Another Republican ensnared? Darrell Issa may be implicated in Fortenberry scandal

The federal case against Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. — who was indicted last month on charges of lying to federal investigators and concealing information about illegal campaign donations — appears to have ensnared another Republican congressman. The Department of Justice stated last week that a protective order was "necessary" in the Fortenberry case to protect "evidence related to sensitive and ongoing investigations, including those related to public officials."

One public official in question, who is identified in court filings only as "Candidate C," is Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who is now the apparent target of a DOJ investigation — and may indeed have been the object of a sting operation. Issa retired from Congress in 2018 after serving nine terms from a Southern California district, but then moved to an adjoining district in San Diego County and was narrowly elected in 2020. The former CEO of an after-market auto accessories company called Directed Electronics, Issa has an estimated net worth of $250 million and is one of the richest members of the House.

On Sept. 10, 2014, Issa dined at the same table with Gilbert Chagoury, a shadowy figure identified as a "foreign billionaire" in the charges against Fortenberry, at a Washington event hosted by the group In Defense of Christianity (IDC). Two weeks later, Issa's campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee received a total of $60,000 in donations, on the same day, from Dr. Elias Ayoub and his wife Mireille, an affluent Los Angeles couple who had also attended the IDC dinner. According to documents filed with the Justice Department, the $30,000 that went to Issa's victory fund actually came from Chagoury, a Nigerian citizen who may not legally contribute to federal candidates.

According to Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) for Chagoury and a Lebanese national named Joseph Arsan, Chagoury met with Elias Ayoub — identified in the documents as "Individual H" — at a "special interest conference" in Washington in September 2014. That event was clearly the IDC Summit, held Sept. 9 to 11 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, which for years has served as a gathering spot for Washington's conservative elite and formerly hosted the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) events.

The IDC event was hosted by a man named Toufic Baaklini, who acted as a middleman for the straw donations from Chagoury to political candidates. Ayoub and his wife were both attendees and speakers at that same event. According to the DPAs, Chagoury suggested that Ayoub host a political fundraiser for "Candidate C," who is now known to be Issa, and asked him to "contribute $30,000" to Issa's Victory Fund, which Chagoury made clear he would reimburse to Ayoub.

Photos reviewed by Salon (but no longer available on the internet) show that Chagoury and Issa sat next to each other at the gala dinner during the IDC summit.

On Sept. 28, 2014, Ayoub and his wife contributed $30,000 to Issa's Victory Fund, which made the Ayoub family's LLC the 10th largest employer to donate to that committee in the 2014 election cycle. According to the Justice Department, on Oct. 21, Joseph Arsan — at Chagoury's direction — wired $30,000 to Ayoub, indicating on the wire form that the funds were for a "wedding gift." That was actually the payment to reimburse the Ayoubs for their donation to Issa's campaign.

The Ayoubs made an additional $30,000 in federal contributions on the same day as the known straw donations: $2,600 each to Issa for Congress, $7,400 each to the NRCC and $5,000 each to Issa's PAC, which was called Invest in a Strong and Secure America. It remains unclear whether those funds really came from the Ayoubs or from someone else, but at any rate, those contributions are not included in the reviewed DOJ agreements.

Ayoub was also the co-host and a straw donor for a 2016 fundraiser for Fortenberry — the event that led to the Nebraska congressman's indictment last month. According to federal prosecutors, Ayoub began cooperating with authorities in September 2016 and told agents for the FBI and IRS about the illegal contributions to Fortenberry in 2016, as well as a $45,000 contribution to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the $30,000 to Issa's victory fund in 2014.

Another Los Angeles resident, Ramez Toubassy (named as Individual I in DOJ documents), was "recruited" by Ayoub to make a $50,000 donation to the Romney campaign in the fall of 2012. Around the same time, Toubassy and Ayoub also each made $30,800 contributions to the Republican National Committee and to state Republican organizations in Idaho, Vermont, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Toubassy gave $3,550 to each group and Ayoub gave $2,925. At the time, Toubassy was the "president of Brand Sense Partners, a Century City brand-consulting firm that counted Britney Spears and MGM among its clients." He has not been named or charged in the scheme to this point.

Notably, the Ayoubs had never previously donated to any of Issa's campaign committees and did not do so again until three and a half years after they apparently began cooperating with federal authorities. On March 28, 2020, shortly after Issa finished second in the top-two nonpartisan primary in California's 50th congressional district, Dr. Ayoub made two additional donations to Issa: $2,000 to his victory fund and $2,000 to Darrell Issa for Congress. (Issa went on to win the general election in November.)

The timing of those contributions, roughly a year before the DOJ announced "Non and Deferred Prosecution Agreements" with Chagoury and Arsan, is striking. It seems plausible that the Ayoubs were used as part of the DOJ investigation into Issa. The indictment of Fortenberry includes the following:

The Federal Investigation also sought to uncover whether and when any politicians were aware they had received illegal foreign national or conduit contributions and whether any person sought to impermissibly influence the recipient politician in exchange for the contributions.

"No, I don't have the same issues [as Fortenberry]," Issa told Politico's Haley Fuchs and Olivia Beavers in late October. "I made no statements to any FBI — or anything else."

Neither Rep. Issa nor the Department of Justice responded to Salon's requests for comment. Gilbert Chagoury along with Elias and Mireille Ayoub could not be reached.

Keeping the 'Big Lie' alive: Conspiracy-soaked Trump supporters believe Virginia win was maybe 'part of a larger psyop'

Republican Glenn Youngkin won the hotly contested bellwether race for governor of Virginia last week, even after many on the right had issued dark warnings about the supposed possibility of election fraud in the Old Dominion. Yet the GOP victory has done nothing to squelch the "Big Lie," otherwise known as the belief that the 2020 election was "stolen" from Donald Trump through voting machines somehow compromised by China and the Democrats.

Many observers assumed that Youngkin's win over Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe would leave right-wing media and online characters alike mute, at least temporarily, on the topic of election fraud. Except that wasn't how things played out. Instead, conspiracy theories seemed to build on each other, Jenga Tower-style, creating an unstable and even indecipherable mess.

Last Wednesday, far-right Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft floated the imaginative notion that Youngkin's win could have been the result of a sinister "larger psyop" carried out by Democrats in order to distract from the really big election fraud being committed. In other words, maybe Glenn Youngkin was a false flag.

"On Tuesday, Glenn Youngkin won the governor's race in Virginia. He was an impressive candidate, and it was a stunning win," Hoft wrote, then continuing by citing the work of his twin brother, Joe Hoft, to reiterate the baseless claim that "one year ago 300,000 votes magically appeared for Joe Biden in the middle of the night to give him the win in Virginia."

What this added up to, in the Hoft brothers' universe, was that Youngkin's victory was a kind of fake-out, with the hapless McAuliffe serving as "a sacrificial lamb."

"So where were the magical votes this year? Was this omission on purpose?" Hoft demanded rhetorically. "Was this part of a larger psyop on the American public? Was this part of their game? Throw in McAuliffe as a sacrificial lamb knowing they can steal any future election at will?"

The question marks did not conceal the intended message delivered to Hoft's massive right-wing audience: The Big Lie goalposts were being moved to accommodate the story of Youngkin's victory. "So, was the 2021 Virginia race a head-fake by Democrats on the American public?" Hoft added, summarizing his grand claim.

Hoft did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

Fellow 2020 conspiracy theorists have also had to refine their messaging in the days following Youngkin's victory, with the similar goal of somehow bolstering their claims of continuing massive voting-machine fraud in elections across the nation.

"You guys, there was so much corruption and fraud through them machines," MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell said on his live stream last week, responding to the Virginia result. "You can't even believe it. And we do have spots where they didn't do anything in the algorithm. They didn't do anything. Now we have proof." Lindell appeared to mean, but did not exactly say, that the Virginia election was one of those "spots where they didn't do anything."

Lindell didn't respond to Salon's request for clarification. He declared on Friday night, however, that "rotten" Salon had a chance to beat out Fox News as "worst outlet of the year."

As for the Hoft brothers, whose Gateway Pundit site attracted 30 million page-views last month, their mix of half-baked conspiracy theories and blatantly one-sided reporting recently earned the ultimate award: praise from Donald Trump.

"You guys are great," the twice-impeached ex-president told the brothers last Saturday night during their visit to Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Palm Beach. "Really good!" he added, shaking their hands and beaming.

Mike Lindell still hopes Supreme Court will hear case this month — and he's a maybe on martial law

Pillow merchandiser turned 2020 election denier Mike Lindell neither endorsed nor rejected the prospect of a military coup if the Supreme Court refuses to accept his long-awaited case on purported election fraud, which he plans to make public just before Thanksgiving.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Lindell's still-hypothetical case, assembled by a team of pro-Trump lawyers, will apparently argue that the Chinese government or its agents rigged the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, perhaps through the now-infamous machines made by Dominion Voting Systems. Presumably he will ask the court to overturn or set aside the election results as certified by Congress, something it has no legal or constitutional power to do.

On Monday night, the pillow king opened up the phone lines during "The Lindell Report," which streams nightly on Frank: The Voice of Free Speech, a site plagued with continual technical glitches. One caller eagerly asked Lindell if he thought the military might stage a coup if the Supreme Court refused to accept his pre-Thanksgiving offering: "Any chance the military might take over if the Supreme Court doesn't come through?"

Lindell didn't take the bait but didn't exactly reject it either. "Well, I'm going to tell you right now that Supreme Court on ... we're dropping it on Nov. 23," he said, before pivoting to a familiar villain: "Our biggest battle is with the media."

The bedding tycoon warmed slightly to the possibility of military rule as he went on, observing that the United States was in "uncharted territory." He explained: "We have never had a country attack us without firing a shot. Take our whole country down. This fast!"

Finally Lindell admitted, "As far as the military, I have no clue," which seemed some distance short of ruling the idea out completely. Co-host Brannon Howse had prompted callers to ask Lindell questions he could then share with Donald Trump at their supposed upcoming meeting. Lindell speculated that he could ask the former president about a potential military takeover, but then appeared to backtrack. "I don't know if that could even be a question for him," Lindell said. "This is on God's timing!"

Lindell seems to have adjusted his expectations again, without quite saying so: He presumably understands that a case dropped on the Supreme Court on Nov. 23 will not result in Trump's "reinstatement" as president by Thanksgiving, which is two days later. Last week, even Steve Bannon — who has displayed fervent pro-Trump loyalty since receiving his presidential pardon — urged the pillow tycoon to "be realistic" about his goal of overturning the 2020 election by way of the high court.

Lindell told Bannon on the latter's "War Room: Pandemic" podcast that he hoped to get "a minimum of 20" state attorneys general to sign on to his still-invisible lawsuit. "I'd like to get all 50 attorneys generals [sic], because every one of them should be worried," he continued. That was when Bannon gently pleaded with Lindell to "be realistic" about the probable outcome of his crusade.

For the moment, Lindell's optimism seems unshaken, even as another self-imposed deadline approaches. He says he will once again give up sleep and host a three-day marathon online event ahead of the holiday to bring attention to his cause, running for 72 hours straight on the Frank site.

Neither Lindell nor his legal team responded to Salon's request for comment.

Roger Stone threatens to run against Ron DeSantis over lack of 2020 election audit

Longtime GOP operative resident Roger Stone announced that he's considering a campaign against Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over his frustrations that the state has not yet implemented a statewide audit into its 2020 election results, which former President Donald Trump won.

"If Florida governor Ron DeSantis does not order an audit of the 2020 election to expose the fact that there are over 1 million phantom voters on the Florida voter rolls in the Sunshine state," Stone wrote on Gab, "I may be forced to seek the Libertarian Party nomination for governor Florida in 2022."

Stone went on to include the hashtag "#ByeRon" in the Gab post, complete with a picture of himself.

Within a subsequent message posted to his Telegram channel, Stone continued to rail against DeSantis.

"I heard governor Ron DeSantis say that Florida had the most honest election in our history in 2020," Stone stated. "Yet I know for a certainty there are 1 million phantom voters on the Florida voter rolls. These 'voters' simply do not exist."

In true Stone-style, he added that the Republican lawmaker "can kiss his arrogant Yalie ass goodbye."

A Salon request to comment to Stone wasn't returned on Sunday afternoon.

It remains unclear why Stone is seeking an audit in Florida, since Trump won the state by over 300,000 votes in the 2020 election. The calls to audit Florida originated, notably, from MyPillow CEO-turned-2020 election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, who has been at the forefront of pushing baseless claims that Trump won the state by over 1.2 million votes.

The provocative comments from Stone come as DeSantis is being hailed as a hero in right-wing media over his handling of the coronavirus — which currently leads all states in its per-capita death toll since the Delta variant first swept ashore.

Trump to campaign for Glenn Youngkin on election eve as polls narrow and Republican gains ground

The twice-impeached former President Donald Trump announced he will phone it in for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin during a Monday evening tele-rally event as the race tightens in its final days.

This article first appeared in Salon.

While the Youngkin campaign has maintained a healthy distance from Trump so far, it appears that firewall is breaking down as the candidate gains ground — a Fox News poll out Thursday reflects momentum being on the side of Youngkin, with an eight-point spread between the candidates, whose views couldn't be more ideologically split.

FiveThirtyEight, in its aggregate of numerous national poll totals, shows a once runaway race for McAuliffe now turning into a nailbiter. On Thursday night, Youngkin was ahead by .01, and hours later on Friday, McAuliffe was up by .01.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

At a rally this past week, which President Joe Biden crossed the Potomac to speak at, die-heard McAuliffe supporters who spoke with Salon remained largely optimistic. On a cold, windy night in Arlington, Biden pressed hard on driving home the importance of voter turnout — though the event was frequently derailed by hecklers from across the political spectrum.

A group of four pro-Trump activists chanted, "We love Trump." Just minutes later, climate activists began yelling "stop line three," a plea to the Biden administration to halt the expansion of a pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin.

With the hecklers escorted out, Biden refocused his attention to taunting the Youngkin campaign over why Trump isn't on the trail stumping for the Republican millionaire.

"Terry's opponent has made all his private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump," Biden said. "But what's really interesting to me, he won't stand next to Donald Trump now that the campaign's on. Think about it. He won't allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state. And he's willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private — why not in public?"

"What's he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here?" the president asked. "Is he embarrassed?"

RELATED: Joe Biden calls out Glenn Youngkin for trying to distance himself from Trump: "Is he embarrassed?"

Much of Democrats' strategy has hinged on highlighting Youngkin's association with Trump, which the Republican candidate has been able to downplay and dodge successfully. Last week, when asked by Salon if Trump would stump on his behalf, Youngkin responded, "So I've been really clear all along. I'm campaigning down the stretch in Virginia."

And as the race comes down to the wire, it appears Youngkin is finally welcoming the ex-president's helping hand, accepting a phone-in appearance Monday during a last-minute rally on the eve of the election.

"It's confirmed: on Monday, Donald Trump is showing up to support Glenn Youngkin," McAuliffe stated in a Thursday press release. "Youngkin's entire campaign has been a full embrace of Donald Trump's dangerous extremism: divisive culture wars, racist dog whistles, and bigotry."

The former Virginia Governor added that the people of the Old Dominion state "now know all they need to know about Youngkin's plans for the Commonwealth," while calling on residents to hit the ballot box and "reject Donald Trump and his extreme agenda once again."

Dan Bongino risks losing his talk-radio gig as he feuds with fellow right-wing host over company vaccine mandate

Right-wing radio star Dan Bongino is now embroiled in a surprising public feud with a fellow Cumulus Media host over the fraught subject of vaccine mandates — and may be at risk of losing his job.

Bongino declared two weeks ago that he planned to defy a company-wide coronavirus vaccine mandate, and was willing to lose his gig on that principle. Now he faces pushback from an unlikely opponent: Alabama-based Cumulus host Dale Jackson, whose views are at least as conservative as Bongino's.

Jackson has called Bongino's position "virtue signaling," saying that the thrice-failed congressional candidate had deliberately avoided an opportunity to speak out against Cumulus before the company began letting employees go over the vaccine mandate.

Jackson is a less well-known figure nationally, but has a reputation as a fire-breathing right-winger with a longtime following in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. He has said that Bongino should have quit his job if he was actually serious about confronting the Cumulus corporate mandate, suggesting that Bongino's tough talk was merely bluster.

A Cumulus employee told Salon that the company has directed employees not to comment publicly on the internal feud between Bongino and Jackson. Numerous Salon requests for comment to Cumulus went unreturned.

Last Wednesday on NewsTalk 770AM/92.5FM, Bongino, who has a known propensity for overheated phone conversations, called into Jackson's Alabama-based show to offer a piece of his mind. "You sound delirious," said Bongino. "I don't know what was in your oatmeal this morning."

Jackson responded by observing that the Cumulus vaccine mandate had been in place for weeks, and Bongino has yet to quit his radio gig. "This would have been a better conversation publicly before that vaccine mandate went into place," Jackson said.

The on-air back-and-forth continued for more than 10 minutes, with Bongino resorting to a tirade of insults. When Jackson suggested that Bongino was being abusive, the former agreed. "And you're right; I can be a prick to you because you don't seem to know what you are talking about," Bongino said. "You seem to have a really big mouth."

Jackson remained cool for the most part, calling out Bongino's "tough guy routine" and saying, "I love it. It's what got you where you are. I'm impressed all the way around." Toward the end of their exchange, Jackson suggested it was all theater, saying, "I understand you got a bit, and you are playing it."

Bongino wasn't having any. "Don't play victim," he responded. "I'm not sure if you're a leftist or not. Don't be a snowflake!"

Earlier this month, Bongino pledged to his audience that he would fight the vaccine mandate at all costs — even if it left him without a job.

"I'm not really happy with the company I work with right here," Bongino said on the air in mid-October. "I believe these vaccine mandates are unethical. I believe they're immoral. I believe they don't take into account the science of natural immunity due to a prior infection."

Bongino said that he has been vaccinated due to a pre-existing health condition, but was fighting mandates on principle, saying, "I believe they're broad-based and don't take into account an individual circumstances of why they may or may not want to take a vaccine. And they're antithetical to everything I believe in."

"So I'll say again, I'm not going to let this go. Cumulus is going to have to make a decision with me," Bongino continued, issuing his employer an apparent ultimatum. "If they want to continue this partnership or they don't. But I'm talking to you on their airwaves. They don't have to let that happen. And I wouldn't mind if they didn't. Because it's really unfortunate that people with a lower profile than me, who don't have 300-plus stations, have been summarily either shown the door or been put in really untenable circumstances because they simply want to make a medical decision by themselves."

On Tuesday's broadcast, Bongino sounded far from optimistic about his future. "The fight with them, candidly, is having a real effect," adding that the situation was "a little ugly here."

Reached for comment about the ongoing war of words, Jackson declined further comment, saying, "Dan Bongino and I have talked on the air and off, and I have nothing to say about either conversation."

Bongino did not return Salon's requests for comment on the matter. A source at Cumulus said that Bongino was on "vacation — wink, wink."

According to a report in the trade publication Radio Insight, Cumulus Media informed all employees in August that they were required to be vaccinated by Sept. 27 in order to return to work in the company's offices two weeks after that, on Oct. 11.

Lauren Boebert's QAnon pal is running for local office — but isn't legally eligible

A friend and employee of far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert who works as the general manager of Shooters Grill, Boebert's bar and restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, is mounting a campaign for city council even though he does not meet the residency requirements.

This article first appeared in Salon.

According to a series of Facebook posts initially discovered by Salon, Bud Demicell — an apparent devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory —moved to Rifle with his wife Mona late in 2020, not in time to meet the residency requirement for local elections.

On Nov. 13, 2020, Mona Demicell, who worked in Boebert's campaign office employee, posted on Facebook that the couple was "moving to Rifle, CO to work for Lauren Boebert at Shooters Grill!" She added that "Bud's last day with his current employer is next Friday. He'll go to Rifle ahead of us. We're planning to all be in Rifle by Dec 1, but we're having trouble finding a place to live."

That clearly implies that Bud Demicell was not a resident of Rifle on Nov. 2, 2020, the date that would have established residential eligibility for this year's local election. It appears that as of that date, the couple was still living in Pueblo, Colorado, more than 250 miles away.

The City of Rifle website makes clear that any candidate for municipal office must "have resided in the City of Rifle for one year before the date of the election." Additional Facebook posts by both Bud and Mona Demicell confirm that the couple most likely arrived in town on or around Nov. 21 of last year, missing the deadline by less than three weeks.

"We need a place to live!! Preferably in Rifle. 2-3 bed, 2 bath. Pet friendly," Mona wrote on Nov. 17, in a now-deleted Facebook post. "Bud will be there Saturday and couch surf with gracious friends." That date was a Tuesday, so Bud's Saturday arrival presumably meant Nov. 21.

A post from Bud a few weeks earlier, on Oct. 22, featured a photo of a camouflage "Veteran for Trump" hat and stated, "I just finished voting at the polling location in Pueblo West," indicating he was a legal resident in Pueblo as of the 2020 presidential election.

Both of the Demicells, as reported by Salon in September, have ties to both the QAnon movement and the right-wing militia group known as the Three Percenters.

RELATED: Lauren Boebert hired QAnon superfans to run Shooters Grill, staff her campaign office

Demicell didn't return a Salon request for comment for this story, but his campaign website remains live. "Bud's vast business management and financial experience, and his strong leadership skills make him the optimum candidate for Rifle City Council," his site reads. "He believes in leading by example, open lines of communication, complete transparency, and accountability for his actions as well as the actions of others."

Over the past week as Salon began reporting on this matter, a large number of Mona Demicell's Facebook posts were either made private or deleted.

Salon made numerous efforts to contact the Rifle City Clerk's office about Demicell's eligibility but received no response. The local election is less than two weeks away.

Even far-right channel Newsmax is cutting ties with Mike Lindell

As Republicans and denizens of TrumpWorld increasingly distance themselves from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, he even finds himself at odds with Newsmax, a previously supportive far-right news channel.

Last week, Lindell said on his live-streaming site Frank Speech that Newsmax, which increasingly seeks to position itself as a further-right alternative to Fox News, had pulled all its ads from his site. He suggested that Newsmax was concerned about "competition" with Frank Speech, which seems objectively unlikely. A Newsmax spokesperson did not return numerous Salon requests for comment on the reasons for pulling back ads, which might also include the $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Lindell filed by Dominion Voting Systems over his outlandish and largely disproven 2020 election claims.

"We had Newsmax call up, and they canceled all their ads on Frank Speech," Lindell said last week on the nightly program he hosts on his clumsily-engineered site. He turned to co-host Brannon Howse and joked, "I'm blaming this one on you, Brannon [Howse]. They said a different reason. They said you're too much competition for them." Howse also hosts an evening program on Frank Speech that often involves hostile segments about immigrants and praise for Lindell's conspiracy theories.

After an exchange with Howse, Lindell continued: "They said it wasn't because of Dominion, which they [had] proven. They just said they're not going to put ads up because they said it's a competitive brand." It's not clear what Lindell believes Newsmax has "proven" regarding Dominion Voting Systems.

"It's kind of, like, weird," the pillow magnate continued. "I guess it'd be, you know, advertising another station on a station. But, you know, that's too bad because for me this is about saving our country. It's not about any competition with Newsmax or anyone. It's about getting our voices, so we can get the word out."

Howse then pivoted by claiming that Lindell's blundering media operation has a "great relationship" with One America News, more commonly referred to as OAN, and Real America's Voice, the organization that produces Steve Bannon's podcast. There's "a lot of cross-promotion between those networks," Howse said. He and Lindell have claimed that Lindell's primetime show, "The Lindell Report," reaches millions of homes nationwide, which is highly implausible.

"Absolutely," Lindell replied. "He made a bad decision, but, you know, I'm not gonna dwell on it," likely referring to one of his Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a close friend of Donald Trump's.

Howse concluded by claiming the Newsmax decision was a sign from higher powers that Lindell's media operation is "rising."

Lindell and his legal counsel didn't return a Salon request for comment. He has largely ended communication with Salon after deeming the site "evil" for requesting for the raw data behind his infamous claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Newsmax's apparent turnabout is something of a surprise. Lindell has previously received vocal support from both Ruddy personally and his entire operation. In August, a Newsmax reporter took to the Manhattan streets outside the Fox News headquarters building, berating the network for refusing to run Lindell's "cyber symposium" ads.

"Here at Newsmax, we believe in a good night's sleep, so we're running that ad," Newsmax correspondent Mike Carter said at the time. "And today, we're taking Fox News to the mattresses!"

Virginia GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin was forced to ask white supremacist supporter to leave campaign event

A routine campaign stop for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin turned chaotic on Saturday night after the candidate's team was forced to boot a local Republican leader and apparent white nationalist from the event, causing a scene that a spokesperson called "antithetical" to the Republican hopeful's message.

The incident happened just before Youngkin was slated to give a stump speech to a crowd of "Latinos for Youngkin" at a local restaurant, when campaign officials approached a man, named Fredy Burgos, who was wearing both a red pro-Trump hat emblazoned with "Build the Wall" and a pin promoting white nationalist and Unite the Right rally attendee Nicholas Fuentes.

Burgos is a longtime far-right activist and former local Republican party official who made waves during the Trump years with a series of bombastic statements that earned him plenty of enemies in local conservative circles. The Washington Post, reporting on a 2018 drive to oust him from his post on the Fairfax County Republican Party committee, wrote that he was a "verbal bomb-thrower whose attacks against Muslims, immigrants and others have turned off moderates."

He even appeared alongside several of Fuentes' white nationalist followers — known online as Groypers — at a Loudoun County School Board meeting recently, which has become a local flashpoint in the nationwide right-wing campaign to ban anti-racist lessons in public schools.

As Saturday's Youngkin event was getting underway, Burgos, who sported a thick mustache and vintage suit vest for the occasion, made a short-lived walk around the inside of the venue, only to be forced out after Salon inquired about his pin and associations.

Notably, Burgos said he only became a Youngkin supporter recently, after Virginia state Senator-turned-"toxic [Youngkin] surrogate"

(Photo: Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)



Despite Burgos being booted from the event Saturday, he told Salon he remains a steadfast supporter of the candidate and that he hopes to appear at future rallies.

"I'm a supporter of the ticket," Burgos told Salon after being removed from the "Latinos for Youngkin" event. "They are concerned about the [Build the Wall] hat. I think that they have a problem thinking that other people may have a problem with the hat."

(Photo by Zachary Petrizzo/Salon)


Asked about his white nationalist pin, Burgos added, "I support the America First movement."

"I believe that we need to put the interest of the American people and America First on every issue."

In a subsequent statement to Salon, a Youngkin campaign spokesperson said Burgos, who told Salon he has attended numerous other campaign events without incident, espoused beliefs "antithetical" to the candidate's message of unity.

"At today's Latinos for Youngkin event, a Salon reporter informed a staffer of an attendee's pin that associated the attendee with [an] element of the white nationalist movement. The white nationalist movement and those associated with it are entirely antithetical to tonight's event — to celebrate the end of Hispanic Heritage Month and the Latinos for Youngkin efforts — and Glenn's message to unite ALL Virginians, so the attendee was asked to leave," Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told Salon in a statement. "There will never be room for white nationalism or any form of hatred or bigotry on this campaign."

It's not the first run-in with right-wing extremism for the Youngkin campaign, either: the candidate himself has appeared on former Trump official Sebastian Gorka's radio show. Notably, Gorka found himself in hot water after wearing the pin of a Nazi-linked group to Trump's inaugural ball.

Last week Youngkin also found himself the recipient of high praise from the former president himself during an event in which attendees pledged allegiance to an American flag that supposedly flew over a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection — a bizarre show of support for the rioters who attempted to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's electoral victory over Trump.

Youngkin later tried to distance himself from the gathering, and the former commander-in-chief, by calling the incident "weird."

It's a delicate needle Youngkin is attempting to thread on the campaign trail — appealing to hardcore Trump supporters by embracing election conspiracies and anti-vaccine sentiments, while simultaneously claiming to hold moderate beliefs.

"Here is what Glenn Youngkin has done, which is brilliant. He doesn't go around talking about November 3rd, but here's what he's done," right-wing radio host John Fredricks, the organizer of last week's flag incident, said during a Thursday morning appearance on Bannon's "War Room" podcast.

"Glenn Youngkin has put together the greatest voting integrity infrastructure in the history of Virgina. He's got the RNC behind it; they have lawyers, they have a hotline, they have this whole thing."

"Obviously, Glenn Younkin believes that the election in 2020 got stolen," Fredricks added.

It's these beliefs that Burgos cited as the reason he plans to continue supporting Youngkin despite being booted from the campaign event Saturday. He even said he planned on attending another Youngkin event later that evening in Northern Virginia.

The controversial 2013 Republican candidate for Virginia House of Delegates did say he might have to leave his hat at home from now on.

CPAC set to stage far-right conference in Hungary -- as federal prosecutors zero in

The American Conservative Union, the conservative grassroots organization that puts on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, is taking its tested model for hosting right-wing gatherings to the authoritarian nation of Hungary.

CPAC events have been held in various foreign countries over the years, but there is an unmistakable significance to staging one in the country ruled by right-wing despot Viktor Orbán, who has many fans among American conservatives and Trump supporters.

In a statement to Salon, CPAC's acting communications director, Regina Bratton, acknowledged that the event is scheduled for late March of 2022 in Hungary, saying the organization hopes it will be a "huge success."

"International CPAC in Tokyo" launched five years ago, Bratton said. "Since then, annual conferences have been added in Australia, Brazil and South Korea. There are plans for a CPAC Israel, and now organizers in Hungary who are passionate about protecting freedom have announced plans to host a future event," she continued. "The battle for freedom is the same in America as it is around the world. It is a battle against socialism."

Yet CPAC organizers also appear to be distancing themselves somewhat from the Hungarian event, which Bratton later said in a phone interview was not "an official CPAC conference" and was not being "put on by our organization here in the Washington, D.C., metro area." She described the sponsors of the Hungary conference as "an outside organization" comprised of "freedom-loving people" in that country. CPAC "was very happy the [Hungarian] government is allowing this to happen in their country," Bratton said.

Asked about the relationship between the CPAC sponsors in Hungary and the American Conservative Union, Bratton was not specific, saying only, "I don't believe they are a subsidiary of CPAC."

Although the relationship between ACU and the Hungarian CPAC event remains unclear, a former ACU employee told Salon the attempt to draw a distinction was largely cosmetic, and that the Hungary gathering had been on the table since before the COVID pandemic. Another individual familiar with planning for the Hungary event told Salon that the ACU has been closely involved from the beginning. An ACU spokesperson declined to comment on these claims.

News of the CPAC event in Hungary was first reported by a Hungarian news site called "24.hu," which quoted ACU executive director Dan Schneider saying, "Hungary is an excellent place to host the CPAC. The essence of conservative ideology is to preserve the best old values for everyone," he said, but "liberals are destroying everything traditional with their 'strange ideas.'"

One former ACU chairman, Al Cardenas, told Salon he has no idea why the group is holding an event in Hungary, saying he hasn't "heard of any reason" for the venture.

Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he clearly saw a purpose behind the event.

"It's a threat," he explained, adding that Orbán's party, Fidesz, has "all but eliminated the free press, and have weakened democracy in that country to the point that it can't even be considered a democracy anymore. There is no reason to bring [CPAC] to Hungary unless that is a clear statement that that's what you want to do to the United States."

News of the Hungarian venture comes as ACU and its chairman, Matt Schlapp, reportedly find themselves targets of a federal probe. "Federal investigators are currently looking into possible criminal campaign-finance misdeeds at ACU during Schlapp's tenure," The Dispatch reported last week. "As part of the investigation, the FBI has interviewed former and current ACU employees about the financial dealings of the organization and its leaders."

When asked to comment on the reported investigation, Schlapp said he would respond with a statement. He did not do so before publication of this article.

Accused war criminal's foundation forced to refund MAGA donors angered by his anti-Trump posts

Bitter TrumpWorld donors want their money back after Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, once an outspoken pro-Trump voice opposed to President Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal, apparently turned on his far-right supporters and slammed former President Trump in a Facebook post.

This latest TrumpWorld internal drama began last month when Scheller faced discipline from his Marine Corps superiors after speaking out against his bosses over the Afghanistan withdrawal.

In what became a viral video in right-wing media, on Aug. 26 Scheller said: "People are upset because their senior leaders let them down. And none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, 'We messed this up.'"

Shortly thereafter, the Marine officer lost his post and was briefly jailed for his social media posting, in violation of orders to halt his online activities. On Tuesday afternoon, he was apparently "released from the brig." Throughout the multi-week affair, his parents, Stu and Cathy Scheller, have spoken out, claiming that the Marine Corps told them their son could face "a long prison term."

That's possible: Scheller now faces a series of serious charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including charges of "willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer" and "failure to obey an order."

The right-wing ecosystem roused itself, and financial aid from pro-Trump online forces poured in on Scheller's behalf, directed to his family and legal defense team.

Eddie Gallagher, who was accused of murdering an Iraqi POW in 2017 but later acquitted, stepped in with his Pipe Hitter Foundation, which to date has raised north of $2.5 million on Scheller's behalf. But here's the rub: After Scheller expressed mild criticism of the twice-impeached ex-president in a recent Facebook post, TrumpWorld donors are livid and want their money back.

This donor backlash appears to have been sparked by a Sept. 25 post in which Scheller said, "President Trump. I was told by everyone to kiss the ring because of your following and power. I refuse. While I respect your foreign policy positions, I hate how you divided the country. I don't need or want your help. You do not have the ability to pull [the] U.S. together. You may even win the next election. But your generation's time is running out."

Next Schiller took aim at Donald Trump Jr., the former president's eldest son, stating: "Tell your son to stop tweeting about me. Your whole family knows nothing about [the] U.S. or our sacrifices. I could never work with you. I'd rather sit in jail and be released with a dishonorable [discharge] than make compromises in my beliefs."

Oh my word: Trumpist donors, by the hundreds, are beside themselves. One donor who identified herself as Barbra wrote: "What a scam artist you are! Worse than BLM last year! Give the money back! Cry baby! You are mental and your kids and wife will suffer. Karma all the way here. You knew damn well what you were doing to prey on people for Money!"

Barbra, by her own account, had given $3. She concluded: "A real Marine doesn't have mommy and daddy crying for him!"

Gallagher and his Pipe Hitter Foundation didn't return Salon's request for comment on this story.

Another anonymous donor wrote: "You and to your family [sic] are frauds! Tell your parents to cry on the fake news channels. You hate Trump, his kids, and you think he divided this Country? You need help? Tell your loser family this E9 said [to] go to hell."

"Yes, I am making the MINIMUM $3 donation to let everyone else know to look you up before they consider any $$ support for you," another disgruntled donor wrote, in an apparent effort to warn away other Trump supporter.

Another unhappy donor named Gretchen Smith wrote, "I sent Pipe Hitter an email for a refund of my $52.23 on 10/05/21."

"How dare you disrespect President Trump," wrote Marc. "Please refund my earlier donation. If the election wasn't stolen, you wouldn't be in jail right now because Trump would NEVER have allowed it. Thanks for your service, but maybe it's your big mouth that's causing all your issues."

Since Scheller went rogue with his anti-Trump comments, Gallagher's organization has been tasked with issuing refunds to angry Trump supporters who had initially flocked to the cause.

"We have been working all day today in giving people their money back, if they are asking for it," Gallagher told Steve Bannon on his "War Room: Pandemic" podcast earlier this week. "It's understandable," the former Navy SEAL added.

Gallagher insisted his foundation would not back down from supporting Scheller and his family, despite the backlash from Trump loyalists: "We are going to continue to raise money for them and help them out." How that will be received remains to be seen.

Mike Lindell's new genius plan: Knock on your door and ask whether you're dead

After numerous failed attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, now-infamous pillow mogul Mike Lindell has a new plan of sorts: He's begun meeting with Republican lawmakers in deep-red states and plans to send out door-to-door canvassers aiming to prove the election was faked.

Josh Merritt, a former member of Lindell's "red team" at his August "cyber symposium" in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told Salon that Lindell is funding a last-ditch door-knocking effort based on rumors that there are many "phantom voters" — people who have died or moved away — on official rolls. This claim is not new, and has been thoroughly debunked.

Merritt added that Lindell is "targeting areas of question based off info from guys like Dr. Douglas Frank and Seth Keshel." Frank and Keshel are two of Lindell's close associates, who have pushed a variety of baseless claims of voter fraud on the pillow tycoon's behalf over the past year.

In a recent video appearance by Lindell on his Frank Speech website, he discussed why he believes the canvassing effort is important, albeit in his usual tangled grammar and disrupted syntax. "We are in a race here, how much damage they can do before we get this election pulled down," he said last week.

"I want to show everybody with the — with the data in the packet captures —all the stuff we had. What we did over five months, everybody I extrapolated, we had the cyber experts extrapolate that into numbers that we can read into real data. I want to do an example." Telling an assistant to "pull up" a graphic display, "I want to tell everybody the conversation I had with North Dakota today. Well, first of all, for about a month and a half now, you guys, I've been going to the red states. I've been going to your Missouris. Your Alabamas. I'm in Florida right now."

Exactly what Lindell has been doing in "your Missouris" and "Alabamas" is unclear. Continuing with his monologue, the pillow kingpin declared he now has the "real numbers" from the 2020 election after funding canvassing exercises in numerous states.

"What happened was, all of the ground people, people on the ground, just patriots out there [were] telling their legislators and their governors to meet with Mike Lindell's team," he continued. "'Let him show you the evidence.' So we met with these guys, and we show[ed] them that it happened in their state; you get to Missouri, they go, 'Oh, it didn't happen here.' Alabama, 'Oh it didn't happen here,' and then you show them a county, and you show them the evidence of that county, then you go canvass. You do a canvassing, and now you've got real numbers."

This quest for "real numbers" through door-to-door canvassing efforts does not seem to square well with Lindell's previous claims about his supposed "packet captures," which he has repeatedly said would eliminate any need for audits or canvassing and would deliver all the proof one would ever need that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election.

Lindell and members of his alleged voter fraud team didn't return Salon's request for comment on this story.

Salon was unable to track down any Arizona or Missouri voters who had been personally contacted by Lindell's team. It's certainly possible that voters in those or other states had no idea who was knocking on the door or why.

Lindell seems to think the canvassing efforts are yielding startling results, claiming in a recent broadcast that after the canvassing, an unknown official in a "red state" asked him: "How did dead people vote? How did non-residents vote?"

In recent days, Lindell has not mentioned a deadline for Trump's "reinstatement" as president, which he does not seem aware is a constitutional impossibility. Last month he suggested his still-nonexistent legal case might reach the Supreme Court before Thanksgiving, while also claiming that the U.S. government has attempted to kill him and repeatedly contradicting his own legal arguments in the $1.3 billion civil lawsuit filed against him and various other election-truthers by Dominion Voting Systems.

Trumpers stand up for Kyrsten Sinema -- suggest bathroom protesters should be 'deported'

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., found herself the recipient of some unwanted attention over the weekend, as the "centrist" senator continues her apparently intractable opposition to President Biden's legislative "Build Back Better" agenda.

In a video posted to Twitter on Sunday, young activists with the organization Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) confronted Sinema outside a classroom at Arizona State University, where she has taught classes since 2003.

The video captures the senator stating, "Actually, I am heading out," and locking herself into a bathroom stall as hecklers pepper her with remarks from the bathroom's entryway.

Following the sound of a flushing toilet, an activist speaks up, arguing they are holding her "accountable."

"We need to hold you accountable to what you told us, what you promised us that you were going to pass when we knocked on doors for you," the activist who identified herself as Blanca says. "It's not right!"

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

A Sinema spokesperson didn't return a Salon request for comment about the confrontation. In a statement released on Twitter, however, Sinema said the bathroom encounter "was not legitimate protest."

"It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom," her statement added.

Right-wing media quickly seized upon the unlikely task of defending a Democratic senator against people who (very likely) voted for her.

Coup-crazed former Trump adviser Steve Bannon suggested that the progressive activists who confronted the senator might have been "Illegal aliens."

"By the way, no illegal aliens vote in Arizona. They are bragging about it," he added Monday morning on his podcast. "Out there, they're stalking Sen. Sinema and bragging about how they organize and vote out in Arizona. Just saying."

"Watch — Leftist Protesters Stalk, Harass Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in a Restroom," the far-right Breitbart site flashed on its homepage early on Monday. The conservative blog RedState asked its readers a rhetorical question: "Did Leftists Who Stalked and Filmed Sinema in the Bathroom Commit a Crime?" (The answer would almost certainly be no.)

Stephen Miller, the former speechwriter and adviser to Donald Trump, who has often expressed an affinity for white nationalist views, also took up Sinema's cause, expanding on Bannon's illogical views.

"An illegal alien is stalking a US Senator to demand passage of Biden's reconciliation bill [because] it includes mass amnesty for illegals," he tweeted, citing the ruckus on the Arizona State campus. "In a functioning democracy, ICE would swiftly deport this person, but under Biden's new edict (as the lawbreaker knows) she's immune from removal."

"Did we #DeportBlanca yet?" former Trump official Steve Cortes asked aloud on Twitter.

On Monday afternoon, President Biden said the Sinema protesters' actions were "not appropriate," but observed shortly thereafter that such events are "part of the process."

"I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody," the president said from the White House. "The only people it doesn't happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them. It's a part of the process."

Mediaite's Dan Abrams hopes to chip away at CNN and Fox News — with pro-cop agitprop

ABC News legal analyst and media mogul Dan Abrams is a powerful guy, with his fingers in many pies, even once owning a stake in an upscale Greenwich Village restaurant. But his latest launch, the primetime NewsNation cable show "Dan Abrams Live," takes a peculiar tack: Rather than "speaking truth to power," in the journalistic cliché, it centers around protecting some of the most powerful people in our society: police officers.

Abrams' new show appears drenched in deep and unconditional love for those who wear the badge. One promotional ad I heard recently on the Washington, D.C., Metro goes like this: "You know, too often the media ignores the everyday heroics of police. That changes on NewsNation."

During his debut episode on Monday night, Abrams said: "As a regular feature of the show, we will be highlighting police work and some of the incredible and dangerous situations officers deal with every day." And over the next two broadcasts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the former host of "Live PD" on A&E — a highly-rated show that was pulled from the air after filming an incident in which a Black man was killed by police — continued to carry copious amounts of water for cops. On Monday, Abrams was joined by former Tulsa police sergeant Sean "Sticks" Larkin, a regular talking head from the A&E show.

Strategically and in every other way, this seems odd. Why is a politically "moderate" cable news show — yes, it's being billed that way — advertising heavily in the diverse D.C. metro area with a message that police officers are role models too often railroaded by more mainstream news outlets?

I emailed Abrams this week with these and other questions about his new program and, more specifically, his particular affection for policing.

In one email, I asked him about the perception that BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) Americans are unjustly killed by police at disproportionate rates, and how he squares that with a show focused on the good-faith acts of cops. Wouldn't a "moderate" cable news show hold those with power accountable?

Abrams ultimately requested that I run both my questions and his answers in full for "fairness and completeness," something I hadn't agreed to in advance. I've done my best to accommodate that in good faith.

He responded to that question by writing that "uniformly demonizing police is a scourge I hope to combat" on his show:

I appreciate the transparency about your viewpoint in the question so I hope you will appreciate my response in the same vein. I believe one of the greatest sins journalists can commit is to feign objectivity, so your willingness to make your poition on the matter clear and unambiguous, is refreshing. You seem to be suggesting that "BIPOC Americans" are being "murdered" by police on a regular basis with just the "occasional good faith" police officers doing their jobs. This, in my opinion, shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what police officers do and are supposed to do, every day. In fact, part of the purpose of this show is to present far more accurate and complete portrayals of policing in America. Police reform is important and police officers who commit crimes must be held to account, but uniformly demonizing police is a scourge I hope to combat.

In response to my question about accountability and police misconduct, Abrams said he won't avoid the topic. "I will certainly be covering police misconduct and the accompanying trials when appropriate. This show is not, however Salon TV," he wrote. "It is entirely within your discretion to solely focus on police misconduct, but that is not what I will be doing. I hope that answers your question."

As full disclosure, I worked for the site Mediaite, which is owned by Abrams, for more than a year, from January 2020 to March 2021. I have never met him in person, and had never previously communicated personally with him before our email exchange over the past week.

Abrams' show has yet to capture the attention of major media reporters, and may remain an oddity on the cable landscape. It's unclear why pro-police viewers would pick "Dan Abrams Live" over the known right-wing propaganda enterprises at Newsmax and Fox News, and even less clear why liberals or "moderates" who traditionally watch CNN would do so. Indeed, recent cable news history would seem to back that up such an assertion. When former Fox News host Shepard Smith moved to CNBC, his attempt to brand a "moderate" cable news show was a "high-priced flop."

At the moment, NewsNation averages around 100,000 viewers daily, according to publicly available cable news ratings, making the channel barely visible relative to Fox News and CNN, and even behind CNBC and Newsmax TV as well.

Asked about the difficulty of pulling audiences away from the cable news behemoths, Abrams said: "Yes, it's an uphill battle because I do think people are stuck in their echo chambers. But I certainly hope we will be able to break through, because the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as moderates."

Lauren Boebert claims she's not a QAnon believer — but the cult-loving couple she hired as key employees are

In public, Rep. Lauren Boebert has attempted to distance herself from the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, at least since she entered politics. Yet, she has personally hired QAnon adherents to manage her restaurant and work in her Colorado campaign office.

In November 2020, just after Boebert was elected to Congress, QAnon follower Mona Demicell shared on Facebook that she and her husband Bud, a fellow QAnon adherent, were moving to Rifle, Colorado, to work for the incoming congresswoman. Bud Demicell is now the general manager of Shooters Grill, while Mona does accounting for the restaurant and also works in Boebert's campaign office next door.

According to Mona's Facebook post on Nov. 13, 2020, Bud was due to arrive in Rifle from the couple's hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, on Nov. 21 — a distance of nearly 300 miles — and would be "couch surfing" until Mona and their son arrived in the area. Less than a week later, Shooters Grill updated its Facebook profile picture with a staff photo that included Bud Demicell (back row, left) as well as Boebert's mother, Shawna Bentz. A few months later, the Demicells began renting a home in Rifle that was listed for $1,750 per month.

Both Bud and Mona Demicell have posted on social media numerous times in support of QAnon, and have reposted conspiracy-laden messages from self-appointed "master Q comms decoder" David Reinert. For example, one Reinert post later reposted by Bud, who now runs Shooters Grill, featured 27 images that attempted to tie Donald Trump's social media posts together into a meaningful narrative, or what Reinert calls a "marker."

"Possibly the biggest post to date," it read. "Go slow. Follow the trail. The last BOOM will be Magical. MARKER."

That very same month, Bud reposted another of Reinert's messages, which read as follows:

Who funds it?
George Soros.
When did they start?
During OBAMA's Crime Spree.
What is the plan?
DESTRUCTION of AMERICA.
Can you hear me now?
INFILTRATION instead of INVASION.
Who is Barack Hussein Obama…Really?
"You'll find out."
The people "hero worshipping Obama are going to be in for the shock of their lives.
That is if they're able to break their programming.

Travis View, a QAnon researcher and co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast, said that Boebert has carefully avoided embracing the conspiracy theory too obviously.

"Lauren Boebert has always tried to maintain some distance between herself and QAnon," View told Salon. "For example, in July of 2020, she tweeted that 'QAnon = fake news' and that she's 'not a follower.' However, as evidenced by her willingness to appear on a QAnon show, her statement that she 'hopes' Q is real and her closely associating with QAnon followers, she at very least appears to be cozy with the QAnon community."

Boebert didn't respond to a Salon request for comment on this story.

In July 2020, Bud Demicell attended a protest at the Christopher Columbus statue in Pueblo along with several Proud Boys and the FBI-listed "outlaw" motorcycle gang, Sons of Silence. That protest turned violent and Demicell allegedly "put a revolver" to the stomach of an "antifascist" activist.

Now Bud Demicell is running for Rifle City Council. His campaign website boasts that his "vast business management and financial experience, and his strong leadership skills make him the optimum candidate for Rifle City Council." In 2018, the Demicells discharged almost $60,000 in debts through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.

According to a 2016 filing, Bud Demicell was an assistant manager at a Walgreens store in Pueblo, earning $20,000 a year, while Mona Demicell was unemployed and receiving $16,000 in disability. Additional FEC filings show Mona as disabled. According to Boebert's recent financial disclosure, Shooters Grill lost $226,234 in 2020 and $143,233 the prior year, raising the question of how she manages to keep her employees on the payroll.

Mona, who now works both at Shooters and in Boebert's campaign office, was thanked by name by Boebert in a November 2020 press release for "organizing, calling voters, distributing yard signs, attending rallies and volunteering to do all that made this a true grassroots campaign. I can never thank them enough for all they did to support my campaign, but I'll sure try. Thank you!"

In the months and years leading up to that, Mona repeatedly expressed her enthusiasm for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which falsely alleges that Democrats and prominent liberal celebrities are running a secret child sex trafficking ring. In July of 2020, she tweeted a reply to Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, "#wwg1wga #TheBestIsYetToCome #LaurenForColorado." A month later, Mona simply posted a large Q logo and in May of 2020, she tweeted, "Welcome to the 'alt-right, nut-job, conspiracy group'!! You're in excellent company! #wwg1wga." (That abbreviation stands for the QAnon slogan, "Where we go one, we go all.")

In August of 2019, Mona posted a large QAnon logo to Facebook along with the caption, "Let's take notice of our fellow Patriots! Let's get the Q memes going and shout-outs where yall are from! Get some popcorn and enjoy the show! God bless! And remember...! WWG1WGA!!!"

Also, in August of 2019, Mona replied on Facebook to a post about the QAnon Code of Ethics. "I barely go [sic] the very general basics before Polis petition hit. Now I can't keep up with it! Sept 6th — back to Q." Mona has also posted memes relating to the right-wing militia group known as Three Percenters, along with other QAnon related content.

A month earlier, Mona posted a tweet from the user @StormIsUponUs (a QAnon reference) to her Facebook page with the hashtag "WWG1WGA." That specific post, reflecting a reality-proof immersion in the QAnon worldview, reads: "These blackouts in major cities are likely white hat EMP attacks to disable the security measures of hidden enemy facilities as part of ongoing raids by federal law enforcement in the wake of Epstein's arrest. We have never seen anything like this. #TheStormIsHere."

In May 2020, Boebert told a right-wing podcast, "Everything that I've heard of Q, I hope that this is real. Because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values." In that interview, Boebert attributed her knowledge of QAnon to her mother, but in an October 2020 interview with FOX21, she denied that she or her mother were QAnon followers. "I'm not a follower of QAnon," she said. "My mom is not a supporter of QAnon, she just talked to me about it one time."

In June this year, Mona Demicell replied to a post on Facebook by saying, "Love our Lauren Boebert and her sweet momma, Shawn Bentz!!"