set to expire amid a nationwide spike in infections.

The bill includes $600 direct payments to most Americans, a temporary revival of the federal unemployment boost at $300 per week, and nearly $300 billion in forgivable small business loans, according to bill summaries obtained by The Washington Post. The bill would also extend the federal eviction moratorium through January and provide billions in funding for vaccine distribution, testing and contact tracing, schools, transportation systems and live music venues. About $429 billion of the $900 billion total is from unused funds the Cares Act, which was the first round of federal funding passed earlier this year, provided for emergency lending programs from the Federal Reserve. Ultimately, the bill includes less than $500 billion in new funding.

Significantly, the deal does not include any aid to state and local governments, many of which are facing massive budget shortfalls due to severe declines in tax revenues and tourism. Economists have warned for months that failing to provide state and local relief would result in mass layoffs in the middle of the pandemic. Democrats agreed to drop their demand for state and local funding after McConnell agreed to drop his demand for broad lawsuit protections for businesses. The deal will also include $1.4 billion in new funding for Trump's border wall, according to the Post.

Republicans also pushed to expand a Trump-backed tax deduction for business meals, which critics labeled the "three-martini lunch" tax break, in exchange for including expanded tax credits for low-income families and the working poor that Democrats demanded.

"Republicans are nickel-and-diming benefits for jobless workers, while at the same time pushing for tax breaks for three-martini power lunches. It's unconscionable," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said during negotiations.

The bill text has not been released to the public as of Monday morning but Congress is expected to vote on the compromise proposal as soon as Monday. Both parties said they struck a deal on Sunday after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected a $3.4 trillion and a $2.2 trillion bill approved by House Democrats months earlier and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., shot down McConnell's $300 billion and $500 billion offers. Economists say the U.S. needs at least $2 trillion to $3 trillion in relief to get through next year's mass vaccine distribution plan. Lawmakers have said that they expect to push for another round of relief once President-elect Joe Biden takes office and before many of the extended relief programs are set to expire in March.

The new deal came together after Democrats backed a bipartisan proposal from a group of senators including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. Unlike the bipartisan proposal, however, the deal reached by congressional leaders reportedly provides $600 direct payments to every adult and child in households earning up to $75,000 ($150,000 for couples) with lower benefits on a sliding scale for those earning up to $99,000. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., unsuccessful last-minute push for $1,200 payments, as were included in the Cares Act in March, appears to have helped revive the idea of direct payments at the final hour.

The bill will also include payments to families that have at least one undocumented member, unlike in the Cares Act, but will not include payments for about 13.5 million adult dependents. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the payments will begin to go out as soon as next week.

The deal will also include $300 per week federal unemployment boosts, half of the rate included in the Cares Act. Congressional negotiators reduced the length of the extension from 16 weeks to 11 weeks to include the direct payments. The previous unemployment boost expired in July.

The bill would also extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides unemployment to self-employed and gig workers, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides unemployment for people who have exhausted their regular benefits.

There's an additional $284 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses to keep their employees. The deal expands eligibility for loans for nonprofits, churches, and news outlets, allowing for $15 billion to independent movie theaters and cultural institutions and $20 billion for targeted grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. Some PPP funds are reserved for "very small" businesses, according to the Post. The changes were added after the PPP was criticized for disproportionately aiding larger companies.

The bill also extends the eviction moratorium — but only through January 31, meaning that Biden would have to extend the deadline as soon as he takes office. It provides $25 billion in emergency assistance to renters, though it is unclear how that money will be distributed.

Another $20 billion is allocated to buy COVID vaccines, $8 billion to distribute vaccines, and $20 billion for testing. It also includes $82 billion to help schools and colleges upgrade their ventilation and $10 billion for child-care assistance.

Democrats also secured a tax credit for employers that offer paid sick leave, $13 billion in expanded food stamp benefits, and $7 billion to expand broadband access. The bill also includes $45 billion for transportation, including an additional $16 billion for airlines, $14 billion for transit systems, $10 billion for highways, and funding for airports and Amtrak.

"We have now reached agreement on a bill that will crush the virus and put money in the pockets of working families who are struggling," Pelosi said in a statement on Sunday. "This emergency relief bill is an important initial step."

"This is just the first step. This is an emergency," Schumer said at a news conference on Sunday. "We need a second bill to continue dealing with the emergency and to start stimulating our economy so we get back to where we were. That will be job No. 1 in the new Biden administration."

Biden has repeatedly called the $900 billion deal a "down payment" on a larger package.

"I am heartened to see members of Congress heed that message, reach across the aisle, and work together," he said in a statement on Sunday. "But this action in the lame-duck session is just the beginning. Our work is far from over."

DeSantis faces renewed scrutiny following discovery of mysterious gap in Florida's COVID death tally

A newly uncovered gap in Florida's coronavirus death data suggests that the state may have manipulated the numbers to create more favorable death counts ahead of November's election.

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