The QAnon General: Tracing the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Michael Flynn

Retired U.S. Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona (via wikicommons)

RETIRED ARMY GEN. Michael Flynn was speaking to a crowd of unmasked Trump loyalists on the steps of the Supreme Court when Marine One flew overhead, soliciting cheers from the delighted audience. Flynn—a special guest speaker at the Dec. 12 rally—stopped mid-sentence and stood in awe of the helicopter while the crowd attempted to sing the national anthem.

“That’s pretty cool,” said Flynn, who served as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser for 22 days before resigning and eventually pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. “Imagine just being able to jump in a helicopter and just go for a joy ride around Washington.”

The retired Army lieutenant general continued where he left off, echoing unfounded allegations that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden because of widespread voter fraud. He called for “fair, transparent counts,” demanded that Americans get the “truth,” and called out the “media” for its supposed censorship of that truth.

“We’re waging a battle,” Flynn told the raucous crowd.

Flynn’s remarks came a day after the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit from Texas that sought to overturn Biden’s wins in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Despite the judicial decision, Flynn encouraged the crowd to have faith in their president and to seek out “avenues” to challenge the results of the election, insisting that the “courts aren’t going to decide who the next president of the United States is going to be. We the people decide.”

“In this crucible moment of our time, we have to pray that truth triumphs over lies, justice triumphs over abuse and fraud, honesty triumphs over corruption,” Flynn said. “Our sacred honor triumphs over infamy.”

After concluding his speech, the disgraced general, who has since been pardoned by Trump, stopped to enjoy his growing fandom among Trump loyalists. He smiled as the crowd chanted “Fight like Flynn” and was even chased by ravenous fans who screamed “We love you, general!” before being stopped by his bodyguards.

Despite Flynn’s unceremonious exit from Trump’s administration in 2017, the retired general remained popular with fringe corners of Trump’s loyal fanbase, including adherents of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. For years, Flynn has been an important component of the QAnon community, a portion of whom believe he holds pivotal secrets about the so-called “deep state.” His recent presidential pardon reinvigorated their conspiracy theories and validated his status as a hero to their cause—a cause that the general appears to have embraced himself.

“Flynn Facts”

 

IN JULY 2016, Michael Flynn delivered a fiery speech at the Republican National Convention targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her handling of top secret information. After calling Clinton “weak,” “spineless,” and “reckless,” Flynn led chants of “Lock her up” with the crowd in attendance.

“Yeah, that’s right; lock her up,” Flynn said while clapping into the microphone.

Less than seven months later, Flynn was dismissed from his post as Trump’s national security adviser shortly after The Washington Post revealed that the general had spoken to the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, about sanctions between the two nations, and had later lied to the FBI about the conversation with Kislyak. Flynn continued to deny the accusations in the days leading up to his firing on Feb. 13, 2017.

Two months later, acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to a Senate Judiciary panel that she believed “Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.”

“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised by the Russians,” Yates, who was later fired for refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban, added.

Special counsel Robert Muller (Credit: Wikicommons)

By Nov. 30, 2017, Flynn had signed a plea agreement with special counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, in which he acknowledged lying to the FBI about his sanctions conversation with Kislyak. Then, on Dec. 1, Flynn pleaded guilty and began cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

“I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right,” Flynn said in a statement that day. “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.”

Flynn’s plea agreement was a significant development in the Russia probe at the time. The retired lieutenant general was one of Trump’s top advisers during the 2016 presidential campaign. Though a registered Democrat, Flynn campaigned for Trump and attacked Clinton, even going so far as to accuse her and her aides of child-sex trafficking. Ironically, his son, Michael Flynn Jr., lost his job as one of Trump’s aides after posting similar tweets involving the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Flynn’s political tenure began long before Trump was campaigning for the U.S. presidency. In 2012, President Barack Obama promoted Flynn to director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, elevating him to one of the most powerful positions in U.S. military intelligence. During his time as head of the DIA, U.S. intelligence officials became concerned by Flynn’s contacts in Moscow. According to the New York Times, Flynn also made baseless assertions about Islam—he once incorrectly claimed that Islamic law, known as Shariah, is spreading in the United States—which his subordinates have labeled “Flynn Facts.” He was dismissed by Obama in 2014 and retired from the U.S. Army after 33 years of service later that year.

Michael Flynn seated two seats down from Vladimir Putin at RT gala in Moscow, Russia (Credit: Wikicommons)

Following his retirement, Flynn founded the Flynn Intel Group Inc, a consulting agency that provided intelligence services for governments. In 2015, he attended a gala for the Russian state-owned RT media company in Moscow, Russia, where he was seated two seats down from Russian President Vladimir Putin and was paid $45,000 to give a talk during the event. Then, during the 2016 presidential campaign, it was revealed that Flynn was paid more than $500,000 to represent the interests of the Turkish government. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with ties to Erdogan’s government. Flynn also failed to file paperwork registering as a foreign agent.

Despite his past role as a foreign agent and lobbyist for foreign interest in the U.S., when QAnon—a far-right, pro-Trump conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of elite pedophiles consisting of Hollywood actors, Democrats, and high-ranking officials are behind a global child sex-trafficking ring—was born was internet message boards in 2017, the retired general was seen as an ally to the cause. When he was being investigated by the FBI, many QAnon adherents expected him to be exonerated of all alleged crimes in the Russia probe. His delayed sentencing on several occasions only helped fuel the conspiracy theories regarding his innocence.

By July 2019, Flynn fired the attorneys who helped negotiate his plea agreement and hired Sidney Powell, a QAnon supporter who would later become known for filing the infamous “Kraken” lawsuit alleging widespread election fraud in the 2020 election. (Read Right Wing Watch’s in-depth reporting on Sidney Powell here). At Powell’s urging, Flynn moved to withdraw his guilty plea, citing a breach in the plea agreement, and further proclaiming his innocence. Then, following pressure from Trump who called for the charges against Flynn to be dropped, the Department of Justice filed motions to dismiss the case. The motion was then put on hold by the federal judge overseeing the case as he reviewed the request.

Despite the snag, Flynn would soon be a free man, ready to assume his figurative role as the QAnon general.

The Digital Soldiers

 

“IT IS MY Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 25, 2020. “I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”

The move had been expected. Trump had hinted back in March that he was “strongly considering” pardoning Flynn, despite the fact that the retired general had not yet been sentenced. The pardon was met with criticism from Democrats—Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power” in her official statement—while Trump loyalists celebrated the decision to save a man they viewed as a political casualty. Even the White House described Flynn as an “innocent man” and the “victim of partisan government officials engaged in a coordinated attempt to subvert the election of 2016.”

In the weeks that followed, Flynn underwent a strategic public relations campaign, which included appearances on Fox News and the right-wing Epoch Times, public speeches (as seen at the Jericho March on Dec. 12), and even a few radio hits on “The Dan Bongino Show,” among others. His aim was not only to rehabilitate his own public image, but to stand in vehement opposition to Biden’s imminent presidency.

During media appearances, Flynn repeated baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud and Dominion Voting Systems, citing his lawyer Sidney Powell’s “Kraken” lawsuits. He alleged that “thousands” of Americans have come forward with grievances and proof regarding voter fraud and that transparency is required to ensure the sanctity of the election process. During a recent appearance on Fox News (his third since being pardoned), Flynn suggested that Americans will “not allow” Biden’s inauguration to go ahead in January 2021.

Flynn also encouraged Americans to boycott the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs, despite the fact that the winners will help determine which party will control the Senate. “We have to get the last election right before we start talking about any other runoff election like they are down in Georgia. That’s a falsehood that people shouldn’t even be considering right now,” he said.

 

While much of Flynn’s arguments are rooted in references to QAnon-linked conspiracy theories, the former three-star general has also pandered to the group by appearing on podcasts hosted by QAnon influencers. During a Dec. 4 appearance on “The Matrixxx Groove Show,” a podcast that claims to have the “most red-pilled audience” and is popular within the QAnon community,  Flynn revealed that the show’s “listeners have inspired us and allowed us to fight the deep, deep corruption that we face in our government.”

“The digital army that we have is unstoppable,” Flynn continued. “The digital soldiers that we have are committed, dedicated servants of our country.”

This is not the first time that Flynn has referenced the term “digital soldiers.” The general first used the term during a November 2016 speech to the Young America’s Foundation, where he bragged about being the general of an “army of digital soldiers” that waged an “insurgency” to “take over” information and the media. The term has since been adopted by QAnon adherents, many of whom view themselves as digital soldiers fighting against the forces of the so-called deep state.

Flynn has continued to reference digital soldiers during media appearances and on social media—it is one of the main hashtags on his Twitter bio, along with #TakeTheOath, which is also a reference to QAnon. During his interview with “The Matrixxx Groove Show,” he referred to digital soldiers as the “largest law firm in the world” because they would “enlighten the people of this country and also the tactical legal team that we have, eventually led by America’s guardian angel of justice, Sidney Powell.”

To close out his appearance on the show, Flynn hinted that he is on the run from the deep state, “I’m on the move. I gotta make sure I’m a moving target because these son-of-a-guns, they’re after me, in a literal and a figurative sense at some time.”

The general’s deepening ties to QAnon have been apparent for several months now, well before he was pardoned in November. On Independence Day, Flynn posted a video of himself alongside members of his family reciting the QAnon slogan “Where we go one we go all,” making Flynn the most prominent former U.S. official to publicly stoke QAnon.

Michael Flynn taking QAnon oath with family members (Credit: screenshot)

Flynn’s overt show of support to the QAnon movement has only helped energize a community that has been struggling to stay on message in the wake of Trump’s election loss and Q’s limited drops. While QAnon adherents would have preferred to see Flynn exonerated instead of pardoned, as the latter suggests guilt, they have used the pardon as a sign that thing are going according to plan.

“Any anons apart from myself getting goosebumps now that Flynn is free?” an admin of a QAnon channel with thousands of subscribers asked on Nov. 28. (Anon refers to anonymous users.)“My whole body is in goosebumps.”

“I am anxious to see Gen. Flynn in action,” another replied.

The lionization of Flynn within the QAnon movement emphasizes his importance to the movement. For QAnon adherents, the idea that a three-star lieutenant general and former high-ranking U.S. official supporting their community validates their efforts and proves that the deep state exists. When he refers to them as digital soldiers, he is exciting the countless QAnon followers who feel compelled to take matters into their own hands and legitimizing their undertaking.

QAnon meme referencing digital soldiers (Credit: Telegram)

The QAnon community was further electrified on Dec. 1 when Flynn retweeted a call for Trump to temporarily suspend constitutional order and declare martial law to have the U.S. military oversee a new presidential election—a topic that had been popular within QAnon circles in the weeks following the Nov. 3 election. One QAnon follower in a private QAnon channel called for martial law after stating that Americans have “no Supreme Court, no DOJ, no FBI to protect us from the Government,” while another suggested that worldwide martial law would “fix” the “fucking fake Media.”

Not only is Flynn an important figure within the QAnon conspiracy theory, he is also a key proponent of the movement. His willingness to pander to the dangerous far-right conspiracy theory, encourage its adherents to continue tumbling down their rabbit holes, and promote totalitarian militaristic policies such as martial law raises concerns about his potential to further radicalize Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration.

After spending 33 years as a decorated combat veteran who retired from the military with three stars, Flynn has now assumed the role he seems to have long dreamed of: the star general leading a digital army in service to Q.