QAnon Exists to Sell You T-Shirts: Part 2
How Michael Flynn became ringmaster of the conspiracy circus.
General Michael Flynn, former Trump national security advisor turned conspiracy cult grifter, is now chair of one of America’s oldest conservative organizations—America’s Future, Inc. This is a story about how America’s Future is funding itself with $30 QAnon t-shirts. It is also a story about how American mainstream conservative organizations have historically appealed to and intersected with the most radical elements of the right.
But mostly, this story is about shady shit happening in Florida.
This is a three-part series.
Part I situates America’s Future, Inc. in historical context—demonstrating its intersection and co-mingling with organizations and actors involved in far-right, fascist politics and conspiracy-peddling.
Part II, today’s story, focuses on the current chair of America’s Future, Inc., Michael Flynn, his mendacious fall from grace, and subsequent swampy rise into the Internet cult of QAnon.
Part III will delve into the shady connections between America’s Future, Inc., Flynn, and alt-right merch and media websites.
But first: we turn our attention to Michael Flynn, a man who marries the worlds of the post-Trump conservative mainstream and Internet conspiracy.
America’s Future & Flynn’s Financial Woes
Michael Flynn is in debt. Nearly five million dollars, according to some estimates. He has since entered the ranks of QAnon and dubbed himself loony-in-chief, likely for a very persuasive papery reason—money. QAnon, the conspiracy cult, just might be his solution to solvency. And maybe even political deliverance.
Here’s how he entered the QAnon circus.
Flynn is a retired U.S. army lieutenant general who had a 22-day stint in 2017 as Trump’s national security advisor. He lied to the FBI about his previous interactions with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian diplomat, and subsequently resigned from his post when the misleading nature of his statements came to light. The ensuing Justice Department investigation dealt Flynn a heavy financial blow. In 2017, Flynn’s family launched the website MikeFlynnDefenseFund.org (now defunct) to help pay his Covington & Burling legal team. In 2018, Flynn put his family home in Alexandria, VA on the market for $850,000 to cover mounting legal fees. By 2019, Flynn had accumulated over $4.6 million in unpaid legal bills. Earlier in 2021, he allegedly had a falling out with a more recent of his attorneys, Sidney Powell, over unpaid bills.
As Flynn’s financial pressures have piled on, he has waded further into the depths of the QAnon morass.
For those who do not know—QAnon is a far-right Internet conspiracy theory that claims the U.S. government has been infiltrated by a coterie of Satanic and pedophilic cannibals who run an international sex trafficking ring. QAnon supporters have accused various Hollywood celebrities, Democratic politicians, and other officials as being part of a nefarious “Deep State.” They also believe in the existence of “Q,” a high-level insider who always has the spiciest scoop on government baddies. Q has sporadically, cryptically, dropped the details of this criminal cabal’s misdeeds on the websites 4chan and 8chan (now renamed 8kun).Supporters also believe that Trump was tapped by military officials to run in the 2016 election and was tasked with restoring America to its former grandeur, in addition to, of course, stopping the Deep State from chowing down on children. The conspiracy sounds singularly batshit, but has roots in age-old antisemitic tropes.
Flynn’s flirtation with QAnon began as early as 2016, even before he began working for the Trump administration. In November 2016, after Trump’s victory, Flynn used the term “digital soldiers” in a speech—a term that has since become popular parlance in QAnon communities. A dizzying constellation of QAnon-promoting websites linked to Flynn have appeared and disappeared since 2017—what The Intercept terms the “Digital Soldiers Influence Network” (more on this in Part III). He trademarked the term “Digital Soldiers” in May 2019, followed by a digital soldiers logo in May 2020 to use on a range of merch.He has also appeared as a guest on QAnon podcasts, including Bards of War and Steel Truth.
On July 4th, 2020, Flynn uploaded a video to Twitter depicting himself and his family reciting the Oath to Uphold the Constitution, followed by the QAnon oath: “Where we go one, we go all.” Often abbreviated as “WWG1WGA” the conspiracy shibboleth originally comes from the 1996 Ridley Scott film, White Squall. Flynn was banned from Twitter shortly thereafter in a platform-wide QAnon purge. He now posts on Parler, a Twitter alternative popular with the far right, with the handle @GenFlynn and the hashtag #TaketheOath in his bio. His account has over 980,000 followers. A New America-ASU research team has found that Flynn’s presence on Parler also coincided with a rise in the use of QAnon hashtags.
Flynn’s track record shows that he is perhaps one of the earliest nurturers of the QAnon conspiracy’s Internet virality. His leveraging of QAnon has revived his career after a political fall from grace. As for his personal thoughts on Q—a private Telegram phone call released in November 2021 provides some clues. The conversation, recorded by pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, allegedly captures Flynn speaking openly about the conspiracy cult. At one point on the call Flynn says, “I think it’s a disinformation campaign.” And later on, “I find it total nonsense.”
As Flynn has risen in prominence amongst the QAnon masses, he has also regained footing within more established conservative spaces. A press release dated July 16, 2021 announced Michael Flynn as the new chairof the board of directors of America’s Future, Inc., a nonprofit with a 75-year history of rightwing, anti-communist propaganda peddling. (A step up from Flynn’s Parler pulpit.) What was not disclosed in the press release is that three of Flynn’s family members now sit on the board of the organization, including Mary Flynn O’Neill (his sister), Joseph Flynn (his brother), and Michael Flynn Jr. (his son). His family were brought on around the same time as Flynn’s appointment in what appears to be a nepotistic organizational graft.
The same month Flynn was named chair, the organization made headlines when Cyber Ninjas, a Floridian cybersecurity company, published that it received $976,514.43 from America’s Future to help recount the votes in Maricopa County, Arizona as part of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign.
America’s Future, Inc., which was formerly registered in St. Louis, has since been registered in Florida. Flynn’s sister filed the organization as a foreign nonprofit on June 17, 2021, providing the address of a North Port home that she owns with her husband. Flynn and his family have also relocated to Florida following the sale of their DC-area townhouse. Since then, the organization’s landing page has been refashioned into an overt fundraising call. A “memberships” button now sits at the top right of the America’s Future front page (a feature that did not exist when I began writing this story three months ago). Flynn’s sister, also appointed executive director, calls for membership sign-ups in a video message. The membership page advertises $99 annual individual memberships and $299 annual family memberships. In another fundraising video, Flynn calls for American “champions” to stand “shoulder to shoulder with us in the trenches.” The language evokes the militant “Digital Soldiers” of QAnon, but with a more mainstream, patriotic veneer.
With the arrival of the 2022 midterm election season, closely followed by the 2024 presidential election, America’s Future will once again enter a critical period for both mobilizing political support and raising funds. Tax returns show that in 2016, it raised over $680,000, comprising just over 90% of its revenue.The appointment of Flynn-as-fundraiser marks his regaining of right-wing political currency, and also demonstrates how conservative institutions are cannily leveraging conspiracy for political and financial ends. This strategy will likely be sustained and replicated by others heading into the 2022 midterms as it proves effective.
Flynn now stands, one foot in QAnon conspiracy, and the other in right-wing nonprofit fundraising. This arrangement alone is deserving of scrutiny. It represents the mainstreaming of right-wing Internet cultism in conservative politics—a blurring of lines that has been a trend in the Republican Party since the rise of Trump. Flynn, with his particular brand of conspiracy-cum-conservatism, is emblematic of the post-Trump right. QAnon has already granted Flynn an ersatz political redemption. His financial recovery may soon follow.
In the third and final installment of “QAnon Exists to Sell You T-Shirts,” we get to the grift of it: that is, how Flynn and America’s Future, Inc. have been making a buck from QAnon T-shirt sales, and how this fits into the expansion of an online right-wing influence network.
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Powell, who spearheaded a series of 2020 vote recount lawsuits, now runs her own Snowball fundraiser to recoup Flynn’s unpaid fees.
Q has since disappeared–their last post dates to December 8, 2020, about a month before the Capitol riots.
Both of these trademarks have since expired.
Flynn has replaced longtime chair of the board, the 100-year-old John Kirk Singlaub, a retired major general in the U.S. army who facilitated the sale of weapons to Nicaraguan right-wing rebels during the Iran-Contra affair through his own private organization.
2020 tax returns also show that America’s Future has continued its legacy of rightwing propaganda activities, spending over $3,000 on radio ads promoting U.S. “constitutional principles” (the usual conservative code for first and second amendment rights).
America’s Future used its additional funds to attend conferences, conventions, and meetings; print “educational materials” (spending over half a million dollars); and to pay over $114,000 in “professional fees” (the recipient(s) of these monies is unknown).