There are no good Nazis. That’s a given. Even so, when you get down to people like the attendees at the Wannsee Conference blithely planning out the logistics of the Holocaust while enjoying plates of finger food, or Josef Mengele developing a yen for human experimentation, there are deeper pits in hell. Some people have a dark malignance, an awfulness that doesn’t merely pervade their own work, but also affects everyone around them.
And now let’s talk about Michael Flynn.
Flynn ripped a path through the Defense Department that generated chaos and division. Though his time as Donald Trump’s national security advisor was brief, it left behind a wound that refuses to heal—largely because Flynn himself keeps tearing it open. Flynn has repeatedly undercut the U.S. position abroad, strengthened enemies, and wounded alliances. He has fed the demons of divisiveness at home, imperiling the critical balance between military power and civilian control. He has acted as an agent of anarchy whose lies and calls for violence make him a threat at least equal to that represented by any foreign terrorist.
He has done damage, is doing damage, and has recruited others in the cause of damage. And, like Trump, there seems to be no reason for any of this but his own vaunting ego.
Flynn is a disgraced former general who was forced to resign his position as national security advisor after being caught lying to the FBI about his (many) contacts with Russia. He got that role for a single reason: Because President Barack Obama told Donald Trump that Flynn, who had retired from the military in 2014, leaving a wave of chaos in his wake, was the worst possible person for the job. According to Colin Powell, Flynn was abusive to his staff, constantly undercut U.S. policy, didn’t listen to orders, and was simply “a jerk.” He was said to have “a loose relationship with the truth,” and to be a conspiracy theorist who pushed lies about parts of the United States being administered by “Shariah law.” Before Kellyanne Conway introduced the world to “alternative facts,” those unlucky enough to work with Flynn at Defense Intelligence generated the term “Flynn facts” to describe his constant stream of half-truths and all-out lies.
Not coincidentally, Flynn was both the first American military official ever to be invited to a sit-down at the headquarters of Russia’s infamous GRU and the first American military official to be fired, at least in part, because he kept maintaining that the U.S. should support the brutal regime of Russia’s puppet dictator, Bashar Assad, in Syria. Oh, and Flynn tried to kidnap a U.S. resident Muslim cleric so he could be shipped off to be executed by Turkish authoritarian, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Flynn’s official dismissal from the Trump White House came because he conveniently forgot to mention all the times he checked in with the Russian ambassador to promise that, once Trump was in power, all those sanctions would be forgotten. The problem is that Flynn never really left.
The people who put in a call to Devin Nunes and persuaded him to hop out of an Uber and come to the White House for some juicy Top Secret info on the Obama administration? Those sources were Flynn loyalists. The guy who came up with the scheme to tap raw NSA data and hand it over to a trio of Trump supporters in order to launch a genuine national witch hunt for election fraud? Another Flynn loyalist. The guy who prepared a 38-page PowerPoint to explain to congressional Republicans how they could best assist in overturning the election, was a Flynn loyalist. And of course, Flynn’s brother was in the room on Jan. 6 as the Defense Department slow-walked any assistance to the beleaguered Capitol. And he lied about it.
As Mother Jones points out, the right-wing has always been a welcoming place for military types who propose that what the U.S. government needs is more overt violence. Gen. John Singlaub was fired by Jimmy Carter and immediately welcomed as the new head of the neo-fascist World Anti-Communist League. After General Jerry Boykin was forced from the George W. Bush administration, for making Islamophobic comments, he became vice president of the Family Research Council. “Mad Bomber” Gen. Curtis LeMay was segregationist George Wallace’s running mate in 1968.
But even compared to his less-than-illustrious predecessors, Flynn represents a singular risk.
Throughout Trump’s time in office, Flynn was a significant influence. His role in Trump’s connections to Russia—which earned him an unprecedented walk-away-from-all-crimes pardon—made him a perverse “hero” at Trump’s rallies. His willingness to voice the most absurd Q-Anon conspiracy theories turned him into a cult figure for the most-rabid-right. And Flynn’s involvement in the attempt to overthrow the election took sharp aim at a weakness that the United States shares with every other modern nation—the guys with the guns are required to answer to the people without the guns.
In November 2020, Flynn put out a press release and took out a full-page ad in the conservative Washington Times calling for Trump to:
“Immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a re-vote.”
That declaration was so shocking, that on the same day that ad ran, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Flynn as … “a valiant hero.” There was no criticism of his demands. Three weeks later, Flynn would be in the Oval Office, extending his pitch for a military takeover of the mechanism of voting. By then, the scheme had been slotted in as part of Trump’s overall coup plan.
There’s a term for democracies that have allowed the military to seize control of the mechanism of elections. They are called “not democracies.”
Flynn is currently going around the nation on a tour in which he is telling people that COVID-19 was created by George Soros, Bill Gates, and World Economic Forum chair Klaus Schwab so that the U.N. and World Health Organization could seize control of the United States.
On Friday, The New York Times looked at Flynn’s role in spreading the Big Lie, and the role he is still playing in eroding America’s faith in itself. That included not just bringing a pre-written executive order to Trump that would provide that military takeover of voting machines, but a kind offer to “serve as Trump’s ‘field marshal.’” That Deb. 18 Oval Office meeting apparently also included Flynn screaming at Trump advisers who he considered too weak to take the necessary steps.
But the most extraordinary, and frightening, story in the Times article may be how Flynn followed up by calling the acting undersecretary for defense intelligence, Ezra Cohen, and giving him clear instructions:
[Flynn] explained that he needed Cohen to direct the military to seize ballots and voting machines and rerun the election.
Cohen said he was too stupefied to ask his former boss how he thought Cohen had the authority to do such a thing. “Sir, the election is over,” he said,… “You’re a quitter!” Flynn berated him … “This is not over! Don’t be a quitter!”
Flynn still hasn’t quit. His traveling roadshow—often conducted in coordination with My Pillowcase Mike Lindell and Eric Trump—includes a nine-hour-long parade of speakers, but there is absolutely no doubt that Flynn is the star. In the MAGA world, Flynn is, according to the Times, “probably the single greatest draw besides Trump himself.” For the Republican base, Flynn is now simply “the general.” The general. The story of how he was indicted is now told as a cautionary tale in the terms of “if they can do it to him, they can do it to you.” Which rather ignores the fact that most people haven’t engaged in lying to the FBI.
As the Times puts it, Flynn “possesses unique credibility among the ex-president’s followers.” He’s “a MAGA martyr of such stature that the faithful have been willing to overlook some complicating elements of history.”
He’s a guy who is now spreading the worst imaginable antisemitic, anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-common sense lies … and he’s the No. 2 guy in MAGA World. Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence and Greg Abbott and a host of other Republican politicians may be jockeying for position as Trump’s successor, but the guy with the inside track is the one whose idea of politics is to decide the election with tanks.
So far, the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 has sent subpoenas to Republican politicians who were involved in supporting Trump’s coup in Congress. They’ve sent subpoenas to White House staffers who helped promote and plan the coup. They’ve sent subpoenas to false electors who signed up to push the Big Lie.
But they had better get a move on sending some subpoenas around the Pentagon. Because understanding how deep the rot Flynn left behind really goes is critical. And this is not the time to underestimate the threat. Again.