With Mr. Trump now in his post-presidency at Mar-a-Lago, a loose coalition that draws together militia members and conspiracy theorists along with evangelical Christians and suburban Trump supporters is searching for direction. Call it the alt-truth movement, and if it is to coalesce into something more permanent, it may well be, at least in part, because figures like Mr. Flynn continue to push false claims of how a deep-state cabal stole the election.
Perhaps most responsible for Mr. Flynnâs re-emergence is the conspiracy-theorizing lawyer Sidney Powell. Ms. Powell took over his legal defense in the Russia investigation after he had twice pleaded guilty in a deal to cooperate with prosecutors, and charted a combative new path. She challenged the deal and, marshaling a small army of like-minded Twitter users, recast Mr. Flynn from a turncoat into a victim, a man who had taken the fall to save his son, who was also under investigation.
As his relentless focus on Islamist militancy intensified, his views veered hard to the right. He argued that militants posed a threat to the very existence of the United States, and at times crossed the line into outright Islamophobia, tweeting âfear of Muslims is RATIONAL.â
In Mr. Trump, he found a presidential candidate who shared his dark and conspiratorial view of Islam.
The similarities between the two men did not end there: Both shared a fondness for Twitter and often exhibited a loose relationship with the truth. When Mr. Flynn ran the D.I.A., his dubious assertions were so common that subordinates came up with a name for them: âFlynn facts.â (In January, he was among those banned from Twitter with Mr. Trump.)
So it was no great stretch to see Mr. Flynn hurling conspiracy theories about an election that federal election-security experts considered among the best run on record, and for Mr. Trump to listen.
The Complete List of Trumpâs Twitter Insults (2015-2021) As a political figure, Donald J. Trump used Twitter to praise, to cajole, to entertain, to lobby, to establish his version of events â and, perhaps most notably, to amplify his scorn. This list documents the verbal attacks Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, from when he declared his candidacy in June 2015 to Jan. 8, when Twitter permanently barred him.
Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term âfake newsâ echoed the Nazi smear LÃ¼genpresse (âlying pressâ); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as âenemies of the people.â Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to American newspapers what the Great Depression did to German ones. The Nazis thought that they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.
Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.
Some of his lies were, admittedly, medium-size: that he was a successful businessman; that Russia did not support him in 2016; that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Such medium-size lies were the standard fare of aspiring authoritarians in the 21st century. In Poland the right-wing party built a martyrdom cult around assigning blame to political rivals for an airplane crash that killed the nationâs president. Hungaryâs Viktor Orban blames a vanishingly small number of Muslim refugees for his countryâs problems. But such claims were not quite big lies; they stretched but did not rend what Hannah Arendt called âthe fabric of factuality.â (...)
On the surface, a conspiracy theory makes its victim look strong: It sees Trump as resisting the Democrats, the Republicans, the Deep State, the pedophiles, the Satanists. More profoundly, however, it inverts the position of the strong and the weak. Trumpâs focus on alleged âirregularitiesâ and âcontested statesâ comes down to cities where Black people live and vote. At bottom, the fantasy of fraud is that of a crime committed by Black people against white people.
Itâs not just that electoral fraud by African-Americans against Donald Trump never happened. It is that it is the very opposite of what happened, in 2020 and in every American election. As always, Black people waited longer than others to vote and were more likely to have their votes challenged. They were more likely to be suffering or dying from Covid-19, and less likely to be able to take time away from work. The historical protection of their right to vote has been removed by the Supreme Courtâs 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, and states have rushed to pass measures of a kind that historically reduce voting by the poor and communities of color.
The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history. (...)
Trump is, for now, the martyr in chief, the high priest of the big lie. He is the leader of the breakers, at least in the minds of his supporters. By now, the gamers do not want Trump around. Discredited in his last weeks, he is useless; shorn of the obligations of the presidency, he will become embarrassing again, much as he was in 2015. Unable to provide cover for their gamesmanship, he will be irrelevant to their daily purposes. But the breakers have an even stronger reason to see Trump disappear: It is impossible to inherit from someone who is still around. Seizing Trumpâs big lie might appear to be a gesture of support. In fact it expresses a wish for his political death. Transforming the myth from one about Trump to one about the nation will be easier when he is out of the way.
As Cruz and Hawley may learn, to tell the big lie is to be owned by it. Just because you have sold your soul does not mean that you have driven a hard bargain. Hawley shies from no level of hypocrisy; the son of a banker, educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School, he denounces elites. Insofar as Cruz was thought to have a principle, it was that of statesâ rights, which Trumpâs calls to action brazenly violated. A joint statement Cruz issued about the senatorsâ challenge to the vote nicely captured the post-truth aspect of the whole: It never alleged that there was fraud, only that there were allegations of fraud. Allegations of allegations, allegations all the way down. (...)
Robert Fuller of Georgia remained so furious about the election that he foresaw an America casting off from its deepest moorings. âWeâll be lucky if we still have a country left after this,â he said, citing false claims of election fraud that the president had ranted about over the weekend on a recorded call to Georgiaâs top election official, a Republican.
âI foresee a civil war coming, Republicans against Democrats,â Mr. Fuller said. âYou know as well as I do they stuffed the ballots in the states of Georgia, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.â
In Georgiaâs Senate runoff elections on Tuesday, Mr. Fuller, 65, supported the Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom lost. The victors â the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who will be the first Black senator from Georgia, and Jon Ossoff, who will be the Senateâs youngest member â secured control of the chamber for Democrats.
Mr. Fuller does not consider either winner legitimate. Not because they didnât win the most votes, but because of their political views, which were caricatured during the race as far left of center.
The video was vital in the sense that Mr. Trumpâs ardent supporters will only accept his words, not anyone elseâs, and officials throughout government are concerned about unrest for the next 13 days around the country. But the president has a long history of recording such videos only to undermine his own remarks a short time later.