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Boogaloo informant talks up BLM alliance and disavows Gretchen Whitmer plot -- but he still wants destruction

Salon's informant within the boogaloo movement, whom we're calling Sam for this article, frequently wanted to talk tactics, and often flexed military lingo in conversations. He felt his tactical revelations would be of particular value to the public, presumably to prevent or combat cells he believed were pursuing illegitimate methods. But we implore readers not to take Sam's statements at face value. They serve here as a frame for a larger critique of the movement.

As for the tactical discussion, for a broader and more critical audience these observations and Sam's prioritization of them illustrate the fixation on tactical details so prevalent among militia groups, where they serve as filler — papery ideology, window dressing, substitutes for the substance which so many white identity groups lack. (While the boogaloo profess an inclusive and agnostic stance on race, it is telling that the adherents are, almost to a person, white.)

"If the boog is intent on violence they aren't stupid enough to wear Hawaiian shirts or even body armor," Sam said. "A rifle and a van are sufficient, as demonstrated by Carrillo. [That would be Steven Carrillo, who is accused of killing a federal officer and a sheriff's deputy in California last year. More on him later.] When engaged in illegal activity the movement wants to stay grey. Concealed pistols. Short barreled rifles. Blend into the population."

The guns strapped across boogaloo chests at demonstrations, or "actions," in Sam's parlance, are a mix of threat and theater, he said: "They will claim they are carrying those rifles for media attention, and they are, but every one of those rifles and handguns are loaded and those boys are carrying extra magazines."

This is not entirely true, as evidenced in the first moments of this video of a boogaloo rally in Atlanta, where one adherent expresses apparent surprise that another was carrying a weapon loaded with a single bullet.

Sam scoffed at the amateurism of many boogaloo cells, and boasted about the discipline of his small group of 12 — and himself.

"Smaller numbers mean less infighting and higher quality," he said. "Some take whoever with minimal vetting. We vet people very carefully using commercial databases and current member vouching. If one member objects they are rejected. We look for people with specific skills. Communications, cybersecurity, weapons handling and medical are usually the top priorities."

He described his cell's principal recruitment targets, through an exploitative and manipulative lens: "Disaffected zoomers through memes. Veterans and [active-duty military] through rhetoric about liberty and tyranny. Videos and pictures of previous operations that were nonviolent."

"Violent radicalization takes time," he said.

In 2009, DHS and the FBI released a study that showed that right-wing extremism had surged after the election of Barack Obama, an event that radicalized white supremacists and offered an opportunity for groups to reach out with new propaganda campaigns. The report specifically listed "disgruntled military veterans" as key targets: "Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat."

The boog's distant dream of starting an actual war appears to rely almost in its entirety on the possibility of triggering violence among other groups, not taking matters into its own hands, and can also be seen as a sort of theater. Sam said he thinks leftist radical groups are more easily exploited in this way: "In terms of willingness to act, antifa and BLM are tied. Any excuse to hit the streets. Right-wing militia is mostly useless unless directly threatened."

His cell has a hard limit of 12 members, he said: "We've concluded that eight is golden and there's always a few that can't make it. Eight gives us a squad broken into two fire teams. Adaptable and easily dispersed." They communicate mostly via encrypted messaging apps, but conduct their most sensitive conversations in person.

"Everyone here understands marksmanship, small unit tactics, trauma care, police responses to crowds and crowd violence and COIN [counterintelligence] tactics," Sam said, again using holding himself up as a standout example. "We're a bit more selective in who we recruit. Other movement factions and groups have differing levels of training. For instance the people [at a recent anti-ICE rally] in Atlanta were an absolute joke. A cursory glance at gear, age and fitness was enough to determine that. Beyond speeches and sign waving they had no discernible objective."

He added: "If waving signs and talking solved problems, [Breonna] Taylor and [George] Floyd would have gotten justice."

Police

Like many far-right extremist groups, the boogaloo harbor a virulent antipathy toward law enforcement.

Sam points out that the government already grants the right of force to that armed group: "Breonna Taylor. Floyd. Duncan Lemp. Garrett [Foster]," he said, referencing two unarmed Black people whose police shooting deaths sparked nationwide unrest last year, equating them falsely with two white members of his own movement. "Dozens and hundreds more murdered by an institution that can claim 'they were scared' and execute someone. How are they different from a death squad?"

It may come as a surprise given the widespread support police enjoy from white conservatives, but fringe-right militia groups generally despise police as part of an intrusive government, and have frequently been willing to kill them.

From 2001 to 2016, white supremacists killed 34 police officers, compared to 10 killed by left-wing extremists — half of those 10 killed within minutes of each other by a Black military veteran in Dallas in 2016. But before Dallas (and the Baton Rouge shooting after that) white non-Hispanic men, who are slightly more than 30% of the U.S. population, were responsible for 70% of police killings that year.

The police, Sam noted, are less restrained in use of force than the military in most active war zones, where the terms of combat are at least officially regulated by the Geneva Convention and rules of engagement, though those are sometimes broken. "And yet some 22-year-old with three or six months training is entrusted with the power of life and death domestically," he said.

(Sam never answered questions about whether the boogaloo counted active law enforcement in its ranks.)

One of Sam's more critical comments about the boogaloo referred to the movement's "martyrdom complex." Last year they found two martyrs, mentioned above: Garrett Foster and Duncan Lemp.

"Everyone wants to be the next Duncan Lemp," Sam said.

Lemp, a white 21-year-old right-wing activist who affiliated himself with the Three Percenters and boogaloo, was shot dead in his suburban Maryland home during a "no-knock raid" on March 12, 2020, during which, according to police, he had "confronted" an officer. One day later, police in Louisville shot and killed unarmed 26-year-old medical technician Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, who had been asleep in her apartment and died in the hallway.

While the boogaloo professes its support for Black Lives Matter, their celebrated martyrs are generally white. Though Lemp and Taylor were killed one day apart under comparable circumstances, the white man inspired them, not the Black woman. Indeed, if the boogaloo were to achieve their improbable goal of destroying the government, they would also destroy institutional support systems that sustain many people in the marginalized communities they profess to support.

This reveals a stark ideological break between the boogaloo and leftists of almost any orientation, and it's a big reason why many experts categorize the boogaloo as a far-right movement, whatever their ideological nuances: The boogaloo believe that the entire government apparatus is coercive and oppressive by nature; it cannot be redeemed or reformed, or trusted to deliver justice or help the vulnerable. But they have no plan for what comes next, suggesting the entire ideology is fugazi — fake.

Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab told Salon that the vast share of the boogaloo's left-positive messaging rings hollow. "In some recent public appearances, some organizers and followers of the boogaloo movement have sought to soften their image or build bridges with social justice groups. I believe that very few of those efforts are genuine," he said. "Even though we need to take the boogaloo movement seriously, we shouldn't take them literally."

A number of boogaloo adherents tried to exploit the unrest surrounding the George Floyd protests as accelerating events. One member was arrested for firing a gun amid the first protests in Minneapolis, and three more were arrested on terrorism charges for planning attacks on Las Vegas police. Boogaloo member Steven Carrillo (mentioned by Sam above) allegedly murdered a federal security guard during the protests in Oakland, California, last May, and a few weeks later ambushed two sheriff's deputies, killing one of them, in Santa Cruz County on the central California coast. He now faces first-degree murder charges.

Sam called Carrillo "a monster" who had shot "innocent people just doing their job," but his specific critique was tactical, not ethical.

"Carrillo is hated because he was proactive," Sam said, in typically indirect style. "If he had refused to disarm or disperse at a protest and a weapon was pointed at him and he subsequently was killed, he'd be a role model."

Duncan Lemp, Sam said, is the genuine example of a boogaloo martyr, allegedly killed by cops over "a low-level weapons charge. ... Now he is a rallying cry because he 'refused to comply.'"

Asked whether the boogaloo had ever reached out to the Not Fucking Around Coalition, a heavily-armed paramilitary Black nationalist organization, Sam said they had: "They told us to go away, but with more expletives."

History

An unrestrained police force also offers the boogaloo an opportunity to accelerate its longed-for revolutionary conflict, Sam said: "Right now it's about provoking BLM, antifa and militias or Three Percenters into engaging in violence that will provoke disproportionate police response, which can be used to fuel further unrest."

"Accelerationism," as this strategic approach is often described, has its roots in Marxist revolutionary theory, but has in recent decades been adopted by white supremacist and other far-right groups in the United States as a tactic to raise the temperature and foment unrest and violence.

Many members of these groups reference the notorious novel "The Turner Diaries," by William Pierce — a key inspiration for Timothy McVeigh, the 1994 Oklahoma City bomber — which seeks to illustrate the idea with an archetypal "responsible conservative." Such a person, Pierce writes, doesn't grasp that one of political terrorism's key purposes is "to force the authorities to take reprisals and to become more repressive, thus alienating a portion of the population and generating sympathy for the terrorists. And the other purpose is to create unrest by destroying the population's sense of security and their belief in the invincibility of the government."

Accelerationists, like the boogaloo, believe that American society is beyond repair, and the only way forward requires a full-on collapse. They therefore embrace any crisis — Sam pointed to the COVID pandemic, but examples abound — and cheer all forms of political violence as steps along that path. For traditional Marxist revolutionaries, there is at least a clear goal in mind: First a socialist state or "dictatorship of the proletariat," and ultimately a utopian, stateless communist society. White supremacists want an apartheid state or an all-white civilization.

What do the boogaloo want? No one really knows, including themselves. They appear to absolve themselves of both the responsibility for starting the coming war and the more difficult project of creating a better world.

"The longer version is that we believe violence is inevitable, that government will continue to expand and that current enforcement of existing laws is an existential threat," Sam explained. "We believe that Dennis v. United States is null due to foreign election influencing. Most do not believe any election was stolen, but we do believe the state can no longer guarantee that an election was free and fair, thus nullifying that SCOTUS decision." (At least one boogaloo adherent has been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.)

Let's unpack that a little. Dennis v. United States, the 1951 Supreme Court ruling that Sam feels was nullified by foreign interference in the 2016 election, made it illegal to conspire to teach and encourage the overthrow of the federal government. Eugene Dennis, the named plaintiff, was general secretary of the Communist Party USA. He had been found guilty, along with 10 other party leaders, of advocating violent rebellion against the government. They appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Smith Act, which made anti-government organizing illegal, violated First Amendment rights. The appeal failed.

Sam's understanding of the legal history here is incomplete at best. The Dennis decision is already "null," by any reasonable standard. The Supreme Court partly reversed itself in a 1957 decision that rendered the conspiracy provisions of the Smith Act unenforceable, and de facto overruled Dennis with the Brandenburg v. Ohio decision of 1969, which held that "mere advocacy" of violent revolution was protected speech.

Stories

When it comes to reporting on the boogaloo movement, as Vanderbilt professor Amy Cooter put it, "caution is the best approach." (Salon has been careful to remind readers of this rule in this series, and will take this opportunity to do so again.)

"Normalizing everyone who describes themselves under the boog umbrella risks missing the variety of motives that can be involved and thus risks missing potential violence and other extremism, even if those people truly are outliers in a given area or organization," she said.

Author and journalist Talia Lavin offered similar advice. "As with any fascist group, any statement coming directly from them should be treated with extreme caution; their goal is to sow fear and they lie shamelessly," she said. "Journalists should take this into account and never assume good faith from violent far-right movements."

Sam concurs, at least to a point. "The Boogaloo is tiny compared to, say, [Black Lives Matter], but they are skilled manipulators and understand that since no one really knows what they are about they can pick whatever side they want. The left likes them because white men with rifles deter overreactions by police. The right tolerates them because they are white men with rifles talking about liberty."

Ford Fischer, founder of News2Share and a regular media presence at right-wing rallies, told Salon he has observed those contradictions on the scene, describing boogaloo physically switching from far-right to far-left sides during protests, and even physically challenging Proud Boys in order to ostensibly protect members of the radical left.

"Covering the boogaloos for the past year and a half has been fascinating because of the contrast between their politics and the rest of street politics in the past year," Fischer told Salon, though "fascinating" appears to gloss over the normalcy of guns at rallies, as well as fails to capture the seriousness with which the boogaloo's professed commitment to imminent and brutal violence should be taken. "While 2020 was defined by domestic unrest spanning from social justice to COVID restrictions to the end of Trump's presidency, the boogaloos have been a feature at many of those situations that don't fit squarely into a side.

"Their alliances with left and right are pretty situational," he continued, echoing experts and Sam himself, who share the observation that these affiliations are often disingenuous. "It's been really interesting to film them in various settings and states and see the way it can vary. In general, they tend to be consistent in their anti-government and pro-gun beliefs, but it's been challenging explaining their role to audiences used to assigning 'left' or 'right' labels.

"Ironically, I most commonly see people from the left accuse them of being fascists, and people from the right accuse them of being armed leftists. The groups who do ally with them tend to take their concept of being outside of the left-right spectrum much more at face value," he said.

Most reporting on the boogaloo seems focused on their attire and their semi-apocalyptic vision. Journalists rarely, if ever. address the ideology's conspicuous, yawning void: There is no plan for what comes next. That vacuum can be read as nihilistic, but in a certain sense it can be read as more reassuring than that. For a group so obsessed with the minutiae of its tilt toward war, the boogaloo appears to have given little thought to what it wants after that war is over. As things stand, that imagined future seems to be groups of guys standing around jawing about their guns. An endless demonstration, with nothing to protest.

The near term

Over the last year, law enforcement began to crack down on the boogaloo.

In early May, the FBI arrested a Colorado member who had planned to attend an anti-lockdown event in Denver, charging him with possessing four pipe bombs. Two other adherents were booked in Texas, one after he live-streamed his intent to murder a police officer. Another was picked up in Ohio for plotting a law enforcement ambush in a national park. Two self-professed members were arrested last month, one for planning a Jan. 6 riot in Louisville, Kentucky, parallel to the insurrection at the Capitol. Last fall, after two boogaloo members were charged in the plot to kidnap (and perhaps murder) Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the police locked up another 16 boogaloo followers in seven days.

"I think that kidnapping a sitting elected official is moronic," Sam said of the Whitmer plot, though again offered only a tactical, not moral critique. "It was bad optics and painted our movement as a bunch of lunatics. It detracts from the message of liberty."

About a dozen members showed up on Jan. 17 for an armed protest outside the Michigan state capitol.

Now in his 30s, Sam speaks of the future with anticipation.

"Time is sort of the essence. As soon as it thaws things will begin to happen," he said. "The next POC to be murdered by police. Unrest over any and all gun control. The destruction of working-class lives due to COVID-19, etc., etc. Spring, summer and fall, as in ancient history, are the seasons for war."

While he derides lone-wolf boogaloo attackers like Steven Carrillo for overstepping the rules of engagement, he understands the movement's vulnerability to exploitation by violent right-wing radicals or outright lunatics. While his own cell may set a high bar for recruits, as he tells it, the boogaloo ideology itself demands no nationwide standards, and groups can more or less recruit anyone they please.

Jared Holt observed that given the obsession with near-apocalyptic violence, open recruitment has obvious dangers. "My impression is that the potential for an organized act of violence is less likely to come from the boogaloo movement than the potential for an individual or small cell of individuals conducting violence," he said. "That's also what the arrest records associated with the movement so far have pointed toward.

"A lot of people who get tied up with the boogaloo movement probably think they're just having fun posting edgy memes online. But because the severity of the threat present in the broader movement is so extreme, we must take it seriously."

Asked about the likelihood of another Steven Carrillo-type incident, or many such, Sam said, "The short answer is: No one knows. Any member who has bought a [boogaloo] patch online could engage in massive amounts of violence and we wouldn't know about it until we read about it."

In a world where Sam led or represented the boogaloo, perhaps the movement's ideology would not obsess singularly on violence. But that itself should not be taken at face value, either. "Biden has thankfully had a cooling effect, and as COVID recedes things will calm," Sam said. "But the boog is reorganizing and looking at alternate means," he continued, adding vaguely: "Infrastructure."

Sam is not the only boogaloo, nor its leader. Thousands of people are subject to the movement's strange internal gravity, including him. In one of his final conversations with Salon, Sam said cryptically that if these articles do well, he would have a major "Pulitzer" story to share in "14 months." Salon asked repeatedly about that timeframe — presumably around April 2022 — but he never answered. He also would not say why he believed such a story would be so highly honored.

Asked one last time about the likelihood that the boogaloo can succeed at effectively destroying all of existing American society, Sam pointed once more to the Revolutionary War.

"I am sure [King] George [III] saw the upstart colonists as a bunch of terrorists and yet they gained a nation," he said. "It's not a one-to-one, but you're only a 'terrorist' until you win."

They haven't won.

'Boogaloo Boy' speaks out: 'We hate the entire system'

The history-shaping year that recently ended was a year of spectacular violence. It was the year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the year when a pandemic took hundreds of thousands of lives, many of them needlessly. It was a year that forced us to recalibrate fundamental social and cultural systems, a year that spawned both a summer of protest and dozens of anti-government demonstrations featuring armed militia members around and inside state capitols. It was the year a Blackhawk helicopter performed show-of-force maneuvers over protesters in the streets of Washington. It was the year that QAnon went to Congress. It was and the year that bred — one week into the following year — a deadly insurrection at the seat of democracy, fomented by the president of the United States.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

It was also the year when the "boogaloo" — a nonpartisan, anti-government militia movement marketed to millennials and zoomers, which professes the goal of launching, or perhaps just instigating, a bloody revolutionary war — saw its membership and media presence swell, capturing fears and headlines. The movement also saw a corresponding spike in attention from activists, academics and journalists who monitor extremist groups, and who urge caution when trying to analyze the boogaloo and its many feints and contradictions.

In recent weeks, one member of that movement approached Salon with an offer to tell his story as a dissident within the boogaloo. He asked not to be identified, for personal security reasons. He said he would go by Sam.

"It is not hyperbole when I say that the people I associate with would happily kill me," Sam said in his introduction. He explained that his primary motive for approaching Salon was to expose what he considers the boogaloo's bad-faith exploitation of marginalized communities and "to clarify what is being planned and the motivations behind those plans."

"I believe the public, that is those not associated with a radical or extremist movement, have a right to know who is standing on their street and what they want," Sam said.

Sam proved well-educated, thoughtful and articulate, with near impeccable grammar. He was also a nuanced, contradictory and at times evasive subject, whose intelligence and extensive knowledge of history do not appear to have led him to a coherent vision of the future. Those characteristics embody the boogaloo movement so well that Salon has chosen to publish excerpts from those conversations at length.

No professed boogaloo member has previously discussed the tactics, goals and internal dynamics of the movement with the media in anything close to this depth. These conversations, conducted over the course of several weeks, may offer some insight into what motivates this deliberately confusing, potentially violent and increasingly radical militia movement, which has repeatedly surfaced at armed demonstrations in many different contexts across the country. But while Sam appears genuine when discussing his own perspective, he made clear that he does not purport to speak for the movement. Even if his dissents are genuine, he is also still a member of a group known for its deceptive rhetoric, so his remarks in every case be approached with skepticism.

News organizations must report carefully on extremist movements, especially those like the boogaloo which seek to exploit and shape media coverage and burnish their public image. Many in the media have been too eager to provide the boogaloo the visibility they seek, or taken their admittedly puzzling words and signals at face value. So here's a guiding truth: The boogaloo's threats of violence must be taken seriously, even if the movement's ideological wrapping is purposefully confusing and the package within it ultimately empty.

Stripped of its rhetoric, guns and Hawaiian shirts, the movement is at its core a fraternity with an appetite for destruction, but with few if any shared principles for creating anything at all. Boogaloo members will almost certainly never lead or spark a violent revolution or cause the destruction of the state. But Sam insisted that mass violence was "inevitable," and any militia group that appeals to volatile, disaffected young men has the capacity to generate terror and death.

Notably, the boogaloo pride themselves on their unique brand of hardline but slippery militant ideology, which offers the cover of ephemerality and is a prime source of their appeal. It's also their fatal flaw. Most adherents of "the boog" — the term Sam generally used — almost certainly would not want to occupy or police the scorched-earth future they claim to envision, for which they appear to have no agreed-upon plans anyway.

Still: The boogaloo is here. It's violent, it's seductive and it's spreading through a segment of the population that is increasingly alienated from the major institutions of social, political and cultural life. It only takes one unstable, angry and highly motivated person to do something unspeakable. And they don't have to believe in anything.

Belief

So who is "standing in your street," to use Sam's phrase? The boogaloo is difficult to define — and that's a feature, not a bug, which they regularly exploit. The movement is a decentralized and politically diverse ecosystem — albeit overwhelmingly white and largely male — whose shared agenda aspires to foment violent revolution against what they perceive as a tyrannical federal government, a war in which they say they will happily kill anyone in their way. Once someone else starts it, that is.

"Those beliefs, paired with frequent encouragements to purchase firearms, body armor and tactical gear, create a highly volatile space with the potential for violence," Jared Holt, resident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Salon.

Some members manipulate the resulting confusion as a tool for recruitment and media attention. But if there are bonding agents beyond violence, it is that virtually all boogaloo members are anti-government, pro-gun and, as with many far-right extremist groups, vehemently anti-cop. (We'll return to that later.) They just can't say what comes next.

The boogaloo emerged from the white supremacist underground, but has since sought to distance itself from those origins in favor of a more palatable and media-savvy gray zone between the hard right (anti-government and pro-gun) and the hard left (populist and anarchist, with nods to antifa and Black Lives Matter). Last June, the Department of Homeland Security tweeted that a Politico article casting the movement as fundamentally right-wing was a "work of fiction," saying that the agency "does NOT identify the Boogaloo movement as left-wing OR right-wing," but as violent extremists who draw from both sides. Some extremism experts concur with that analysis; some don't.

"I used to stand with the right, but the boog is not right," Sam said. "We hate Trump. We hate Biden. We hate the entire system. It's not right vs. left for us, it's bottom vs. top."

He continued: "There [are] and always will be contradictions. Radicals, extremists and so on are highly opinionated, and as such have viewpoints that oppose one another. This is nothing new. Since before Lenin groups have argued. It's the ones that can put those arguments on hold that succeed." He made clear, however, that he doesn't claim to speak for the movement as a whole: "I'm just a guy trying to show a facet of it to the public."

Sam, a midwestern white male in his thirties in the middle of a years-long search for belonging and achievement, described an earlier career spent bouncing around radical extremist groups. Early on, he found himself drawn to right-wing militia organizations like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, but says he found their racism and homophobia "unpalatable" and "abhorrent." After that, he said, he drifted towards the left, hanging with groups such as the John Brown Gun Club and antifa factions.

"I spent years training the left how to fight. They were more interested in fighting each other, however," he said. When those groups began to splinter, Sam turned to libertarian and anarchist ideologies, and eventually found the boogaloo.

Like many libertarians, Sam often quotes Thomas Jefferson's maxim: "The best government is that which governs least." But Jefferson's success wasn't the Revolutionary War. He didn't command an army. He helped create a system that has lasted centuries — one that spawned the Constitution that right-wingers and the boogaloo purport to revere, and one that has already survived a civil war.

Amy Cooter, a professor who researches extremist groups at Vanderbilt University, explained the appeal of those scattered politics. "Boogaloo is more of an ideology than a movement, in my view, meaning that people with a variety of motives and broader perspectives may be drawn to it," she told Salon. "Members are often both well-intentioned and honest in their accounting of what they believe to be true, especially about so-called distractions from the perceived central threat of the federal government."

These contradictions, Cooter said, also make the boogaloo vulnerable to exploitation: "They sometimes dismiss other people with more overtly racist motives as not 'really' being boogaloo affiliates, in a way that can miss the potential negative influence of those people, both in terms of public perceptions of the ideology and in terms of shifting the behavior and mindset of other adherents."

Like antifa, the boogaloo has no top-down structure — according to Sam, it's more like "a set of principles to organize around" — and its membership is in flux, although he claims it continues to grow. The boog has largely recruited online, first on message boards, then on Facebook and then, after Facebook was finally convinced to ban boogaloo-flavored pages, in chat rooms and on the Russian social media platform VK, where talk of anti-government violence isn't policed. (Sam says he isn't aware of any viable overseas connections.) Sam says his "cell" often just waits for recruits to come to them.

Part of what draws those recruits is the boogaloo's shrewd branding, which targets a younger and largely but not exclusively male demographic. For instance, the movement's name stems from the 2010s smorgasbord of terminally ironic and racist right-wing memes: It's a play on the objectively and infamously terrible 1980s breakdancing sequel, "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo," with the idea that in this case the "sequel" is a second civil war.

The group's most iconic images manifest in the perplexing Hawaiian shirts they wear at demonstrations under their tactical gear, which have been described as "stupid," but intentionally slam together symbols of war and peace: The "boogaloo" — meaning the coming war — became the semi-homonymic "Big Luau," a jokey juxtaposition meant to be chilling. The name has also been spun off into the "Big Igloo," a term some members use online to evade social media police. (Sam never used either term in his conversations with Salon.) Affiliates frequently juxtapose images, with igloos and floral prints appearing on flags, patches, guns and, yes, T-shirts.

(The Big Luau, Sam said, is also a pig roast, "pig" being a pejorative term for law enforcement.)

Journalist Talia Lavin, the author of "Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy," who has followed both the far right and far left for years, told Salon that no one should be seduced by the boog's calculated ambiguity.

"You should always take a movement whose stated goal is violence seriously," Lavin said. The boogaloo's use of irony has dual purposes, she said, both of them evasive: "Their over-the-top aesthetic and goofy name is a common tactic on the far right, as with the Proud Boys and other groups. It serves as both a blinder to the public that prevents them from being taken seriously as a threat, and a means for members to protest that all their actions are ironic or a joke."

Another way to think about irony and jokes: At heart, they're lies. But Sam was never ironic or funny in his conversations with Salon. Even when he contradicted himself, which was not uncommon, he was earnest. "The satire and irony are just that, until someone acts," he said at one point. He called the shirts a type of "camouflage," and said the same thing about the movement's professed vow of non-aggression. If violence ever does break out, Sam said, the boogaloo will not fight a guerrilla war in Hawaiian shirts.

"We don't buy rifles and body armor to hang on the wall," he said. "We don't train multiple times a month for fun, and it is not for self-defense."

The boogaloo hope that the branding and their break with "conservative" signaling — they often make a show of standing with LGBTQ+, Black Lives Matter and antifa in protest situations — will intrigue outsiders and appeal both to the naive mass media and to a broader, younger pool of recruits.

Members frequently call themselves "Boogaloo Bois" in public, a gesture toward (or hijacking of) LGBTQ culture. Again, Sam — who identifies as bisexual — never used that term in his conversations with Salon. In fact, one of his most salient criticisms of the movement was its eagerness to cynically co-opt the language and symbology of marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ and minority communities. He says that the boogaloo boasts a sizable LGBTQ contingent, and that he is unhappy with this disingenuous trend, which he says is creating an unproductive, corrosive effect. (Sam shared a screenshot of one chat in which another member emphasized that demonstration attire should include prominent displays of support for LGBTQ causes — entirely for tactical reasons. Photos of boogaloo members make clear this is common.)

In Sam's view, the movement should align itself with oppressed groups in genuine solidarity, as he says it did when he first joined, He said he has collaborated with other members to "shift the media toward something positive."

Holt, along with other researchers, disputes the movement's claims to inclusiveness, saying that "radical elements with die-hard hatred of minorities and pro-terrorism philosophies exist in the movement" and are seldom condemned.

Sam, who said in early interviews that several of his family members hold high-status occupations, acknowledges that he shares the streak of rage pervasive among so many white American males. But other than that, and perhaps the intellectual appeal of a mutable, contrarian not-quite-movement, it's not easy to tease out why he picked the extremist path.

"I am an angry white dude," he said, "because other white dudes deny they have it better." He added: "The boog has plenty of white dudes. We also have a huge contingent of females, a [sizable] amount of LGBTQIA+ individuals and some POC members. Yes, there are racist comments made. But actual racists are shown the door."

Researchers and journalists who have explored the boogaloo are highly skeptical that the movement does much to purge racists and other bigots, pointing to the movement's origins and its use of "woke" slang or symbology as a marketing ploy. Sam, as usual, says the overall picture is complicated. "There is very little racism and very little homophobia in its current iteration, but this is not due to it being morally or ethically correct," he said. Boogaloo members "do not wish to alienate potential allies or pawns and they want the media to view them as less of a threat when it comes to progressive advancement."

"That's a lie," Lavin said. "The movement happily includes racist and homophobic elements."

Sam says that whenever fellow members target him in homophobic remarks, he jokes back and moves on. It's that part about "pawns" that bothers him. Explaining why he decided to come forward and "expose" the boogaloo (his term), he told Salon, "Because they are exploiting legitimate struggles and problems to advance their agenda. I agree with using subterfuge, but not if it discredits work that is being done in those communities."

He added: "I still believe in that work, but my colleagues in the movement have gone too far. What is being presented is only a part of the truth. A sugar-coated version of the boogaloo movement."

War

Sam often uses the term "civil war," but what the boogaloo appear to want is more like a revolution that would destabilize and overthrow the full apparatus of the U.S. government. That includes the police, and, presumably, the armed forces, though the movement recruits both veterans and active-duty service members — some of whom Sam says are "tier three or tier two" special forces, such as Navy SEALS or Army Rangers.

(In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI released a report that specifically listed "disgruntled military veterans" as recruiting targets of violent groups on the radical right: "Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.")

Sam was consistent about the desire for such a war. "The boog has always been about accelerating the country toward civil war and removing anyone who stands in the way of that," he said. Members also often say they will resort to force only if all other options are exhausted, a pledge Sam characterized as "camouflage." Indeed, in Sam's own words, the parameters of justifiable violence appear shaky and at times outright contradictory.

Sam first told Salon that there are two primary camps within the boog: "One that promotes and engages in actions to encourage violence, and one that believes violence is inevitable as systems continue to crumble [and] who prefer to remain reactive." He added that "Each camp believes the other is wrong," but that both work toward the shared goal of destroying the government.

Sam then said there were actually three camps, adding a third faction that "wants peaceful reform and uses firearms and the threat of violence as theater." (The movement has described its demonstrations outside various state capitol buildings as "unity rallies.") While Sam would appear to fall into the peaceful camp, none of this is straightforward.

"I prefer peaceful resolutions," he said, because "terrorism and murder alienate the public." But even after extensive conversations, it isn't clear how Sam squares that personal preference with the violent purism of the movement, in which he still counts himself a member. In fact, he said the boogaloo's claim to be nonviolent is "mostly mendacious" and calculated to shape media coverage. At another point he claimed that the boogaloo will use force "only as a last resort in self-defense," but then added, "We are already at a last resort."

In separate conversations, Sam both dismissed the boogaloo's professed non-aggression agreement (that they will not open fire unless provoked) as "camouflage," and claimed flat-out that the boogaloo can't initiate lethal violence. "If it comes to a confrontation I can see unequivocally the vast majority [of the boog] are willing to kill and die because they do believe that liberty is at stake," he said. "They also know they will become heroes and legends in the movement. But circumstances have to be right. They can't initiate."

Despite his desire to "expose" the failings of the boogaloo, at no time in these conversations did Sam renounce the aspiration to revolutionary violence. "We view the government as an existential threat to liberty and, as free people, we feel we have the right to resist that any way we can, even if it ends in our death," he said. "Their end goal is to burn it all down, kill their enemies and ensure that systems are in place to prevent it from ever rising again."

Peace

Sam admitted that he cannot describe what new systems might replace the "existential threat to liberty" of the current U.S. government.

"We have no idea, but we have noticed that movements that bicker and argue over what comes after tend to fail, while those who focus on an easy-to-understand goal and go after it, no matter the cost, get to argue about what comes after when they've won," he said. "Our immediate problems are survival and dismantling the system. Ideology on what things look like after are a distraction at best. Probably anarchy, in the political sense — or anarcho-capitalism, if you're a jerk."

He added: "Or it could just be rampant warlordism. That's probably the most realistic answer."

Sam pointed to the Revolutionary War as an example, but it's a poor analogy. The American colonists did not revolt with emptiness in mind: There was significant ideological and philosophical combat involved in forging a new nation, but — thanks largely to Thomas Jefferson — they had embraced the principles of a new system before launching that war.

Violence may be inevitable, in Sam's telling, but the war his movement imagines is a distant and almost comically grandiose mirage. The movement, which Sam admits is still small, needs to ignite a sympathetic segment of the population and hope to created enough ideological kindling for that fire to spread. But that project, as Sam explains it, is exceptionally vague, predicated on macroeconomics and unenumerated "loopholes" in the capitalist system.

"Currently the aim is to further damage the economy by using loopholes and the nature of the market to cause as much harm as possible," he explained. "The goal is to create further hardship and mistrust of the wealthy and elected officials. In addition, plans remain in place to work with both the far right and far left in an effort to turn their anger, and hopefully violence, towards law enforcement and politicians and then each other."

In that timeline, the boogaloo are not actors but manipulators. It is not clear when they get to use their own guns — or are forced to use them.

Economic destabilization is "one more thing to exploit and propagate," Sam said, pointing to cracks caused by the pandemic, the excesses of capitalism and the recent blackouts in Texas. "The boogaloo did not start it, but are taking advantage of it and looking at ways to expand it and collapse or damage more firms. If they can do actual economic damage, great, but the real goal is to force companies to limit the free market, adding further hardship and putting pressure on politicians to go after possible campaign donors. It's about making the American people feel like no one is steering the ship and that they should just take matters into their own hands. A troubling notion in a country with 350 million firearms, or more, floating around."

It stretches credulity that a small and ideologically wobbly movement could wield enough economic power to bring down multinational corporations, let alone the larger architecture of capitalism. Perhaps this captures another aspect of the movement: Fear of itself.

This philosophy — in which the boogaloo are accelerants, not actual revolutionaries with a plan — may afford members a subconscious comfort: Once they shed the onus of firing the first shot, barring the off chance that someone else takes up that quixotic cause, the boogaloo don't have to risk following through on their vows, and risk the bloodshed that would follow.

In the second half of this interview, Sam explains why the boogaloo sees right-wing militia groups as "mostly useless" and prefers to ally with antifa and Black Lives Matter activists — and why they particularly hate police.

Ted Cruz appears to have tapped into campaign funds for security costs -- including for personal travel

When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, bailed out for the balmy climes of Cancún while the worst winter storm in recent memory stranded millions of his constituents without power, he hired a security guard to watch his home and care for his poodle, Snowflake. But the way the senator chose to pay for that help may attract the attention of the Federal Election Commission, which has not sanctioned the use of campaign funds for personal security.

Cruz appears to have tapped into both campaign funds and his taxpayer-backed Senate allowance for security expenses, some of them related to travel. The FEC bars candidates and elected officials from using political contributions for their own personal use, and Cruz may have violated this rule if he used donations to pay for a security guard for his Houston home or at other times outside his capacities as a candidate or officeholder. It would also appear to be a violation of the personal use prohibition if Cruz dipped into his campaign account to pay the guard to do household chores, such as caring for Snowflake. Last year, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo triggered an internal investigation for a similar alleged misuse of taxpayer funds, such as paying an aide to walk his dog.

Salon reported earlier this month that in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, the two Republican national congressional committees filed a joint advisory ruling request asking the FEC to allow lawmakers to fund personal protection details with campaign donations, but the issue is unsettled. While candidates can and do expense electronic security systems for their homes, the FEC has not ruled on whether the exemption extends to bodyguards.

A handful of candidates, including Cruz, appear to have gone ahead without FEC guidance. In October 2020, the senator's campaign organization, Ted Cruz for Senate, started paying the Houston security firm Atlas Glinn Inc. for "personnel service/equipment," according to FEC filings. The Atlas Glinn website features a photo of Cruz accompanied by what appears to be a security team. In the three months from October to December, the campaign paid the firm a total of $46,000, according to federal records.

In addition to home security, Cruz's campaign also spent more than $15,000 in the last four months on what it characterizes in filings as "security equipment installation": $11,000 to Houston-based Automation Media Professionals, and $4,000 to Solar X Window Film Systems, also in Houston, for "tear and penetration-resistant" protective window film designed to hold "glass fragments together in the event of an accident, break-in or violent storm." Cruz and his family live in Houston, which also hosts his southeast Texas office.

The vast majority of these payments came after the 2020 general election, which Cruz predicted could be a "bloodbath" for Republicans. The Harvard Law graduate was among the first and most ardent peddlers of former President Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, a leading voice in a broader narrative that led directly to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. Cruz was inside the Senate chamber when that attack began, objecting to Electoral College votes, and used the event to raise campaign funds.

In justifying the emergency nature of the FEC request last month, attorneys for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee cited the alarming spike in security threats connected to the Jan. 6 riots.

"In light of current events involving concrete threats of physical violence against Members and their families, Members have been compelled to consider further security measures for themselves and their families," the committees wrote. "As has been well-documented in the media, Members and their families continue to endure threats and security breaches, which are being timely reported to appropriate law enforcement officials."

Cruz has also paid his former bodyguard out of his campaign and Senate accounts. FEC filings show that in 2019, Ted Cruz for Senate issued a $5,000 payment to Air France for "security expenses," and paid more than $3,000 to Matthew "Grant" Murray, apparently for providing security for Cruz while he was traveling.

Murray currently works for Cruz's Senate office: His LinkedIn profile says he is a "Special Operations Advisor to the U.S. Senate," and before that he served as regional deputy director for southeast Texas, a job he took in November 2016 after briefly heading up security for Cruz's ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign. Before that, Murray was director of operations for 360 Group International Inc, a personal security firm that describes itself as providing executive protection, security consulting and threat assessment services to VIPs, companies and government agencies.

Since 2016, Murray has made six figures a year as a full-time Senate employee, according to LegiStorm data, and in 2018 he appears to have made $50,000 on the payroll for Cruz's re-election campaign. The Cruz campaign has also paid Murray more than $10,000 for travel and per diem expenses, according to campaign records.

In 2018 Murray accompanied Cruz in his official Senate capacity on a federally funded trip to Israel, and in 2019 the campaign paid a security bill to the full-time Senate aide ahead of an Indo-Pacific tour that Cruz appears to have taken in his government capacity.

Filings also indicate that the campaign reimbursed Murray for "materials" related to a 2019 trip orchestrated by a travel agency called Culture Trip GMBH. According to its LinkedIn page, Culture Trip is "Germany's leading, luxury travel planner" and offers "access to the inaccessible: private homes and collections, exclusive wine tastings & culinary events with master sommeliers and star chefs, curator walks through extraordinary museum treasures and the most fabulous team of expert/guides available." The company says that it specializes in custom small-group tours throughout Germany, and offers "hand-selected" drivers and guides as well as "Shore Excursions."

Salon could not find reports that Cruz traveled to Germany in 2019, in any capacity, but his campaign had logged that $5,000 payment to Air France for "security expenses" just a few months prior. If Cruz did indeed indulge in a luxury getaway — for which recent events suggest he has a taste — it's not clear that Germany impressed him: A few months later he crossed the aisle in an attempt to block the construction of a pipeline that would reroute Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to a German port, threatening further sanctions against Russia if the countries went ahead with the project, although it was backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an important U.S. ally. Nearly a year earlier, in January 2018, Cruz had rejected bipartisan calls for stricter sanctions on Russia in a resolution that failed in the Senate by three votes.

This week, Cruz urged the Biden administration to cut support for the Russian gas pipeline, saying that it could have "serious consequences for the national security of America and the energy security of our European allies."

It does not appear that Cruz enlisted a personal detail on his recent but brief holiday in Cancún. The Houston Police Department provided personnel assistance and "monitored his movements" after Cruz's staff requested a law enforcement "assistance upon arrival" at the airport, The New York Times reported. Video captured Houston officers accompanying the senator when he returned the next morning, when Cruz issued a statement saying he had taken the trip under disaster conditions because he wanted "to be a good dad."

"With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon," the statement said. "My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe."

The Cruz campaign did not immediately reply to Salon's request for comment.

Pro-Trump Black group that solicited foreign investors is now under FBI investigation

The FBI has opened an investigation into the activities of a pro-Trump group that appears to have engaged in an off-the-books foreign influence campaign and violated IRS rules regulating the political activity of nonprofit organizations, Salon has learned.

The probe's scope includes two officials affiliated with the Urban Revitalization Coalition, a now-defunct organization which made headlines last year with suspicious cash giveaways to Black voters and subsequently lost its tax-exempt charity status, a person familiar with the investigation told Salon. The two men — Kareem Lanier and Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-area pastor and former Trump campaign official — also used the URC as a vehicle to "solicit donations" from foreign nationals, including influential Turkish businessmen, while they worked with Trump administration officials to attract new investment in "Opportunity Zones," economically disadvantaged areas targeted for new incentives under the former president's 2017 tax bill.

Salon reported the Turkish connections in a two-part series last September.

Some of the solicitations were floated by former MAGA-world star Rabia Kazan, a Turkish author whom Scott and Lanier brought into the URC to facilitate such connections, according to Kazan and people with knowledge of the arrangement. Multiple people told Salon that the group had also approached Americans for donations in exchange for access to the Trump White House. Former Trump officials told Salon that such deals included tickets to a White House Easter Egg Roll, and that Scott was suspected of using his Cleveland church to funnel untraceable large-dollar contributions to Trump's inauguration.

The URC made headlines last February when it held campaign-adjacent events with cash giveaways for Black voters in underprivileged communities, including a $25,000 raffle — which the organization had promised the IRS it would not do. Politico described the raffles as part of a national strategy to hold events "in Black communities where they lavish praise on the president while handing out thousands of dollars in giveaways."

Government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington raised concerns that the URC was in breach of IRS rules governing the group's capacity to participate in political activities. But because the URC never filed a tax return, neither the public nor the IRS have learned much about the group's fundraising and spending.

Scott, who advised Trump's 2016 and 2020 campaigns, presents himself as a Christian minister reformed from a life of drugs. During the 2020 election he co-chaired Black Voices for Trump, an official campaign arm formerly led by the late Herman Cain, and frequently identifies himself as "Dr. Scott," thanks to an honorary degree he received from the unaccredited St. Thomas Christian College in 2004. He founded the nondenominational New Spirit Revival Center, headquartered in a former Cleveland Heights synagogue. It has its own radio station.

Scott was often seen at the Trump White House, but told Salon he prided his independence from unenumerated encumbrances that would have accompanied an official administration title. He traveled on Air Force One with Trump a number of times, and watched the 2018 midterm returns with the former commander in chief at the White House. The surrogate is also close with former White House adviser Jared Kushner: Scott calls him "J-Rock," and the two worked closely to promote Opportunity Zones, a program that created capital gains tax incentives to spur investment in poor and minority communities, which eventually fizzled out.

The URC's efforts to make inroads with foreign investors dovetailed with the Trump administration's foreign policy goals of establishing a new overarching trade deal with Turkey. They also overlapped with Turkey's release of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor and political prisoner held by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Texts from an Erdogan aide, obtained by Salon, describe the release as part of a "mutual" exchange connected to the 2018 midterm elections.

Legal experts told Salon that some of the above activities appear to violate rules governing U.S. tax and lobbying laws.

Kazan previously told Salon that Scott had a particular fascination with Turkey, and that she had connected him with multiple Turkish figures, including billionaire industrialist Mehmet Nazif Günal and Kazan's own sister, who had married into the Godiva chocolate business empire. Kazan said Scott and Günal had discussed millions of dollars in assets that Günal could no longer access in Saudi Arabia, and that Günal hoped that Scott could help convince Trump to lean on the Saudi king.

A group led by Scott tweeted in 2017 about Saudi Arabia's King Salman presenting Trump with the kingdom's highest honor.

Kazan also connected the URC officials with Turkish business representative Ali Akat, who made at least two visits to the U.S. in 2018, in April and November. Akat met with multiple congressmen and GOP operatives, and in April was escorted by Scott to the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home to offices of White House aides and staff, where they held a meeting, according to photos posted to social media.

In a phone interview, Scott did not deny or express surprise at the existence of a federal investigation into his group. He also said that aside from Akat, he never met with any foreign investors. A passage from his book, "Nothing to Lose," published last summer, claims that the two men conceived of the URC specifically as a way to attract investors from overseas.

"As Kareem and I talked and strategized we concluded that since the money would come from foreign investors, we had to ensure before securing funding that the business would be done right," Scott wrote.

Though Scott denied meeting other foreign investors, and told Salon that he met "like 500 people a day" in Washington and could not be expected to remember everyone, when reminded of Günal, he immediately recalled a meeting over dinner in May 2018, during which he said the billionaire "was drunk." A few minutes prior to the phone conversation, Scott had sent Salon an email that read, in full: "I never had any dealings with Turks. It was a lie." Of his time with Akat, Scott said: "Nothing came of it. It turned out that he was just a con man."

Expatriate Turkish journalist and newspaper editor Abdulhamit Bilici previously told Salon in a call that "it's not possible Erdogan could not know" about Akat's interactions with the URC.

"Even the smallest details of these things wouldn't happen without his knowledge," Bilici said. "All businesses in the country, if allowed to operate, pay their dues to him, so to speak."

In addition to the meetings with Akat and Günal, Scott was apparently close with Turkish journalist Yavuz Atalay, the White House correspondent for Aksam Gazette, a newspaper that supports Erdogan's government. Indeed, Atalay's most recent tweet, as of this writing, is a thank-you note to Scott for a signed copy of his book and "all other gifts."

Scott boasted multiple times on Twitter about meeting Akat. On April 25, 2018, he tweeted, "With some of my Business Homies, Ali and the guys, in DC at the Trump discussing bringing businesses to America! Great things are on the horizon! #urbanRevitalizationCoalition." Later that evening he tweeted, "With my guy Ali to discuss bring HUNDREDS of BUSINESSES to Urban America. Great things are on the horizon __#UtbanRevitalizationCoalition" [sic], and included a picture of himself with Akat at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The next day, Scott tweeted: "Finalizing plans to bring 30 billion dollars in investment along with 25,000 well paying manufacturing jobs to Urban America. Great things are on the horizon!!!!! #UrbanRevitalizationCoalition". He tagged all the tweets with the name of his nonprofit, whose mission, according to its website, was to "Revitalize America's Urban Communities!"

Two weeks later, and one day after a since-deleted article in the Turkish press quoted Akat about the visit — Scott tweeted, "Myself and @realkareemdream have been negotiating with foreign investors about potentially pouring billions of dollars into Opportunity Zones in Urban Communities all across the country. Great things are on the horizon! ##UrbanRevitalizationCoalition."

Scott engaged with a reply to that tweet reading: "Talk with the Saudis. They like us now!"

"They're on our radar screen!" Scott wrote.

That same day, Lanier quoted Scott's "foreign investors" tweet, commenting: "Huge Announcement(s) Coming Soon Urban America! @realDonaldTrump & @PastorDScott and many others are fighting everyday for all in our great country!!! @CNN and @MSNBC will be forced to eat their words and report "Real News" for a change. Hahaha!!!#BillionsontopofBillions"

Scott has also deleted his end of a Twitter conversation in which he debated the value of foreign investments.

The "huge announcement," however, appears not to have come to pass. The Trump administration never struck a large-scale trade deal with Turkey, and intergovernmental communications quickly fell apart that summer in the spat over Brunson's release.

In a taped phone conversation in Turkish, which Salon obtained and had independently translated three times, Akat acknowledges that Scott and Lanier had asked him for financial "donations." Akat says that when he declined, the men "pressured" him to remove the photos of their meetings published on his social media accounts and in Turkish media. Kazan told Salon that Scott and Lanier also asked that she delete her own social media photos documenting the visit.

Scott told Salon that their request to have photos deleted was not out of the ordinary.

"If I introduce you to a Black dude, and you take a picture with him, and then you find out he's a drug dealer, wouldn't you want to tell him to take that picture down?" he asked. Akat is the president of the Turkish American Business Association and the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce. Scott himself used to sell drugs.

Following the meetings with Akat, Scott and Lanier brought Kazan on board to the URC. Kazan says that the men were using her entirely for her connections to Turkey.

Experts tell Salon that, by all appearances, the URC was engaged in lobbying efforts on behalf of foreign interests — which would legally require it to register with the U.S. government as a foreign agent.

It is unclear whether the URC maintained communications with Akat and Günal. Scott denied having spoken again with the men, but said he could not remember if they had exchanged emails or text messages.

In an interview with the Daily Sabah — a pro-government Turkish newspaper — given a month before his first U.S. visit, Akat said that he planned to meet with U.S. government officials in hopes of establishing a "Turkish organized industrial zone" in a number of American states. In a later interview with the outlet, following Akat's November trip to Washington, during which he stayed at the Trump Hotel and received gifts from the White House, he boasted of a major trade deal ahead. The businessman pointed to Godiva Chocolatier, a largely Turkish-owned company, as particularly promising, since Americans were unlikely to perceive Godiva as a foreign brand.

The goal, according to Akat, was to round up Turkish companies who would promise a $1 million up-front investment. These companies would then get first crack at manufacturing opportunities in certain American markets. It is unclear whether Akat met with Scott and Lanier on that second trip, and unclear why trade talks later fell through.

In a since-deleted Facebook post during Akat's April 2018 trip, Republican strategist and XStrategies CEO Alexander Bruesewitz said he and Akat discussed Godiva at the then-president's hotel, mentioning Turkey's "desire to invest $12B in the US" and create 25,000 jobs.

Despite Scott's tweets, however, he says he lost interest in Akat within days.

"A lot of people like to talk a lot of shit, but when it comes time to put up or shut up, more often than not they shut up," he said.

Kareem Lanier could not be reached for comment.

How one phone call with Donald Trump destroyed this Republican lawyer's career

Last month, veteran political attorney Cleta Mitchell was forced to resign as a partner at the prominent Washington-based firm Foley & Lardner after it became clear she had secretly aided former President Trump's efforts to overturn the election results, in violation of the firm's policy.

It's been a rough few months for Mitchell: The firebrand conservative activist and political lawyer was listed as an officer on a nonprofit run by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, which is now part of a federal fraud investigation. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a friend and client of Mitchell's, has attracted legal scrutiny for allegedly misusing political contributions. Shortly after Mitchell's departure from Foley & Lardner, the firm appears to have taken steps to resolve newly-discovered issues with its own super PAC.

Cleta Mitchell was born Cleta Deatherage in 1950, in Oklahoma, where she served in the state legislature from 1976 to 1984 — as a Democrat focused on women's rights, believe it or not. In the 1990s, she changed her party affiliation to independent after the federal government investigated and convicted her husband, Dale Mitchell, of bank fraud, fining him $1.3 million in restitution and sentencing to five years' probation. Though the judge in the case suggested that Dale had lucked out by avoiding prison time, the episode convinced Cleta Mitchell that "overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our times," and she soon became a registered Republican.

Since then, Mitchell has been one of the most influential, if largely invisible, figures in conservative politics, serving as legal counsel for both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as the National Rifle Association. Individual clients have included numerous Republican elected officials and candidates, including Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whose GOP networking firm hired Mark Meadows a week after he left the Trump White House. Mitchell has also served on the boards of a number of powerful conservative organizations, including the NRA, the Bradley Foundation and the American Conservative Union Foundation, which runs the Conservative Political Action Conference and endured an embezzlement scandal while she was there.

Mitchell has spoken out fiercely against marriage equality, led attacks on the IRS amid allegations that Tea Party-affiliated nonprofits were treated unfairly during the Obama administration and, more recently, criticized coronavirus restrictions for allegedly infringing on religious groups' rights.

In 2011, Mitchell represented Donald Trump against allegations that his exploratory campaign had violated federal election laws by accepting unlawful in-kind contributions from his own business. She defended Trump's knowledge of campaign finance laws in a 2018 Wall Street Journal article about the Stormy Daniels scandal, a clip that Foley & Lardner deleted from its page shortly after her departure.

When news broke of Bannon's arrest on fraud charges last August, Salon reached out to Mitchell for comment on her involvement with his nonprofit Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), which federal prosecutors allege Bannon and associates used as a vehicle to create phony invoices related to their larger scheme. Mitchell declined to speak about the matter, citing attorney-client privilege, but when Salon pointed out that she had not only represented the group but also served as an officer — the organization's most recent IRS filing lists her as secretary — she hung up. Mitchell appears to have blocked this reporter's phone number, and when Salon attempted to reach her through her husband for this story, her husband claimed he was "not authorized to share her contact information."

Bannon was later pardoned by Trump, and is not clear whether COAR is still part of the ongoing federal investigation into the alleged conspiracy. Prosecutors in New York are now considering bringing Bannon up on state charges, which would likely not be shielded by the presidential pardon.

Not long before Bannon's arrest, Trump appointed one of Mitchell's friends to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan body whose investigatory ambit includes voting rights. Mitchell, a longtime proponent of baseless election fraud claims — in 2010 she said that then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "intends to steal this election if he can't win it outright" — appeared with Trump at an Oval Office event that same month, where Trump introduced her as a "great attorney."

During the 2020 election, Mitchell publicly defended Trump's false claims that the election was stolen from him. She told Reuters that the president's allies were prepared to fight what she characterized as a "very well-planned-out assault" by liberals to change rules about ballot counting after Election Day, measures that Democrats say were intended to ensure that all proper votes were counted. After the election, Mitchell had a role in a Fox News clip that went viral, when anchor Sandra Smith was caught expressing disbelief at the attorney's claims while her mic was still on.

"Just because CNN says — or even Fox News says — that somebody's president doesn't make him president," Mitchell said, prompting Smith to roll her eyes and say, "What? Trace, we've called it," referring to Fox's projection that Joe Biden had won the election.

Despite the media appearances, Mitchell's post-election work with Trump went largely unremarked until the Washington Post published a recording of a phone call in which the then-president asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes that would overturn his state's result. Mitchell's presence on that call — in an "informal" capacity, according to Meadows — was noteworth because at the time Trump was having trouble finding reputable attorneys to take up his desperate attempts to reverse his defeat, instead relying on conspiracy theorists such as Sidney Powell and former LifeLock spokesperson Rudy Giuliani.

At one point in that call, Trump interrupted Mitchell when she spoke up about allegedly problematic ballots cast for Biden in Atlanta.

"I know about it, but —" Mitchell said, before Trump jumped in.

"OK, Cleta, I'm not asking you. Cleta, honestly. I'm asking Brad," Trump said, in reference to Raffensperger.

It's unclear exactly when Mitchell began working with Trump's team, but Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that she had been advising him for "weeks," and had been brought aboard by Meadows, her longtime friend. At the time, Meadows was the subject of a federal election complaint filed by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, based on Salon's exclusive reporting that the former North Carolina congressman appeared to have habitually misused campaign donations for personal expenses. A recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, which includes a large, anomalous payment from Meadows' PAC to Mitchell's former firm, Foley & Lardner, suggests that the complaint triggered a federal investigation.

After news of the Raffensperger phone call surfaced, Foley & Lardner released a statement saying the firm's policy barred it from representing anyone trying to contest the 2020 election results, and that it was "concerned" by Mitchell's role in the call and was "working to understand her involvement more thoroughly." She resigned the next day, blaming a "massive pressure campaign" brought against her by "leftist groups via social media."

After her departure, however, the firm appears to have reviewed her work with its employee PAC, and decided to take control back from employees hired by Mitchell. Last year, the PAC received two letters from the FEC notifying it that the group's treasurer, Chris Marston, had failed to sign monthly reports. Mitchell had hired Marston, a Republican operative, to replace the PAC's former treasurer and firm partner Theodore Bernstein. Foley & Lardner reversed that decision after Mitchell resigned, reinstalling Bernstein. It is unclear why Marston did not sign the reports, and unclear when the firm first became aware of the FEC notices.

Foley & Lardner did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

Ted Cruz may be buying his own books -- through a mystery company

One day before the Georgia Senate runoff elections — and two days before the Capitol insurrection — a leadership PAC attached to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a mystery advertising company that had previously bought copies of Cruz's book, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The expenses raise questions about whether the controversial conservative senator (and Cancún frequent-flyer) used those political campaigns, and Donald Trump's attempt to subvert the democratic process, to raise money for himself. That could push the FEC to issue a ruling on a pending issue that could have consequences for former President Donald Trump's fundraising.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Over the course of 2020, the Cruz-affiliated Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC paid $1.2 million — nearly 80% of its operating budget — to a company called Reagan Investments LLC for "sponsorship advertising." The only other committee to register any disbursements to that company was Trump Make America Great Again, for a fundraising promotion for Cruz's books in December, according to The New York Times.

On Jan. 4, 2021, the day Cruz traveled to Georgia before the runoff elections, his leadership PAC reported a $240,000 expense for "sponsorship advertising" to Reagan Investments, which appears to correlate with another series of small-dollar donations that poured into the PAC over the next few days. It isn't clear how much of the funds raised, if any, went to Republican runoff campaigns: Cruz's PAC only spent a few thousand dollars in support of former Sen. Kelly Loeffler. In fact, most of the contributions rolled in after the runoffs were over and as the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection were playing out, while Cruz joined a handful of Republican Senators to object to the counting of Electoral College votes.

Experts tell Salon that if the money was for promotional book sales, as the filings would suggest, then the leadership PAC could be using Reagan Investments as a pass-through to allow Cruz to keep the royalties, which are generally between 10% and 15% for hardcover books, and about half that for paperbacks. Political candidates are not allowed to do that through their campaign committees. But the identity of Reagan Investments itself poses a mystery.

The PAC's filings claim that Reagan Investments LLC is located in an office building across the street from the Texas State Capitol in Austin. The company does not appear in Texas business registries. OpenCorporates records, however, show that a company by that name was organized in Missouri on Jan. 23, 2020 — two days after the PAC reported its first-ever payment to the company, of about $57,000. The agent on that registration, Jason Thomas III, was involved with a scheme that unlawfully funneled dark money from a conservative nonprofit to a political committee, resulting in a $350,000 FEC fine in 2018.

In a phone interview, Thomas claimed he was simply the organizing agent and could not immediately recall who operated the company, or its purpose.

The company's address in Austin, however, matches that of an office suite occupied by a Missouri-based consulting firm called Axiom Strategies, founded in 2005 by Jeff Roe, who managed Cruz's ill-fated 2016 presidential campaign and advised his successful 2018 re-election contest against Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. Roe was also connected to the dark money scheme, and although the FEC did not cite Roe for a violation, Thomas told investigators that he "primarily took direction" from Roe.

Roe is also the registered agent for Axiom's Texas branch. Salon visited the Austin suite, which appeared functional and furnished, but unoccupied. Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC has also paid Axiom directly, according to federal filings.

Throughout the first half of 2020, while Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC spent hundreds of thousands in advertising dollars with Reagan Investments, it raised only a fraction of that amount, per FEC records. In July, the committee began accepting regular donations in the thousands of dollars, but in October, after Cruz published his new book, "One Vote Away: How a Single Supreme Court Seat Can Change History" — which coincided with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the PAC saw a sudden and sustained influx of flat donations in the kind of small-dollar amounts that typically align with book promotions and packages. Those receipts continued to come in after the election and through December, when the Trump campaign launched its cross-promotion.

Cruz's leadership PAC also supports active candidates, and donated directly to a number of campaigns for the 2020 cycle. But it reported only $109,000 in independent expenditures, all of that in a June donation to support Texas congressional candidate Raul Reyes in a Republican primary which he lost.

Furthermore, the PAC reported that it paid $615,000 to the Republican fundraising platform WinRed for credit card processing fees on Jan. 12, a week after the Reagan Investments advertising payout, after having paid WinRed only a few thousand dollars for all of 2020. The PAC's receipts total more than $758,000 in January alone, about 50% more than it raised from 2019 to 2020 combined.

If Reagan Investments is a means for Cruz to collect publishing royalties, the senator would appear to be converting donations to personal use and filing false FEC reports. If that were the case, Jeff Roe could potentially be considered a co-conspirator. Candidates who sponsor leadership PACs are generally allowed to use donor funds for personal expenses, but the FEC currently has a pending review of a related question: Whether the personal use exemption applies to leadership PACs that belong to active candidates, such as Cruz.

An unfavorable ruling could have implications for Trump's leadership PAC, Save America: If the former president decides to run again in 2024, he may not have unfettered personal access to the millions of dollars in the PAC's account, and that could circumscribe his ability to spend those contributions on his personal business empire.

Sales for Cruz's 2015 book, "A Time for Truth," drew scrutiny after The New York Times refused to put it on the bestseller list, citing "strategic bulk purchases" that appeared inorganic, prompting Amazon to push back on the paper's claim. HarperCollins, that book's publisher (Cruz's new book was published by the conservative-oriented house Regnery), said it had "investigated the sales pattern" but found "no evidence of bulk orders or sales through any retailer or organization." The Cruz campaign immediately put out a press release demanding that the Times either offer evidence or apologize.

"The Times is presumably embarrassed by having their obvious partisan bias called out. But their response — alleging 'strategic bulk purchases' — is a blatant falsehood," campaign spokesperson Rick Tyler told Politico at the time. "The evidence is directly to the contrary. In leveling this false charge, the Times has tried to impugn the integrity of Senator Cruz and of his publisher HarperCollins."

The Cruz campaign did not immediately respond to Salon's requests for comment, by email and phone. The campaign's outgoing voicemail informs callers that book orders will take four to six weeks to fulfill, citing an allegedly high demand.

'Stop the Steal' organization hasn't filed IRS reports — and its registered agent has disappeared

A political nonprofit with ties to longtime Trump associate Roger Stone, which was supposedly created to challenge the 2020 election results, has missed two federal deadlines to disclose how much money it spent and received before and after the election. Furthermore, the law firm that employed the group's registered agent told Salon that she no longer works there, and her LinkedIn page appears deactivated.

"Committee to Stop the Steal" was registered with the federal government as a 527 tax-exempt political organization on Oct. 16, a few weeks before the election, by a clerk at a Southern California personal injury firm called Jensen & Associates. The IRS does not require 527 groups to disclose their donors, but it does mandate that they publicize how much money they raise and spend, including in post-election and year-end reports. Committee to Stop the Steal has missed the deadlines for both.

Jensen & Associates is led by Paul Rolf Jensen, a friend of Stone's who has represented the right-wing provocateur in an array of matters for at least two decades. The firm's website appears to have been unattended in recent months, but an archived version from last February does not mention political work. While Jensen himself isn't listed on the IRS registration for the Committee to Stop the Steal, the group's listed address is a UPS Store mailbox located near the firm's physical address, and its custodian of records, Ashley Maderos, worked at Jensen for a time as a post-bar law clerk.

When Salon called to inquire about the missed deadlines, an unidentified employee of the firm said that Maderos no longer worked there, but would not say when she left, where she went or what had become of the nonprofit. Maderos also appears to have taken down her LinkedIn profile, which has not been archived but was active as recently as Jan. 29. Multiple attempts to contact her went unanswered.

Maderos' LinkedIn page also noted that she had worked for a time as an intern for former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican notorious for being "Putin's best friend in Congress." Rohrabacher reportedly worked with Stone in an attempt to get former President Trump to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and upon retirement from Congress took up lobbying for a biotech firm run by a Republican fundraiser who worked with one of Stone's super PACs. Jensen & Associates is located in California's 48th congressional district, which Rohrabacher represented for many years.

In 2016, Jensen represented Stone when his earlier incarnation of Stop the Steal was sued for voter intimidation. Stone created that group in April 2016, and registered it at another UPS dropbox in the same area. Jensen was also on the payroll for Stone's Committee to Restore American Greatness, which ultimately became a target of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in that same election.

The precise whereabouts of Ashley Maderos could well be of interest to federal investigators now seeking to untangle the roots of the Jan. 6 insurrection. In recent weeks prosecutors have expanded the scope of indictments to include conspiracy charges. Details are still unclear about who bankrolled the effort, which in part required coordinating numerous loosely affiliated conservative and militia groups from across the country.

Stone's first Stop the Steal nonprofit raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars in anticipation of defending Trump through a contested 2016 GOP primary, and then, after he won the nomination, challenging a possible Hillary Clinton victory in the general election, neither of which proved necessary. The group was accused of suppressing minority votes in that election and terminated its registration with the IRS in early 2017. But Stone, a Florida resident, reactivated the movement in 2018 to protect then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott's narrow victory in his midterm U.S. Senate race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Stone got help at the time from fellow convicted felon Ali Alexander (formerly Ali Akbar), an itinerant provocateur who helped recruit for that effort and went on to play a central role in organizing the 2020 Stop the Steal movement. Alexander went into hiding after the riot and has so far not been accused of a crime.

The night before a mob of thousands of Trump diehards laid siege to the Capitol, Stone gave a pump-up speech at a rally hosted by Alexander, who noted early in the evening that "It was Roger Stone who coined the term first: Stop the Steal," but laid claim to being the "founder of the movement." But when Stone, escorted by bodyguards from the Oath Keepers anti-government militia group, delivered his keynote address a few hours later, he clarified that Alexander had only "revived the Stop the Steal movement." It was, at its heart, a Roger Stone production.

GOP policies doomed Texas to catastrophe after a few inches of snow

The massive energy failure that brought Texas to a halt in the middle of a record-setting winter snap this week was not an unavoidable natural disaster. It has roots in decades of deregulation driven by conservative elected officials that prized the state's rogue mythology and short-term gains over long-term catastrophic risk.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

When temperatures plummeted across the Lone Star State on Sunday night, demand for heat soared. The Texas power grid, uniquely detached from the Eastern and Western national grids, faltered under the strain, forcing the state's energy regulator, ERCOT, to mandate that cities and towns cut as much usage as possible to head off a total collapse which could have left residents in the dark for months.

Much of the state's generator capacity goes offline for maintenance during low-demand winter months, and the sustained extreme temperatures knocked out much of the functioning infrastructure that hadn't been winterized, creating an insurmountable deficit with no backup to speak of, either internally or across state lines. Without that headroom, the rolling blackouts enacted as a temporary measure soon stopped rolling, depriving millions of people of power during one of the bitterest cold streaks Texas has ever seen. Icicles grew on hammocks and ceiling fans. Water mains burst. Homes and apartments were flooded with numbing water. People died for lack warmth.

In a media blitz, Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, tried to pass blame to perceived liberal enemies with baseless claims about the longtime oil- and gas-producing state's dependence on renewables like solar and wind. Those source indeed comprise an increasingly large share of the state's energy blend — a change largely driven by the market conservatives claim to love — but had little to do with the collapse, which primarily concerned the natural gas sector. Those lies also obscured a broader truth, which is that the renewables that failed did so for the same reasons that fossil fuels failed: The wishful thinking that Texas winters will always be mild, and therefore cheap.

Former Texas Democratic state senator Kent Caperton said in an interview that it's difficult to capture the full story behind the current crisis, because it has been so long in the making, and the consequences are decades removed from some of their most immediate causes.

In 1983, Caperton introduced a bill that created the Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUC), the first state agency dedicated to representing the interests of residential and small commercial energy consumers before the courts and state and federal regulators. OPUC was a step in the right direction, Caperton said, but its ultimate aims were thwarted in 1999 when the state opened its utility markets to retail competition, which created complexities for pricing and regulation.

"It was a big deal for Texas to open up to regulation, but that didn't last. In hindsight it looks like my bill was successful, because we didn't have any major failures in that time," Caperton said. "The 1999 bill essentially allowed private providers to take over and set their own rates, and after that it seems like ERCOT has been a toothless institution. The providers have had all the control."

The trade-off, Caperton said, was wider profit margins and short-term savings — at the price of unknown long-term risks. "You might not have an event like this every 10 years, or even every 50, and it could come in the summer or the winter," he said. "But you've at least got to prepare for it, because it will happen."

In the old system, local plants generated power for local use. But in the open market, retailers purchased electricity at wholesale from generators anywhere in the state, putting a new strain on the state's power grid. Deregulation also led to a less uniform and predictable consumer base, Caperton said, which is more difficult to serve, and in recent years the state's production capacity has not kept up with demand. Texas can largely fend off blackouts in the summer because producers are at the ready to take advantage of the high rates that accompany scorching seasonal heat, but that base demand disappears in the winter, and many operators take their generators offline.

Such a system is specifically vulnerable to the kind of deep freeze that struck the state this week. Add to that the fact that Texas has uniquely refused to join the larger national power grid, which allows the state to duck federal winterization requirements while isolating it from outside support, and the stage was set for disaster.

Caperton noted that the national health care debate offered a good analogy. "You have a common need, which requires certain agreements and tradeoffs, and the state and various private interests do not want to be part of that," he said.

But former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, also a Democrat, told Salon that the state's leadership doesn't get to hide behind the state's famous independent streak, because Texas picks and chooses what it accepts from the federal government.

"I think it's a mistake that Texas isn't connected to the national grid. We're going it alone and don't have the necessary support," Barnes said. "But we're happy to take federal regulation for other things, like our drugs and our water. Just not this."

Texas also had advanced warning for this specific scenario. In 2011, a deep freeze knocked out power to millions of Texans and triggered a review of the state's energy systems. Federal regulators recommended that private utilities take steps to insulate and winterize their production and transmission facilities. But because Texas operated on its own grid, it was free to ignore the guidance — which it did.

"It's an ideological failure," Caperton said. "Laissez-faire run amok."

Deregulation did kick-start the state's wind energy industry by opening the market to new competitors, but consumer prices did not drop as planned because those competitors found it difficult to offer distinct products. On that front, the blackout offers a possible opportunity: Weatherizing windmills to sustain a long freeze, as is routinely done in colder climes around the country and the world. In Texas, natural gas picks up if wind power drops off, but the winter demand for natural gas heat had already put strain on that resource, and when those production facilities themselves froze and failed, there was nowhere to turn.

Deregulation also left state leaders flying blind through the crisis. Austin Mayor Steve Adler told Salon that neither he nor his city's community-owned utility, Austin Energy, had been able to access real-time information or state-level insight into the situation, which left as many as 200,000 of his constituents without power, a number that he said has since fallen to 50,000.

"Our power crews have been working incredibly hard this week. When the state says you have to dump power quickly, it's disruptive, and left us in a position where we weren't able to do rolling outages, so some people have gone without power here for 60-plus hours," Adler said.

"Everybody in the community is angry and frustrated, and I am too, because I can get just about as much information from the state as you can. Every one of these utilities is independently owned and operated, and the state doesn't appear to require public reporting. I would have hoped that ERCOT would have been able to give us a better read. It's frustrating not to know the details and make assessments about when the power will be back on, so we can plan, and help our community plan."

Adler also pointed to the future: "We don't have a system hardened to withstand a long period of time in these extreme temperatures, and it's happening every 10 years now. Changes in climate will happen more frequently, and with so much deregulation I'm not sure that the incentives are built in to invest what it takes to harden our energy system and make that as inexpensive as possible. The state should set new standards, at a minimum."

The fight against climate change in Texas has been hampered by Republicans who appear ever more eager to fight against climate change legislation, even in the face of shifting public opinion and overwhelming scientific consensus. Caperton, a moderate Democrat even by Texas standards, said that he became a pariah for introducing legislation in the 1980s to commission a study on wind energy. "It was just a study, but I was basically seen as a commie for doing that," he said.

"There are some disasters that you just can't prepare for, but this wasn't one of them," said Barnes, the former lieutenant governor. "This was a failure of leadership. There are things we could have done to prevent this, but we didn't."

Sean Hannity attacked John Kerry for using a private plane -- but the Fox News host's own jet has an intriguing history

During a broadcast about two weeks ago, Fox News personality Sean Hannity seized on a favorite trope, saying that former Secretary of State John Kerry, recently appointed to a post as climate envoy by President Biden, "frequently enjoys the comfort, the convenience of his very own private jet" while advocating for policies to combat climate change. Publicly available records, however, raise abundant questions about Hannity's own use of his private jet in support of his son's tennis career at Wake Forest University, and his relationship with the team's star coach, Tony Bresky.

According to NCAA and sports law experts, the timeline of those events exhibits an unusual and at times suspicious level of engagement between Hannity and Bresky, including but not limited to the school's frequent use of Hannity's plane. Facts of that relationship also appear to have triggered a previously unreported federal grand jury investigation — which has been closed without indictments, to be clear — into events surrounding the recruitment of Hannity's son, specifically the striking fact that Bresky purchased a luxury home next door to one bought by Hannity, according to documents obtained by Salon and a person familiar with the case.

Hannity, through his lawyer, Charles Harder, and Bresky, through Wake Forest, both denied ever being aware of any such federal investigation.

More broadly, the story exposes uncomfortable truths about the quiet leverage of wealth, power and race in collegiate athletics, particularly in low-revenue sports such as tennis that don't have as many eyes on them, or marquee athletes. As the "Varsity Blues" college admissions bribery scandal demonstrated, those programs have been particularly ripe for exploitation, some of which, in those cases, veered into criminality. The Hannity example does not appear to rise to that level — no specific crimes have been alleged, and the grand jury investigation has been closed — it shines a light into one of the NCAA's many legal gray zones, where law and ethics may not always go hand in glove.

The facts of the case

Patrick Hannity, Sean Hannity's son, is currently a redshirt senior on the tennis team at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He signed with the school in November 2016, and officially enrolled and joined the team in January 2017.

In January 2016, about nine months before Patrick officially applied to Wake Forest, his father, through a shell company, became the registered owner of a 2004 Gulfstream G200 jet, with the tail number N329PK. By Feb. 10, according to photograph metadata, Hannity had detailed the plane in black and gold — the colors of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. In more recent photos, the jet sports the Wake Forest logo on its tail.

Then, on June 23, 2016, before Patrick Hannity applied to Wake Forest and five months before he signed, his father's shell company SPMK XXII NC (created about two weeks earlier) purchased a house for $813,000 on Turnberry Forest Court in Winston-Salem. Three months later, in September, the Wake Forest men's tennis head coach, Tony Bresky, contracted to buy the house next door for $820,000, according to public property records. Bresky and his wife closed their deal about a month after Patrick Hannity signed with Wake Forest.

"That's odd right off the bat," Ricky Volante, a sports and entertainment lawyer, told Salon. "It's suspicious, but it's hard to nail down what it means. It's far outside the norm for a parent to be purchasing property in the area, with the coach moving in next door before his son sent in his application."

According to Wake Forest, Patrick applied to Wake Forest at some point in the fall of 2016, and was accepted in October. In a tennis-themed Fox Business appearance on Aug. 29 of that year, in which Sean Hannity competed in a serving contest with a few of his on-air colleagues, he said that his son was "going to Wake Forest. He's so happy."

One of Patrick Hannity's coaches at Wake Forest moved into Hannity's new home in Winston-Salem almost immediately, and lived there with Patrick for some time. At some point in 2016, Cory Parr, who had earlier coached Patrick as a junior player on Long Island (where the Hannity family primarily resides), began listing his residence at the Turnberry Forest Court address, according to North Carolina voter and business records. Weeks after Patrick enrolled, the university announced that Parr, himself a Wake tennis graduate and former all-American, would come aboard as a volunteer assistant coach.

In legal terms, it is difficult to assess the interactions between Wake Forest, Bresky and the Hannitys. First, the rules governing NCAA recruitment are known for elasticity, and key points along the timeline of Patrick's journey to a redshirt, midyear addition to the tennis team are unclear. Both Wake Forest and the Hannity family, through attorney Harder, insist that nothing untoward occurred. But NCAA regulations experts have told Salon that this particular chain of events appears unusual, and that the school may have violated the rules governing early contact with a recruit. (Those rules, to be fair, are often ignored.) Compliance experts both inside and outside college athletic programs describe the timeline as "weird" and "suspicious," and say that even setting aside questions of legality, the ethics are not flattering.

"NCAA rules are not airtight. There are back doors," a legal expert in NCAA regulations told Salon, on the condition of anonymity. "It's sometimes difficult to see the differences between unlawful transactions and a wealthy helicopter parent doing all they can for their kid."

The lawyer added: "What I don't get is why. Why go to these lengths if the kid is qualified? Why this level of personal involvement? There may be an explanation, but it's just bizarre."

Volante noted that in addition to showing favoritism to schools and sports based on revenue, NCAA enforcement decisions sometimes display racial bias.

"If these benefits were flowing to Black athletes, or to a predominantly Black sport, the NCAA would be there within a flash," Volante said. "A predominantly white sport, a low-profile sport like tennis, often won't get the same scrutiny."

One NCAA compliance official at an Atlantic Coast Conference school — that is, a school in Wake Forest's conference — told Salon it was "not possible" that a random player with Patrick Hannity's relatively modest statistics could land a spot on a top-tier team without the backing of family money or influence. Many schools will happily pay tens of thousands of dollars to keep an athlete on the bench for four years "if it's worth that million-dollar donation" coming at some point down the road, the official said.

Asked whether he knew of other parents and coaches who had engaged in living arrangements similar to those of the Hannitys, Parr and Bresky, the official said: "No, I've never heard of that."

Wake Forest requires students to live in campus housing for three years, unless they live with a parent or guardian in the area. Harder, the family attorney, would not say whether Patrick Hannity, now a senior, has met that requirement, and would not say whether Patrick has lived in the Winston-Salem house with a parent, or whether Cory Parr was acting as his guardian.

Parr still lives at that address today, according to North Carolina voter records, and used it to register a company called Charity Raffles LLC in November 2016, a few weeks before Patrick signed with Wake. That company is the parent of another Parr entity called Give2Gain, which holds raffles and auctions for sports-related experiences on behalf of charities.

A university spokesperson told Salon in an email that the NCAA had not blocked the arrangement, adding that the Hannitys had been compensating the "volunteer" coach.

"Parr's relationship with the Hannitys was known to Wake Forest and disclosed to the NCAA and the NCAA did not preclude Parr from being a volunteer coach while receiving compensation from the Hannitys," the spokesperson said, adding that Wake Forest. "has no involvement with Parr's housing arrangement." Asked whether the NCAA had offered an opinion on whether their relationship was appropriate, the spokesperson repeated that the governing body had not prevented Parr from coaching.

Parr came out of retirement to play a doubles match with Patrick in June 2017. They lost in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2. He now coaches at a boarding school in the Winston-Salem area, where he started last October.

The inquiry

The unconventional narrative outlined above at some point drew the attention of a federal prosecutor.

Bresky and Hannity, through their representatives, both said that they were not aware of any such investigation. Salon has reviewed documents and spoken with a person familiar with the case, making clear that one did indeed arise. That investigation, according to those sources, originated in the federal prosecutor's office in the Eastern District of New York — that is, on Long Island, where Sean Hannity lives, and where Cory Parr lived before he moved to Winston-Salem — and focused on Tony Bresky's improbable home purchase next door to Hannity's, and along with that the facts and events of Bresky's relationship with the Hannitys around the time of Patrick's recruitment.

The grand jury subpoenaed Bresky's financial records, but it is not clear whether the coach was himself subpoenaed or whether the documents were obtained directly from his bank. The prosecutors closed the investigation sometime around the summer of 2020 without finding evidence of criminality.

A Wake Forest spokesperson said that neither Bresky nor the university was aware of the investigation, and provided a statement about the home purchase. "Coach Bresky's housing choice is independent of Wake Forest," the spokesperson wrote. "However, the Hannitys did not provide any funding towards the purchase of Bresky's home."

Harder said this: "Mr. Hannity (including his family and businesses) had nothing to do with Tony Bresky buying an adjacent property, or any financing related to it. Mr. Hannity did not even know that Mr. Bresky was buying the neighboring property until long after the purchase had been completed. The house happened to come on the market after Mr. Hannity had bought his, and the Breskys happened to learn about it, and buy it (with zero assistance from Mr. Hannity) in or around December 2016."

Those two houses are next door to each other on a cul-de-sac, almost three miles from the Wake Forest tennis center.

The decision to open an inquiry also came in the context of news reporting about Sean Hannity's real estate transaction history, which not publicly known at the time of Bresky's purchase. In 2018, the Fox News star drew public scrutiny after The Guardian revealed that he owned more than 20 shell companies which had cumulatively spent at least $90 million on nearly 900 homes in seven different states over the previous decade, including apartment complexes in low-income neighborhoods. The shell companies all had variations of the name of the entity Hannity used to purchase the Winston-Salem house, a combination of his kids' initials.

Hannity denied any wrongdoing in that case: "The fact is, these are investments that I do not individually select, control, or know the details about; except that obviously I believe in putting my money to work in communities that otherwise struggle to receive such support."

In April 2020, two years after The Guardian's report, Morgan Dill, a current teammate of Patrick Hannity at Wake Forest, Morgan Dill, took an internship at an Atlanta-based company called Henssler Financial, which is the firm Hannity used to register those shell companies.

The game

It's impossible to understand these unusual decisions and the broader impact of their example without discussing Patrick Hannity's tennis career.

According to both Wake Forest and Harder, who deferred to the school on the issue, Tony Bresky offered Patrick a walk-on spot on the tennis team, and Patrick verbally committed to the school in August 2015, around the beginning of his junior year in high school. Five NCAA compliance experts told Salon that appears to be a violation of recruitment rules, which bar tennis coaches from contacting players before Sept. 1 of their junior year — meaning that Bresky apparently offered Patrick a spot before he was even supposed to send him recruiting materials. If Patrick called the coach, however, rather than the other way around, then no rules were broken. Wake Forest would not say who initiated the contact.

According to the NCAA, a male high school tennis player has a 1.6% chance of landing a spot on a Division I team. There are 264 Division I tennis teams, and Wake Forest is very near the top of the top — the tennis equivalent of Duke in basketball or Alabama in football. It is hard to overstate how good their starting recruits have been: During Bresky's tenure, the Deacons have consistently ranked in the top 10 and won the national championship twice, in 2018 and 2019. Patrick Hannity was on both those teams, but did not play in matches that counted towards the championship.

Wake Forest explained to Salon that every team needs solid walk-on players to give their starters the best practice opponents they can get, and that Patrick qualified on his merits.

"The combination of Patrick's academic and athletic credentials qualified him for formal admission at that time," a spokesperson said in an email. "In January 2017, he enrolled at Wake Forest with a 4.2 high school GPA. Patrick was a member of the National Honor Society, he was a four-star tennis recruit, and he was one of the top-10 recruits from the state of New York."

According to the Tennis Recruiting Network (TRN), an authoritative source on youth tennis, that's all correct but may be slightly misleading. The "four-star" designation means that a player was ranked somewhere between the 75th and 200th best prospect at a given grade level. Wake Forest's own signing announcement ranked Patrick 157th nationally in 2016, his junior year. By the next year, after Patrick had left public school for an online program in order to focus on tennis and graduate a semester early, his ranking had fallen to 197. (His younger sister, who plays at the University of Michigan, was a five-star recruit.)

Salon obtained research for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's rankings of the 10 best college men's tennis teams for 2016 and 2017, which shows that those teams' U.S. recruits had a median national ranking of 33. TRN also assigns a Ratings Power Index to tennis prospects: While the median rank for the aforementioned recruits was 50, Patrick Hannity was ranked 292 in 2016, and 329 in 2017.

The jet

It is similarly difficult to get concrete information about when Sean Hannity first flew someone affiliated with Wake Forest or its men's tennis team on his jet. Neither the university nor Harder would say for sure. Harder said by email that to the best of Hannity's recollection, "nobody from the University flew in the plane until his son was enrolled, and on the tennis team. If you have evidence to the contrary, please share it, and I will discuss with my client."

Harder also claimed that Wake had reimbursed Hannity for travel on his private plane, but the school would not answer direct questions on that point. A university spokesperson replied by email: "Patrick committed to Wake Forest prior to Hannity's purchase of the plane. The University's use of aircraft and the University's handling of transportation of its student athletes is a private matter."

Experts say that the NCAA frowns on "inducements," although those are ambiguously defined. "The NCAA and its members do not want athletes to receive extra benefits or inducements for choosing a particular school," Volante, the sports and entertainment lawyer, told Salon. "Despite this, certain schools have nicer facilities, higher profile coaches, etc., that naturally induce athletes to pick one school over another. This is OK since those are things provided directly to the athlete by the school.

"What the NCAA polices against is boosters or third parties offering inducements to athletes that would affect the recruiting process," Volante continued. "If a donor to a school were to make certain perks and amenities available to a school or individual program for the purpose of inducing athletes to pick that school over another, then it could cross the line into a major infraction by the institution. A series of major infractions would reach the threshold of lack of institutional control, the most serious scenario within NCAA compliance and infractions."

In February 2018, following Wake Forest's ITA indoor championship victory, Bresky tweeted a photo of the students, including Patrick, gathered in front of Hannity's plane. "Time to go home, bringing my girls a little present," the coach wrote.

Research obtained by Salon shows that in 2019, seven of the top 10 college tennis teams strictly took commercial flights while traveling to or from out-of-town matches and tournaments. One other school chartered a private plane occasionally. And then there was Wake Forest: Within the space of two years, Hannity's jet appeared more than a dozen times at locations where the Demon Deacons were playing, the research showed. Although Hannity at some point restricted public access to his plane's flight data, Salon has obtained information showing that the plane made seven trips to or from the Winston-Salem area between Feb. 24 and May 21, 2019. Instagram photos posted by one of Patrick's teammates show the team using the plane at other times.

NCAA rules do not expressly prohibit someone from donating the use of a private jet for team travel, but that act would make that person a major donor, or "booster." If the school reimbursed Hannity for the flights, as his attorney claims, however, that would likely not be considered a donation. It is unclear whether Hannity registered as a Wake Forest booster, and because neither Harder nor Wake Forest would say whether the Fox host had charged fair market value for the flights, it is also unclear who benefited, in financial terms, from the team's use of Hannity's jet — Hannity or the school.

Among other restrictions, the NCAA bars boosters from engaging in recruiting conversations on behalf of a given school. It is not clear whether Sean Hannity has ever participated in such conversations, but he seems to have been particularly engaged with Wake Forest men's tennis players, well before his son joined the team.

When Patrick was a high school player, Hannity was close not only with former Deacon Cory Parr, but also Jay Harris, who coached Patrick and ran a training facility that had a recruiting relationship with Wake Forest. According to a profile in the Mansfield News Journal, Harris "helped the younger Hannity through the recruiting process," which as far as Salon has found chiefly if not exclusively involved Wake Forest. (The Journal also reported in 2014 that Hannity once arranged to have a private jet on the tarmac for Harris, so that "Harris could mentor his academy-attendee son at a high-level tournament.")

The elder Hannity is also close with former Wimbledon junior singles champion Noah Rubin, who trained at both John McEnroe Tennis Academy and Jay Harris' Sportime, where Patrick Hannity also trained. After winning the junior title at Wimbledon in 2014, Rubin wanted to turn professional, but instead attended Wake Forest on a scholarship that allowed him to participate part-time in professional events, which he called "a difficult decision." He dominated college tennis for a year and then left school to become a full-time pro, and is still friends with Hannity.

Hannity's professional connections, including at Fox News, also appear to include Wake Forest. He gave Noah Rubin's sister Jessie a college internship at his show before Rubin accepted the Wake scholarship. Rubin's friend Sam Bloom, a three-time Wake Forest men's tennis captain, went to work for Fox News as a producer upon his graduation in June 2016, and later married Hannity's production assistant, Christen Limbaugh — Rush Limbaugh's niece. These interactions all preceded Patrick Hannity's enrollment at Wake Forest.

As mentioned above, last April Patrick's current Wake Forest teammate, Morgan Dill, took an internship at Atlanta-based Henssler Financial, where, as The Guardian first reported in 2018, Hannity registered dozens of "SPMK" shell companies that he has used to purchase at least $90 million worth of real estate.

The money

According to The New York Times college mobility tracker, 22% of all Wake Forest students come from families in the top 1% of the nation in terms of wealth, ranking it fifth on the Times list of 65 elite colleges. Almost 3% of all Deacons come from the top 0.1% wealthiest families in the country.

Serious tennis, of course, is expensive. But some of Patrick Hannity's wealthy teammates also appear to fall far well short of top-tier Division I prowess — more dramatically than he does, in fact. For instance, Charles Parry and his younger brother Jack — who made the Wake Forest team in different years — are the children of John Parry, a yacht broker in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, who also owns Gold Coffee, one of the largest private producers in the United States. Charles was a two-star recruit — in other words, two full levels below Patrick Hannity — while Jack's team profile is limited to three high school varsity letters and a title in a boys' tennis club tournament in Jupiter, Florida. Jack is unrated by Universal Tennis Ratings and ranked 878 in his national recruiting class.

The team's profile page for 2018 walk-on redshirt Tayte Dupree mentions no tennis accomplishments beyond his presence on a Virginia private school state championship team. He was ranked 602 in his recruiting class. His father, David Dupree, founder of the Halifax Group, a Washington, D.C.-area private equity investment firm, is a part owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team and received the 2016 Wake Forest Distinguished Alumni Award. Dupree and his wife are among five couples who gave $1 million each to kick off Wake Forest's matching gift program in 2018.

From 2014 to 2017, the operating budget for the Wake Forest men's tennis team more than doubled, going from $715,000 to more than $1.8 million. It remained at that level in 2018.

That dramatic budget increase tracks with a modest but noticeable increase in roster size. In 2014, the team had 13 players, a number that grew to 15 in 2018 and 17 the next year. The current 2020-2021 team boasts 18 players, significantly larger than the average roster size in men's college tennis, which the USTA reports is 8 to 12 members. Among the top-10 NCAA teams in 2019, only Wake Forest had more than 13 players; top-ranked Ohio State had 10 players on the roster, while second-ranked Texas had nine.

In a 2019 podcast interview, Wake Forest coach Tony Bresky suggested that he now had access to as much funding as he needed to recruit the best young talent. He said that the only thing he needed more of was time to travel and watch more players.

"We've been – we've become – very fortunate at Wake Forest," Bresky said. "We have some very gracious donors, and our administration has been so supportive of our program. ... For us, it's not a financial issue."

Sean Hannity is himself a member of Wake Forest's parent's athletic council, and has discussed his son and the team on the air. On May 23, 2018, after the school won its first NCAA championship, Hannity told Fox News primetime colleague Laura Ingraham, "I know all the kids on the team. They are amazing kids, they have an amazing coach — Tony Bresky — and you know [Patrick] is a freshman and it is probably the greatest experience so far in his life."

After that 2018 national championship, Hannity — who was often described as former President Trump's informal chief of staff — played a key role in scoring the team a White House visit. While NCAA champions frequently receive such honors, the Trump administration was more finicky. The New York Times reported that if not for Hannity, the tennis team would seem "an unlikely choice for a special visit hosted by a president whose administration has planned a crackdown on foreign students who overstay their visas as part of a broader drive to tighten immigration." All six of the leading singles players on that Wake Forest team had been recruited from other countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

School spokesperson Dan Wallace confirmed that impression, telling the Times that Hannity "helped instigate the talks" that led to the visit. "That was the driving force," Wallace said.

At the ceremony, Trump, without prompting, called out his ally's son by name among the Wake Forest players. "Patrick is back there," the president said. Patrick Hannity had not played a match for the team for months.

Varsity Blues

In 2019, the "Varsity Blues" college admissions bribery scandal cast a pall over athletics programs at some of the country's most well-known schools. In response, Hannity published an adapted monologue on the Fox News website entitled, "College admissions scandal shows the new faces of greed, corruption and selfishness," in which the conservative provocateur bashed the wealthy and well-connected parents who had paid money to game college acceptances for their children, often through fraudulent acceptances to low-profile sports teams.

These parents, Hannity argued, were not acting primarily for the benefit of their children, but for themselves.

Dozens of wealthy families, business executives and yes, Hollywood celebrities, were caught rigging the system, paying huge crimes, fixing even SAT and ACT scores, so their little children, their precious kids could gain admission into some of America's top universities.
Why? I guess for status, bragging rights, so they could tell their friends that their privileged children got into the best schools, even though in reality, their children weren't good enough academically or weren't good enough athletically. To do so, they stomped on the futures of other people.

Hannity also leaned on his own experience as a tennis dad.

This is a zero-sum game. There's only so many spots in each school. For children who are probably not as financially well-off, or kids who had to work for everything, kids who put in the time academically or athletically.
We're talking about thousands and thousands of hours studying and training and actually earning their grades or position in their sport. Kids who spent all this time on and off the field to better themselves and enrich the school with their incredible athletic ability. Kids who played sports competitively. Most kids nowadays focus on one sport since about the time they are seven years old. I know because I've lived through it.

Hannity did not mention the indictment of Wake Forest's women's volleyball coach, Bill Ferguson. (The university itself was specifically targeted in a letter from Trump's Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.) Federal prosecutors alleged that Ferguson, who joined Wake the same month Hannity purchased his Winston-Salem mansion, had illegally accepted $100,000 from a foundation to help a wait-listed student gain admission by pretending the student was a premier volleyball recruit.

After a preliminary hearing, Ferguson's attorney suggested that the player had not been placed on the team unfairly: "Two weeks ago, the U.S. attorney told you about a litany of abuses: phony test scores, unqualified students, falsified athletic profiles. Well I can't speak to what happened at any other school, but not at Wake Forest University. No one, no one was admitted to Wake Forest who didn't earn it as a student and as an athlete," he said.

Trump's new PAC dodges its first subpoena -- thanks to loyalist Jason Miller's legal woes

Two weeks after former President Donald Trump left office, his new leadership PAC is already dodging its first subpoena, Salon has learned. The PAC, Save America, refused to respond to an attorney's questions about whether former Trump campaign strategist Jason Miller, who now identifies himself as a senior adviser to Trump while claiming to be unemployed, is on its payroll. Instead, the PAC passed the matter along to Miller's personal attorney, who says he accepted the responsibility without knowing why. Unpaid legal work for a political committee is considered an in-kind donation, and must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

The subpoena came up last week in an email sent by a lawyer representing AJ Delgado, a former official in Trump's 2016 campaign and the mother of Miller's child, who has battled Miller in family court for child support over the past two years. Miller, who is married to another woman, has repeatedly ducked payments and misleadingly characterized his monthly income, attempting to conceal his $35,000 monthly campaign payouts from federal regulators, as Salon first reported.

In the email, which was obtained by Salon, Delgado's attorney asked Bradley Crate, treasurer for both the Trump campaign and the Save America PAC, whether the PAC had a current or future relationship with Miller, who claimed in a December court filing that he would be unemployed before the end of 2020. If no such relationship exists, the attorney said, then there were no further concerns. But if there is a relationship, Delgado's attorney said, then she intended to subpoena Save America in order to get a better picture of Miller's finances.

The reply, however, came not from Save America but from Miller's personal attorney, Sandy Fox, who claimed, in an email, obtained by Salon, that "Save America PAC has authorized me to accept service of the subpoena. Therefore, please send me the subpoena." That response would seem to imply that the PAC either has some contractual agreement with Miller or anticipates paying him in the future.

Furthermore, the PAC declined to respond to Delgado's questions directly, and instead chose to contact Miller's personal attorney, who, like Miller, has no known relationship with the PAC. In response to questions from Salon, Fox explained by email: "Many times third parties, both individually and corporate, will agree for an attorney to accept service of process."

That response appears to elide or evade the core issue. Multiple contract law experts told Salon that Save America's move to deputize Miller's personal attorney to handle the PAC's subpoena was unusual, and raises questions about its affiliation with Trump's top 2020 strategist.

"That would be weird unless Miller has some sort of official tie — as an employee or a contractor — to Save America," one veteran political law attorney told Salon.

Indeed, Fox himself expressed confusion in the email to Salon, writing, "I am not sure why Save America PAC made this request but I was just conveying the message." He did not say why he took on this responsibility, or whether he would be paid. If he performs the service for free, that would qualify as an in-kind donation which must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Miller, who served as an especially aggressive spokesman for Trump in dozens of media appearances before the election, is among the small handful of loyalists who stuck with the outgoing president through his final beleaguered weeks in office, defending the commander in chief after he incited a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a futile effort to cling to power.

Yet even though Miller performed some of the most publicly visible campaign work, neither he nor the campaign have ever disclosed any form of compensation: His $35,000 monthly salary was routed through one of the campaign's media contractors, Jamestown Associates, and marked for "video production." That arrangement prevents the media, regulators or donors from fully understanding how the campaign has spent its money, and at least plausibly appears designed to conceal Miller's true income from Delgado and her attorney.

During the course of a lengthy email exchange between Fox, Delgado's attorney, PAC treasurer Bradley Crate and Salon, Fox (who represents Miller) at one point referred to Delgado and her attorney as "conspiracy theorists," an accusation that Delgado's attorney indicated was defamatory and legally actionable. Crate and Fox both denied that Miller was currently being compensated by Save America, but repeatedly refused to answer questions about Miller's affiliation with the PAC, or about whether future federal filings would show payments to Miller from Save America or the Trump campaign.

Additionally, Fox refused several times to explain how Miller was being compensated for his current work as Trump's spokesperson. He would also not answer Salon's more general questions about how Miller — who claimed $683,660 in income last year — is paid, or why he would volunteer for a potentially lucrative position when he owes child support.

Over a period of several months between 2019 and 2020, Miller avoided making child-support payments to Delgado almost entirely, while simultaneously submitting court filings that showed monthly incomes between $27,000 and $99,000. That income for a time included payments from a consulting firm called Teneo, where Miller collected a $500,000 salary until severing public ties in 2019, reportedly as a result of crass insults he tweeted at Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

During that period, however, Miller paid Delgado as little as $500 a month — one-sixth of what a court had demanded. That was the bare minimum required by the state for a parent who makes $2,300 a month. Miller's financial affidavits make clear that he spends that amount or more every month just on expenses related to his cars.

A top campaign official familiar with the arrangement had previously told Salon that Miller had negotiated both his abundant salary and the unusual third-party payment deal with top campaign officials, and that former White House adviser Jared Kushner had personally signed off on the arrangement. Executives at Jamestown Associates, the media contractor, were initially displeased about being used as a pass-through, according to the official.

Campaign finance experts say the scheme is illegal.

(Notably, the campaign withholds taxes from its salaried employees whereas Miller, as an independent contractor, would have more latitude to estimate his own taxes, which he could argue should not figure into child support payment calculations. Court filings show that Miller claimed liabilities of $250,000 to the IRS and $65,000 to the Commonwealth of Virginia, although it's possible that those amounts are projected taxes owed for the current fiscal year.)

A number of officials distanced themselves from Trump in the months after his election defeat, especially in the flurry of departures following the deadly riot at the Capitol. Others, such as former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former chief of staff Mark Meadows, have taken private sector jobs. Former campaign manager Bill Stepien launched a political consulting venture with former senior adviser, and the previous campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has rebooted his old consulting firm and launched a new hub for digital campaign services.

But in the two weeks since President Biden took office, Miller appears to be alone in reprising his campaign role, acting as official spokesman for the private citizen who is now posturing as an unofficial president and Republican kingmaker, and now faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial. Miller has made a number of statements on Trump's behalf, most recently in a Fox News op-ed published Thursday, where Miller declared the forthcoming Senate trial unconstitutional, arguing that because Trump is now a private citizen, impeachment is "null and void."

Notably, Miller's article never actually calls Trump the "former president," and instead repeatedly refers to him as if he were still in office, most directly in its first two words: "The president's legal counsel ..." The editor's endnote echoes that language, and further confirms that Miller works for Trump: "Jason Miller serves as a senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump."

Delgado told Salon that she intends to proceed with serving subpoenas on Save America PAC, as well as the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization and American Made Media Consultants — a shell company that the campaign has used to obscure more than $700 million in vendor payments.

Proud Boys charged in Capitol riot may have been targeting the police

The Justice Department on Wednesday handed down its most serious charges yet in the Capitol riot investigation, targeting a pair of right-wing internet personalities who publicly boasted about entering the building, and "maybe" spitting on a riot officer.

Nick Ochs, leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys fascist organization, and Nick DeCarlo, a right-wing "vlogger," were charged with conspiracy to impede Congress after raising money to travel to Washington as part of a larger coordinated effort to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory. The pair were also charged with stealing flex cuffs from the Capitol Police, and face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to a Justice Department press release.

Salon first reported the full extent of DeCarlo's involvement and cooperation with Ochs, who had shared photos and video of them inside the building. In a livestream interview after the attack, DeCarlo boasted of smoking and spitting on a police officer during the riot.

"It felt great and I did a lot of shit I shouldn't have — maybe I did, maybe I didn't — in the Capitol," DeCarlo, a North Texas resident, said in the interview. "Maybe I smoked some cigarettes, maybe I spat on a riot officer. Maybe I didn't." He also acknowledged that he and Ochs spent "an hour and half, two hours" in the building and "got pretty far," and promised to release "hilarious" footage and a virtual "tour" of their raid.

The FBI's first complaint filed against DeCarlo, filed in District Court for the District of Columbia, notes that he had explained to the Los Angeles Times after the riot that he was a citizen journalist. The FBI pointed out that DeCarlo did not have a Capitol press credential, and the Times clarified that his YouTube channel had fewer than 600 subscribers.

DeCarlo himself appears to have undermined this particular defense, as Salon previously reported, claiming in an interview after the riot that "Me and Nick Ochs went there specifically to stop the steal," adding: "You're welcome America."

Ochs and DeCarlo, who scrawled "Murder the Media," the name of their Proud Boy-adjacent vlogging collective, on the exterior of the Capitol building's Memorial Door, had initially been arrested last month on counts of impeding Congress and participating in various unlawful activities on Capitol grounds. The new filing appends those charges to include conspiracy, which extends to other unnamed participants, some of whom are known to the grand jury, according to the indictment. The move suggests that federal prosecutors plan to pursue more serious crimes against Capitol insurrectionists, most of whom have been charged with comparatively petty offenses amid the deadly attempt to overturn the election results.

These conspiracy charges came the day after another Proud Boy leader, self-described "Sergeant at Arms" Ethan Nordean, was indicted for his role in the riot. (Authorities have so far charged nearly a dozen Proud Boys in connection with the attack.) In the criminal complaint against Nordean, prosecutors indicate that the group's pursuit of violence that day was in part a retaliation for what they perceived as unfair treatment at the hands of the police.

Proud Boys have often appeared at "Back the Blue" rallies, but since the 2020 election the group has repeatedly found itself sparring with law enforcement. One such clash in Oregon four days before the Capitol attack resulted in multiple arrests of Proud Boy members. By the time of the riot, the group had developed a new slogan, "Back the Yellow" — referring to their bumblebee-style outfits — which Nordean included in a video posted to social media on Jan. 4, featuring him and other members in military-style tactical gear.

In another video, recorded just before the group advanced onto Capitol grounds and first reported by Salon, a man authorities identified as Nordean throws out the slogan as he addresses a group of Proud Boys, including leader Joe Biggs, and issues vague challenges to the police through his bullhorn.

"Looking good, gentlemen, looking sharp. Back the yellow," Nordean says, before apparently directly addressing law enforcement. "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 connect group chairman Enrique Tarrio's arrest in Washington two days earlier ("you took our boy in") with the failure of D.C. police to charge a man who allegedly stabbed several Proud Boys during their Dec. 12 march, which also devolved into violent clashes. (There are no police visible in the video — at least none in uniform.)

In another video, posted to social media on Jan. 4 and referenced in the indictment, Nordean apparently references a "war" with authorities: "Let them remember the day they decided to make war with us."

In a livestream interview with fellow Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino, recorded in December after the Washington stabbing incident and referenced in the indictment, Nordean expounds on the group's new attitude toward law enforcement, saying, "The police are starting to become a problem," and implying an element of betrayal: "We've had their back for years."

The complaint also says that on Jan. 8, Nordean posted a photo of a Capitol Police officer using pepper spray on a rioter, captioned: "If you feel bad for the police, you are a part of the problem. They care more about federal property than protecting and serving the people."

DeCarlo echoed the sentiment. Asked in a livestream interview after nightfall on Jan. 6 whether anyone involved in the riot had been "backing the blue," DeCarlo told the 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,'" DeCarlo said.

While Donald Trump pressured Mike Pence, his brother Greg was spending money at Trump's hotel — again

While former President Trump was agitating to overturn his election defeat, Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., the older brother of then-Vice President Mike Pence, was spending money at Trump's Washington hotel, according to a new filing with the Federal Election Commission. Weeks later, on the day Mike Pence publicly rejected a lawsuit that members of Congress filed against him, the Trump campaign returned a $4,000 donation that his brother had made seven months earlier.

According to a year-end FEC report filed last weekend, Greg Pence's campaign, which had previously drawn scrutiny for thousands of dollars in apparent personal expenses at Trump's hotel, reported spending $1,551 on Dec. 3 for a catered event at BLT Prime, the Trump International Hotel's restaurant and a popular hub for conservative allies of the former president. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP House whip, reported a $1,000 expense at BLT Prime the same evening, for catering and facility rental.

Earlier that day, members of the House Freedom Caucus held a press conference to call on then-Attorney General Bill Barr to release the results of a Justice Department investigation into possible election fraud. That conference featured Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who later filed a statement in support of the doomed Supreme Court election challenge brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which both Pence and Scalise joined. (That suit was almost immediately rejected.)

A few weeks later, while Greg Pence mulled the decision of whether to object to the electoral votes, his campaign reported that the Trump campaign had never cashed a $4,000 contribution that Pence made in May, seven months earlier, according to FEC filings. The donation does not appear on the Trump campaign's receipts.

Pence ultimately joined three other Indiana Republicans to side with the former president and challenge Pennsylvania's votes — hours after rioters had hunted his younger brother through the Capitol. Pence had also objected to Arizona's votes earlier that day.

Pence later issued a statement saying that his choices "reflect both my support of the Constitution and the disenfranchised voters of the Sixth District," while declaring that "violence and anarchy is never the answer."

"I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution on behalf of Hoosiers in the Sixth District. The United States is a country of law and order," Pence said in the statement. "There are millions of American voters in our nation who currently feel disenfranchised, but violence and anarchy is never the answer. The way forward for our nation is to follow the U.S. Constitution."

That position diverged from Indiana's two Republican senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun. The latter had originally planned to challenge the electoral count but reversed that decision after the insurrection, saying in a statement on Twitter that the day's violence had "changed things drastically."

"Though I will continue to push for a thorough investigation into the election irregularities many Hoosiers are concerned with as my objection was intended, I have withdrawn that objection and will vote to get this ugly day behind us," Braun wrote.

It is unclear why Pence did not reverse his original decision amid widespread reports that the Capitol rioters had specifically targeted his brother for execution, after Trump's dissatisfaction with his vice president became widely known.

The Pence family as a whole has channeled a significant amount of money to the Trumps over the last four years. Between November 2017 and early 2019, Greg Pence, who won his brother's former seat in 2018, made headlines for substantial and frequent expenditures at Trump's Washington hotel. Those payments, totaling $45,000, included thousands of dollars in donor funds for personal lodging, an unlawful expense which his campaign later reclassified as fundraising events after USA Today exposed the apparent violations.

A Pence spokesperson said at the time that the campaign had only made the changes "in order to avoid confusion here from hostile reporters."

Greg Pence did not reply to Salon's request for comment. Mike Pence could not be immediately reached for comment.

Illegal? Mark Meadows is the only person ever to spend campaign funds on the Secret Service

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in December became the first and only person in recorded campaign finance history to report an expense related to the U.S. Secret Service, according to his leadership PAC's year-end filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The report, which Freedom First PAC's treasurer Collin McMichael submitted over the weekend, notes two Dec. 7 payments designated for "Food/Beverage for PAC Reception Honoring Secret Service Members." The PAC, an extension of Meadows' campaign committee, made the disbursements, both for around $250, to Costco headquarters and a Walmart in Hendersonville, North Carolina, home to Meadows' former congressional district office.

A search of FEC records shows that before this, exactly zero political committees in recorded history have ever designated expenses related to the Secret Service. Because one of Meadows' two payments went to a Walmart in his hometown, it's possible that the event honored the detail that guarded Meadows during his nine months in the top White House job. If that is the case, the payments might violate the federal prohibition against the personal use of campaign funds.

Salon reported on Wednesday that the PAC's year-end filing suggests that the FEC may already be investigating Meadows for personal use violations. In October, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an FEC complaint, based on Salon's previous reporting, calling on the agency to investigate what appear to have been tens of thousands of dollars of campaign expenditures on personal items in the previous year — including on gourmet cupcakes, clubs, lavish meals and a $2,650 purchase at a high-end Washington jeweler on Meadows' final day as a member of Congress.

The year-end report only shows three PAC expenditures: the two food and beverage purchases for the Secret Service affair, and a $6,300 payment to Foley Lardner LLP for "PAC legal services."

While chief of staff, Meadows received Secret Service protection, a standard taxpayer-backed benefit for that position which former President Trump reportedly extended for an additional six months — an arrangement that a veteran senior official of two administrations told Salon was "bizarre" and "unheard of." According to The Washington Post, Trump issued the same directive for his four adult children and two of their spouses, who would not otherwise be automatically eligible, as well as to two other administration loyalists: former national security adviser Robert O'Brien and former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who headed the department that oversees the Secret Service.

But by the end of Trump's term, Meadows' prospective employment options had thinned out to the point that he was considering a position with the Trump Organization, Politico reported on Jan. 25. It is unclear if the reported Secret Service extension was connected to possible employment with the former president's private company. Two days after the Politico story was published, Axios reported that Meadows would be joining the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint which Axios has described as a "networking hub" for Republicans.

A former senior Trump White House official told Salon that although Meadows' FEC expenditures, like his Secret Service extension, appeared to violate ethical precedent, the Trump administration had cultivated a special relationship with a few specific Secret Service agents. "Over time, they sort of found their people, you could say," the former official said.

Trump was apparently so successful at shaping the ideological makeup of his Secret Service detail that it created national security concerns for the incoming administration, which initially staffed President Biden's detail with agents who had personally protected him as vice president in the Obama White House.

In mid-November, the Washington Post reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers had been directed to quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus or coming in contact with other agents who had contracted the virus. The outbreak was thought to be linked to campaign rallies. Meadows, a regular attendee at many of Trump's public events, tested positive less than a week after the November election.

Lauren Boebert calls for investigation of Donald Trump

A last-minute Trump administration decision to relocate a major Air Force command office to Alabama may bear marks of a favor to Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who shilled for the former president's election lies and played a role in the events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The full Colorado congressional delegation, including GOP freshman outsider Rep. Lauren Boebert, has called on the Biden administration to investigate "significant evidence" of unspecified political influence behind the decision.

"Significant evidence exists that the process was neither fair nor impartial and that President Trump's political considerations influenced the final decision," the nine lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 26 letter, led by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. The letter criticizes an unusual decision process conducted after the Pentagon had previously selected Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base in 2019, which former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared "unfair."

The delegation asked Biden to "pause all actions" before an inquiry is settled.

The dispute centers on which state will host the new permanent headquarters of Space Command. For months, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the call would go to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which is already home to SPACECOM's current temporary base. But with just a week remaining in former President Trump's term, the administration announced that SPACECOM would be relocated to Huntsville, Alabama.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told Colorado Public Radio that his city had offered $130 million in incentives to make the station permanent: "It is not in the interest of national security and the American taxpayer to move Space Command."

Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn also demanded an investigation, saying in letter to Biden last Wednesday that "this last-minute decision" to award Alabama a "political trophy" was based "entirely on political expediency [and] will devastate our space capabilities."

Bennet, the Colorado senator who was briefly a 2020 presidential candidate, told Salon in a statement, "Politics has no role when it comes to our national security. Colorado is the only home for U.S. Space Command –– we have the assets, infrastructure, personnel, and ecosystem to support the mission. I will do everything in my power to keep U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs."

On Dec. 18, Boebert, fresh off her election win but not yet officially seated in the House, signed on to a letter with more than 600 officials and business and community leaders urging the Trump administration to keep the command in her home state. Her name apparently did not sway the former president, who had repeatedly emphasized his support for her candidacy.

Rumors have swirled that Mo Brooks, who represents Huntsville and celebrated Trump's decision, claimed to have "cut a deal" with the outgoing president, but local reports have repeatedly questioned that account. However, a series of events, as well as personal connections, suggest that Brooks may indeed have been secretly working the White House.

Brooks had for months demonstrated his loyalty to Trump by pushing the then-president's lies about the election results, and has been implicated in the events surrounding the Jan. 6 rally-cum-riot, including by one of the organizers. (A number of his Democratic colleagues have demanded Brooks' removal, and an outside GOP group has called on him to resign.) Salon reported last week that after the Capitol attack, longtime Brooks donor and politically-connected Huntsville trial lawyer Mark McDaniel signed on to represent the family of one of the rioters who died in the siege. One of Trump's final acts as president was to name McDaniel to a federal board, which Brooks announced on Jan. 18, five days after the Space Command decision.

McDaniel, coincidentally, has over the years advised several Alabama congressmen on space policy, and has twice been appointed to a federal NASA advisory board, where he is still a member, according to NASA's website. The veteran attorney and GOP donor also gave more than the legal limit to the Brooks campaign last year, even though the Republican incumbent ran unopposed in his deep-red district. Brooks reported refunding that overage on Dec. 2, but just two weeks later McDaniel maxed out to the Alabama conservative's 2022 campaign with a $5,600 contribution on Dec. 17 — one of two donors that month, nearly a full two years before Brooks is again on the ballot.

The day before McDaniel made that donation, he publicly defended Brooks' right to challenge the election results. "Not only does Congressman Brooks have a right to do it, he has a duty to do it. If he feels there is a problem with the election, then he should raise objections to it," he told Huntsville's News19. "And I know there will be a number of other members of the House of Representatives that will probably go along with Congressman Brooks on this."

Brooks sits on two House committees, both of which have oversight related to Space Command: Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology, where he is a member of the Space subcommittee. He has held seats on defense and space-related committees since his first congressional term in 2011, and his campaign finance disclosures show a number of defense contractors among his top donors.

John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, told Politico that Trump weighed in, but did not "pressure" the military's final decision, which was made in consultation with senior military officials and defense congressional committees — which clearly included Brooks.

The Air Force appraised several cities in its search for the new SPACECOM base, and in announcing the decision said that Huntsville made top marks in "factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and costs to the Department of Defense."

"Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs," the Air Force said, adding: "Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed." A number of defense-related companies have operations in Huntsville, which is nicknamed "Rocket City" for its involvement with NASA.

The new command will function like other armed services command units, such as Central Command or Cyber Command. It is not the same as the new Space Force branch, which will train and equip troops, but it will provide instruction on space-related operations.

Brooks and the Air Force did not immediately reply to Salon's request for comment.

New filing suggests Trump chief Mark Meadows is under investigation

A year-end federal filing from former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows shows legal expenses that experts say indicate it is "highly likely" the North Carolina Republican is under scrutiny for campaign finance violations.

In October, the nonprofit government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) requesting an investigation into Meadows, based on a Salon report that detailed a series of apparent violations of the prohibition on using campaign funds for personal expenses. Those payments covered gourmet cupcakes, grocery store purchases, a cell phone bill, posh meals and lodging at Donald Trump's Washington hotel, according to filings with the FEC. Meadows' campaign also spent thousands of dollars on "printed materials" at an upscale Washington-area custom jeweler on the day he left Congress for the White House. (The jewelry retailer has said it sells nothing that could be categorized that way.)

The year-end report filed over the weekend by Meadows' leadership PAC, Freedom First — itself an extension of the onetime North Carolina congressman's former campaign operation — shows only three expenses in the last month of the year, one of them an anomalous $6,339 payment to the law firm Foley & Lardner, designated for "PAC legal services."

The only two other expenses listed in the filing went to Costco and Walmart, both for around $250 on Dec. 7, designated as "food/beverage for PAC reception honoring Secret Service members." According to FEC filings, no other federal political committee of any kind has ever designated an expense for the Secret Service. Before leaving office, Trump reportedly issued an unprecedented directive that Meadows receive Secret Service protection for an additional six months.

A campaign finance attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss potential legal proceedings, told Salon that the seriousness of the charges facing Meadows, together with the timing of the legal expense, indicate that it's "highly likely" the FEC has launched an inquiry.

"The CREW complaint was filed at the end of October, and the FEC gives the persons or entities named in a complaint 15 days to file a response," the attorney said. "The FEC frequently grants extensions to that deadline if they are requested. It is highly likely that these legal fees were incurred in November to prepare a response to the CREW complaint, or at least begin the process of preparing one."

(Salon reported last week that Meadows liquidated as much as $200,000 in stocks in November.)

Another campaign finance and FEC enforcement expert, also speaking on background, agreed that the filing suggested the first stages of an investigation: "Looks like it, but with Meadows, there's a lot of things he could need a lawyer for."

Similar charges have landed other politicians in prison. Former Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, was sentenced for using his campaign account for personal expenses, including at hotels and restaurants — including one of the venues Meadows routinely expensed, the Capitol Hill Club, a favored hangout of House Republicans that is just around the corner from Republican National Committee headquarters. Meadows made a $1,100 purchase there on Jan. 13, 2020, the same day Hunter resigned from the House for his numerous campaign finance violations.

(Hunter's campaign spent more than $100,000 at the Capitol Hill Club, stretching back to 2008. The Meadows campaign expensed about half that amount at the club across 109 expenditures beginning in 2012, though most of that spending — more than $37,000 — came in the four years after Trump's election.)

Meadows announced in late December of 2019 that he would not seek re-election in North Carolina's 11th congressional district, but his campaign went on to spend more than $60,000 before he officially converted it into the Freedom First leadership PAC in July. In that same timeframe, filings show, the campaign only raised $300. Salon also reported that a number of Meadows' campaign expenses in that time appear related to his effort to get Lynda Bennett, a friend of his wife, elected to his old congressional seat. Bennett lost to Madison Cawthorn in the 2020 Republican primary, and Cawthorn — himself a onetime Meadows protégé — is now serving in Congress.

Freedom First went on to spend about $14,000 between July and Oct. 21, the date of Salon's report, federal filings show — including on cupcakes, Costco, a cell phone and rooms at Trump's hotel. Despite those expenses, Freedom First reported raising no money at all in that time period, which is highly unusual for any PAC, especially in an election year. Further, federal records show that Freedom First never disbursed any money to Republican candidates until Oct. 23, two days after Salon's report. On that day, the PAC gave $1,000 to 19 Republican candidates, including Cawthorn.

While the FEC would enforce any possible civil actions that may arise from CREW's complaint, the charges against Meadows could veer into criminal territory, attracting attention from the Department of Justice, as was the case for Hunter. In December, Trump pardoned Hunter, one of his earliest supporters in Congress, just before his scheduled 11-month prison stint. Meadows has not been accused of any crime to date, but was reportedly also considered for a pardon list. In addition to possible campaign finance violations, he could face legal jeopardy for his role in a now-infamous phone call during which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes for him, an apparent solicitation of election fraud.

Also on that call was Cleta Mitchell, a veteran government law attorney who has primarily worked for Republican clients — including Meadows. On Jan. 4, CREW filed a criminal complaint against Trump that referred both Meadows and Mitchell 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."

When the tape of the Raffensperger call became public, Mitchell resigned from her senior position at Foley & Lardner, the same law firm to which Meadows' PAC paid more than $6,300 in December. It is unclear whether Mitchell or the firm still represents Meadows or the Freedom First PAC.

Neither Meadows, Mitchell nor Foley & Lardner replied to Salon's requests for comment.

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