As the results of the 2020 presidential election came rolling in, Vice President Mike Pence was notably out of sight and had even planned a Florida vacation for this week. But with the ratcheting up of Trump’s campaign to contest the outcome of the election, CNN reported that Pence canceled his getaway, remaining inside the Beltway to address the Council for National Policy, a highly secretive organization that includes some of the most powerful conservatives in the country.
As Pence stands at the podium before marquee names in conservative politics Friday, pro-Trump, far-right activists are making their way to Washington, D.C., for a rally organized and supported by some of the very right-wing leaders likely sitting in that room.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars network are leading a caravan of Trump supporters to D.C., Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers militia has promised to station his armed men outside of the District borders should Trump call on them, and the Proud Boys hate group has encouraged its members to to the nation’s capital, with leader Enrique Tarrio declaring Trump’s “Standby order has been rescinded.” They, along with other conspiracy theorists, far-right groups and other Trump loyalists, have all promised to go to the Saturday event that goes by three names: Million MAGA March, March for Trump, and Stop the Steal—to push a false narrative that voter fraud cost Trump the election. The event has been promoted by Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
GOP operative Ali Alexander, who organized the gathering, was clear on the rally’s demands in a Nov. 10 Periscope post. “We’re going down to the Supreme Court,” he said, “and we’re telling our government that this election and the counting will be transparent, or we’ll get a new election. One or another.”
And they wouldn’t be on their way without the leadership and support of current and past Council for National Policy members for the Stop the Steal campaign. The CNP, which has been around since the Reagan administration, holds closed-door meetings, tells members not to speak to the press about the council, and has tried to keep membership rolls private, but its members’ names have leaked over the years.
Notable CNP members include Ginni Thomas, the influential wife of Clarence Thomas, and Tony Perkins, a former president of the organization and the current president of the Family Research Council, according to a 2020 membership directory published by Documented. CNP has also welcomed far-right figures like neo-Confederate Christian Reconstructionist Michael Peroutka, a major funder of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s advocacy and political career.
CNP also counts among its members Ed Martin of Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who has allied himself with dominionists and Christian nationalists in the past year—all of whom have pushed Stop the Steal messaging since Alexander launched the campaign and called on them to join it. Martin has led sparsely attended D.C. rallies and blasted Phyllis Schlafly Eagles’ email list with Stop the Steal talking points, while Kirk attended a rally in Phoenix and took to conservative media to promote it. Though it does not appear Fitton has used the #StoptheSteal hashtag, he has echoed the campaign’s language, alleged an “electoral coup,” accused states of voter fraud, and called for votes to stop being counted in others.
Amy Kremer, who was listed as a member in a 2014 membership directory obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is organizing in the state of Georgia for Stop the Steal events. Even Ali Alexander, who formerly went by Ali Akbar, is listed twice by both names as a signee on a 2017 letter from CNP to Donald Trump obtained by the Christian Post. David Armiak of the Center for Media and Democracy has also reported on some of these connections.
On Nov. 4, as Americans awoke to see Trump’s election night lead overtaken by the counting of mail-in ballots, which came in record numbers for Joe Biden, Alexander was expressed dismay. On Twitter, he suggested that the Republican Party should have adopted his 2018 Stop the Steal operation, which he had launched with the help of Trump confidant and since convicted felon Roger Stone during the recount of Florida’s 2018 U.S. Senate race. On the day after the 2020 election, Alexander said he had no intention of rebooting it, but about an hour later, he suggested the only way he would restart the operation would be if a few key players were on board—among them, Tom Fitton, Amy Kremer, and Ed Martin. By around 2 p.m. that day, he’d added Charlie Kirk and others to the list.
“He’s decided only to do it under certain conditions and those conditions seem to be CNP support,” said Stephanie Lamy, a French information warfare researcher with Danaides who flagged the series of tweets. “That’s very clear from this tweet by the people he mentions.”
And there’s good reason to seek CNP support given its power and its expertise in advancing unsubstantiated voter fraud narratives.
Last month, The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow got his hands on videos from an Aug. 21 CNP conference held at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. Fitton, who Alexander called on to be in charge of the legal aspect of the Stop the Steal campaign, zeroed in on mail-in voting. “We need to stop those ballots from going out, and I want the lawyers here to tell us what to do,” Fitton said. “But this is a crisis that we’re not prepared for. I mean, our side is not prepared for.”
J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, also attacked mail-in voting at that meeting, telling activists, “Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor, you’re a racist and so forth.” Adams, a known voter suppressor, was also part of Trump administration’s short-lived “Commission on Election Integrity,” which folded after finding no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Adams’ legal organization has issued two lawsuits since Nov. 4 claiming voter fraud.
Current CNP Treasurer Kenneth Blackwell has promoted Stop the Steal on Twitter and Facebook and, as Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported, baselessly charged Monday that “the Democrat-run Pennsylvania executive government only wants votes counted that support their agenda and their candidates.”
Trump himself has addressed CNP members—as recently as the Aug. 21 meeting and in the beginning of his campaign in 2015. According to The National Review, of the six Republican presidential candidates who addressed CNP in 2015, Trump was the “star attraction.”