Interviewing Trump-adviser-turned-QAnon-cult-leader Michael Flynn on his daytime Fox Nation show on Monday, Tucker Carlson conducted a master class in Normalizing Far-Right Extremists for all of his right-wing cohorts. It had all the basic elements: claim normalcy for radical views and conspiracy theories, whitewash all evidence of the extremism, gaslight the audience by claiming real facts are falsehoods, and finally, elevate the extremist to heroic status for “daring to speak out.”
There was no mention of QAnon—the authoritarian pro-Trump cult for whom Flynn has become the chief public figurehead, and from which Flynn manages to milk a substantial income—nor of Flynn’s involvement with the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection (which a gaslighting Carlson insists wasn’t an insurrection anyway). No mention of his remarks (less than convincingly retracted) endorsing a military coup against President Biden. Just a lot of dubious fluffing of his previous record, and whitewashing his current activism—even as Flynn ranted at length about “the takeover of our system of government” by the “Deep State.”
This went on for some 69 minutes, the majority of which featured Flynn and Carlson trying to whip up fears about a war with China in the imminent future. But the centerpiece of the conversation was Flynn’s lengthy indulgence of a conspiracist explanation for just what “the Deep State” is about and how it is engaged in what Carlson called an attack “on democracy itself.”
“My case and my situation is really a microcosm of what is happening in the larger enterprise of the United States of America right now,” he told Carlson. “I mean, the takeover of our system of government by a few to rule the many, so to speak, they had to get rid of people like me because, as the national security adviser, I’m responsible for, you know, for everything, pretty much everything in terms of the security of our country, and then the principal adviser to the president of the United States.”
Most of the discussion remained within the bandwidth of a seemingly reasonable analysis of how entrenched bureaucracies can create governments within the government, which is hardly a novel observation—but simultaneously encouraged a conspiracist framework suggesting that a nefarious cabal controlled the intelligence agencies and “security state,” who then controlled everyone else.
“I think what you learn is that we have two separate governments,” Flynn told Carlson. “We have the one that actually gets elected and goes into office. And then you have a government inside of Washington, D.C., that operates under no rules, no authorities other than their own or whoever’s in charge of their operations.”
“It sounds like that government was still controlled by Barack Obama,” Carlson interjected.
“Yeah, and I would say that that, to a degree, is what we’re operating with today,” replied Flynn. “So when people talk about the Deep State—and I have heard a lot of people talk about the Deep State this, the Deep State that—the Deep State, I don’t really describe the Deep State as a group of politically—you know, of Nancy Pelosi, or Chuck Schumer, or some of the people that are elected. They become part of it, but they’re not really the Deep State.
“The Deep State in this country are the bureaucrats, and particularly the organization that run the security apparatus.”
He went on to explain that “the security state of this country has grown probably by five times in the last 25 to 30 years. So in a 10-year period of time, and it really was—9/11 probably was the impetus behind some of this. But I think what happened was, over time, this security state complex really joined with this military-industrial complex that Eisenhower talked about.
“And the danger now that we face is we have—that security state complex, [which] are all of these intelligence community agencies and activities that we have, right, that we’ve heard so much about … and then who actually is in charge of them, and then what authorities or what things that they’re able to do. I mean, you’ve lived this, via them monitoring your phone calls, right?”
Flynn was referring to Carlson’s dubious claim—based on his deliberate misunderstanding of how FISA courts and intelligence-monitoring operations work, and bolstered by a pack of outrageous lies—that the National Security Agency had placed him under surveillance.
The NSA responded tartly: “Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try to take his program off the air,” it said in a statement, adding: “NSA has a foreign intelligence mission. We target foreign powers to generate insights on foreign activities that could harm the United States. With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency), NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting.”
But then, Flynn has a long history and reputation, like Carlson, of being a font of disinformation. There is a reason he was fired by the Obama administration (which went unmentioned, even as he touted having worked for Obama) for, among other things, having such a “loose relationship with facts” that his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency referred to his assertions as “Flynn facts.” He was in fact convicted of lying to the FBI in the course of its investigation into Russian links to the Trump campaign.
Flynn’s transformation into a QAnon guru originated with remarks that Flynn made to colleagues after Trump won election in November 2016, crediting the victory to the “army of digital soldiers” who supported the GOP nominee. As QAnon began generating its conspiracy theories in 2017, his phrase “digital soldiers” became a movement rallying cry, as well as an ominous indicator of the movement’s growing turn toward violent extremism and insurrection.
But the mutual embrace between QAnon and Flynn really began in earnest when Flynn started campaigning for his conviction to be overturned in early 2019. It also became a major source of income for him: His legal defense fund, launched in 2017, eventually morphed into a complex network of conspiracist companies and websites, and when Flynn fired his attorneys and replaced them conspiracy-mongering lawyer Sidney Powell—who later played a key role in the insurrection drama as Trump’s election lawyer, filing reams of dubious lawsuits claiming election fraud—he shortly embraced QAnon wholly.
Among other fundraising items Flynn offered were “WWG1WGA” T-shirts featuring his name, for sale at $32 apiece. But that was a pittance compared to the hundreds that supporters were asked to cough up in a pay-to-publish scheme first advertised on a website linked to Flynn through his Digital Soldiers brand.
“We have an army of digital soldiers: citizen journalists,” the digitalsoldiers.us site declared. It claimed that such people “from all over the world have stepped up to fill the void where real journalism once stood.”
“Soon,” the site promised, “you will be able to submit your story to the Digital Soldiers website, where in partnership with UncoverDC.com, it will be vetted, edited, and shared with our network of thousands of fellow Digital Soldiers.”
Flynn’s most notorious moment in the QAnon spotlight came when a video in which he and his family recited a QAnon-derived oath went viral. Flynn and his family claimed the video had been taken out of context and that the oath had an innocent origin, and filed a lawsuit against CNN for portraying the video accurately.
But since then, there’s been a steady patter of QAnon conspiracism from Flynn and his defenders. At a “conservative” conference in Washington featuring prominent QAnon supporters and other pro-Trump figures, including Powell, Flynn helped lead a mask-burning ceremony as part of the movement’s embrace of opposition to COVID-19-related health measures. Other speakers included actor Jim Caviezel, who regaled the crowd with theories about how the children who have been abducted by the Deep State have their blood harvested—in a deliberately excited state—so that the adrenochrome in it can be extracted and consumed by nefarious liberal figures to extend their lifespans.
Flynn recently suggested that “they” want to get people to consume the COVID-19 vaccine by surreptitiously putting it inside salad dressing: “Somebody sent me a thing this morning where they’re talking about putting the vaccine in salad dressing,” said Flynn. “Have you seen this? I mean it’s—and I’m thinking to myself, this is the Bizarro World, right? This is definitely the Bizarro World … these people are seriously thinking about how to impose their will on us in our society, and it has to stop.”
But in fact, as conspiracy-theory researcher Mike Rothschild pointed out, the piece that Flynn referenced was “actually about a pilot study looking at growing produce that could contain the material of an mRNA vaccine and not require deep freeze storage.”
Flynn also recently experienced how quickly his own volatile following within the QAnon world can turn on its own when video of a prayer he gave aloud at a Nebraska church began circulating with a headline reading: “Some Have Said That General Flynn Prayed to Satan in a Recent Prayer.” (Flynn’s prayer included the phrases “sevenfold rays” and “legions,” which some conspiracists thought had a Satanic ring to them.)
Rick Wiles, the notoriously antisemitic Florida pastor, urged his followers: “My advice to you is to separate from Gen. Michael Flynn. … I don’t care about politics, I care about your soul.” Flynn urged his own followers to ignore them: “People need to stop overthinking what everybody is saying.”
But Flynn’s most disturbing moment of the past year came at another QAnon gathering in Dallas, during which an audience member who identified himself as a Marine asked Flynn: “I want to know why what happened in Minamar (sic)can’t happen here?”
Flynn responded: “No reason, I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right.”
A day later, Flynn posted a message to Parler claiming that his words had been twisted. But even pro-Trump lawyer Jonathan Turley—a former defender of Flynn’s—wasn’t biting, noting that Flynn appeared to blame the media for “manipulating” his words at a “lively conference.” “That is not true,” Turley wrote. “I watched the video and he matter-of-factly endorses the idea of a coup.”
The remark sparked wide outrage among serving military members and some members of Congress, who urged the Pentagon to consider prosecuting Flynn under military law for remarks that probably would have landed a serving member of the military in the brig. However, the Pentagon made clear it had no interest in pursuing such a case, given the unlikelihood it would prevail.
But there was also little question that Flynn’s response reflected a popular point of view within the QAnon movement, where hope springs eternal that Donald Trump will be miraculously reinstated as president.
“They are still 100 percent in support of Biden being removed and Trump returning to office, whether it’s a coup [or] whether it’s some reinstatement which doesn’t exist,” Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, told Recode. “The prophecy of QAnon is now that Trump will be restored to office, and whether that’s through violence or through magic, that’s just what they want to happen.”
None of this was even hinted at during Carlson’s hour-plus-long interview with Flynn. The “Deep State” discussion was limited to talk about Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” concerns and the range of powers of security agencies like the CIA, which have been discussed publicly since the 1970s.
In other words, there is no hint that Flynn’s paranoia about the “Deep State” reflect the central themes of QAnon conspiracy theories (as well as those promoted by Alex Jones’ Infowars operation)—namely, that not only does this secret cabal of “globalists” secretly control governments around the world, but it is actively engaged in the abduction and trafficking of children in a massive worldwide ring operated by leading liberal figures such as Obama and Hillary Clinton, with the purpose not only of using them as sex slaves but also eventually draining them of their blood.
Carlson has already established Fox News as a reliable dispensary of white-nationalist propaganda. It’s only natural that it begin tapping into the lucrative QAnon market: After all, dispensing disinformation with the purpose of dividing the nation in two has become its entire revenue-generation model. And it seems to be working.