How Ginni Thomas and the Shadowy Council of National Policy Advanced the Election Disinformation Campaign

Virginia "Ginni" Thomas as she appeared in an endorsement video for Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign. (Photo: screenshot from TedCruz.com)

Before Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas took to Facebook in the early morning hours that Wednesday; there she urged people to tune into the so-called Stop the Steal rally held on the grounds of the White House. “LOVE MAGA people!!!!” she posted, adding minutes later, “GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU STANDING UP or PRAYING.”

Though her affinity for caps-lock commentary may suggest otherwise, Ginni Thomas is an influential right-wing activist respected in conservative politics. The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, she has made her own mark on the Republican Party with lofty positions at Turning Point USA, the Heritage Foundation, The Daily Caller, and the Council for National Policy, a highly secretive organization whose members include some of the most powerful conservatives and right-wing players in the country.

Respected though she may be in conservative circles, Ginni Thomas’ connection to extremists is nothing new. In 2010, she led Liberty Central, a think tank she founded to appeal to Tea Party supporters and to serve as the connective tissue between “Tea Party groups and the new citizen activists,” as she claimed in a 2010 interview. That group’s sponsors included the Gun Owners of America—a radical alternative to the NRA—and its gun-rights extremist leader Larry Pratt, who addressed white supremacists at a 1992 gathering in Colorado and appeared to call for war against the U.S. government in 2010. The far-right Catholic group Tradition, Family and Property, known for being virulently anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman, and anti-democratic, was also linked to Ginni Thomas’ think tank from its inception. 

Ginni Thomas’ zeal for the Stop the Steal campaign and its followers, a mob of whom would later storm the Capitol in an act of domestic terrorism, is notable in and of itself—her husband sits on the highest court, after all—but it’s also disconcerting for another reason: She is the latest in a string of Council for National Policy members—and an authoritative voice at that—who has supported the Stop the Steal movement. 

Since the inception of this latest incarnation of the Stop the Steal campaign on Nov. 4 by lead organizer Ali Alexander, who himself was a member as recently as 2017, according to membership rolls obtained by the watchdog group Documented, it has received support from CNP members. In fact, the tacit support of key CNP members for challenging the 2020 presidential election results may have been the impetus for Alexander’s decision to begin the campaign to overturn the results of the presidential election by peddling disinformation. 

Formed during the Reagan administration, CNP holds closed-door meetings and instructs members to not discuss the council’s work or its membership, though, over the years, membership rolls have been leaked to the press. Those rolls have shown the organization to be home to a couple hundred marquee names in the conservative movement, Christian right, and right-wing fringe: Current members include Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch and Tony Perkins of the religious-right Family Research Council; former members include Trump’s former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. 

The CNP has a close relationship with the Trump White House—so much so, that at the superspreader Rose Garden event to celebrate the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, “there were more Council for National Policy members present there than there were members of the White House staff and members of Congress combined,” said Anne Nelson, author of the “Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right,” a book about the CNP. And on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump gave a big speech to the Council for National Policy, calling it as his “flagship address,” a rare public event for the council, Nelson said.

Nelson describes the CNP’s main role as providing “coordination, rather than direction” to its members, which include executives of such right-wing outlets the Salem Media Group and The Daily Caller. Ginni Thomas, Nelson points out, is on the board of governors of CNP Action, the lobbying arm of the secretive organization. In May 2019, Thomas and Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell provided an update on the Conservative Action Project, CNP’s 501(c)(4) arm that holds weekly meetings, and laid out their strategy for the coming year with a slide presentation to CNP members, which included messaging about building a robust infrastructure on the right and protecting Trump. 

In the days leading up to the Jan. 6 mayhem, and on the day itself, the connection between CNP and Stop the Steal—and the campaign’s influence on the White House—became more apparent. 

On Dec. 30, Right Wing Watch posted a report about a letter sent by the Conservative Action Project to Senate Republicans urging them to “contest the electoral votes” from “Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona”—the battleground states Biden won. That letter may have not mentioned Stop the Steal by name, but it asked senators to do exactly what Stop the Steal was demanding of Republican members of Congress: to reject electoral votes in favor of Biden. 

Those signees included Cleta Mitchell, Trump’s lawyer (who was on the infamous phone call when Trump asked that Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes”); Tom Fitton, an CNP executive committee member whose Judicial Watch group constantly spouts voter fraud conspiracy theories; Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots and columnist for The Washington Times; Tony Perkins, former CNP president and leader of the Family Research Council; Kenneth Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and member of CNP Action’s board of directors; and William L. Walton, current CNP president. All were revealed as CNP members in a leak of CNP’s September 2020 membership directory

A Dec. 10 letter posted on the Conservative Action Project website, reported by Alex Kotch at Exposed by CMD, asked state legislatures in battleground states to “exercise their plenary power under the Constitution and appoint clean slates of electors to the Electoral College to support President Trump,” and that the House and Senate only recognize the electors of those states that do so. Again, this was the same demand state legislators and Congress members were hearing from Stop the Steal activists. Kotch reports that the letter links to a document that, according to metadata embedded in the file, was created by none other than Cleta Mitchell, calling for a “constitutional remedy” to reject votes for Biden. The signatories included some of the same names that appeared on the Dec. 30 letter, in addition to Ed Martin, a leading Stop the Steal organizer and CNP member whom Alexander has thanked for his “mentorship” in organizing the Stop the Steal campaign. 

Two days before the Jan. 6 rally, CNP member Charlie Kirk, who leads the youth-oriented group Turning Point USA, shared a video from Women for America First’s Kylie Jane Kremer advertising the rally and told his followers that his organizations, TPUSA and Students for Trump, had funded more than 80 buses to attend the rally. “The historic event will likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history,” Kirk wrote. “The team at @TrumpStudents & Turning Point Action are honored to help make this happen, sending 80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president,” he said in the since deleted tweet, uncovered by Daily Dot. Kirk’s Students for Trump co-chair is Ryan Fournier, a Stop the Steal organizer who spoke at the Jan. 5 rally on the same stage where speakers advocated rebellion.  

While a viral claim that Ginni Thomas funded the buses herself appears to be false, Ginni Thomas has been linked to the group in the recent past, serving on Turning Point USA’s advisory council in 2019, along with fellow CNP members Foster Friess, Adam Brandon, and former Ohio congressman Bob McEwen.

On Jan. 5, speakers took to Freedom Plaza for a Stop the Steal rally designed to prime attendees for the big day. Among the speakers was Peter Navarro, a fringe right-wing economist who spoke at the May 2019 CNP meeting. and who serves as an assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. On the stage at Freedom Plaza, Navarro peddled voter fraud conspiracy theories and urged activists to stay angry, declaring to the assembled crowd, “We will take this back.”  

On Jan. 6, Ginni Thomas told her Facebook followers to watch the event convened by groups working in concert with the Stop the Steal campaign, dubbed the “Save America Rally,” on the right-wing Right Side Broadcasting, one of the few networks to cover the gathering. The massive rally, at which Trump would incite his supporters to bring their wrath to the Capitol, was led by the groups March for Trump and the Kremers’ Women for America First. 

Amy Kremer, who was listed as a member in a 2014 CNP membership directory obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was among the first speakers. Jenny Beth Martin, the CNP executive committee secretary whom Trump thanked in his speech to CNP this summer, was another. She brought with her Simone Gold, who is now sought by the FBI after she appeared to be part of the crowd that stormed the Capitol following her speech on the main stage, as seen on social media.

After the Capitol insurrection, Ginni Thomas either deactivated or deleted her Facebook account, likely unhappy that reporters noted her enthusiasm for a movement what would launch a riot. Josh Hawley, one of the senators who led the charge to contest electors’ votes in the Senate, charged ahead even as other lawmakers backed off in light of the violent consequences wrought by the disinformation campaign designed to delegitimize the outcome of the presidential election. “Shadow Network” author Nelson noted that, throughout his career, Hawley was groomed by CNP affiliates.

Ali Alexander and other “Stop the Steal” activists at Dec. 15, 2020 press conference (Image from NTD livestream posted on Epoch Times YouTube channel.)

 

The Stop the Steal disinformation campaign wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without CNP support. When on Nov. 4, Ali Alexander floated the idea of rebooting the Stop the Steal campaign, which in its prior iteration was focused on the outcome of the 2018 mid-term elections, baselessly claiming that the election had been stolen from Trump, he called on key CNP members including Tom Fitton, Amy Kremer, Ed Martin, and Charlie Kirk.

“Because Ali Alexander is a fairly veteran operative, he managed to get a lot of people on board very quickly,” ​said Stephanie Lamy, a French information warfare researcher with the advocacy group Danaides. “Although he was a fairly marginal actor, he managed to have a big reach because he knew which people to rely on. And that was a lot of the CNP.”

Once he began to be successful, Lamy said, the White House seemed to have taken note.

Right Wing Watch reported about CNP members’ connection to Stop the Steal on Nov. 13—the same day Vice President Mike Pence was set to address CNP attendees in Virginia. CNP convened that meeting, Nov. 12-14, “to strategize on how to challenge the election results,” according to Exposed by CMD reporter David Armiak. At the meeting, a panel dedicated to the election results and the ensuing legal battles featured Cleta Mitchell, J. Christian Adams, a known voter suppressor who leads the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a leading proponent of the voter fraud myth

The following day, Stop the Steal organizers held the first of three major rallies in Washington, D.C., with speakers peddling disinformation and violent rhetoric on the main stage—a day that ended in violent skirmishes between Proud Boys and counterprotesters, foreshadowing the violence to come.

“Most people don’t realize that disinformation has an aim, and that aim is to have real life impact. So what we saw with Stop the Steal, it had a real-life impact as of the 6th of November [the date of one of the first Stop the Steal rallies], and it kind of culminated with these terrorist threats and a breach of the Capitol,” said Lamy, the French disinformation researcher. “And it’s still ongoing,” she continued. “The CNP hasn’t finished manipulating anger and personal grievances.”