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Tom Cotton has claimed he was an 'Army Ranger.' That's not true

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has accrued a resume tailor-made for a Republican politician: He leapt from a small-town Arkansas cattle farm to Harvard University and then Harvard Law School; he left a leading New York firm to join the military after George W. Bush's re-election; he was discharged after nearly eight years and two war-zone deployments as an Army captain and decorated hero — including two commendation medals, a Bronze Star and a Ranger tab.

This article first appeared in Salon.

But when Cotton launched his first congressional campaign in 2012, he felt compelled to repeatedly falsify that honorable military record, even as he still served in the Army Reserve.

In his first run for Congress, Cotton leaned heavily on his military service, claiming to have been "a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan," and, in a campaign ad, to have "volunteered to be an Army Ranger." In reality, Cotton was never part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the elite unit that plans and conducts joint special military operations as part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Rather, Cotton attended the Ranger School, a two-month-long, small-unit tactical infantry course that literally anyone in the military is eligible attend. Soldiers who complete the course earn the right to wear the Ranger tab — a small arch that reads "Ranger" — but in the eyes of the military, that does not make them an actual Army Ranger.

Yet Cotton told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record in February 2012: "My experience as a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan and my experience in business will put me in very good condition." The year before, he told Roby Brock of Talk Politics in a video interview that he "became an infantry officer and an Army Ranger." A Cotton campaign ad placed in the Madison County Record in May 2012 identifies Cotton as a "Battle-Tested Leader" who "Volunteered to be an Army Ranger."

Reached for comment, Cotton spokesperson Caroline Tabler told Salon in an email, "Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger school and is more of a Ranger than a Salon reporter like you will ever be." (It is not immediately clear whether Tabler herself is a Ranger, or whether she graduated from Ranger school. Further, Tabler, a spokesperson for Cotton's Senate office, copied the office's chief of staff, Doug Coutts, on the email, but to a Cotton campaign address; senate offices may not coordinate with campaigns. Tabler asked to arrange an off-the-record call in that email; Salon declined, citing the unfavorable terms.)

It isn't a minor or insignificant distinction. Last summer, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler addressed it during New Hampshire's Republican Senate primary, which featured two Ranger School alums: Colorado lawyer Bryant "Corky" Messner, and retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc. Messner claimed repeatedly that he was a Ranger; Bolduc did not make such claims, and called out his opponent over it.

"Unless you served in a Ranger battalion, I think you're overstretching your claim," Bolduc told Messner last spring. "I'm Ranger-qualified, and I always stipulate that. I never served in a Ranger battalion."

The Ranger Regiment is considered the Army's top action unit, and over the course of the so-called War on Terror, Rangers have killed or captured more high-value targets than any other unit. The regiment comprises four battalions, and members wear distinctive tan berets as well as a red, white and black Ranger "Scroll," a cloth badge distinct from the black-and-gold tab that Cotton earned at Ranger School. Attending the school, in fact, is not a prerequisite to serve in the Ranger Regiment.

"It should be noted that Ranger School and the 75th Ranger Regiment are completely different entities under completely different commands with completely different missions, and one is not needed for the other," writes one Ranger veteran for the Havok Journal.

When Kessler asked the Army to evaluate Messner's claim, a Special Operations Command spokesperson made a distinction: Ranger qualified vs. an Army Ranger.

The U.S. Army Ranger Course is the Army's premier leadership school, and falls under Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, Virginia, and is open to all members of the military, regardless of whether they have served in the 75th Ranger Regiment or completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. A graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger Course is Ranger qualified.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is a special operations unit with the mission to plan and conduct joint special military operations in support of national policies and objectives. The Regiment's higher headquarters is the U.S. Army Special Operations Command located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Regiment is the Army's largest, joint special operations force. All members of the 75th Ranger Regiment have passed the Ranger Assessment Selection Program 1, 2, or both. Anyone who is serving or has served within the 75th Ranger Regiment is a U.S. Army Ranger.

Messner told the Post that his claim had never been closely examined until he ran for Senate, and provided five statements from retired officers saying that anyone who graduated from the school had the right to call themselves a Ranger. Kessler went to the retired colonel who headed the Ranger School between 2014 and 2016, who said the difference was indeed a matter of debate, but concluded: "Should [Messner] say he was 'Ranger-qualified' in his ads? Probably. Maybe."

Kessler described Messner's phrasing — "Corky became an Army Ranger, serving abroad guarding the Berlin Wall during the Cold War" — as "especially problematic." Some of Cotton's claims appear to go even further, especially when describing his "experience as a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Kessler gave Messner two "Pinocchios," the Post's measure of falsehood. Cotton, who in a fiercely criticized New York Times op-ed last summer advocated for calling in the military to put down Black Lives Matter protests, deserves at least as much.

How Joe Biggs and the Proud Boys turned on the police

A leader of the Proud Boys who was charged on Wednesday for his role in the Capitol riot boasts an arrest record that includes an assault on an officer of the peace, and on Jan. 6 led a mob of his fellow members as the right-wing man-centric gang turned on the police. He also has a history of encouraging sexual violence, and dined with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at former President Trump's Washington hotel.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

A since-deleted Instagram post from Nov. 7, 2019, shows self-described Proud Boy organizer Joe Biggs seated beside a beaming Graham at a banquette dinner in the BLT Prime restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. At the time, Biggs was well known in far-right circles after a seven-year stint as an on-air personality for Alex Jones' Infowars network. Biggs, who describes his position as "investigative reporter," used the platform to peddle ludicrous but well-trodden conspiracy theories, such as the elaborate set of falsehoods known as Pizzagate and the hypothesis that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were responsible for the murder of Seth Rich.

Cassandra Fairbanks, a journalist for the right-wing publication Gateway Pundit, confirmed the Graham-Biggs summit in a tweet on Oct. 1 of last year, one day after Trump declined to denounce the Proud Boys in his first debate with Joe Biden.

"Can confirm. I was sitting at a table near them," Fairbanks wrote. "Whoooops @SenLindseyGraham." She deleted the tweet the following day. Graham at the time appeared to be losing ground in his high-profile campaign against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. (In the end, the senator was easily re-elected.)

(In January 2019, Biggs posted in a since removed tweet: "Trump Intl Hotel is like my cheers now. On a first name basis with everyone. Pretty F'n cool.")

In other now-deleted social media posts from his evening with Graham, Biggs suggested that Trump would also join them for dinner, writing "awaiting @realDonaldTrump to have dinner with us," and "about to see @RealDonaldTrump at the Trump International DC." No documented evidence exists of a meeting, but Trump was in fact slated to be at the hotel that evening, according to his official White House schedule, which noted that he would give "remarks at a fundraising committee reception" at 8 p.m.

At the time, the National Republican Senatorial Committee was hosting a two-day "Save the Senate" fundraiser at the hotel, featuring Trump as well as then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with several senators and candidates expected to face tight races the next fall. Another photo, this one posted on the second day of the fundraiser but since lost to the sands of time, shows Biggs mugging in the Trump International lobby with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes.

Biggs' appearance that weekend was perhaps incidental to the GOP event. He had traveled to the capital to show support for longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who was standing trial in Washington at the time. In a video interview ahead of the trip, Biggs says he would be joined by fellow Proud Boy royalty Enrique Tarrio and McInnes, as well as deplatformed conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. "It's going to be a busy next week or two," Biggs said.

The Proud Boys initiation process requires aspirants, among other things, to renounce masturbation and recite the names of five brands of breakfast cereal while fighting other members. The final requirement involves "a major fight for the cause," founder McInnes told Metro.us in a 2017 interview.

"You get beat up, kick the crap out of an antifa" and possibly get arrested, McInnes explained.

For Biggs, the violent tendencies appear to go further. In 2017, Media Matters revealed that Biggs had posted a number of tweets promoting date rape and sexual violence in 2012 while serving in the U.S. Army. "Every kiss begins with ... Roofies," he wrote at one point, as well as, "I like to reason with her (reason=chloroform) and then just drink a lot of beer and release," and "I'm gonna punch some bitches in the face real soon. But first I have to jerk off. You fucking fags."

In a statement, Biggs said those posts "were a cry for help" while he was going through a dark time, having just departed the Army on medical retirement.

"I became very depressed and turned to alcohol and the over-abuse of painkillers that had been prescribed to me while I was in," he said. "You see you can take the soldier out of the war but you can't take the war out of the soldier."

While serving in Afghanistan as an Army sergeant, Biggs was involved in a gruesome suicide-bombing incident captured in Michael Hastings' book "The Operators." At the end of the episode, Hastings quotes Biggs describing a group of eight- and nine-year-old Afghan boys as "little terrorist bastards."

Biggs was also arrested on a domestic violence charge in 2007 in Cumberland County, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg, where he was stationed at the time. At this writing, no further information on that case is available.

Four years after his medical discharge, Biggs was arrested in Austin, Texas, for assault on a uniformed officer of the peace. A court filing detailing the fracas indicates that Biggs was drunk at the time, a detail he later confirmed in an Infowars interview, which featured short video clips Biggs had recorded on the scene, but lacked sound or subtitles. A grand jury declined to return charges.

Police officers appear to have become major antagonists for the Proud Boys during the Jan. 6 Capitol assault. The group, whose members have often joined the crowds at Back the Blue rallies, has since the 2020 election repeatedly found itself at odds with law enforcement: A clash with cops in Oregon four days before the Capitol siege resulted in multiple arrests. By the day of the riot, the Proud Boys had developed a new slogan: "Back the Yellow," referring to their bumblebee-style palette.

Two days before the Capitol insurrection attempt, Washington, D.C., police arrested Proud Boy chairman Enrique Tarrio on weapons and vandalism charges, after he burned a Black Lives Matter banner he'd stolen from a historic Black church during a protest event the previous month. (Police also found him in possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines. As a convicted felon, Tarrio is not allowed to own firearms.)

A judge released Tarrio without bail but barred him from the city until his next court date, precluding his participation in the violence that unfolded two days later.

Asked after nightfall on the day of the riot whether anyone was "backing the blue," far-right media personality Nick DeCarlo, who has since been indicted, told a livestream host, "No, absolutely not. In fact, there were much more people today shouting, 'Fuck these guys, they're traitors to us, they don't protect us. Look at what they're doing.'"

On the morning of the riot, Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean — aka "Rufio Panman" — tried out the group's new anti-police mantra through a bullhorn on fellow members gathered at the Capitol.

"Looking good, gentlemen, looking sharp. Back the yellow," Nordean says in a speech captured on video, before apparently directly addressing police. "You have to prove it to us now. You took our boy in and you let our stabber go. You guys have to prove your shit to us now. We'll do your goddamn job for you."

Here, Nordean appears to be juxtaposing Tarrio's arrest two days earlier ("you took our boy in") with the failure to bring charges against a man allegedly involved in stabbing of several Proud Boys during their Dec. 12 march in Washington. There are no police visible in the video — at least not in uniform.

Nordean then name-checks Joe Biggs, who appears to be standing, with his face covered, in the center of the motley crew — some wielding baseball bats, one wearing tactical camo gear, a few in Thin Blue Line regalia and one sporting a derby hat suggestive of a ska concert. As they follow Nordean and Biggs to the Capitol, the person filming the video pitches a souvenir.

"We got 'Enrique did nothing wrong' shirts. If you wanna buy 'em, come find 'em," he says, putting a spin on Stone's "Roger Stone did nothing wrong" catchphrase. The narrator then asks a man next to him to show off his shirt. The man, who is wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a bat, turns to the camera, his face covered by a Thin Blue Line mask.

Soon after that, the group of Proud Boys converge with a mob of Trump supporters fresh from the then-president's fevered speech at the Ellipse. Together they quickly dismantle police barricades, overrun a few officers and make their way toward the Capitol.

The government has charged Biggs with impeding Congress, as well as illegal entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. He was released to home confinement, with oversight. The court believes he may try to obstruct justice.

Texas lawyer fired after Capitol riot files bizarre lawsuit asking for Congress to be dissolved

Texas attorney Paul Davis, who was fired earlier this month after posting several Instagram videos of himself on the front lines at the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, filed an impressively grandiose lawsuit in federal court on Monday, requesting that Congress disappear entirely and that nearly everyone who holds high office in the United States, along with Mark Zuckerberg, be barred from ever seeking election or voting again. He also asked the court to tell the Justice Department and FBI not to arrest him.

The complaint, filed in the Waco Division of the Western District of Texas by Davis and co-counsel Kellye SoRelle, a failed Republican candidate for state office, claims that every vote cast in the 2020 general election was illegal, and therefore that "entire 117th Congress is illegitimate." Consequently, Davis argues, every action this Congress has taken, including impeaching former President Trump and certifying President Joe Biden's victory, is "null and void."

The lawsuit was filed in the name of a few small conservative minority groups, including Latinos for Trump and Blacks for Trump, along with a number of related but unspecified individuals. The only plaintiff whose full name appears in the document is Joshua Macias, a Navy veteran and the founder of Vets for Trump, who was arrested in November after he and a friend brought a semiautomatic rifle and samurai sword from Virginia Beach to a Philadelphia ballot processing center. Macias also submitted, under penalty of perjury, a false sworn affidavit in Davis' lawsuit, upon which hinged the suit's sole claim of actual injury.

The 54-page complaint opens by stating plainly that it is "not a 2020 presidential election fraud lawsuit," and doesn't seek to change the declared winner of any elections. (Based on the subsequent arguments, that appears blatantly false.) A footnote on the first page reads: "This is not a Sidney Powell lawsuit. This is not a Rudy Giuliani lawsuit. This is not a Lin Wood lawsuit. This is not a Team Trump lawsuit. This is not a Republican lawsuit. This is not a Democrat lawsuit."

The suit then goes on to argue that procedural election changes adopted by the majority of states out of public health concerns have, unfortunately, voided every vote cast anywhere in the country.

For remedy, Davis asks the court to throw out the results of every federal election last year, shut down the legislative branch and (re)install Trump as the country's sole legitimate elected official. He adds that the court "should rest assured that the relief requested in this lawsuit will not result in the destruction of democracy." Which is reassuring.

Davis takes the additional bold step of asking the court to ban every sitting member of the House and Senate, all 50 governors and secretaries of state, the governor of Puerto Rico and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from ever holding elected office, voting, or publicly engaging in any political activity for all time.

This must be done post-haste, argues Davis, who at one point in the suit admits that he had been awake for 48 hours, because Biden was slated to be inaugurated in two days. (He filed when courts were closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which burned one of those days.) On the morning of the inauguration, with no action in Waco and Trump en route to Palm Beach, Davis filed a supplemental memo begging the court to issue "some sort of restraining order" to stop Biden and all sitting members of Congress from carrying on the business of government.

To get such a restraining order, however, Davis would have to show immediate and irreparable harm to his clients. He argues that a Biden presidency would precipitate a constitutional crisis that will "have a devastating effect on the Plaintiffs' ability to plan for retirement by investing in 401(k)s, IRAs, or other such accounts."

Coming as it does on the heels of a nationwide crash course in the toxic social effects of frivolous election lawsuits, the complaint left experts appalled.

"The suit is illogical and convoluted," Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, told Salon. "It misunderstands the Help America Vote Act altogether and the relationship between the U.S. Constitution, federal laws and state election law. It is filed far too long after the election to be actionable and in any event is requesting a preposterous remedy of removing every elected federal official from office who was elected in 2020 aside from President Trump. Remarkably, the lawsuit says nothing about how Vice President Pence should be treated."

"Somehow Mark Zuckerberg is also listed as a defendant," Burden added.

(Some experts have shared their analysis of the suit's merits, such as here and here.)

Other than Zuckerberg, named defendants include Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer; and Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. That list then extends to "all current so-called members of the 117th Congress," every governor of the 50 states and Puerto Rico, and every secretary of state. The Facebook CEO is sued in his capacity as founder of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and at one point Davis accuses him of criminal fraud, without elaboration.

The suit does not appear to have considered that the vast majority of senators, along with a large proportion of the governors and secretaries of state, were not elected in 2020. Its legal argument, if that's the correct term, appears to rest in large part on two "expert" reports: One produced by Dennis Nathan Cain, aka the Clinton Foundation whistleblower; and one by a man whose LinkedIn page says that he had 40% of his cerebellum removed.

"One thing that Americans learned during the post-election litigation is how little patience courts have for absurd legal arguments," Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, told Salon. "This legal effort to declare Congress illegitimate will be laughed out of court and could lead to sanctions for the lawyer bringing such a claim."

"One might try to chuckle at this lawsuit but it is an abuse of the court and the judicial process," Rick Hasen, nationally renowned election law expert at the University of California Irvine School of Law, told Salon. "The lawyers should face sanctions and punishment for filing such a frivolous and ridiculous lawsuit."

Davis has genuine legal credentials, surprisingly enough. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law, ranked 14th nationwide at the time. He gained civil litigation experience at Andrews Kurth, a large Houston-based firm that has since grown into Hunton Andrews Kurth. He later took a position as associate general counsel at Goosehead Insurance, a job he held until the morning of Jan. 7, when he was fired after an internal company investigation into his involvement in the assault on the U.S. Capitol, which Davis documented on his public Instagram account and was first widely shared by this Salon reporter via his personal Twitter account.

"We're all trying to get into the Capitol to stop this," Davis, standing in front of a line of riot police, says in one clip, referring to Congress ratifying the electoral vote. "And this is what's happening. They're tear-gassing us, and this is not acceptable — not acceptable. People are not going to stand for this."

In the filing, Davis brings up his current legal situation unprompted, asking the court to order the Justice Department, the FBI and all other federal agencies not to arrest him for his actions at the Capitol, unless they can show that he committed "some overt and intentional act of violence that directly resulting in substantial injury to the person of another." He argues that his arrest will get in the way of pursuing this important case, but does not address the fact that many actionable crimes do not involve physical violence.

Davis maintains he was peacefully protesting at the Capitol and did not go anywhere he didn't have the legal right to be. In fact, he drew attention to this in his own signature block on the lawsuit:

Davis also posted a similar denial to his since-deactivated Instagram account, claiming that he was not advocating violence when he said he was "trying to get into the capitol," and that the video had been taken out of context. In another post he says that his entire Instagram story from that day will show that had been "peacefully demonstrating" and praying over the police:

For those of you claiming I was trying to "storm the Capitol," it's obvious from my entire story that I was peacefully demonstrating. They gassed the entire crowd that was standing there with me. I was not trying to break in. Was just talking to the police officers and praying over them.

A series of clips from that Instagram story, obtained by Salon, shows Davis praying in front of multiple lines of riot officers, after which, in another clip from a separate location, he gets knocked around as the crowd and police clash, saying that they "tear-gassed us and pushed us down the stairs," and adding that "it got a little rowdy."

Some charges already handed down from that day suggest that Davis' claim to innocence may not be true, such as these, part of the government's case against Proud Boy member Joe Biggs, which alleges that he:

. . . did knowingly enter or remain in a restricted building or grounds, i.e., the U.S. Capitol, without lawful authority, or did knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct;
did willfully and knowingly engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct, at any place in the Grounds or in any of the Capitol Buildings with the intent to impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session of Congress or either House of Congress, or the orderly conduct in that building of any deliberations of either House of Congress.

Incidentally, the lone named plaintiff in the lawsuit, Vets for Trump co-founder Joshua Macias, was also active at the Capitol on Jan. 6. As a result, he faces a court motion to have his bail revoked, which Macias initially incurred from his arrest in November after he and a friend drove from Virginia Beach to a Philadelphia ballot counting center with two handguns, an AR-15, ammunition and the aforementioned samurai sword.

Macias, like Davis, claims that he did not enter the Capitol, but federal prosecutors say in their court motion that video from the day shows him giving "a speech to a crowd inciting a riot."

"During that speech, the rioters overran the Capitol Police Officers stationed at the door of the Capitol and invaded the building in a manner not seen since the War of 1812," the motion says.

"MIKE PENCE IS A BENEDICT ARNOLD," Macias told the mob, according to the filing, adding that Pence "backstabbed the veterans, backstabbed these patriots. That's why we're here. President Trump, you have the ability to pass, you have the strength, sir. The Insurrection Act is now! You have the power, sir, and we support you 110%."

The document says that Macias then "participated in the insurrection at the US Capitol," adding that video shows him "within the security perimeter on the Capitol Grounds in an area specifically marked 'No Demonstration Permitted.'"

In a sworn affidavit attached to Davis' lawsuit, Macias says that he voted in the 2020 elections for House and Senate in North Carolina:

My name is Joshua Macias, I am competent to make this Declaration as follows. I declare and verify under penalty of perjury that I voted in the 2020 election for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in the state of North Carolina.

But Macias, who says that he lives in Virginia and North Carolina, has never been registered to vote in North Carolina. It is unclear how such an error was sustained, considering that Davis uses Macias to argue that every vote cast this year in North Carolina (and all 49 other states) was illegal.

Macias' right to vote, Davis writes in a motion for a restraining order, was clearly harmed in one of two ways. Davis says that he cannot specify which, however, because he was writing the motion at nearly 2 a.m., while Macias was asleep and unavailable for consultation.

Undersigned counsel would clarify whether Mr. Macias voted in person, but the truth of the matter is that its 1:54 AM and Mr. Macias is asleep while counsel has not slept in two nights drafting this lawsuit. But this fact is immaterial because either way, Mr. Macias is injured.

Salon pointed out the false claim about North Carolina to Davis as well as to a representative for Macias, who characterized it as a "clerical error" but repeatedly refused to answer Salon's questions about who made the error or its substance. Davis eventually sent Salon a draft of a second declaration in which Macias says that the confusion about where he voted stemmed from a discussion with an unidentified "member of the legal team" whom Macias had authorized to sign the affidavit electronically on his behalf.

Davis appears to be the sole author of the complaint, though his co-counsel, SoRelle, happens to be a co-signer with Macias on a separate but strikingly similar "invincible" legal argument posed ahead of the Capitol riot by conspiracy theorist and Roger Stone confidant Jerome Corsi. But Davis would not disclose the "team member's" name to Salon, citing attorney-client privilege. He declined to say whether he would retract his argument about North Carolina's "illegal" voting laws and amend it to Virginia, but indicated that the second declaration would appear on the court docket on Wednesday night. As of this writing it has not.

"This is impressive on many levels," Michael Dunford, a lawyer who tracks frivolous litigation and has analyzed the case, told Salon. "If I were a lawyer concerned about seditious conspiracy charges heading my way as a result of my actions on Jan. 6, I'm not sure that's someone I'd want to be associating with," Dunford added, referring to Macias and his prior arrest.

"Second, credit where due: It's good that the lawyers are correcting the record now that they're aware they've made a bad mistake," he continued. "That said, this is a hell of an embarrassing mistake. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require lawyers to make an 'inquiry reasonable to the circumstances' before asserting claims in court. I'm pretty sure that in any voting rights case, such an inquiry would likely include knowing where your own client voted. You'd at least hope they'd get the state right."

"None of this is likely to matter much in the long haul," Dunford concluded. "The case is frivolous no matter where Macias voted. All this second statement really tells us is that these lawyers might actually be so fear-crazed that they somehow think they're presenting a real case to the court."

Hasen, the election law expert from UC Irvine, concurred on that point. "I've already said that this complaint should open up the lawyer to sanctions," he said, "and the confusion (at best) over the truth of the first affidavit only makes things worse."

Beyond Macias, other parties to the suit have also had encounters with the law. The chief of staff of Latinos for Trump, for instance, is Proud Boy chairman Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested two days before the riot on weapons and vandalism charges. Tarrio also has not paid $1.2 million he owes Abbott Labs in restitution for stolen diabetes strips, and until he does so cannot register to vote. The founder of Blacks for Trump, Maurice Woodside aka Michael the Black Man, has trafficked in anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric and formerly belonged to a violent religious sect often described as a cult.

Neither group responded to Salon's request for comment.

Asked for comment on the lawsuit and his next moves after Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, Davis told Salon in an email, "Send me a physical address, and we will mail you a written statement." Salon declined, citing the deadlines inherent in internet news publication, and suggested a phone call. Davis demurred and bid Salon a good day.

Two days before he filed the suit, Davis asserted his confidence in a lengthy post on his since-deactivated Facebook page. He concluded:

Now let the hateful comments begin, if you dare. But, be forewarned that God will bring severe judgment on you sevenfold for every evil word you speak against me and have already spoken. Praise be to the Lord our God, and long live His chosen instrument for good in the world: The United States of America. Amen. Hallelujah.

Read the full complaint here.

Newly-elected GOP members deny giving 'reconnaissance tours before Capitol attack -- so who did?

Three newly-elected Republican House members have denied giving "reconnaissance" tours to rally participants on Jan. 5, the day before the terrorist insurrection against the Capitol.

The lawmakers — Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — all told Salon that they had not escorted anyone that day outside of the course of normal legislative business. All three have come under fire for their public embrace of the Jan. 6 rally and its cause — baselessly and aggressively challenging President Joe Biden's election victory over outgoing President Donald Trump.

Boebert has faced the most scrutiny, after tweeting "1776" on the morning of the attack and offering vocal support from the House floor for her "constituents" gathered at the rally. She was also photographed at the rally itself, posing for pictures while Kylie Kremer of Trump booster group Women for America First addressed the crowd. During the siege, the Colorado fringe conservative, who has expressed admiration for the QAnon conspiracy theory, tweeted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been relocated. It was later revealed that insurrectionists planned to kidnap and assassinate elected officials, and several appeared equipped to do so.

Asked whether she had given any tours on Jan. 5, Boebert told Salon, "I did not. No."

Speculation about the newly-elected far-right Republican members escalated after Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., made the explosive claim that she had seen a fellow member giving what she described as a "reconnaissance" tour the day before the deadly attack. Thirty of her Democratic colleagues later signed on to a letter notifying the acting House sergeant at arms that some of them had noticed "unusually large groups of people throughout the Capitol" on Jan. 5, which they say could only happen with the help of a member of Congress or staff. Some of the people in those groups, the letter says, appeared to be connected to the following day's Stop the Steal rally, and the writers add that attackers seemed to have "an unusually detailed knowledge" of the building's complicated layout. The group has requested visitor logs and security camera footage from Jan. 5, and, pointedly, want to know whether law enforcement has also tried to access visitor information.

On Friday, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., perhaps inadvertently accelerated suspicions of Boebert when he told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace on Wednesday that he'd spoken with a colleague who described a member "showing people around" ahead of the attack, then quickly added that he had concerns about his "new colleagues."

Wallace asked Maloney if he could confirm there were tours the day before the attack, and while Maloney said he could, he admitted he had no firsthand knowledge, but had spoken to another member "who saw it personally, and he described it with some alarm."

Maloney continued, "Some of our new colleagues, the same ones, of course, who believe in conspiracy theories and who want to carry guns into the House chamber, who today — today — have been yelling at Capitol Police, shoving them, [the people] who a week ago were risking their lives to save ours. This conduct is beyond the pale, and it extends to some of this interaction with the very people who attacked the Capitol." He added that "it's a sad reality that we find ourselves at a place where the enemy is within, and we cannot trust our own colleagues."

Maloney, who had not signed Sherrill's letter, did not name Boebert or any other member, but his remarks, in their full context, fueled rumors that she was one of the "new colleagues" he was referring to. Along with her professed admiration for the QAnon conspiracy theory, Boebert has declared she will carry a gun on the House floor and has fiercely resisted the Capitol's new metal detector policies.

Maloney has not named the lawmaker in question, but said "that's going to be a real story," adding that this activity went beyond traditional congressional oversight into "criminal behavior under federal sedition laws."

Boebert's communications director, Ben Goldey, stepped down in the wake of Jan. 6, reportedly writing his resignation letter just hours after the attack. He told Salon that he has been inundated with messages from people suspicious of his former boss, whom he had only served for a few days.

"Internet warriors have been sending me messages, acting as if I know something and telling me I need to go to the FBI — which of course I would do if there was something to say," Goldey told Salon.

Boebert responded angrily on Friday at what she called Maloney's "false and baseless conspiracy claims," which she said had implicated her personally and led to death threats and harassment. Maloney replied that he had never said her name in public, and pointed to the interview transcript as proof.

Two other newly-elected members, Cawthorn and Greene, fit parts of Maloney's description of the lawmakers that caused him concern: Both advocate for carrying guns in the Capitol building (something a senior aide told Salon is more common than has been reported), and both have, to varying degrees, embraced conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. Greene has publicly endorsed the ridiculous QAnon theories, which center on claims that Democratic leaders rape and cannibalize children.

Spokespeople for both Cawthorn and Greene denied allegations that they showed visitors around on Jan. 5. A spokesperson for Greene told Salon that she had worked in the Capitol building all day, and that any video from that day would show her accompanied only by staff in the halls.

Unlike Boebert and Greene, Cawthorn gave a speech at the Stop the Steal rally ahead of the ratification of Biden's victory, saying, "This crowd has some fight in it" and adding that "the Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice. Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard." Weeks earlier, the freshman member from former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' onetime North Carolina district, told an audience it should "lightly threaten" lawmakers to support "election integrity," remarks that have led to calls for his resignation. Cawthorn also carries a firearm in the Capitol. A Cawthorn spokesperson, however, flatly denied any involvement in the alleged tours in a conversation with Salon.

Cawthorn himself has denied blame for the violence, telling Charlotte's Spectrum News1 on Monday that he was in fact "trying to stop it."

"I wouldn't say we were complicit in anyone storming the Capitol. Actually, I think we were, in many ways, trying to stop it. You know, I went and spoke at the rally outside of the White House. And I literally said, I'm about to go to the Capitol to fight this fight for all of you, you have a voice in me, I'm here to fight on your behalf," Cawthorn told the outlet.

It seems likely that Maloney did not mean to imply that one of those three lawmakers had given the tour in question. Multiple current and former congressional staff tell Salon that it's unlikely any of the three could have developed a deep understanding of the labyrinthine Capitol corridors in their first few days in office, knowledge that lawmakers and staff typically accumulate over years.

Asked Sunday about the feud with Boebert, Maloney told MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart that she had "jumped to a conclusion and didn't bother to look at what I said."

"She apologized, by the way, a short while later because we produced the transcript which demonstrated her comments, her tweet, her letter were farcically stupid and wrong," he continued. "So the problem is when you get this kind of incompetence mixed together with arrogance, when people believe that they're right when they are demonstrably wrong."

But on Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., reignited the suspicions, telling CNN's Jim Scuitto that he and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., had seen Boebert with a group in the Capitol tunnels in the days leading up to the attack — although he could not specify the precise date, nor say whether those people were part of the siege.

"Congressman Yarmuth refreshed my recollection yesterday," Cohen said. "We saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th. ... Now, whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know."

In response, Boebert sent Cohen a letter calling his comments "false" and "slanderous." While she acknowledged that she had shown family members around on Jan. 2 and 3 — the day she was sworn into office — she said the tours had stopped there.

"I haven't given a tour of the U.S. Capitol in the 117th Congress to anyone but family," she tweeted.

In a text message with Salon, Cohen said that he had not seen Boebert showing anyone around on Jan. 5, the day of the alleged "reconnaissance" tours. It is unclear why he did not rule out that day in his CNN interview on Monday.

None of this rules out the central allegation that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists had inside knowledge of the Capitol and possibly assistance. The public record suggests that is at least plausible. For instance, a number of Republican elected officials had heavily promoted the rally, most specifically Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, who coordinated for weeks with key organizers. One of them cited Gosar and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama by name as helping foment a "maximum pressure" campaign on Congress.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, chair of the House subcommittee that oversees funding for the Capitol Police, said on Jan. 12 that "a couple" of his colleagues seemed to fit Sherrill's description, and that this information had been passed to authorities as soon as the night of the attack.

"You look back on certain things and you look at it differently," Ryan said.

'Horrified' resort cancels 'fun-filled' event as Josh Hawley's fundraising problems get even more complicated

The campaign for Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., received a notice from the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday for failing to disclose its affiliation with two joint fundraising committees. The notice comes as a Disney World-area resort cancels a Hawley fundraiser, citing the Republican's role in the Capitol riots as well as safety concerns for guests and staff.

The Hawley campaign responded to the FEC promptly by updating its statement of organization with the two committees, the Indiana/Missouri Victory Committee and the Hawley Win Fund. Indiana/Missouri Victory is a joint vehicle between Hawley, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and former Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and Vice President Mike Pence's Great America Committee. The Hawley Win Fund pairs Hawley's campaign with the NRSC and Republican National Committee.

In 2018, when Hawley ran for Senate, FEC records show that his campaign received more than $70,000 from Indiana/Missouri and around $180,000 from Hawley Win Fund. Both committees were largely dormant this year, except for a number of small-dollar transfers executed in late September, mostly with the RNC. The Hawley campaign did not immediately respond to Salon's emailed questions about the nature of those transfers.

Last week, Salon was first to report that Hawley's leadership PAC, Fighting for Missouri, had announced in an awkwardly-designed email (including a number of fonts chosen seemingly at random) that it would hold a three-day "fun-filled-family-friendly" fundraiser at an Orlando-area hotel in February. The next day the resort, Loews Portofino Bay, pronounced itself "horrified" and announced in a statement, without mentioning Hawley's name, that his campaign event was no longer welcome.

"We are horrified and opposed to the events at the Capitol and all who supported and incited the actions," the statement said. "In light of those events and for the safety of our guests and team members, we have informed the host of the Feb. fundraiser that it will no longer be held at Loews Hotels."

In response, Hawley fired off a statement framing the decision made by a private company as a knock on free speech.

"If these corporations don't want conservatives to speak, they should just be honest about it. But to equate leading a debate on the floor of the Senate with inciting violence is a lie, and it's dangerous," he said. "I will not be deterred from representing my constituents and I will not bow to left wing corporate pressure."

Indeed, Hawley has seen fierce and sustained blowback for inciting insurrectionist violence by amplifying President Trump's baseless claims of election fraud and voicing support for the mob that laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The Republican who launched the objection movement was photographed raising a fist in a gesture of solidarity with groups gathered at the Capitol hours before the deadly riots, and was attacked later that afternoon in an editorial from his home-state Kansas City Star saying that he "deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that's been shed." But when Congress reconvened later that night, the Yale Law graduate held fast to his objections and meritless, long-debunked claims about fraud, which had sparked the violence in the first place.

In the wake of the attack, a number of Hawley's colleagues and constituents called for him to resign or be expelled from the Senate. He took the criticism as an affront to his civil rights, framing it as a struggle against "cancel culture" and attacks on the general principle of free speech. That week, Hawley was widely mocked for complaining about publisher Simon & Schuster's decision to yank his book deal amid the insurrection fallout, claiming that the "Orwellian" move was a "direct assault on the First Amendment," even though that amendment applies only to government restrictions and not market-driven decisions of private companies. He quickly signed a new deal with the conservative publishing house Regnery.

In the aftermath of the violence, a wave of corporate entities suspended campaign contributions, and many have pulled the plug on donations to Republicans like Hawley who objected to the vote counting. (Hallmark's PAC specifically asked Hawley to refund its donations.) However, while many companies have cut off campaign giving broadly, none are known to have specifically ended donations to national committees such as the NRSC and RNC — both of which have agreements that allow them to transfer funds to the Hawley campaign, including through the two joint fundraising committees that he failed to register until now. (Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who also objected to the votes on Jan. 6, chairs the NRSC.)

Salon has asked more than a dozen major financial institutions and trade associations whether they will specifically target national GOP committees, including Wells Fargo, Visa, Travelers, American Express and Bank of America. So far, none have said they will.

How two losers' failed schemes ended with the biggest fail of all: Stop the Steal

In January 2013, a 26-year-old right-wing blogger named Ali Akbar joined the campaign of Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston, South Carolina, city councilman and Tea Party conservative who was running against disgraced former governor Mark Sanford in a Republican congressional primary. Bostic narrowly lost to Sanford (who served two more terms in the House before getting primaried out in 2018), and the campaign disassociated itself from Akbar, whose history as a convicted felon and hack political operative had caught up with him once again.

But over those first three months of 2013, Akbar — now known to the world as Ali Alexander, architect of the 2020 Stop the Steal movement — befriended the candidate's son, Daniel Bostic, then a 20-year-old aspiring model and actor who over the next eight years would partner with Ali in a number of failed ventures, including a cryptocurrency project, a listless consulting agency, a defunct MAGA gossip blog, and a scam donation project created with right-wing trolls Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer. The partnership's lasting contribution to the world, however, came earlier this month, when the massive pro-Trump rally they organized on the National Mall on Jan. 6 turned into a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, defiling the seat of American democracy and leaving half a dozen people dead, including two police officers.

Back in 2013, Akbar (as he was then known), a fast-talking aspiring strategist from the Dallas-Fort Worth region, had been casting about for a new gig after Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid failed, taking with it his own efforts to make inroads with mainstream Republicans. Conservatives had grown increasingly wary of Akbar's felony fraud convictions and other allegations of improper conduct, such as asking donors for personal information. Akbar's political journalism project, known as National Bloggers Club, was struggling, too, after its founder's history and conduct created complications for top advisers to the Romney campaign. (Akbar was first anti-Romney and then pro-Romney.) He claimed the site was a nonprofit but apparently never registered it as such with the IRS. Its current status is "revoked," according to federal tax records.

"Akbar was a Libertarian, a Reagan conservative, and a Tea Party journo all at the same time," said freelance reporter Ron Brynaert, whose complicated history with Akbar/Alexander stretches back more than a decade. "He's always been a delusional liar with a messiah complex, who talks out of both sides of his mouth and contradicts himself."

Akbar's work with the Bostic campaign focused on boosting name recognition through social media, including creating a hashtag that got a shout-out from former Republican senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who had co-sponsored Akbar's CPAC "Blog Bash" parties two years in a row and flew in to campaign with Bostic for a day. Bostic did see a surge, but it was too little too late — Slate awarded the campaign its "social media fail of the week" during the primary, specifically citing one of Akbar's sites, ViralRead.com, as having become "a one-stop shop for #SC01 news, with a jaundiced view of Sanford."

Notably, Akbar also created a since-deleted donations landing page "paid for by the committee to elect Curtis Bostic," which was quite likely illegal, since the campaign denied ever officially hiring the convicted felon. After Bostic's primary defeat, the campaign dismissed Akbar in the press as an overzealous volunteer.

But Akbar had grown close with Daniel Bostic, who had a certificate in theology from Appalachian Bible College and a few months experience as staff assistant to then-Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., now the state's junior senator. Bostic yearned to be a professional actor, but had landed only done a few regional ads for American Eagle and Nokia and some local short films, along with an extra role in an episode of "Army Wives," which he described as something of a formative experience.

Akbar's online footprint dries up a bit after Curtis Bostic's defeat, but he re-entered the political sphere in 2014, with a hybrid PAC called the Black Conservatives Fund, which took in $150,000 from right-wing financier Robert Mercer. But for much of that spring and summer, it seems that Akbar devoted much of his time to helping Daniel Bostic convince people that he was a celebrity with a rabid, obsessive fan base.

Operation Bostic involved a coordinated lineup of fake Twitter fan accounts promoting a number of blog sites, interviews and press releases with Bostic fan content, which Bostic and Akbar most likely either commissioned or created themselves. The profile of one Twitter account, "Daniel's Lover," links out to a Wordpress site called Daniel Bostic Daily, which the account would regularly promote in hundreds of tweets at a time, drawing hardly any response from the larger world. One tweet from May 29, 2013 ("Fans are CRAZY about Daniel's Twitter!") tags Akbar's Twitter account and links to a Daniel Bostic Daily entry that itself quotes a since-deleted tweet from Akbar:

Few folks have the honest joy that @debostic has. It's fun to watch happy positive people online.
— Ali A. Akbar (@ali) May 28, 2013

Three days later, the same blog published another entry titled, "Euphoria for Ladies — Daniel Bostic posted a shirtless picture and became an Instagram sensation," which features said shirtless selfie and a quote about it from a website called Viral Read.

The news site VIRAL READ had this to say:
Walking the fine line between #hotmess and #hotness, Bostic wins the day and lands gracefully in the hotness column. Who knew this skinny kid had this hiding under his bro-tanks? He's the eventual celebrity you'll love to hate and we intend on watching him closely. All of him.

The now-defunct Viral Read was one of Akbar's blog sites, which named controversial right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain as editor-in-chief on March 13, 2013, while Akbar was working in South Carolina. The Viral Read article on Bostic from May is similarly titled "Daniel Bostic, Hotness or Hotmess?" and begins like this:

ViralRead was first introduced to the young actor, Daniel Bostic, during a special election run-off in April where his father, Curtis Bostic was up against now-Congressman Mark Sanford. Our Publisher and Editor even traveled down to the lowcountry district. Sadly, they came back with zero pictures of him. Epic fail.

Other Bostic fan sites include "Bostiholics," which migrated from the "allwewantisdaniel" blogspot site. "We are here for one reason and one reason alone," reads the Bostiholics tag line. "We are OBSESSED with Daniel Bostic." Other Twitter accounts include Dan Bostic Is Life and Dan Bostic Daily. It also seems that Akbar helped place Daniel-centric content in other outlets around that same time. In March 2013 alone, as Curtis Bostic was waging a vigorous campaign, posts about his fake celebrity son appeared on sites called Jakes Take, Daily Entertainment News and Entertainment Worlds, as well as in a Newswire press release titled, "Born To Be Distinguished, Daniel Bostic Has Made A Huge Difference In The World Of Acting."

"Being young has not deterred this young actor from climbing heights in this intricate acting career," the release says, then lists "exciting films" in which he has "made headlines": "From Darkness into Light," "Gone for the Day," "Crash" (no, not that "Crash"), "Secrets in the Fall." The release also says Bostic "is much into politics" and "a proud certified black belt Tae-Kwon-Do." His LinkedIn and IMDb pages boast of the 2008 black belt, but for the art of karate.

Two months later, Bostic featured in another Newswire press release, titled, "Bostic Calls on His Fans to Support Oklahoma Tornado Victims." The release is attributed to Marti Youngue, and gives a phone number and address. The address is Curtis Bostic's law firm, but the phone number belongs to Marti Young, former owner of a Nashville agency called Illuminating Talent, which at one point represented Daniel Bostic. Presented with the press release, Young told Salon in a text message, "Wow that's the first time I ever saw this."

While the extent of Akbar's involvement in Bostic content creation is unclear, his prints appear to be on some of the self-promoting replies, including those aimed Dana Loesch and Michelle Malkin, who were relatively obscure at the time but would go on to become big names in right-wing political circles.

By 2014, however, Akbar had moved on from South Carolina's low country, landing himself a consulting gig in Louisiana with his new Mercer-backed PAC, the Black Conservatives Fund. According to investigative journalist Lamar White Jr., this PAC was mostly a proxy for former Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, who at the time was putting together an ultimately unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. CNBC reported the PAC distributed money that year to a handful of successful Black conservative candidates, including Rep. Mia Love of Utah, as well as Bostic's former boss Tim Scott, who won South Carolina's special election to the Senate in 2014.

Bostic in the meantime attended Anderson University, a private Christian school with both online and in-person degrees, eventually earning a BS in international business, according to his LinkedIn page. He appears to have done some political blogging, identifying as a never-Trumper in 2016 and becoming one of the few donors to former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's ill-fated presidential campaign.

Politico reported in 2018 that a PAC advised by Akbar had accepted $60,000 from Mercer just before the 2016 presidential election. After Trump's victory, Akbar popped up again amid the Unite the Right controversy, and in 2018 tried to help kickstart a Trump-centric alternative to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) called the American Priority Conference, which collapsed in short order.

After that defeat, Alexander (having dumped his original surname at some point) teamed up with longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who first conceived of the Stop the Steal movement — which, believe it or not, did not originate with the 2020 election. The name and the "movement" began with the 2018 midterms, and specifically with the Florida U.S. Senate campaign in which then-Gov. Rick Scott narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. That was when Roger Stone launched the group as a kind of tribute or coda to his infamous "Brooks Brothers riot" during the Florida recount of 2000.

Alexander signed on to work for the "Stop the Steal" campaign, which was aimed at locking down Scott's victory over Nelson. In a Periscope video, as reported in Right Wing Watch, Alexander said he hoped to motivate not just Republicans, but QAnon followers, Democrats and "homeless people in all the adjacent counties" to keep an eye on the vote count in Broward County.

"Ali Alexander is a noxious political activist who often animates extremist groups and individuals to fulfill his activism goals," Jared Holt, journalist and expert in domestic extremism, told Salon. "Political groups and organizations that have turned to him for his work should be embarrassed and ashamed. The fact that he has a molecule of influence in GOP organizing is a damning indictment of the priorities of pro-Trump politics."

Alexander has associated with a number of young pro-Trump flunkies who would also seem to fit Holt's description, as with his aforementioned ill-fated 2019 joint venture in Minneapolis with right-wing personality Laura Loomer and the recently-indicted Jacob Wohl.

That scam also involved Daniel Bostic. Alexander, Loomer and Wohl directed donations to a company called Cystra Ventures Ltd., which had been created in Bostic's name just three weeks before the group met up in Minnesota. Cystra Ventures is apparently held under Cystra LLC, Bostic's "consulting company," whose website doesn't work (this archived version does) but which received $14,477 in federal coronavirus small business loans this spring — after much apparent consternation on Bostic's part.

Cystra appears to have been designed to get Bostic and Alexander in the cryptocurrency game. In late June 2017, less than two months before Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Alexander and Bostic teamed up to pitch a new cryptocurrency "focused heavily on free speech." According to the pitch, the coin would be "a medium of exchange for individuals who value free speech above all else," and would be exchanged on the Crown platform, based on the Dash network. "Our project will feature no pre-mine and a decentralized governance with the sole goal of promoting free speech," they claimed.

Nothing came of this venture, shockingly, but the duo were back at it in 2018, cranking out a series of videos pitching the Crown crypto platform, whose "overarching goal is to build a community of dedicated users who maintain a free, legally compliant, open-access and decentralized sandbox economy." Nothing came of that, either.

Then in 2019, Alexander launched a tabloid called Culttture, a right-wing organ that employed a handful of writers to write breathless gossip about MAGA-world's second-string celebs, often plugging Alexander's tweets and videos in the course of the day. The site's homepage took a hiatus the next spring, however, citing the coronavirus pandemic ("China's virus") for the need to "simplify." Although the homepage still promises a steady stream of content, that promise appears not to have materialized. Twitter suspended Culttture's account when it suspended Alexander, on Jan. 10. Bostic had claimed on his Twitter profile to be a "lead at Culttture," but deleted that sometime after Jan. 9.

Alexander also still retains control over the Black Conservatives Fund, and the group regularly promoted Stop the Steal rallies to its more than 80,000 Facebook followers. One post ahead of the Jan. 6 riots read: "D.C. becomes FORT TRUMP starting today. Fight to #StopTheSteal with President Trump." It then listed rally locations, including at the Capitol building. That post disappeared from the Facebook page after an inquiry from CNBC.

That PAC's treasurer, Patrick Krason, also happens to be treasurer for Stop the Steal PAC — the group that initially registered in November with Bostic as designated agent. During the two months prior to the riot, Bostic, who also listed himself as the media contact for Stop the Steal, helped organize rallies and sometimes addressed crowds briefly himself.

On Jan. 6, Bostic was in Washington with Alexander. The two can be clearly identified in video clips climbing the Capitol steps with Alex Jones. After the violence, Bostic tweeted, "This could've all been avoided if we were shown signatures and allowed to audit our elections. You cannot expect elections to be conducted in secret without repercussions. I do not in any way endorse violence, but path has been traversed time and time again throughout history."

Two days after the attack, Bostic's name was removed from the Stop the Steal PAC's statement of organization. Bostic told Salon that "some answers are too long for Twitter," adding that "you have slandered me, my friends, all to meet your monthly ad revenue quota."

Salon then asked Krason, the PAC's treasurer who manages compliance for a number of political committees, why Bostic was no longer a listed agent. Krason outlined a complex but somewhat plausible scenario in which he had to change bank accounts. Krason would not say what role, if any, Bostic had played in that well-timed change, and would not say whether Bostic had asked to remove his name, or why he had been listed as an agent to begin with.

After Alexander went into hiding, apparently concerned about the authorities, Bostic at first made his Twitter account private. He reopened it again this past Friday, having deleted all tweets prior to Jan. 5 (except for a New Year's Eve post), as well as a number of tweets from Jan. 6, the day of the riot, including one that called Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer "evil" for posting an image of a Stacey Abrams votive candle. Bostic has also removed two tweets that appeared to show live-streamed video which he had captioned "Storming the Capitol." Those tweets are archived here and here, but the media files appear inaccessible. He did, however post that the chants of "Stop the Steal" that day were "indescribable."

That refrain, believe it or not, can be traced all the way back to the apparent ears beginning of Bostic and Alexander's relationship. One of the first tweets from the "Daniel's Lover" fan account is a retweet of an uncannily prescient post from Curtis Bostic, Daniel's dad, whose underdog campaign had just hired Akbar, perhaps unofficially.

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." - Benjamin Franklin
10:47 AM · Jan 22, 2013·Twitter for iPhone

Alexander could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alt-right media personality Nick DeCarlo admits raiding Capitol -- and says 'maybe' he spat on police

The night after the siege on the U.S. Capitol, alt-right personality Nick DeCarlo (aka Dick Necarlo) recounted in great detail in a live-streamed interview posted to Facebook that he had raided the home of American democracy alongside Nick Ochs, leader of the Hawaii branch of the Proud Boys, who would be arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents in Honolulu the next day. At the time of his interview, DeCarlo said that Ochs was doing "great" and "riding this high just like me," and offered a number of anecdotes from the raid that appeared to involve vandalism of federal property, promising forthcoming "hilarious" footage and a video "tour" of their raid on the Capitol.

He also said that he spat on a police officer.

Both Nicks are members of the live-streaming cohort called Murder the Media (MT Media), whose dlive.com account was suspended after the attack. They posed together at the Capitol building beside a set of double doors with "Murder the Media" intaglioed on one side. Later, a law enforcement officer would hold the opposite door open for rioters as they exited the building, creating an irresistible photo op.

DeCarlo traveled to D.C. to meet up with Ochs, and they shared a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn in Alexandria, Virginia, the night before the attack. That night, DeCarlo said that he and Ochs would meet up the next morning with Proud Boys chairman (and chief of staff for Latinos for Trump) Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested and banned from Washington that very night on weapons and vandalism charges relating to an earlier incident when he stole a Black Lives Matter banner from a church and burned it.

"Tomorrow we'll be going to [Tarrio]. We'll get a nice early, early interview with him," DeCarlo said in a video he streamed the night before the attack, adding: "We got a lot of good shit planned for tomorrow. There are so many fucking people here."

The next day, on Jan. 6, DeCarlo and Ochs stormed the Capitol together. At one point Ochs shared what would become a self-incriminating selfie of them smoking cigarettes inside the building, captioned "Hello from the Capital lol," which was submitted as evidence in the indictment filed against Ochs the following day. The FBI's supporting affidavit in support of that indictment exclusively cited Ochs' own social media posts and public statements, as well as a CNN interview he gave after the siege.

That night, DeCarlo gave an interview to another MT Media host who goes by the name "Vill Nomerly," in which DeCarlo discussed the raid and appears to confess to various legal violations.

"Dick, you went there for one sole purpose and you accomplished that," Nomerly says. "Would you like to tell everybody what you accomplished, what you went there for?"

"Me and Nick Ochs went there specifically to stop the steal. It happened," DeCarlo claims. (Since there was no "steal" and Joe Biden's electoral victory was eventually confirmed, this is dubious.) He added, "It felt great and I did a lot of shit I shouldn't have — maybe I did, maybe I didn't — in the Capitol. Maybe I smoked some cigarettes, maybe I spat on a riot officer. Maybe I didn't." He claimed that he and Ochs spent "an hour and half, two hours" in the building and "got pretty far."

"I would like to say congratulations to America and you're welcome," DeCarlo said.

Neither DeCarlo nor Ochs paid for their travel to the Stop the Steal event; both raised money on the fundraising site GiveSendGo.

(GiveSendGo is a Christian fundraising platform that now doubles as a safe harbor for extremists who have been banned from mainstream services. Right-wing agitator Ali Alexander, for instance — an organizer of Stop the Steal — has recently been banned from PayPal, Venmo and CashApp, but still maintains a GiveSendGo account. However, PayPal recently cut ties with GiveSendGo in an effort to distance itself from the site's clientele, part of an ongoing wave of corporate deplatforming directly stemming from the Capitol riots.)

"Ochs and DIck Lambaste are going to DC because the president asked and it said was gonna be 'wild' and that people should wear body cameras," Ochs wrote on the fundraising page. "Our sweet boys wouldn't miss it and promise to deliver the heinous, ugly truth to a heinous, ugly city."

He added that while the pair would travel "as cheaply as possible," they were still going to D.C. from Hawaii and Texas and "100% losing money on this," and felt free to "ask for a little help without getting exiled to the MEGA-GRIFT HALL OF FAME." The ploy raised $300 from six people — including someone using the handle "Big Papí" — and appears to have garnered one "prayer" click. Ochs also posted on Telegram that someone offered him a "buddy pass" to help offset the cost of his flight from Hawaii.

DeCarlo wrote on his own fundraiser that "it's up to one man with the help of Nick Ochs to expose those 'tolerant' leftists and teach them a lesson they'll NEVER forget: The MAGA TRAIN will KEEP ON A ROLLIN'!" In a livestream video broadcast from the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn, DeCarlo proffers a "big thanks" to his benefactors for "all the donations I already spent through them."

"It's fucking great," he added.

Following Ochs' arrest on Thursday, a Proud Boy member named Fred Swink set up a new GiveSendGo page to help cover the Hawaii leader's legal fees. It has so far raised more than $18,000 and collected more than 430 "prayer" clicks.

Aside from the selfie, DeCarlo's face seems to be visible in footage of the siege broadcast on Fox News. While he has been identified posing with Ochs, his name has so far not appeared in mainstream press accounts. In what is in all likelihood a joke, the Thunderdome TV/MT Media Facebook page lists its address as the Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, California, a campsite that hosts an all-male, members-only annual summer retreat for some of the most wealthy and influential men in the world.

The Trump supporters who launched the failed insurrection last Wednesday, at the outgoing president's repeated calls, terrorized federal elected officials and caused the deaths of five people, including a police officer. There was a sixth casualty on Sunday, when a second officer reportedly took his own life in what the former Capitol Police chief characterized as a "line of duty" death no different than the other officer's murder. The rioters committed wanton vandalism and stole federal property, taking a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and leaving human waste and random debris in an iconic landmark of democratic self-government.

DeCarlo is mentioned in the affidavit against Ochs as "another individual" smoking in the selfie, but has not been arrested as of this writing.

Salon texted and called a phone number associated with DeCarlo, but did not receive a reply.

Proud Boy pal brags about role in Capitol attack

The night after the siege on the U.S. Capitol, alt-right personality Nick DeCarlo (aka Dick Necarlo) recounted in great detail in a live-streamed interview posted to Facebook that he had raided the home of American democracy alongside Nick Ochs, leader of the Hawaii branch of the Proud Boys, who would be arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents in Honolulu the next day. At the time of his interview, DeCarlo said that Ochs was doing "great" and "riding this high just like me," and offered a number of anecdotes from the raid that appeared to involve vandalism of federal property, promising forthcoming "hilarious" footage and a video "tour" of their raid on the Capitol.

This article first appeared in Salon.

He also said that he spat on a police officer.

Both Nicks are members of the live-streaming cohort called Murder the Media (MT Media), whose dlive.com account was suspended after the attack. They posed together at the Capitol building beside a set of double doors with "Murder the Media" intaglioed on one side. Later, a law enforcement officer would hold the opposite door open for rioters as they exited the building, creating an irresistible photo op.

DeCarlo traveled to D.C. to meet up with Ochs, and they shared a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn in Alexandria, Virginia, the night before the attack. That night, DeCarlo said that he and Ochs would meet up the next morning with Proud Boys chairman (and chief of staff for Latinos for Trump) Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested and banned from Washington that very night on weapons and vandalism charges relating to an earlier incident when he stole a Black Lives Matter banner from a church and burned it.

"Tomorrow we'll be going to [Tarrio]. We'll get a nice early, early interview with him," DeCarlo said in a video he streamed the night before the attack, adding: "We got a lot of good shit planned for tomorrow. There are so many fucking people here."

The next day, on Jan. 6, DeCarlo and Ochs stormed the Capitol together. At one point Ochs shared what would become a self-incriminating selfie of them smoking cigarettes inside the building, captioned "Hello from the Capital lol," which was submitted as evidence in the indictment filed against Ochs the following day. The FBI's supporting affidavit in support of that indictment exclusively cited Ochs' own social media posts and public statements, as well as a CNN interview he gave after the siege.

That night, DeCarlo gave an interview to another MT Media host who goes by the name "Vill Nomerly," in which DeCarlo discussed the raid and appears to confess to various legal violations.

"Dick, you went there for one sole purpose and you accomplished that," Nomerly says. "Would you like to tell everybody what you accomplished, what you went there for?"

"Me and Nick Ochs went there specifically to stop the steal. It happened," DeCarlo claims. (Since there was no "steal" and Joe Biden's electoral victory was eventually confirmed, this is dubious.) He added, "It felt great and I did a lot of shit I shouldn't have — maybe I did, maybe I didn't — in the Capitol. Maybe I smoked some cigarettes, maybe I spat on a riot officer. Maybe I didn't." He claimed that he and Ochs spent "an hour and half, two hours" in the building and "got pretty far."

"I would like to say congratulations to America and you're welcome," DeCarlo said.

Neither DeCarlo nor Ochs paid for their travel to the Stop the Steal event; both raised money on the fundraising site GiveSendGo.

(GiveSendGo is a Christian fundraising platform that now doubles as a safe harbor for extremists who have been banned from mainstream services. Right-wing agitator Ali Alexander, for instance — an organizer of Stop the Steal — has recently been banned from PayPal, Venmo and CashApp, but still maintains a GiveSendGo account. However, PayPal recently cut ties with GiveSendGo in an effort to distance itself from the site's clientele, part of an ongoing wave of corporate deplatforming directly stemming from the Capitol riots.)

"Ochs and DIck Lambaste are going to DC because the president asked and it said was gonna be 'wild' and that people should wear body cameras," Ochs wrote on the fundraising page. "Our sweet boys wouldn't miss it and promise to deliver the heinous, ugly truth to a heinous, ugly city."

He added that while the pair would travel "as cheaply as possible," they were still going to D.C. from Hawaii and Texas and "100% losing money on this," and felt free to "ask for a little help without getting exiled to the MEGA-GRIFT HALL OF FAME." The ploy raised $300 from six people — including someone using the handle "Big Papí" — and appears to have garnered one "prayer" click. Ochs also posted on Telegram that someone offered him a "buddy pass" to help offset the cost of his flight from Hawaii.

DeCarlo wrote on his own fundraiser that "it's up to one man with the help of Nick Ochs to expose those 'tolerant' leftists and teach them a lesson they'll NEVER forget: The MAGA TRAIN will KEEP ON A ROLLIN'!" In a livestream video broadcast from the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn, DeCarlo proffers a "big thanks" to his benefactors for "all the donations I already spent through them."

"It's fucking great," he added.

Following Ochs' arrest on Thursday, a Proud Boy member named Fred Swink set up a new GiveSendGo page to help cover the Hawaii leader's legal fees. It has so far raised more than $18,000 and collected more than 430 "prayer" clicks.

Aside from the selfie, DeCarlo's face seems to be visible in footage of the siege broadcast on Fox News. While he has been identified posing with Ochs, his name has so far not appeared in mainstream press accounts. In what is in all likelihood a joke, the Thunderdome TV/MT Media Facebook page lists its address as the Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, California, a campsite that hosts an all-male, members-only annual summer retreat for some of the most wealthy and influential men in the world.

The Trump supporters who launched the failed insurrection last Wednesday, at the outgoing president's repeated calls, terrorized federal elected officials and caused the deaths of five people, including a police officer. There was a sixth casualty on Sunday, when a second officer reportedly took his own life in what the former Capitol Police chief characterized as a "line of duty" death no different than the other officer's murder. The rioters committed wanton vandalism and stole federal property, taking a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and leaving human waste and random debris in an iconic landmark of democratic self-government.

DeCarlo is mentioned in the affidavit against Ochs as "another individual" smoking in the selfie, but has not been arrested as of this writing.

Salon texted and called a phone number associated with DeCarlo, but did not receive a reply.

Stop the Steal denied inciting violence: Now its leader wants to 'bring hell' to his enemies

In the aftermath of last week's attack on Congress, Ali Alexander, chief organizer of the "Stop the Steal" election conspiracy movement, rejected any blame for the unprecedented political violence that flowed naturally from his event in Washington on Wednesday.

"I didn't incite anything," Alexander claimed in a video shared to Twitter on Friday. "I didn't do anything."

Hours after the riot, Alexander said bluntly: "I do not denounce this."

It's a common refrain for Alexander, a convicted felon who shed his given name Ali Akbar years ago while trying to establish himself as a Muslim face in Tea Party circles. For the last two months, since the election, Alexander has popped up at "Stop the Steal" rallies around the country, peddling lies and conspiracy theories and telling people he was prepared to die for the cause — denying that he endorsed violence while walking his rally crowds right up to the edge of insurrection. But two days after he shrugged off allegations that he played a central role in the unprecedented political crime last week, with authorities apparently on his trail and his Twitter account suspended, Alexander live-streamed his open embrace and endorsement of political violence.

"Rest assured in this," he says at one point in the 24-minute monologue. "The lord says vengeance is his, and I pray that I am the tool to stab these motherfuckers."

At another point in the video — which Alexander appears to have streamed sitting under a dome light in a vehicle moving through the night — the self-styled provocateur, who trades on his association with larger-than-life right-wing personalities such as Alex Jones and Roger Stone, teases viewers that the next step will be violent on a biblical scale.

"When I do unleash the plan, I will unleash ..." Alexander says, then closes his mouth and stares at the camera for seven seconds. He continues: "I will unleash a legion of angels to bring hell to my enemies."

(Alexander often sows talk of "hexes" and mystical beings and QAnon and other fantasy lore into his rambling sermons. At one point in Sunday's video he plunged into the QAnon universe: "The nation is imperiled. They are trying to rape your children. They are closing our churches and keeping us from the sacrament so that they can open a gateway to hell.")

The open invocation of violence marks a clear shift from just two days prior, when the co-founder of the original "Stop the Steal" movement pushed back on the firestorm of blame, saying he would not "take an iota of blame that does not belong to me." But while Alexander moves about freely, some of his connections at the federal level do not have that luxury — such as Republican congressmen Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, both of Arizona, who Alexander has said collaborated with some of his efforts in Washington last week.

"We four schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," Alexander said in a video posted before the riot.

This Tuesday, Alexander did an interview with Alex Jones, spouting open threats as authorities across the country pour resources into bringing Capitol attackers to justice and heading off what some people believe is an inevitable second attack.

Officials across the government are still reeling from the catastrophic security failure to assess and prepare for the event, widely publicized on social media, where scores of domestic terrorists came tactically equipped to take hostages, fight riot police and hunt down elected officials. Some of the invaders chanted "Hang Mike Pence" while a noose swung from a makeshift gallows outside one of the world's iconic symbols of democracy.

Now law enforcement is racing against those same groups as they settle on the next target, with President-elect Joe Biden's Inauguration on Jan. 20 being a top choice: "That is the next date on the calendar that the Pro-Trump and other nationalist crowds will potentially converge on the Capitol again," read one message posted to a white supremacist Telegram channel, according to The Washington Post.

A highly produced video posted to the alternative social media platform Parler, which has since been taken offline, also set sights on the 20th, framing the event as the "Great Awakening" around audio clips of Trump's own inauguration. The "awakening" refers to the QAnon fantasy that one day thousands of the president's enemies in the government, media and "deep state" will be arrested, imprisoned, tried for treason and executed.

"The hour has arrived," says one of the video's title cards. "Panic in DC," reads another. One instructs viewers to "Put on the armor of God." The video ends with a satellite view of the 2020 electoral map, with blue states engulfed in red, stamped with a final graphic that says "January 20 2021" above the QAnon "WWG1WGA" tag line.

Other groups have tried to build momentum towards other dates, such as the weekend before the inauguration. One website called "The Patriot Action for America," since taken down, calls for 15,000 armed supporters to gather at the Capitol for head counts on Jan. 16 and 17, after which they will supposedly deploy across the city and encircle the Capitol building to block Democratic lawmakers from entering. The plan, according to the group, is to "eliminate the democrat ideology from America forever," but the site denies that this is a plot to overthrow the government.

In the FAQ section, under "Is this going to be a war?" the site says: "Patriots who participate in this action will not fire a first shot, however, the patriots will defend themselves with extreme, and possibly fatal response, to any aggression which would prevent us from obtaining our goal of eliminating the democrat ideology from America forever."

To avoid repeating last week's disaster, in which five people were killed, including two Capitol Police officers — one from injuries at the scene and another taking his own life days later — Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy has said that the military will surround the Capitol with unscalable fencing. Upwards of 6,000 National Guard troops are also deploying to help secure the city ahead of the inauguration.

Twitter has also taken precautions, purging bots and accounts that peddle dangerous conspiracy theories. The company permanently suspended Alexander's account on Sunday evening, citing his influence on last week's mayhem and fears that he would use the platform to inspire and organize more violence. In Sunday night's video — which he managed to share via Twitter's broadcast app Periscope, which gave him the boot on Tuesday — Alexander framed the move among others as an act of violence.

"The fact that they keep crawling me out of here to drag my dead body through the streets is very sick and sadistic, but here we are," he said in the video. "But I want to tell you, please share my GiveSendGo link — I need to raise that $40,000 immediately." (GiveSendGo is a Christian fundraising site that doubles as safe harbor for extremists no longer welcome on other more mainstream platforms — Alexander, for instance, has been banned from PayPal, Venmo and CashApp, but maintains a GiveSendGo. His monetized YouTube page is also still active.)

Alexander then declares that he is so committed to the cause that he will never go back to his previous life as a political consultant — unless he doesn't get that $40,000 in the next week, in which case, he says, he will disappear entirely. The money, he says, is for "security."

As of Monday night, Alexander had raised $16,000 toward his goal, but may have hit another snag: That morning, PayPal cut its ties with the fundraising site in an effort to distance itself from extremist clientele, including Stop the Steal. Later that day, Facebook announced that it would remove all content that used the phrase, five days after Congress certified Joe Biden's victory.

Mark Meadows could face criminal exposure for his role in Trump's Georgia phone call

In the wake of last Wednesday's attack on the Capitol, President Trump is reported to have compiled a lengthy list of potential subjects of presidential pardons, including top aides, outside advisers, family members, rappers and other celebrities, and himself. Among those on the list is current White House Chief of Staff and former North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows, who has so far not been accused of a crime, but could be in jeopardy for his role in the now-infamous phone call during which Trump pressured Georgia's secretary of state to "find" votes for him, an apparent solicitation of fraud.

In addition to potential criminal exposure, Meadows identified himself in his White House capacity during an overtly political conversation and would appear to have violated the Hatch Act, a federal statute that the Trump administration has rendered virtually meaningless. Trump's pardon power would not affect any possible civil action on campaign finance violations that might result from a complaint that a watchdog group filed against Meadows with the Federal Election Commission this fall, based on Salon's reporting.

On the Jan. 2 call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a tape of which was leaked the next day to the Washington Post, Meadows played a dual role as emcee and translator for Trump's possibly criminal demands. At the top of the conversation, he identifies himself as "the chief of staff," then lists the participants, including the mysterious role of lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who Meadows said "is not the attorney of record but has been involved." Later, Trump asked Raffensperger to "find" enough votes for him to win the state.

"All I want to do is this," Trump says. "I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state."

The president also warned Raffensperger that both the secretary of state and his general counsel, Ryan Germany — who was also on the call — were taking a "big risk" by not complying with Trump's demands, suggesting they might be opening themselves up to criminal liability. "It is more illegal for you than it is for them," Trump said, apparently referring to unnamed others he believed had committed election fraud, "because you know what they did and you're not reporting it. That's a criminal, that's a criminal offense. And you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer."

The tape's publication prompted two House Democrats to ask FBI Director Christopher Wray to open a criminal probe, saying that they "believe the president engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes." Former attorney general Eric Holder tweeted that it is a federal crime for a person "who in any election for federal office knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process."

Election lawyer Matthew Sanderson told NBC News, however, that it would be difficult to meet the bar of criminal intent "against an individual who seems pathologically unable to recognize his own loss." That may be true, other experts say, but in legal terms would not matter: Trump had been repeatedly informed of the reality of the situation for nearly two months, including during the phone call in question.

Meadows, who pushed Raffensperger for cooperation up until the final call's moments, does not have that same exit ramp available. However, he may be able to avail himself of another ignorance plea.

"It is possible that Meadows could be involved in a conspiracy to defraud Georgia electors of their rightful electoral votes," election law expert Rick Hasen told Salon. "The problem is that we don't know that Meadows had any idea that Trump was going to engage in potentially criminal activity on the call."

Mitchell, the veteran attorney on the call, resigned from her senior position at the prominent Washington== firm Foley Lardner when the tape became public. She had previously done legal work for Meadows' congressional campaign, and it seems likely that the chief of staff asked her to join the call and help steer the legal discussion. Such a move — adding an election law expert unaffiliated with Trump's campaign or fringe groups — could indicate that Meadows did anticipate illegal activity from the president, who one year earlier had been impeached for blatant extortion during a political phone call.

On Jan. 4, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an accountability watchdog organization, filed a criminal complaint against the president that referred Meadows' role to the Justice Department: "While this complaint focuses on President Trump's conduct, we believe that your offices should also review the conduct of Mr. Meadows, Ms. Mitchell, and any other individuals who aided the President's likely illegal activity." The document also points out that Meadows sought during the call to access voter data that was protected by law.

As for the other possible liabilities facing Meadows, Hatch Act violations are administrative and do not carry criminal charges — but the alleged FEC violations could.

In October, Salon reported that the Meadows campaign reported spending thousands of dollars on what appear to be personal expenses, including for gourmet cupcakes, private clubs, a Washington jeweler and lodging at the president's hotel. CREW later filed a complaint urging the FEC to administer any and all appropriate fines and to take further action, "including, but not limited to, referring this case to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution."

The complaint cites suspicious transactions among nearly $75,000 in campaign expenditures after Meadows announced his retirement from Congress in December 2019, payments that extended well past his resignation from the House when he joined the White House on March 30.

"One of the clearest rules in campaign finance is you can't spend your campaign's finances on yourself," Noah Bookbinder, director of CREW, said in a statement accompanying the complaint.

Meadows' campaign committee kept on racking up expenses throughout 2020, including more than $6,500 in spending at numerous clubs and high-end restaurants. Other charges included grocery stores and the Lavender Moon cupcake bakery in Washington. FEC records also show that the campaign dropped $2,650 on "printed materials" from Washington custom jeweler Ann Hand on the day Meadows resigned from Congress.

Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert at the firm Harmon Curran, previously told Salon he could see "no legitimate explanation for that one." The purchase, he said, was strongly suggestive of a personal use violation, and could indicate that Meadows had made false statements to the FEC, another crime.

Hand, 87, told Salon in a phone interview that her custom work for private clients can run well above $10,000, and her website showcases a number of individualized pieces, some fashioned for members of Congress and the White House. Photos show that Meadows' wife, Debbie, wore a necklace to the Republican National Convention event on the White House lawn that matches one of Hand's designs.

"Mark and Debbie are wonderful clients," Hand said. She said she could not remember any specific purchases that the former congressman made at the time, adding that even if she could, she would not discuss them.

Some Republicans finally call for Trump to face repercussions — yet few willing to back impeachment

House Democrats charged President Donald Trump on Monday with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, formally setting in motion the second impeachment of his presidency with nine days left in his term and fewer than a handful of Republicans in Congress publicly backing sanctions for Trump days after he incited a violent mob to attack many of them.

The move, which has already acquired more than 175 Democratic backers, comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced on Sunday that she would only go forward with impeachment if Vice President Mike Pence declined to remove Trump from office through the 25th Amendment. Should the House approve the article with a simple majority vote, Trump would become the first president in history to be impeached twice.

For evidence, the resolution cites Trump's repeated lies that widespread fraud cost him the election and his demands that the American people and officials reject the results. The article also points to his Jan. 6 rally speech ahead of the attack, in which he spurred his supporters to "fight like hell" or "you're not going to have a country anymore," rhetoric that led predictably to that afternoon's lawlessness.

Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session's solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.

Additionally, the document recalls Trump's taped phone conversation with Georgia's secretary of state, in which the president threatened to sabotage a Senate runoff if the Republican did not "find" enough votes to push the state over to Trump.

"In all this," the motion says, "President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said in a memo today that, barring unanimous consent from the upper chamber, the earliest he could take up the articles would be Jan. 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden assumes office, according to NBC News. However, on Sunday, Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said that the House could choose to hold a vote now but still delay passing the article from the Senate until after Biden's first 100 days in office, in the interest of keeping the new president's agenda as clear as possible.

Even when Democrats have control of the Senate they will face a steep climb to convict, which requires a two-thirds majority. Still, an acquittal is not a foregone conclusion as it was in during Trump's last trial one year ago, when Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah cast the lone Republican vote against Trump for leveraging U.S. military resources to extort a foreign power into damaging his political rival. (Romney voted down the second impeachment article, obstruction of justice.) This time, Romney is joined by a handful of Republican lawmakers in both chambers who have gone on the record to approve of taking steps to remove the president, after his supporters attacked them for following the Constitution.

Among them is frequent Trump critic Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who on Friday joined Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., the first Republican last week to call for Trump to leave office, when he said he would consider articles of impeachment, citing President Trump's "wicked" dereliction of his oath of office.

"If they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move, because as I told you I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office," Sasse said, citing Trump's direct incitement of the "insurrectionist mob" that attacked Congress on Wednesday.

"He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He acted against that," Sasse added. "What he did was wicked." The Nebraska Republican went so far as to say that impeachment should focus on why it took so long to deploy the National Guard, suggesting that the president obstructed the calls for reinforcements to help quell what Sasse described as a "third-world" uprising.

Though Sasse maintained that Trump's infractions were "not in debate," he said he was still unsure about the "prudential" issue of what the president's removal would mean for partisan unity.

"The question is more of a prudential question: What is the best thing for America in 2022 or 2032. The question isn't what's best for Donald Trump," Sasse said. "I don't care what happens to the man in 2023, I care about what happens to the American people in 2023, what brings 85 and 90 and 95 of our people together."

South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham, a dependable Trump ally who on Friday was called "human garbage," a "traitor" and a "sex trafficker" by a group of Trump supporters upset with his refusal to challenge the election, said on Monday that the risk that impeachment would further divide the country was too great. "In light of President Trump's Thursday statement pledging an orderly transfer power and calling for healing in our nation, a second impeachment will do far more harm than good," Graham tweeted, adding that impeachment would be a "major step backward."

Two other Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a critical swing state in the election that Trump and allies have subjected to relentless attacks — have called for Trump's resignation, and while Romney has not yet made a public statement on the matter, he tore into the president last week.

Other Republican officials have quietly endorsed impeachment. "We experienced the attack; we don't need long hearings on what happened," one Republican told CNN. "He has to be impeached and removed," another GOP elected official told the network.

The Washington Post reported that a number of Republican leaders have come out in qualified support, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday poured cold water on the idea, opposing impeachment while suggesting four other options, including censure — although his statement, which did not mention Trump, left the target of censure an open question.

"Personally, I continue to believe that an impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together when we need to get America back on a path towards unity and civility," McCarthy wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

"Having spoken to so many of you, I know we are all taking time to process the events of that day," McCarthy added. "Please know I share your anger and your pain. Zip ties were found on staff desks in my office. Windows were smashed in. Property was stolen. Those images will never leave us — and I thank our men and women in law enforcement who continue to protect us and are working to bring the sick individuals who perpetrated these attacks to justice."

Arrested Proud Boys leader has history of business failure -- and apparently lives with his mom

Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boy leader who toured the White House last month and was arrested Tuesday in Washington on vandalism and weapons charges, appears to have ties to a Republican mega-donor as well as the owner of a landmark Washington nightspot popular among conservatives. Tarrio, the neofascist group's chairman and a convicted felon, also failed to file federally mandated financial disclosures related to his brief, unsuccessful congressional campaign last year, and appears connected to a number of businesses, most of them defunct and none of them apparently profitable.

Despite the Harrington Hotel's efforts to distance itself from the Proud Boys, who in November brawled on the streets of the nation's capital with counter-protesters and police, the owner of Harry's, the downtown landmark bar, was one of the first donors to Tarrio's ill-fated 2020 congressional campaign.

From Politico:

In a city known for its high-powered, wood-paneled eateries, Harry's can seem out of place. Housed on the ground floor of the Hotel Harrington, Washington's self-proclaimed "tourist hotel" where rooms begin at $95 per night, Harry's is a rare dive bar in the middle of the city's expense account district, an oasis of $6 Bud Lights in an ocean of $18 Manhattans. Hundreds of police patches hang on the walls of the narrow bar, which is filled with old-school red vinyl stools and faux-Tiffany lamps, while black-and-white tiled floors gives the place a sort of fun-house feel. The food is cheap, and the atmosphere is casual. "Don't eat the fish," counsels a top review on Yelp.
But what for years was a low-key haunt for off-duty police officers and busloads of tourist groups has, during the Donald Trump presidency, attracted a brand-new clientele. In the past four years, Harry's has become the de-facto D.C. headquarters of the Proud Boys, the all-male extremist group known for its members' thinly veiled racism, penchant for street violence and unwavering support for the president. When they're in town for rallies or protests, the Proud Boys and other rank-and-file MAGA loyalists toast Trump and down beers among the vinyl stools here, or on the patio, under the eerie technicolor glow cast by the pub's neon signs.

On election night last November, a group of Proud Boys, Tarrio among them, were reportedly assaulted while leaving a watch party at Harry's. Right-wing provocateur Bevelyn Beatty was stabbed in the back in the attack. The next month, Harry's was ground zero for more stabbings after the pro-Trump Million MAGA March on Dec. 12, resulting in four hospitalizations, according to district police.

Anticipating further violence ahead of this Wednesday's right-wing rally against the election results — which led to an unprecedented uprising and assault on the U.S. Capitol — the Harrington Hotel shut its doors, and in doing so, shut Harry's as well.

"While we cannot control what happens outside of the hotel, we are taking additional steps to protect the safety of our visitors, guests, and employees," the century-old hotel said in a statement, without offering further reason or specifying the widely suspected true target: the attached street-level bar.

While the bar's longstanding association with the Proud Boys is well known, the relationship between the bar's owner, John Boyle, and the white nationalist group's chairman has not attracted attention.

In February, one month after Tarrio kicked off his bid to represent Florida's 27th congressional district with a 250-plus person soiree at the Trump National Doral club near Miami, Boyle, a D.C. resident, gave the Tarrio campaign $250, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Records show that it was the third donation Tarrio collected in his brief run — and also the first and so far only federal campaign contribution Boyle has ever made.

A few weeks later, Tarrio's Telegram account posted a plea for donations from his fellow Proud Boys.

"I need to come up with $10,440 to be put on the ballot. There's 130 chapters in the presidents chat ... if a fraction of those will give $200 by April 18th we will have a Perry in Congress," Tarrio wrote, referencing the brand of polo shirt often sported by members. "There is no bigger 'fuck you' to the establishment than getting one of our own elected into high office," he added, then pointed his colleagues to a donation link created "just for us."

"Share it only on Proud Boys chats," the chairman told his charges. "I need to fill that bar."

Tarrio ultimately failed to make the ballot, but because his campaign raised and spent more than $5,000, he was required by law to file a financial disclosure form with the House of Representatives. Tarrio never submitted the form, which would have revealed information on his assets, debts and possible business ties. A filing with the Florida secretary of state's office shows that Tarrio is the registered agent for a company called WARBOYS LLC, which lists as managers fellow Proud Boys Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean.

Further, Tarrio's given name, Henry Tarrio Jr., is connected in filings with the inactive businesses SPIE SECURITY, PROUD BOYS and FUND THE WEST. (The Proud Boys self-identify as "Western chauvinists.") According to FEC records, a Florida company called Spie Surveillance & Automation received $215 for a security system in 2019 from New Jersey Republican Hirsh Singh's Senate campaign. (Singh unsuccessfully challenged his primary defeat in court, and in November turned his sights on the governor's mansion.) While Tarrio's LinkedIn profile lists him as having been CEO of Spie Surveillance & Automation Technologies since 2006 — a Miami company that provides "the ultimate experience in residential and commercial security solutions," according to its website — no business is registered under that name in Florida.

In 2019, Tarrio told the Daily Beast that he was the "business owner" of a website called 1776 Shop, but the company declined to confirm that claim in an email. The outlet noted that the email came under the name "fundthewest," a name shared by the now-defunct business Tarrio had registered the previous October. Florida state records obtained by Salon show that Tarrio's mother, Zuny Duarte, a Cuban immigrant, owns the fictitious business name 1776 Merchandise, which runs the 1776 Shop website. (It appears that Tarrio, 36, legally resides with his mother at that company's Miami address.)

Tarrio's name is also associated with Lunar GPS Solutions LLC, which cites the same address as Spie but was run by Tarrio's younger sister as well as another relative in Sugar Land, Texas. In 2016, Tarrio launched a Kickstarter for a proposed joint venture between Lunar GPS and his company, Spie, for a pet surveillance system called the Halo Collar. The product was equipped with a tracking device and a camera designed to stream a first-person view of what the wearer — presumably a domestic animal — was seeing, and allowed two-way remote communication between pet and owner.

The Kickstarter video shows Tarrio demonstrating the collar on a French bulldog, but his name was not associated with the campaign itself, which listed only Ernesto Maldonado, Tarrio's Sugar Land relative. The campaign was canceled after 26 backers pledged a combined $4,330 — $75,670 short of its $80,000 goal.

As Salon previously reported, Tarrio still has not paid the $1.2 million in restitution he owes to Abbott Labs for stealing and reselling diabetes test strips, a crime for which he was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison in 2014. The conviction raises new questions about how Tarrio was cleared for a White House tour last month, when he posted photos from inside the gates ahead of a violent pro-Trump rally, claiming he had received a "last-minute invite to an undisclosed location."

The White House later said that Tarrio was not personally invited, but had instead taken part in a public tour. A routine White House background check, however, would have noted the felony conviction — which would have disqualified any visitor for such a tour unless an administration official personally intervened, a former senior White House official previously told Salon.

In a further wrinkle, Tarrio was joined at the White House by other members of his group Latinos for Trump, including Bianca Garcia, the president, and her son, Armani Garcia, a former intern for Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. The plane that flew the group, including Tarrio, to Washington is owned by Texas Republican mega-donor Steven Webster, through Webster Air.

Webster is a founding member at Houston-based energy private equity firm AEC Partners. One of his former companies, R&B Falcon, was the first owner of Deepwater Horizon, the infamous offshore oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, creating the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. During the 2020 election cycle, Webster contributed nearly $400,000 to GOP campaigns and committees, including tens of thousands of dollars to committees supporting President Trump.

Tarrio did not reply to Salon's request for comment. Boyle and Webster could not be immediately reached for comment.

*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Webster was the CEO of Avista Capital. Webster left Avista when the firm's energy investment team spun off to create an independent firm, AEC Partners.

GOP reckons with mob insurrection as Congress returns to finalize electoral votes

Members of Congress reconvened in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to confirm Joe Biden's presidential victory after a mob of President Trump's supporters, spurred by the outgoing commander in chief's screed on the National Mall, stormed the building in a violent uprising without precedent in American history.

Vice President Mike Pence, standing at the dais where hours earlier an invading rioter had declared Trump the winner, told the joint session of Congress, "Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people's house."

Pence's remarks kicked off a somber evening of debate after the momentous chaos, during which one woman was shot and killed while apparently trying to breach the building and several other people were hospitalized. The mob of Trump supporters had crashed the Capitol grounds at the president's urging, with incoherent hopes of overturning what Trump and his allies, including some Republican members of Congress, have falsely and repeatedly told them is a stolen election. The attack cast a pall over the federal government and the city that hosts it, with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announcing that the national capital will be under a state of public emergency until Jan. 21, the day after Biden's inauguration.

Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to reconvene that night, after the building had been cleared, saying that the "shameful assault" on democracy had been "anointed at the highest level of government."

"It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden," she said.

That evening, Democratic and Republican senators and congressional representatives carried on the unusual business of debating the Electoral College votes, an exceedingly rare occurrence in what has been a routine formality for nearly 150 years.

Some moderate Republicans appeared chagrined at the attempted insurrection that happened on their watch, and was perpetrated by their voters. Pelosi's GOP counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, speaking on the Senate floor, told colleagues that "Congress will not be the same after today."

"The violence, destruction and chaos we saw earlier was unacceptable, undemocratic and un-American. It was the saddest day I've ever had serving as a member of this institution," McCarthy said, adding the caveat that he still believed the country needed a national discussion about election integrity.

Hours earlier, more than 100 members of McCarthy's caucus had joined more than a dozen Republican senators to object to the ratification of Biden's victory in Arizona, a number of them justifying the decision by parroting lies about election fraud that Trump and his allies have peddled for months.

Following the day's extraordinary violence, several GOP lawmakers abandoned their previous objections, including outgoing Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who on Tuesday lost a runoff election against Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock, one of two GOP losses in Georgia that will cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a longtime Trump critic who had been the only Republican to vote for the president's removal after his impeachment trial, made clear where the blame for Wednesday's rioting lay in a memorable, stentorian speech on the Senate floor.

"We gather due to a selfish man's injured pride and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning," Romney said. "What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States."

He implored his colleagues to give up their quixotic crusade and level with their constituents about the truth: Biden won the election.

"No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters," he said, adding: "The best way we can show respect to voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That's the burden, that's the duty of leadership." The speech drew applause.

Only six Republican senators stood firm in their objections to Arizona's electoral votes, among them Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri — who resides in Virginia. Hawley, who launched the objection movement, had just that afternoon been trashed in an editorial by the Kansas City Star, the newspaper of record in his home state, saying that he "deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that's been shed" because of the leading role he had assumed in backing Trump's futile crusade.

Hawley began by condemning the day's violence, invoking the words of Abraham Lincoln: "no appeal from ballots to bullets." He then pressed ahead with his plans to object to votes — which was the entire reason the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol in the first place.

The success that the attackers had in accessing the heart of one of the most hardened targets in the United States, apparently without the use of firearms, has drawn scrutiny to the federal forces charged with protecting the grounds. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the top House official who oversees funding the Capitol Police, told reporters after the rioters were cleared that "there were some strategic mistakes from the very beginning," and said that firings were imminent.

"I think it's pretty clear that there's going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon, because this is an embarrassment," Ryan said, "both on behalf of the mob and the president, and the insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur."

"You can bet your ass that we're going to get to the bottom of it," he said.

Outside the Capitol, Washington reckoned with the implications of the fact that the sitting president had unleashed a mob attack designed to thwart the normal work of his own government. Multiple reports indicated that following Wednesday's chaos, congressional and Cabinet officials have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment — often derided during Trump's term as a Democratic pipe dream — which grants Cabinet members the power to vote to relieve presidents of their duties if deemed unfit to lead. Among the officials involved, Axios reported, are top State Department and White House aides. Earlier in the day Pence reportedly deployed the National Guard to the Capitol without Trump's authorization, a highly unusual and as-yet-unexplained breach of the chain of command.

All Democratic members on the House Judiciary Committee sent Pence a letter demanding that he invoke the 25th Amendment and take control of the White House, citing in part Trump's videotaped address to the nation after the attack on the Capitol, which they said revealed the president was not "mentally sound" and was still unable to process his election loss. (Twitter and Facebook temporarily locked Trump's account, demanding that he delete that post and two others.)

A number of top administration officials were also reported to be weighing their resignations in the wake of Trump's attempted insurrection, according to NBC News, among them national security adviser Robert O'Brien and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao who is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    Retired Gen. Mike Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Judy Woodruff of "PBS News Hour" on Wednesday night that Trump had "incited" the failed insurrection, and was "not in position to lead the next 14 days."

    "I don't think we're done," Mullen added. "Today was not it."

    'Fort Trump': President wants to rename base honoring Confederate general for himself

    With a little more than two weeks left in his presidency, Donald Trump suggested at a Monday night rally in Dalton, Georgia, that when the Department of Defense, against his wishes, eventually changes the name of a Georgia military base honoring a Confederate hero, the base should be renamed after him.

    "Give me a couple of names," Trump asked the crowd, when fishing for a new name for Fort Benning. Someone volunteered "Fort Trump," an idea that the Polish government once proposed, apparently in earnest.

    "Fort Trump! Yeah, how about that? I like that. Yeah, let's change the name. Let's change it. Kelly [Loeffler], let's change it," Trump said, calling out the embattled Republican senator who had joined him onstage ahead of her critical runoff election on Tuesday. "If they name it Trump, let's change it."

    Twitter users had considerable fun with that moment, but former senior White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, whose Twitter bio says he is a "DoD presidential appointee," was quick to cheer for it: "Who wants there to be a 'Fort Trump?!'"

    (In some distant, technical sense, Gorka's bio may be correct: Last July, Trump appointed him to the National Security Education Board, part of a scholarship and grant outreach program under the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.)

    Perhaps the "Fort Trump" idea fits this president especially well. He has spent the last four years battling his own military, has repeatedly defended Confederate heroes since his first year in office, and whose defiance of the democratic process has sparked discussion about secession among his supporters.

    Fort Benning, Georgia, roughly a three-hour drive south of the site of Monday night's rally, is one of 10 U.S. military installations that honor generals who fought for the Confederacy. Confederate Gen.Henry L. Benning was more than an armed steward of the rebel cause — he was also Georgia's commissioner to the Virginian secession convention, and argued for war specifically on the grounds that "a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery."

    In a convention speech on the eve of the Civil War, Benning, apparently concerned that the Confederacy was insufficiently committed to slavery, urged the South toward violence, for fear that one day Georgia might be led by Black elected officials as a consequence of abolition.

    "If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished," Benning said. "By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?"

    Benning went on to say that if the South lost the war, white people would be "completely exterminated" and the land would revert to "wilderness" and "become another Africa." He would rather, he said, suffer "pestilence and famine" than see Frederick Douglass, a Black man and former slave, elected president.

    Though it took more than 14 decades, Benning's final fear came to pass with the election of Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2008. Georgia still has not seen a Black governor, although Stacey Abrams narrowly lost to Brian Kemp in 2018 in an election marred by evident vote suppression.

    Such was the vision of one of the men whose memory Trump has defended, often by name, when he pushed back this year against the overwhelmingly bipartisan movement to rechristen the country's military installations that currently honor treasonous Rebel officers.

    In June, the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee voted to rename the bases as part of the Pentagon's annual defense policy bill. Trump immediately vowed the administration would veto any such effort. The move "shocked" military leaders, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy expressed openness to the idea amid the nationwide reckoning on race sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

    "It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc," Trump tweeted at the time, employing his usual eccentric capitalization and referencing bases named for Confederate generals.

    "These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom," the president wrote — describing military bases named for generals who fought and lost an immensely destructive war against their own country, in an effort to ensure that Black people remained enslaved.

    "Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!" Trump concluded. By "our Military," the president presumably meant the U.S. Army, which won a conclusive victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War, albeit at the cost of more than 360,000 troops.

    Trump's commitment to Benning's memory drew swift rebuke from retired Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, former commanding officer at Fort Benning, who released a statement blasting Trump for standing "shoulder-to-shoulder" with "racist traitors" against the ideals of the Army.

    Today, Donald Trump made it official. Rather than move this nation further away from institutionalized racism, he believes we should cling to it and its heritage, by keeping the names of racist traitors on the gates of our military bases. These bases were named long after the Civil War was over, by whites who wanted to fight back against progress towards racial equality. Donald Trump stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them, and against the ideals that the United States Army stands for.

    The annual defense policy bill, officially known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), has never presented a problem for any president: The broad popularity of the military along with the sheer scope of the annual legislation has helped ensure its passage for 59 straight years. Trump dug in on this issue, however, even firing Defense Secretary Esper for working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to draft language stripping U.S. bases of their Confederate names.

    By the time the bill arrived on Trump's desk last month, he had already lost re-election, but made good on his threat to veto the bill, daring Congress to override the veto — something that had not happened throughout his first term.

    In Trump's veto statement on Dec. 11, he specifically singled out the base issue. "I have been clear in my opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to wash away history and to dishonor the immense progress our country has fought for in realizing our founding principles," said the president, even as he battled to overturn the result of a democratic election.

    Georgia's two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, facing tight runoff elections and trying to walk a fine line between Trump's whims and the need to be perceived as supporting the military in a red state, both voted to pass the NDAA, although Loeffler had previously spoken out against renaming the Confederate bases. ("I have been clear from the beginning that we do NOT need to rename our bases and I will work with [Trump] to remove this provision once and for all," she tweeted on July 21.)

    On Dec. 11, the two Peach State multimillionaires issued a joint statement explaining their vote: "This critical defense bill fully funds our military, gives our troops a significant pay raise, prioritizes our military families, and continues to improve military housing. While there were several provisions we would have changed, our main mission is to support our military."

    The Senate overrode Trump's veto on Jan. 1, but neither Georgia senators cast a vote. Perdue was in quarantine after contact with a COVID-positive staff member. Loeffler's absence from the Senate floor was unexplained, but three days later she was at Trump's rally in Dalton, getting called out to help the president rename Fort Benning in his honor.

    Kelly Loeffler just officially became a billionaire --  while missing nearly 80% of floor votes in DC since November

    Jeff Sprecher, husband of unelected Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., has become a billionaire at the end of his wife's first year in office, according to Bloomberg. His company, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), which owns the New York Stock Exchange, saw its stock rise more than 22% in 2020, boosting the couple's net worth from where it stood at $800 million as recently as this summer.

    While she was becoming half of a billionaire couple, Loeffler, who faces the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, in one of two runoffs on Tuesday that will determine control of the Senate, has apparently neglected her official job. Loeffler has been marked "not voting" for 50 out of 65 votes in the U.S. Senate, or about 77%, since the Nov. 3 election, missing most of those in favor of campaign events. While a sizable portion of those votes concern appointments, the first-year senator also missed two votes on amendments to make Social Security benefits more accessible, including one to eliminate the five-month waiting period for patients with ALS, the incurable degenerative disease.

    Loeffler also missed votes, for unclear reasons, to condemn weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, as well as two confirmations for board appointees to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. corporate agency that provides power for 10 million people in the Southeast, including some in north Georgia. As Salon has reported, Loeffler has extensive ties to the energy sector after her extensive career in the financial sector, and the TVA is currently engaged in merger negotiations with the Southeast's leading power companies, including Georgia Power, where she served on the board.

    The newly-minted billionaire worked as an executive at ICE (her husband's company) from 2002 until 2019, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp picked her to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons. Loeffler's personal fortune has been a key focus of her campaign to hold the seat ever since. Within months, Loeffler faced a firestorm of public criticism over a series of strikingly well-timed stock trades that she and Sprecher made ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. Though a Justice Department investigation into the trades did not result in criminal charges, Loeffler has never said what came of a parallel investigation led by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    Asked about that second investigation, an ICE spokesperson referred Salon to the Loeffler campaign. A Loeffler spokesperson did not reply to Salon's request for comment, and the ICE spokesperson also declined to say what came of the portion of that investigation that focused on Sprecher.

    While at ICE, Loeffler led a cryptocurrency joint venture between her company, Microsoft and Starbucks, called Bakkt. When she joined the Senate, she was assigned to a committee that had direct oversight over the agency that regulates ICE and the NYSE, as well as Bakkt. Mother Jones recently reported that in March, that agency published a critical decision affecting cryptocurrency markets.

    In September, ICE bought Ellie Mae, a software company that processes nearly half of the new residential mortgages in the country. Housing sales have soared amid the pandemic, and the purchase has proved a boon for ICE. Salon reported last week that a number of last-minute Loeffler donors are executives at major real estate and equity firms. Some did not disclose the name of their employer.

    Indeed, Loeffler's recent FEC are missing employer information for hundreds of donors, an unusually large proportion. Among them were members of the Asplundh family, owners of the eponymous multibillion-dollar infrastructure clearing corporation.

    Salon also reported last month that the second-largest donor to a pro-Loeffler super PAC — hedge fund mogul Ken Griffin — had contributed $2 million one day after one of his companies announced a major acquisition. That purchase required approval by the NYSE, which Sprecher owns. (Sprecher himself was the Loeffler PAC's largest donor.)

    Loeffler has consistently told voters that her independent wealth frees her of conflicts, because she cannot be bought by corporate interests. Still, the issue has dogged her on the campaign trail. Before her appointment, Loeffler promised Kemp that she would spend as much as $20 million funding her 2020 campaign, a point that her main Republican opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, struck at repeatedly.

    "Raising money — especially from small donors — is a great barometer of support and it is clear that [Collins] has a dedicated grassroots army marching with him," a Collins spokesperson told ABC News in July. "Kelly Loeffler is mainly supported by Kelly Loeffler, her super wealthy stock-exchange-owning husband and a bunch of lobbyists. She leads a very small and lonely parade."

    Loeffler has also been criticized for owning a private jet that she and Sprecher may have bought on the taxpayer's dime. Although she has claimed she was using the plane to save taxpayer money, a Salon investigation revealed that she has taken dozens of publicly funded flights between Atlanta and Washington.

    As an executive at ICE, months after the Great Recession brought the global economy to its knees, Loeffler helped market a new mechanism for the world's biggest banks to keep trading in the very financial instruments that contributed to the crisis in the first place — registered in one of the world's most notorious Cayman Islands tax shelters, where the banks could avoid U.S. taxes.

    But Loeffler still appears to have a tin ear when it comes to the vast gulf between her enormous wealth and the financial circumstances of everyday Americans. One recent campaign ad proclaims that she knows what "it feels like waiting on that paycheck." Despite the tens of millions of dollars that she boasted of having at her disposal, in November she appealed for campaign donations in the halls of the Senate — a violation of the law.