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With Oath Keepers In State Houses, Militia Infiltrate GOP Mainstream

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there's another pledge that Clampitt said he's upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.

Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.

ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town's public works director.

ProPublica's analysis also found more than 400 people who signed up for membership or newsletters using government, military or political campaign email addresses, including candidates for Congress and sheriff, a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California.

Three of the state lawmakers on the list had already been publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Other outlets have alsoscouredthelist, finding police officers and military veterans.

People with law enforcement and military backgrounds — like Clampitt, a retired fire captain in Charlotte, North Carolina — have been the focus of the Oath Keepers' recruiting efforts since the group started in 2009. According to researchers who monitor the group's activities, Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people's guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories. The group is loosely organized and its leaders do not centrally issue commands. The organization's roster has ballooned in recent years, from less than 10,000 members at the start of 2011 to more than 35,000 by 2020, membership records show.

The hacked list marks participants as annual ($50) or lifetime ($1,000) members, so not everyone on the list is currently active, though some said they viewed it as a lifelong commitment even if they only paid for one year. Many members said they had little contact with the group after sending in their dues but still supported the cause. Others drifted away and disavowed the group, even before Jan. 6.

The list also includes at least three people who were arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and who federal prosecutors did not identify as Oath Keepers in charging documents: Andrew Alan Hernandez of Riverside, California; Dawn Frankowski of Naperville, Illinois; and Sean David Watson of Alpine, Texas. They pleaded not guilty. These defendants, their attorneys and family members didn't respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

According to experts who monitor violent extremism, the Oath Keepers' broadening membership provides the group with two crucial resources: money and, particularly when government officials get involved, legitimacy.

Clampitt said he went to a few Oath Keepers meetings when he joined back in 2014, but the way he participates now is by being a state legislator. He has co-sponsored a bill to allow elected officials to carry concealed guns in courthouses, schools and government buildings, and he supported legislation stiffening penalties for violent demonstrations in response to last year's protests in Raleigh over George Floyd's murder. Clampitt said he opposes violence but stood by his Oath Keepers affiliation, despite the dozens of members charged in the Capitol riot.

“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn't be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you'd have to go pretty fringe," said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous."

The State Lawmakers

Then-state Delegate Don Dwyer from Maryland was the only elected official at the Oath Keepers' first rally, back in April 2009. Dwyer was, by his own account, a pariah in Annapolis, but he was building a national profile as a conservative firebrand. He claimed to take direction from his own interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and a personal library of 230 books about U.S. history pre-1900.

The Oath Keepers' founder, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate named Stewart Rhodes, invited Dwyer to speak at the group's kickoff rally — they called it a “muster" — in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the “shot heard round the world" that started the Revolutionary War in 1775.

“I still support the cause," Dwyer told ProPublica. “And I'm proud to say that I'm a member of that organization." He left politics in 2015 and served six months in prison for violating his probation after a drunk boating accident.

Dwyer said he was not aware of the Oath Keeper's presence at the Capitol on January 6. “If they were there, they were there on a peaceful mission, I'm sure of it," he said. Informed that members were photographed wearing tactical gear, Dwyer responded, “OK, that surprises me. That's all I'll say."

Among the current officeholders on the list is Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was already publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Finchem was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 but has said he did not enter the building or engage in violence, and he has disputed the characterization of the Oath Keepers as an anti-government group. He is currently running to be Arizona's top elections official, and he won former President Donald Trump's endorsement in September.

Serving with Clampitt in the North Carolina assembly, deputy majority whip Keith Kidwell appeared on the Oath Keepers list as an annual member in 2012. Kidwell declined to comment, calling the membership list “stolen information." A spokesperson for the state house speaker declined to comment on Kidwell's and Clampitt's Oath Keepers affiliation.

The membership list also names Alaska state Rep. David Eastman as a life member and Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin and Georgia state Rep. Steve Tarvin as annual members. Eastman confirmed his membership and declined to answer further questions. Baldwin's spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment.

Tarvin recalled signing up at a booth in White County, Georgia, in 2009 when he was running for Congress. He lost that race but later became a state lawmaker. He didn't view the Oath Keepers as a militia group back then.

Tarvin said he stands by the pledge he signed and said he isn't aware of the Oath Keepers' involvement in the Capitol breach on Jan 6. His congressional district is now represented by Andrew Clyde, who helped barricade a door to the House chamber on Jan. 6 but later compared the riot to a “normal tourist visit."

Kaye Beach, who is listed as an annual member in 2010, is a legislative assistant to Oklahoma state Rep. Jon Echols, the majority floor leader. Beach sued the state in 2011, arguing that the Bible prohibited taking a driver's license photo of her. She eventually lost at the state supreme court. Beach and Echols did not respond to requests for comment.

Two other lawmakers have long been public about their affiliation with the Oath Keepers.

Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers announced her membership a few years ago. She responded to Trump's 2020 loss by encouraging people to buy ammo and recently demanded to “decertify" the election based on the GOP's “audit" of Maricopa County ballots, even though the partisan review confirmed President Joe Biden's win.

Idaho state Rep. Chad Christensen lists his Oath Keepers membership on his official legislative biography, in between the John Birch Society and the Idaho Farm Bureau.

Rogers and Christensen didn't respond to requests for comment.

South Dakota state legislator Phil Jensen appeared on the list as an annual member in 2014, using his title (then state senator) and government email address. His affiliation was reported Tuesday by Rolling Stone. He did not respond to a request for comment.

South Dakota state Sen. Jim Stalzer, whose 2015 annual membership was first reported by BuzzFeed, said he never renewed his membership and stopped supporting the Oath Keepers because he disagreed with “their confrontational approach to what they view as federal overreach." In an email, Stalzer said he supported peaceful demonstrators on Jan. 6 but “we do not have the right to damage property or harm others, whether it be at the Capitol or anywhere else."

The Candidates

Virginia Fuller first encountered the Oath Keepers in 2009 at a meeting in San Francisco featuring Rhodes, the group's founder. Fuller liked Rhodes' message of upholding the Constitution, she told ProPublica. For a while she corresponded with one of the group's leaders but they eventually lost touch, and she moved to Florida and ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican ticket in 2018.

Rhodes and other leaders of the Oath Keepers embraced Trump's lies about election fraud and promoted Jan. 6 as a last chance to make a stand for the republic. Asked about Jan. 6, Fuller said, “There was nothing wrong with that. The Capitol belongs to the people."

The Oath Keepers rose to prominence when handfuls of heavily armed members showed up at racial justice protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and their profile grew thanks to a series of standoffs between right-wing militants and federal agents in the Western U.S.

At the 2016 funeral for a rancher who officers shot while trying to arrest him, Stan Vaughan met several Oath Keepers and became an annual member. Vaughan, a one-time chess champion from Las Vegas, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Nevada State Assembly in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Even though Vaughan ran in a predominantly Democratic district, he had the support of his party's establishment, receiving a $500 campaign contribution from Robin Titus, the Assembly's Republican floor leader. Titus did not respond to requests for comment. Vaughan said he'll probably run again once he sees how new districts are drawn.

Vaughan said he wouldn't join the Oath Keepers today. It's not their ideology that bothers him or their involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. Rather, he said he has concerns about how the group's leaders spend its money.

One Oath Keeper seen on Jan. 6 wearing an earpiece and talking with group leaders outside the Capitol was Edward Durfee, a local Republican committee member in Bergen County, New Jersey, who is running for state assembly in a predominantly Democratic district. Durfee has not been charged and said he did not enter the building.

“They were caught up in the melee, what else can I say? For whatever reason, I didn't go in," Durfee said. “They brand you as white supremacists, domestic terrorists. I don't know how we got in this mix where there's so much hatred and so much dislike and how it continues to get fomented. It's just shameful actually."

The Local Party Officials

When Joe Marmorato, a retired New York City cop who moved upstate, signed up for an Oath Keepers annual membership in 2013, he described the skills he could offer the group: “Pistol Shooting, police street tactics, driving skills, County Republican committee member." Marmorato later rose to vice chairman of the Otsego County GOP, but he recently resigned that post because he's moving. Reached by phone, Marmorato stood by the Oath Keepers, even after Jan. 6. “I just thought they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. I know most of them are all retired police and firemen and have the best interests of the country in mind," he said. “No matter what you do, you're vilified by the left."

Steven K. Booth, a twice-elected Republican county commissioner and state senate candidate in Minnesota in the 2000s, said he wants to run for office again if his wife agrees to it. He's still active in the local GOP. Booth joined the Oath Keepers as an annual member in 2011 and said he hasn't heard from them in years. He said he wasn't aware of their role in Jan. 6 but he's concerned that some Capitol breach defendants are being held in jail. “That seems kind of weird to me," Booth said. “I also think it's kind of weird that nobody is doing anything about all the fraud we were told about in the last election either."

Asked about the possibility of Booth running for office again, local GOP chair Rich Siegert started talking through openings Booth could aim for. Booth's Oath Keepers affiliation did not give Siegert pause. “When tyranny comes, that's when you stop and say you've got to do something about it," said Siegert, who heads the party in northern Minnesota's Beltrami County. “To go out and get violent and kill people like they did in the early days, I'm not really in favor of that. How do you get the attention of liberals and get them to listen? Firing guns, I don't know, it's what they do in some countries. Define what 'radical' is."

Not all party officials shared Siegert's view. Richland County, South Carolina, GOP chair Tyson Grinstead distanced his committee from Patsy Stewart, who is listed as an Oath Keepers annual member in 2015. “Personally," Grinstead said, “I don't think there's a place for that in our party."

Stewart has been a delegate or alternate to the GOP state convention and is currently a party precinct officer in Columbia, South Carolina. She didn't respond to requests for comment. In recent months, Trump supporters have flooded into precinct positions in South Carolina and other states as part of an organized movement inspired by the stolen election myth, ProPublica reported in September.

The Poll Worker

When Andy Maul signed up for the Oath Keepers as an annual member around 2010, he touted his role in the Pittsburgh GOP. Maul said he let his membership lapse because there wasn't a local chapter, but he still likes the group's concept.

Maul became the party chairman of his city council district starting around 2016. But other local party leaders chafed at Maul's confrontational style and lack of follow-through.

“Andy was getting a little out there," said Allegheny County chairman Sam DeMarco, who had to ask Maul to take down some of his inflammatory social media posts. “If you want to be associated with our committee, you have to represent mainstream traditional Republican values and not be affiliated with fringe groups."

Maul left the local party committee in 2020, but he continued serving as a poll worker. According to the county elections department, Maul was the “judge of elections" in charge of his precinct in every election since 2017, including this year's primary in May.

In Pennsylvania, the judge of elections in every precinct is an elected position. If no one runs, as often happens, the local elections office appoints someone to fill in, so a person can sometimes land the job “if you have a pulse and you call them," said Bob Hillen, the Pittsburgh Republican chairman.

“If I opposed people based on their views for being a judge of elections or anything, that would eliminate a whole lot of people," Hillen said. “I'm a city chairman, I don't have time to think about all those things like that."

Maul said he observed “aberrative" ballots at his precinct on Nov. 3 — just a handful, but he asserted that if the same number occurred at every precinct in the state, it would add up to more than Biden's margin of victory. (There is no evidence of widespread fraud that could have affected the outcome in Pennsylvania or any other state.)

On Jan. 6, Maul said he marched toward the Capitol but couldn't make it all the way and returned to his bus. He said he wasn't familiar with the Oath Keepers' activities that day. “As a supporter of the Constitution, I had strong differences and concerns about Trump," Maul said in a text message. “Although my feeling on Trump were mixed, I went to the Jan. 6 rally mainly due to what I experienced at my polling location."

The Democrat

Around 2005, Marine veteran Bob Haran joined the Minuteman Project, a group of armed people who took it upon themselves to patrol Arizona's border with Mexico. Haran resented that critics called the group vigilantes and Mexican hunters. All they did, he said, was call the Border Patrol.

Haran held positions in the local GOP and had run for the state House as a Republican. During the tea party wave, Haran became frustrated with the new activists' anti-government tilt and turned to the Constitution Party, a minor party that's to the right of the GOP. Haran rose to be the state chairman and secretary. By the time he became an Oath Keepers annual member in 2016, Haran was looking for a new political home.

When Trump rode down a golden escalator to launch his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists," Haran took offense. He faulted the government for failing to secure the border, but he didn't blame people for seeking better lives for themselves and their families. Haran grew up in Coney Island, near a middle-class apartment complex built by Trump's father, and he remembered Trump as a braggadocious playboy, not as the successful self-made businessman he later played on TV. Haran said he was appalled as Republicans fell in line behind Trump.

Then, Haran did something unusual, even among never-Trump Republicans: He became a Democrat.

Haran doesn't agree with the Democrats on everything, but he said he feels welcome in the party. He's still passionate about guns and immigration, but he also supports environmental protections and universal health care. Above all, he wanted to help get rid of Trump. In 2020, he joined his local precinct committee and started regularly attending party meetings.

Haran was so excited to see Trump leave office that he tuned in to watch the Electoral College certification process on Jan. 6. He couldn't believe how fast the Trump supporters reached the Senate floor, or how Oath Keepers were attacking the Constitution they swore to defend.

Haran thought back to when he ran for office as a Republican, in 2000, and lost. “I called my opponent and congratulated him: I would have won except he got more votes," Haran said. “I conceded, which is bestowing legitimacy on my opponent, which is more important than anything."

He finds it disturbing that Trump and other Republicans today won't do that anymore. “They were anti-government," Haran said of the GOP, “but now they're being anti-democracy."

Bannon Recruits QAnon Supporters As GOP Precinct Chairs

Reporting by Doug Bock Clark, Alexandra Berzon, and Anjeanette Damon

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

One of the loudest voices urging Donald Trump's supporters to push for overturning the presidential election results was Steve Bannon. "We're on the point of attack," Bannon, a former Trump adviser and far-right nationalist, pledged on his popular podcast on Jan. 5. "All hell will break loose tomorrow." The next morning, as thousands massed on the National Mall for a rally that turned into an attack on the Capitol, Bannon fired up his listeners: "It's them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?"

When the insurrection failed, Bannon continued his campaign for his former boss by other means. On his "War Room" podcast, which has tens of millions of downloads, Bannon said President Trump lost because the Republican Party sold him out. "This is your call to action," Bannon said in February, a few weeks after Trump had pardoned him of federal fraud charges.

The solution, Bannon announced, was to seize control of the GOP from the bottom up. Listeners should flood into the lowest rung of the party structure: the precincts. "It's going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don't have an option," Bannon said on his show in May. "We're going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."

Precinct officers are the worker bees of political parties, typically responsible for routine tasks like making phone calls or knocking on doors. But collectively, they can influence how elections are run. In some states, they have a say in choosing poll workers, and in others they help pick members of boards that oversee elections.

After Bannon's endorsement, the "precinct strategy" rocketed across far-right media. Viral posts promoting the plan racked up millions of views on pro-Trump websites, talk radio, fringe social networks and message boards, and programs aligned with the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local GOP headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers. They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.

In Wisconsin, for instance, new GOP recruits are becoming poll workers. County clerks who run elections in the state are required to hire parties' nominees. The parties once passed on suggesting names, but now hardline Republican county chairs are moving to use those powers.

"We're signing up election inspectors like crazy right now," said Outagamie County party chair Matt Albert, using the state's formal term for poll workers. Albert, who held a "Stop the Steal" rally during Wisconsin's November recount, said Bannon's podcast had played a role in the burst of enthusiasm.

ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties, and 41 reported an unusual increase in signups since Bannon's campaign began. At least 8,500 new Republican precinct officers (or equivalent lowest-level officials) joined those county parties. We also looked at equivalent Democratic posts and found no similar surge.

"I've never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork," said J.C. Martin, the GOP chairman in Polk County, Florida, who has added 50 new committee members since January. Martin had wanted congressional Republicans to overturn the election on Jan. 6, and he welcomed this wave of like-minded newcomers. "The most recent time we saw this type of thing was the tea party, and this is way beyond it."

Bannon, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

Tracking a Wave of New GOP Officers

Note: Hover over the pins for details on the increase or for information about other GOP activism there.

While party officials largely credited Bannon's podcast with driving the surge of new precinct officers, it's impossible to know the motivations of each new recruit. Precinct officers are not centrally tracked anywhere, and it was not possible to examine all 3,000 counties nationwide. ProPublica focused on politically competitive places that were discussed as targets in far-right media.

The tea party backlash to former President Barack Obama's election foreshadowed Republican gains in the 2010 midterm. Presidential losses often energize party activists, and it would not be the first time that a candidate's faction tried to consolidate control over the party apparatus with the aim of winning the next election.

What's different this time is an uncompromising focus on elections themselves. The new movement is built entirely around Trump's insistence that the electoral system failed in 2020 and that Republicans can't let it happen again. The result is a nationwide groundswell of party activists whose central goal is not merely to win elections but to reshape their machinery.

"They feel President Trump was rightfully elected president and it was taken from him," said Michael Barnett, the GOP chairman in Palm Beach County, Florida, who has enthusiastically added 90 executive committee members this year. "They feel their involvement in upcoming elections will prevent something like that from happening again."

It has only been a few months — too soon to say whether the wave of newcomers will ultimately succeed in reshaping the GOP or how they will affect Republican prospects in upcoming elections. But what's already clear is that these up-and-coming party officers have notched early wins.

In Michigan, one of the main organizers recruiting new precinct officers pushed for the ouster of the state party's executive director, who contradicted Trump's claim that the election was stolen and who later resigned. In Las Vegas, a handful of Proud Boys, part of the extremist group whose members have been charged in attacking the Capitol, supported a bid to topple moderates controlling the county party — a dispute that's now in court.

In Phoenix, new precinct officers petitioned to unseat county officials who refused to cooperate with the state Senate Republicans' "forensic audit" of 2020 ballots. Similar audits are now being pursued by new precinct officers in Michigan and the Carolinas. Outside Atlanta, new local party leaders helped elect a state lawmaker who championed Georgia's sweeping new voting restrictions.

And precinct organizers are hoping to advance candidates such as Matthew DePerno, a Michigan attorney general hopeful who Republican state senators said in a report had spread "misleading and irresponsible" misinformation about the election, and Mark Finchem, a member of the Oath Keepers militia who marched to the Capitol on January 6 and is now running to be Arizona's top elections official. DePerno did not respond to requests for comment, and Finchem asked for questions to be sent by email and then did not respond. Finchem has said he did not enter the Capitol or have anything to do with the violence. He has also said the Oath Keepers are not anti-government.

When Bannon interviewed Finchem on an April podcast, he wrapped up a segment about Arizona Republicans' efforts to reexamine the 2020 results by asking Finchem how listeners could help. Finchem answered by promoting the precinct strategy. "The only way you're going to see to it this doesn't happen again is if you get involved," Finchem said. "Become a precinct committeeman."

Some of the new precinct officers were in the crowd that marched to the Capitol on January 6, according to interviews and social media posts; one Texas precinct chair was arrested for assaulting police in Washington. He pleaded not guilty. Many of the new activists have said publicly that they support QAnon, the online conspiracy theory that believes Trump was working to root out a global child sex trafficking ring. Organizers of the movement have encouraged supporters to bring weapons to demonstrations. In Las Vegas and Savannah, Georgia, newcomers were so disruptive that they shut down leadership elections.

"They're not going to be welcomed with open arms," Bannon said, addressing the altercations on an April podcast. "But hey, was it nasty at Lexington?" he said, citing the opening battle of the American Revolution. "Was it nasty at Concord? Was it nasty at Bunker Hill?"

Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who developed the precinct strategy, appears on Steve Bannon's podcast and weekly conference calls with organizers around the country. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Bannon's War Room/YouTube; Network America/YouTube

Bannon plucked the precinct strategy out of obscurity. For more than a decade, a little-known Arizona tea party activist named Daniel J. Schultz has been preaching the plan. Schultz failed to gain traction, despite winning a $5,000 prize from conservative direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie in 2013 and making a 2015 pitch on Bannon's far-right website, Breitbart. Schultz did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon's podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state's Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered, beginning to explain his plan. Bannon cut him off, offering to return to the idea another time.

That time came in February. Schultz returned to Bannon's podcast, immediately preceding Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who spouts baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

"We can take over the party if we invade it," Schultz said. "I can't guarantee you that we'll save the republic, but I can guarantee you this: We'll lose it if we conservatives don't take over the Republican Party."

Bannon endorsed Schultz's plan, telling "all the unwashed masses in the MAGA movement, the deplorables" to take up this cause. Bannon said he had more than 400,000 listeners, a count that could not be independently verified.

Bannon brought Schultz back on the show at least eight more times, alongside guests such as embattled Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, a leading defender of people jailed on Capitol riot charges.

The exposure launched Schultz into a full-blown far-right media tour. In February, Schultz spoke on a podcast with Tracy "Beanz" Diaz, a leading popularizer of QAnon. In an episode titled "THIS Is How We Win," Diaz said of Schultz, "I was waiting, I was wishing and hoping for the universe to deliver someone like him."

Schultz himself calls QAnon "a joke." Nevertheless, he promoted his precinct strategy on at least three more QAnon programs in recent months, according to Media Matters, a Democratic-aligned group tracking right-wing content. "I want to see many of you going and doing this," host Zak Paine said on one of the shows in May.

Schultz's strategy also got a boost from another prominent QAnon promoter: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who urged Trump to impose martial law and "rerun" the election. On a May online talk show, Flynn told listeners to fill "thousands of positions that are vacant at the local level."

Precinct recruitment is now "the forefront of our mission" for Turning Point Action, according to the right-wing organization's website. The group's parent organization bused Trump supporters to Washington for January 6, including at least one person who was later charged with assaulting police. He pleaded not guilty. In July, Turning Point brought Trump to speak in Phoenix, where he called the 2020 election "the greatest crime in history." Outside, red-capped volunteers signed people up to become precinct chairs.

Organizers from around the country started huddling with Schultz for weekly Zoom meetings. The meetings' host, far-right blogger Jim Condit Jr. of Cincinnati, kicked off a July call by describing the precinct strategy as the last alternative to violence. "It's the only idea," Condit said, "unless you want to pick up guns like the Founding Fathers did in 1776 and start to try to take back our country by the Second Amendment, which none of us want to do."

By the next week, though, Schultz suggested the new precinct officials might not stay peaceful. Schultz belonged to a mailing list for a group of military, law enforcement and intelligence veterans called the " 1st Amendment Praetorian" that organizes security for Flynn and other pro-Trump figures. Back in the 1990s, Schultz wrote an article defending armed anti-government militias like those involved in that decade's deadly clashes with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas.

"Make sure everybody's got a baseball bat," Schultz said on the July strategy conference call, which was posted on YouTube. "I'm serious about this. Make sure you've got people who are armed."

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks to the Macon County GOP while holding an autographed shotgun that was being raffled off. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Video: Macon County Republican Party/Facebook

The sudden demand for low-profile precinct positions baffled some party leaders. In Fort Worth, county chair Rick Barnes said numerous callers asked about becoming a "precinct committeeman," quoting the term used on Bannon's podcast. That suggested that out-of-state encouragement played a role in prompting the calls, since Texas's term for the position is "precinct chair." Tarrant County has added 61 precinct chairs this year, about a 24% increase since February. "Those podcasts actually paid off," Barnes said.

For weeks, about five people a day called to become precinct chairs in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, southwest of Green Bay. Albert, the county party chair, said he would explain that Wisconsin has no precinct chairs, but newcomers could join the county party — and then become poll workers. "We're trying to make sure that our voice is now being reinserted into the process," Albert said.

Similarly, the GOP in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, is fielding a surge of volunteers for precinct committee members, but also for election judges or inspectors, which are party-affiliated elected positions in that state. "Who knows what happened on Election Day for real," county chair Lou Capozzi said in an interview. The county GOP sent two busloads of people to Washington for Jan. 6 and Capozzi said they stayed peaceful. "People want to make sure elections remain honest."

Elsewhere, activists inspired by the precinct strategy have targeted local election boards. In DeKalb County, east of Atlanta, the GOP censured a long-serving Republican board member who rejected claims of widespread fraud in 2020. To replace him, new party chair Marci McCarthy tapped a far-right activist known for false, offensive statements. The party nominees to the election board have to be approved by a judge, and the judge in this case rejected McCarthy's pick, citing an "extraordinary" public outcry. McCarthy defended her choice but ultimately settled for someone less controversial.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, more than 1,000 people attended the county GOP convention in March, up from the typical 300 to 400. The chair they elected, Alan Swain, swiftly formed an "election integrity committee" that's lobbying lawmakers to restrict voting and audit the 2020 results. "We're all about voter and election integrity," Swain said in an interview.

In the rural western part of the state, too, a wave of people who heard Bannon's podcast or were furious about perceived election fraud swept into county parties, according to the new district chair, Michele Woodhouse. The district's member of Congress, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, addressed a crowd at one county headquarters on August 29, at an event that included a raffle for a shotgun.

"If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it's going to lead to one place, and it's bloodshed," Cawthorn said, in remarks livestreamed on Facebook, shortly after holding the prize shotgun, which he autographed. "That's right," the audience cheered. Cawthorn went on, "As much as I'm willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there's nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American, and the way we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states."

After Cawthorn referred to people arrested on January 6 charges as "political hostages," someone asked, "When are you going to call us to Washington again?" The crowd laughed and clapped as Cawthorn answered, "We are actively working on that one."

Arizona lawmaker Mark Finchem speaks on Bannon's podcast, and former President Donald Trump speaks at a July rally in Phoenix. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Bannon's War Room/Rumble; CSPAN

Schultz has offered his own state of Arizona as a proof of concept for how precinct officers can reshape the party. The result, Schultz has said, is actions like the state Senate Republicans' "forensic audit" of Maricopa County's 2020 ballots. The "audit," conducted by a private firm with no experience in elections and whose CEO has spread conspiracy theories, has included efforts to identify fraudulent ballots from Asia by searching for traces of bamboo. Schultz has urged activists demanding similar audits in other states to start by becoming precinct officers.

The Number of Republican Precinct Committee Members in Maricopa County Surged After Steve Bannon's Call to Action

"Because we've got the audit, there's very heightened and intense public interest in the last campaign, and of course making sure election laws are tightened," said Sandra Dowling, a district chair in northwest Maricopa and northern Yuma County whose precinct roster grew by 63% in less than six months. Though Dowling says some other district chairs screen their applicants, she doesn't. "I don't care," she said.

One chair who does screen applicants is Kathy Petsas, a lifelong Republican whose district spans Phoenix and Paradise Valley. She also saw applications explode earlier this year. Many told her that Schultz had recruited them, and some said they believed in QAnon. "Being motivated by conspiracy theories is no way to go through life, and no way for us to build a high-functioning party," Petsas said. "That attitude can't prevail."

As waves of new precinct officers flooded into the county party, Petsas was dismayed to see some petitioning to recall their own Republican county supervisors for refusing to cooperate with the Senate GOP's audit.

"It is not helpful to our democracy when you have people who stand up and do the right thing and are honest communicators about what's going on, and they get lambasted by our own party," Petsas said. "That's a problem."

Far-right lawyer Lin Wood faces off with South Carolina GOP chair Drew McKissick. An operative involved in Wood's campaign tackles a protester at a speech by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in Greenville. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: MyrtleBeachSC News/YouTube; Breaking Video/YouTube

This spring, a team of disaffected Republican operatives put Schultz's precinct strategy into action in South Carolina, a state that plays an outsize role in choosing presidents because of its early primaries. The operatives' goal was to secure enough delegates to the party's state convention to elect a new chair: far-right celebrity lawyer Lin Wood.

Wood was involved with some of the lawsuits to overturn the presidential election that courts repeatedly ruled meritless, or even sanctionable. After the election, Wood said on Bannon's podcast, "I think the audience has to do what the people that were our Founding Fathers did in 1776." On Twitter, Wood called for executing Vice President Mike Pence by firing squad. Wood later said it was "rhetorical hyperbole," but that and other incendiary language got him banned from mainstream social media. He switched to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by deplatformed right-wing influencers, amassing roughly 830,000 followers while repeatedly promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Asked for comment about his political efforts, Wood responded, "Most of your 'facts' are either false or misrepresent the truth." He declined to cite specifics.

Typically, precinct meetings were "a yawner," according to Mike Connett, a longtime party member in Horry County, best known for its popular beach towns. But in April, Connett and other establishment Republicans were caught off guard when 369 people, many of them newcomers, showed up for the county convention in North Myrtle Beach. Connett lost a race for a leadership role to Diaz, the prominent QAnon supporter, and Wood's faction captured the county's other executive positions plus 35 of 48 delegate slots, enabling them to cast most of the county's votes for Wood at the state convention. "It seemed like a pretty clean takeover," Connett told ProPublica.

In Greenville, the state's most populous county, Wood campaign organizers Jeff Davis and Pressley Stutts mobilized a surge of supporters at the county convention — about 1,400 delegates, up from roughly 550 in 2019 — and swept almost all of the 79 delegate positions. That gave Wood's faction the vast majority of the votes in two of South Carolina's biggest delegations.

Across the state, the precinct strategy was contributing to an unprecedented surge in local party participation, according to data provided by a state GOP spokeswoman. In 2019, 4,296 people participated. This year, 8,524 did.

"It's a prairie fire down there in Greenville, South Carolina, brought on by the MAGA posse," Bannon said on his podcast.

Establishment party leaders realized they had to take Wood's challenge seriously. The incumbent chair, Drew McKissick, had Trump's endorsement three times over — including twice after Wood entered the race. But Wood fought back by repeatedly implying that McKissick and other prominent state Republicans were corrupt and involved in various conspiracies that seemed related to QAnon. The race became heated enough that after one event, Wood and McKissick exchanged angry words face-to-face.

Wood's rallies were raucous affairs packed with hundreds of people, energized by right-wing celebrities like Flynn and Lindell. In interviews, many attendees described the events as their first foray into politics, sometimes referencing Schultz and always citing Trump's stolen election myth. Some said they'd resort to violence if they felt an election was stolen again.

Wood's campaign wobbled in counties that the precinct strategy had not yet reached. At the state convention in May, Wood won about 30% of the delegates, commanding Horry, Greenville and some surrounding counties, but faltering elsewhere. A triumphant McKissick called Wood's supporters "a fringe, rogue group" and vowed to turn them into a "leper colony" by building parallel Republican organizations in their territory.

But Wood and his partisans did not act defeated. The chairmanship election, they argued, was as rigged as the 2020 presidential race. Wood threw a lavish party at his roughly 2,000-acre low-country estate, secured by armed guards and surveillance cameras. From a stage fit for a rock concert on the lawn of one of his three mansions, Wood promised the fight would continue.

Diaz and her allies in Horry County voted to censure McKissick. The county's longtime Republicans tried, but failed, to oust Diaz and her cohort after one of the people involved in drafting Wood tackled a protester at a Flynn speech in Greenville. (This incident, the details of which are disputed, prompted Schultz to encourage precinct strategy activists to arm themselves.) Wood continued promoting the precinct strategy to his Telegram followers, and scores replied that they were signing up.

In late July, Stutts and Davis forced out Greenville County GOP's few remaining establishment leaders, claiming that they had cheated in the first election. Then Stutts, Davis and an ally won a new election to fill those vacant seats. "They sound like Democrats, right?" Bannon asked Stutts in a podcast interview. Stutts replied, "They taught the Democrats how to cheat, Steve."

Stutts' group quickly pushed for an investigation of the 2020 presidential election, planning a rally featuring Davis and Wood at the end of August, and began campaigning against vaccine and school mask mandates. "I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery," Stutts had previously posted on Facebook, quoting Thomas Jefferson. Stutts continued posting messages skeptical of vaccine and mask mandates even after he entered the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19. He died on Aug. 19.

Salleigh Grubbs alleges 2020 election fraud while testifying to state lawmakers. She was elected the Cobb County party chair, and she dedicated her first meeting to "the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today." Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: DogEars/YouTube; Cobb County Republican Party/Facebook

The hubbub got so loud inside the Cobb County, Georgia, Republican headquarters that it took several shouts and whistles to get everyone's attention. It was a full house for Salleigh Grubbs' first meeting as the county's party chair. Grubbs ran on a vow to "clean house" in the election system, highlighting her December testimony to state lawmakers in which she raised unsubstantiated fraud allegations. Supporters praised Grubbs' courage for following a truck she suspected of being used in a plot to shred evidence. She attended Trump's Jan. 6 rally as a VIP. She won the chairmanship decisively at an April county convention packed with an estimated 50% first-time participants.

In May, Grubbs opened her first meeting by asking everyone munching on bacon and eggs to listen to her recite the Gettysburg Address. "Think of the battle for freedom that Americans have before them today," Grubbs said. "Those people fought and died so that you could be the precinct chair." After the reading, first-time precinct officers stood for applause and cheers.

Their work would start right away: putting up signs, making calls and knocking on doors for a special election for the state House. The district had long leaned Republican, but after the GOP's devastating losses up and down the ballot in 2020, they didn't know what to expect.

"There's so many people out there that are scared, they feel like their vote doesn't count," Cooper Guyon, a 17-year-old right-wing podcaster from the Atlanta area who speaks to county parties around the state, told the Cobb Republicans in July. The activists, he said, need to "get out in these communities and tell them that we are fighting to make your vote count by passing the Senate bill, the election-reform bills that are saving our elections in Georgia."

Of the field's two Republicans, Devan Seabaugh took the strongest stance in favor of Georgia's new law restricting ways to vote and giving the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over running elections. "The only people who may be inconvenienced by Senate Bill 202 are those intent on committing fraud," he wrote in response to a local newspaper's candidate questionnaire.

Seabaugh led the June special election and won a July runoff. Grubbs cheered the win as a turning point. "We are awake. We are preparing," she wrote on Facebook. "The conservative citizens of Cobb County are ready to defend our ballots and our county."

Newcomers did not meet such quick success everywhere. In Savannah, a faction crashed the Chatham County convention with their own microphone, inspired by Bannon's podcast to try to depose the incumbent party leaders who they accused of betraying Trump. Party officers blocked the newcomers' candidacies, saying they weren't officially nominated. Shouting erupted, and the meeting adjourned without a vote. Then the party canceled its districtwide convention.

The state party ultimately sided with the incumbent leaders. District chair Carl Smith said the uprising is bound to fail because the insurgents are mistaken in believing that he and other local leaders didn't fight hard enough for Trump.

"You can't build a movement on a lie," Smith said.

The Hillsdale County Republican Party's new leaders organized sending buses of people to the Trump rally on Jan. 6. Now, activists dedicated to the stolen election myth are recruiting precinct delegates at regular events. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Jon Smith/Facebook; Debra Ell/Facebook

In Michigan, activists who identify with a larger movement working against Republicans willing to accept Trump's loss have captured the party leadership in about a dozen counties. They're directly challenging state party leaders, who are trying to harness the grassroots energy without indulging demands to keep fighting over the last election.

Some of the takeovers happened before the rise of the precinct strategy. But the activists are now organizing under the banner "Precinct First" and holding regular events, complete with notaries, to sign people up to run for precinct delegate positions.

"We are reclaiming our party," Debra Ell, one of the organizers, told ProPublica. "We're building an 'America First' army."

Under normal rules, the wave of new precinct delegates could force the party to nominate far-right candidates for key state offices. That's because in Michigan, party nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor are chosen directly by party delegates rather than in public primaries. But the state party recently voted to hold a special convention earlier next year, which should effectively lock in candidates before the new, more radical delegates are seated.

Activist-led county parties including rural Hillsdale and Detroit-area Macomb are also censuring Republican state legislators for issuing a June report on the 2020 election that found no evidence of systemic fraud and no need for a reexamination of the results like the one in Arizona. (The censures have no enforceable impact beyond being a public rebuke of the politicians.) At the same time, county party leaders in Hillsdale and elsewhere are working on a ballot initiative to force an Arizona-style election review.

Establishment Republicans have their own idea for a ballot initiative — one that could tighten rules for voter ID and provisional ballots while sidestepping the Democratic governor's veto. If the initiative collects hundreds of thousands of valid signatures, it would be put to a vote by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. Under a provision of the state constitution, the state Legislature can adopt the measure and it can't be vetoed.

State party leaders recently reached out to the activists rallying around the rejection of the presidential election results, including Hillsdale Republican Party Secretary Jon Smith, for help. Smith, Ell and others agreed to join the effort, the two activists said.

"This empowers them," Jason Roe, the state party executive director whose ouster the activists demanded because he said Trump was responsible for his own loss, told ProPublica. Roe resigned in July, citing unrelated reasons. "It's important to get them focused on change that can actually impact" future elections, he said, "instead of keeping their feet mired in the conspiracy theories of 2020."

A crowd tries to push back cops guarding the back door to a high school theater where the Clark County GOP tried to hold a leadership election. At least one Proud Boy was riling up the crowd. Credit: Lisa Larson-Walker/ProPublica. Videos: Veterans in Politics/YouTube; Paul Bodine/YouTube

Jesse Law, who ran the Trump campaign's Election Day operations in Nevada, sued the Democratic electors, seeking to declare Trump the winner or annul the results. The judge threw out the case, saying Law's evidence did not meet "any standard of proof," and the Nevada Supreme Court agreed. When the Electoral College met in December, Law stood outside the state capitol to publicly cast mock votes for Trump.

This year, Law set his sights on taking over the Republican Party in the state's largest county, Clark, which encompasses Las Vegas. He campaigned on the precinct strategy, promising 1,000 new recruits. His path to winning the county chairmanship — just like Stutts' team in South Carolina, and Grubbs in Cobb County, Georgia — relied on turning out droves of newcomers to flood the county party and vote for him.

In Law's case, many of those newcomers came through the Proud Boys, the all-male gang affiliated with more than two dozen people charged in the Capitol riot. The Las Vegas chapter boasted about signing up 500 new party members (not all of them belonging to the Proud Boys) to ensure their takeover of the county party. After briefly advancing their own slate of candidates to lead the Clark GOP, the Proud Boys threw their support to Law. They also helped lead a state party censure of Nevada's Republican secretary of state, who rejected the Trump campaign's baseless claims of fraudulent ballots.

Law, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, has declined to distance himself from the Las Vegas Proud Boys, citing Trump's "stand back and stand by" remark at the September 2020 presidential debate. "When the president was asked if he would disavow, he said no," Law told an independent Nevada journalist in July. "If the president is OK with that, I'm going to take the presidential stance."

The outgoing county chair, David Sajdak, canceled the first planned vote for his successor. He said he was worried the Proud Boys would resort to violence if their newly recruited members, who Sajdak considered illegitimate, weren't allowed to vote.

Sajdak tried again to hold a leadership vote in July, with a meeting in a Las Vegas high school theater, secured by police. But the crowd inside descended into shouting, while more people tried to storm past the cops guarding the back entrance, leading to scuffles. "Let us in! Let us in!" some chanted. Riling them up was at least one Proud Boy, according to multiple videos of the meeting.

At the microphone, Sajdak was running out of patience. "I'm done covering for you awful people," he bellowed. Unable to restore order, Sajdak ended the meeting without a vote and resigned a few hours later. He'd had enough.

"They want to create mayhem," Sajdak said.

Soon after, Law's faction held their own meeting at a hotel-casino and overwhelmingly voted for Law as county chairman. Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald, a longtime ally of Law who helped lead Trump's futile effort to overturn the Nevada results, recognized Law as the new county chair and promoted a fundraiser to celebrate. The existing county leaders sued, seeking a court order to block Law's "fraudulent, rogue election." The judge preliminarily sided with the moderates, but told them to hold off on their own election until a court hearing in September.

To Sajdak, agonizing over 2020 is pointless because "there's no mechanism for overturning an election." Asked if Law's allies are determined to create one, Sajdak said: "It's a scary thought, isn't it."

Did Greene Violate Federal Law In Her New SuperPAC Ad?

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Not long after her election to Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) helped raise money for a super PAC by appearing in a video ad that tests the boundaries of rules limiting fundraising by elected officials.

The ad explicitly asks for money for the Stop Socialism Now PAC, an entity that can accept unlimited donations. But candidates and elected officials are not allowed to solicit contributions greater than $5,000, according to campaign finance experts.

Greene made the ad with Rick Shaftan, a North Carolina-based consultant whose company also handled ads for Greene's campaign and works with a gun activism group that has been closely aligned with the freshman lawmaker. Some Republicans have cut their ties to Shaftan over his history of racist remarks.

In December, Greene appeared in several ads for the super PAC leading up to Georgia's two Senate runoffs. "It's time to fight back now before it's too late," Greene said in one of the videos.

Immediately after she leaves the screen, a voice-over urges viewers to "make a contribution today."

Stop Socialism Now PAC's Ad

Greene recites a script in the super PAC's ad, which ends with a call for donations. (Screenshots from YouTube)

Under federal law, candidates and elected officials cannot "solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds in connection with an election … unless the funds are subject to the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements" of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Super PACs aren't subject to those requirements, as noted in the fine print on the donation webpage referenced in the Greene ad. The statute defines "solicit" as "to ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly," that a person give money or something of value. The law says messages should be considered in context, including "the conduct of persons involved in the communication."

Legal experts differed in their assessments of whether Greene's appearance follows the law, depending on their views of how strictly campaign finance rules should be interpreted. The Federal Election Commission, which enforces campaign finance rules, is notoriously weak. Although the commission staff looks into complaints about violations of fundraising rules, the six-member commission, which has equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, routinely deadlocks.

Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert with the good-government advocacy group Common Cause, said he believes the Greene ad clearly crosses the line.

"This communication constitutes an illegal solicitation by a member of Congress of unlimited funds," Ryan said. The ban on soliciting unlimited donations, he said, "becomes meaningless if a candidate can do this."

Ryan said he's never before seen a candidate reading a super PAC's script in an ad that explicitly asks for money. That goes further, he said, than other instances where super PACs have repurposed footage of a candidate or hosted candidates at fundraisers that people have already paid to attend.

Political operatives have steadily pushed to blur the lines between candidates and their allied super PACs, which are supposed to be independent. Candidates regularly started showing up at super PAC fundraisers with the FEC's blessing. Campaigns and super PACs are not supposed to share private information, so campaigns started publicly posting video that super PACs could use — in 2015, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign famously posted hours and hours of raw footage.

The Greene ad is different because her appearance was clearly recorded specifically for the super PAC.

"Even if a super PAC can accept, a federal candidate can't solicit — that is clear and indisputable," said Erin Chlopak of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. "The whole basis for these organizations to exist is acting independently and not in coordination with federal candidates. The weaker we make that, or the lack of rules that really require such independence, then the entire premise of why they're allowed to accept unlimited contributions falls apart."

The Greene ad doesn't specify a $5,000 contribution limit, which experts say could have avoided the issue.

"My advice would be to be very clear that a candidate is not soliciting beyond those limits," said William Minor, a campaign finance lawyer at the firm DLA Piper. Minor said the FEC has given detailed guidance about what candidates can and can't do in relation to fundraising events, but the only rule that addresses asking for money in ads is the blanket ban on soliciting outsize donations.

Still, Jan Baran, a prominent Republican campaign finance lawyer, said he believes the ad complies with FEC rules because the solicitation for money flashes up while Greene is not on screen. She also doesn't appear on the super PAC's online donations page, he said.

"The ad and Ms. Greene seem in compliance since there is no solicitation by Ms. Greene and no evidence direct or indirect that impermissible [federal election] funds are being solicited by using Ms. Greene's name or likeness," Baran said in an email.

The Greene campaign and its lawyer, former Trump White House deputy counsel Stefan C. Passantino, didn't respond to requests for comment. Reached by phone, Shaftan hung up. His Twitter bio says, "I no longer talk to the #FakeNewsMedia or care what you write."

Greene voted to overturn the presidential election by objecting to the Electoral College results on January 6, when a violent mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters attacked the Capitol. Georgia Democrats called for Greene to resign over her inflammatory rhetoric leading up to the insurrection.

In February, the House voted to remove Greene from her committee assignments for conduct such as accosting a school shooting survivor and showing support online for killing Democratic leaders. Greene said in a speech that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be executed for treason and liked a Facebook comment that suggested removing Pelosi with "a bullet to the head."

Those incidents predate Greene's election to Congress, but while in office she has provoked fresh altercations on Capitol Hill. Freshman Democrat Cori Bush of Missouri moved her office after she said Greene and her staff "berated" and "threatened" her in response to being asked to wear masks. Greene also put up an anti-transgender sign outside her office, across the hall from a lawmaker whose daughter is transgender. Last week, Greene aggressively pursued Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., outside the House chamber, falsely accusing her of supporting terrorists.

It is not clear exactly when and where the super PAC launched the ad featuring Greene. Stop Socialism Now PAC reported spending $12,000 on Dec. 4 for "digital and television advertising" against the Democratic candidates in the Senate runoffs, according to FEC disclosures. The group didn't show up in a search of broadcast airtime by the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.

The super PAC posted the Greene ad that asked for money on its Facebook page on December 3, logging more than 3,500 views. That ad isn't one of the super PAC's paid posts that show up in the social network's voluntary disclosures of political ads.

FEC disclosures don't connect contributions to any particular ad or solicitation. But the super PAC has received several donations above the $5,000 limit that applies to regular (non-super) PACs.

Cynthia B. Howalt, whose family owns a chemical manufacturing company in Greene's district, gave $125,000 on November 13. Her husband, Frederick "Chip" Howalt, told a local reporter in January that the couple wanted to increase support for Greene and oppose Republicans who didn't vote to overturn the 2020 election. The couple didn't respond to requests for comment.

Another large donor to the super PAC was William O. Cooley, a retired land developer in West Palm Beach, who gave $10,000 on December 9. He declined to comment.

Greene's extensive television ads, financed in part with her $1 million loan to her campaign, were key to her victory in the Republican primary last year. Her campaign has paid Shaftan's firm, Neighborhood Research and Media, more than $665,000 for ads, polls, mailers, phone messages and calls, according to FEC disclosures. The super PAC paid the firm another $10,000.

Shaftan's ads for Greene's official campaign included one simulating an explosion at an enormous Confederate monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia, as Greene says, "The socialist left won't stop until America is destroyed." In another ad, Greene brandishes an assault rifle and appears to blow up targets labeled "gun control" and "socialism."

Shaftan also works with a network of pro-gun groups run by brothers in Ohio named Chris, Aaron, and Ben Dorr. They are also prominent allies of Greene's. In an interview with Chris Dorr a week before the 2020 election, Greene said that if Trump lost, his supporters might resort to violence.

"Once it's gone, freedom doesn't come back by itself — the only way you get your freedoms back is it's earned with the price of blood," Greene said in a video of the interview, reported by Mother Jones. "This is it. November 3, freedom is on the ballot."

Greene planned to speak at a May 1 rally in Columbus, Ohio, organized by Chris Dorr, who told followers they could openly carry guns there. On the eve of the rally, the organizers called it off. Greene released a statement claiming state authorities refused to provide security for her.

An Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman disputed that account, saying the police "had every intention of providing security" and had "all necessary measures in place."

Chris Dorr didn't respond to requests for comment. In 2019, Ohio authorities investigated and decided against prosecuting him for threatening assassinations in response to the Republican governor's proposed gun regulations. "There could be political bodies lying all over the ground," Dorr said in an online video. "We gun owners will pull the trigger and leave the corpse for the buzzards."

Greene also touted the Dorr brothers' American Firearms Association's endorsement of a bill she introduced in Congress to block federal funding for any gun regulations. An article on the far-right website Breitbart said Greene's bill was a response to an abandoned effort late last year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to restrict equipment that makes it possible to use pistols like assault weapons. This type of weapon was later used in the Boulder, Colorado, mass shooting in March.

In April, Greene's campaign said it would raffle off a version of the weapon. "I'm giving away the gun that triggers the Fake News Media," Greene said in an email to supporters.

Update, May 21, 2021: The good-government advocacy group Common Cause filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission citing ProPublica's reporting and alleging that the super PAC ad featuring Greene violated the ban on candidates soliciting unlimited donations. "The United States Supreme Court has been very clear in upholding candidate contribution limits and prohibitions on candidates soliciting funds outside those limits because such contributions lead to corruption and undermine the faith of Americans in the political process," the group's president, Karen Hobert Flynn, said in a statement.

Do you have information that should be public about extremist members of Congress? Contact Isaac at isaac@propublica.org.

Meet The Trump Mega-Donors Who Control The GOP’s Future

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Wesley Barnett was just as surprised as anyone to learn from news reports that the January 6 Trump rally that turned into a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol was funded by Julia Jenkins Fancelli, an heiress to the fortune of the popular Publix supermarket chain. But Barnett had extra cause for being startled: Fancelli is his aunt.

Barnett said he was at a loss to explain how his aunt — who isn't on social media, lives part time in Italy and keeps a low profile in their central Florida town — got mixed up with the likes of Alex Jones and Ali Alexander, the right-wing provocateurs who were VIPs at the Jan. 6 rally in front of the White House.

Over the last five years, it has become clear that former President Donald Trump has activated a new set of mega-donors who were not previously big spenders in national politics. Some of the donors appear to share the more extreme views of many Trump supporters, based on social media posts promoting falsehoods about election fraud or masks and vaccines. Whether they will deepen their involvement or step back, and whether their giving will extend to candidates beyond Trump, will have an outsized role in steering the future of the Republican Party and even American democracy.

ProPublica identified 29 people and couples who increased their political contributions at least tenfold since 2015, based on an analysis of Federal Election Commission records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The donors in the table below gave at least $1 million to Trump and the GOP after previously having spent less than $1 million total. Most of the donations went to super PACs supporting Trump or to the Trump Victory joint fundraising vehicle that spread the money among his campaign and party committees.

MAGA Money

These donors each contributed more than $1 million to Trump and other Republicans since 2015, at least a tenfold increase from their prior political giving. The names of both people in a couple are shown if they each donated in their own names; the description applies to the first person named unless otherwise stated.

Source: Federal Election Commission, Center for Responsive Politics, ProPublica reporting Credit: Chart by Moiz Syed

In the current system of porous campaign finance rules and lax enforcement, a handful of ultra-rich people can have dramatic influence on national campaigns. Many of Trump's biggest backers, such as the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, or the Illinois packaging tycoons Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, aren't shown in ProPublica's analysis because they gave millions to Republicans even before Trump. But several of the biggest new donors — banking scion Timothy Mellon and his wife, Patricia; Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter and his wife, Laura; and Dallas pipeline billionaire Kelcy Warren and his wife, Amy — now rank among such better-known, longer-running donors as Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, professional wrestling founders Linda and Vince McMahon, and casino mogul Steve Wynn.

For some new donors, the sudden increase in their political contributions may have as much to do with newly acquired wealth as with the ascent of Trump and his grip on the Republican Party. But others inherited fortunes or made them long ago, yet never made a splash in campaign finance records until now. Several of the donors have not spoken publicly about their support for Trump or have not been extensively covered before. ProPublica requested interviews with everyone named in this article and included comments from those who responded.

"Things are diametrically different from when Trump was in office," Marlyne Sexton, who has given more than $2 million since 2015 after giving less than $115,000 before, said in a phone interview. Sexton, whose husband runs an Indianapolis-based property management company, attended a dinner with Trump in 2019, Politico reported.

"People are afraid to walk down the street, it's a joke," Sexton continued. Asked why people were afraid, she said, "You can answer that for yourself, and if you can't then we probably don't agree. I can't help you understand that."

Big Lie Believers: Julia Fancelli and Gregory Fancelli

In addition to pledging $300,000 to fund the January 6 rally in Washington, Julia Fancelli actually had a hotel suite reserved, according to organizers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But in the end she did not attend, according to Caroline Wren, a Trump fundraiser involved in the planning.

Fancelli did not respond to requests for an interview, including one placed through the office of her family's foundation. Her estate manager, Schuyler Long, who also donated to Trump, declined to comment. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported her involvement in the January 6 rally, Fancelli said: "I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded."

Publix distanced itself from Fancelli, whose father, George Jenkins, founded the chain. The company said she isn't involved in operations and doesn't "represent the company in any way." Fancelli's holdings in the privately held company aren't known and she is not listed in financial disclosures as an owner of five percent or more of the company's stock.

Forbes has estimated the entire Jenkins family's wealth at $8.8 billion, ranking 39th in the country. Fancelli served as president of the family's foundation as of 2019, according to the organization's most recent tax filing. In addition to nonpolitical charities, the foundation also made a $30,000 grant to the Leadership Institute, which trains conservative activists.

Fancelli grew up with the rest of the Jenkins clan in Lakeland, Florida, and met her husband Mauro, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, on a study abroad year in Florence, the local newspaper reported in 2018. Though the Jenkins family is prominent in Lakeland, Fancelli is not civically engaged and lives for much of the year in Italy.

In past elections, she generally gave a few thousand dollars at a time to the Republican National Committee and GOP congressional candidates, amounting to less than $200,000 total, according to FEC records. Her contributions took off starting in 2016. Since then she's given more than $2 million. Besides backing Trump, she was the largest donor to a super PAC supporting Michigan Republican Eric Esshaki, who lost to Rep. Haley Stevens.

Fancelli's donations to Trump drew some notice. But until the January 6 rally, the most news she made was for being a theft victim: In December 2020, a murder suspect stole three pieces of a silver tea set through the window of Fancelli's modest house.

Fancelli's son, Gregory, accompanied her to a Trump campaign luncheon in Palm Beach in 2019 and donated in his own name. "My mother and I are big supporters of the president," he told a local reporter in October.

Unlike his mom, Gregory Fancelli is active in the Lakeland community. He works on restoring local houses and mosaics, as well as a planetarium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the last with the help of a grant from the National Park Service in August 2020. He has donated money to a school board candidate through shell companies named after fictional characters such as Tony Stark (better known as Iron Man) and a Ghostbuster, Peter Venkman.

He also occasionally posts online about politics, and in the months after Trump lost the election, his views appeared to harden. On Christmas Day in 2020, Fancelli said on Facebook that COVID-19 was a "fake pandemic" and argued with Facebook friends who referenced case numbers and people they personally knew who died of the coronavirus. "It doesn't have the magnitude of a pandemic, unless you combine all the illnesses and flues and give it one name," Fancelli wrote. "Definitely a very powerful scare tactic by the Chinese and the UN."

In other posts, Fancelli appeared to embrace Trump's rhetoric calling President Joe Biden soft on China and falsely claiming that the election was stolen. In March, Fancelli posted a video mocking Biden for tripping on the stairs to board Air Force One, mashing up the footage with video of Trump hitting a golf ball. To a friend who commented "Fore more years!" Fancelli replied, "Fore more years of chinese puppetry!"

Another friend commented, "80 million people voted for this?" Fancelli replied, "Some people voted for him, the rest is fraud."

Gregory Fancelli declined to be interviewed.

Online Conspiracy Theorists: Leila Centner, Michael and Caryn Borland

David and Leila Centner have never spoken publicly about their support for Trump and hadn't made a political donation (except two that were refunded in 2018) until they gave a combined $1 million to support Trump's 2020 campaign. Come Jan. 6, the Miami couple were VIP guests at the rally on the Ellipse, according to organizers. The couple declined to comment through a spokesperson.

David Centner started and sold several successful web businesses, then made a fortune on a company that processed highway tolls. In 2019, taking advantage of a provision in Trump's tax bill, the Centners reportedly invested $40 million in a fund to build affordable housing for teachers. The tax incentive, known as Opportunity Zones, was intended to entice investors into developing poorer neighborhoods. But many wealthy and well-connected people have found ways to use it to subsidize their preexisting projects.

After not being able to find a school that felt right for their daughter, the Centners started their own, the brightly colored Centner Academy in Miami's Design District.

Some school parents objected when Leila Centner used the building to host a campaign event for a conservative mayoral candidate. According to emails quoted in the Miami New Times, Centner responded to their concerns by saying, "Please do not tell me what types of events I can host in my own building after hours."

In January, the school hosted an event with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the prominent anti-vaccine activist. David Centner introduced him as his "hero" and "personal inspiration," according to a video of Kennedy's talk.

David Centner, left, and Leila Centner pose with antivaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy at an event in January.

In April, Centner instructed school employees not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In a message to faculty and staff, she falsely claimed the vaccines don't prevent death or transmission of the disease, despite trials and research showing they do. She also cited a baseless conspiracy theory that merely being around other vaccinated people can cause reproductive problems in women.

"We cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known," Centner said in the message to staff. She told employees who wished to get the vaccine that they should wait until the end of the school year and that they might not be allowed to return to their jobs.

Centner's Facebook and Instagram posts are filled with misinformation urging people not to wear masks or get a COVID-19 vaccine. She falsely claimed that the media has covered up vaccine side effects ranging from rashes to death. She also has posted attacks on the nation's top infectious disease adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, as well as drug companies and other doctors. She has cited debunked studies claiming masks harm children and compared face coverings to the yellow stars that the Nazis ordered Jews to wear. Years ago, she posted a video — now covered by a fact-checking warning — about testing bottled water for pH levels and fluoride.

Centner is slated to speak next month at a "mask-free, freedom-fighting" conference featuring Trump adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

Centner is not the only major new Trump donor who has promoted conspiracy theories. Michael and Caryn Borland of Newport Beach, California, have given a total of about $1.6 million since 2015. In the past they'd given less than $13,000. With their new high-roller status, they were guests at the 2020 GOP convention. Then-Vice President Mike Pence canceled a planned fundraiser at the Borlands' Montana home after the Associated Press reported that the would-be hosts shared QAnon memes on Facebook and Twitter. The posts are no longer available.

"This is not a forum for politics," Caryn Borland, a singer-songwriter of Christian music, later posted on her Facebook page. "Whether they be my opinions or anyone else's. If you express any political opinions on this page they will be taken down immediately." The couple didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Borlands met while working in a grocery store and started a modest life together, according to David Wood, a film producer who worked with them on an ill-fated project. Then they inherited a fortune on Caryn's side, Wood said. Her father was an executive of a California-based industrial materials company in the 1980s, according to corporate records, and court filings indicate that she has a multimillion-dollar trust in her maiden name. The trust's holdings include land assessed at $1.6 million in Arizona, according to tax records.

"They were not even middle class, then they inherited a massive fortune," said Wood, who received a $10 million check from the trust for the film project in 2019. Amid a lawsuit, he agreed to return $4 million, according to court papers. "I don't think they were completely prepared for it," Wood said. "I don't know if anyone would be."

Business Benefits: Kelcy Warren, Roger Norman, Palmer Luckey

Some of the biggest new donors are less outspoken about their ideologies but gained tangible benefits from Trump's presidency.

Dallas billionaire Kelcy Warren welcomed the impact he anticipated Trump would have on his company, Energy Transfer Partners, which operates the Dakota Access Pipeline. Two days after the 2016 election, he told investors, "Having a government that actually backs up what they say, that we're going to support infrastructure, we're going to support job creation, we're going to support growth in America, and then actually does it? My God, this is going to be refreshing."

On Trump's fourth full day in office, he signed an executive order to help clear the way for the Dakota Access Pipeline, a thousand-mile link to North Dakota's oil fields. Energy Transfer's stock price soared, and Warren's wealth climbed from $2.8 billion to $4.5 billion, according to Forbes. The magazine said the percentage gain was bigger than that of any other American that year.

The Dakota Access Pipeline became a high-profile controversy in 2016 when environmentalists and Native Americans rallied to the support of the local Standing Rock Sioux, who raised concerns that the pipeline would endanger their drinking water. With Trump's support, the pipeline was completed in April 2017 and started shipping oil the next month. But legal challenges continued, and a federal court in Washington eventually held that the Trump administration cut corners on the required environmental reviews.

Warren's company is now trying to convince a judge not to shut down the pipeline, arguing in an April court filing that the company stands to lose as much as $4.28 million a day. Some Democrats are calling on Biden to close the pipeline, but the current White House hasn't taken a position.

Warren and his wife are prominent philanthropists in Dallas (they developed a downtown park and named it after their son). But they were not major political donors until Trump came along, having spent less than $600,000 in total. Since 2015, however, they've given more than $17 million. Warren declined to comment through a company spokesperson.

Another first-time mega-donor who benefited from Trump's actions was Roger Norman, a reclusive real estate investor in Reno, Nevada. In his first-ever interview, with a Reno TV news station in 2018, Norman recounted making and losing fortunes several times over, despite never learning to read or write.

Norman's crown jewel is the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, 104,000 acres of desert that he and his partners bought for $20 million in 1998. Today it's worth billions after becoming a hub for companies including Tesla, Google and Switch.

The site benefited from the Opportunity Zone program in Trump's tax bill, thanks to some influential friends. As The Washington Post reported in 2018, Treasury officials originally decided the area was too prosperous to qualify for the benefit. But Norman's business partner recruited Nevada Republicans, including the governor and a senator, to lobby for the designation.

Norman then gave more than $2 million to support Trump's reelection, compared to the less than $100,000 in total political contributions he'd made in the past. "You're a little late to that story, I'm not donating anything now," Norman said in a brief phone conversation, declining to discuss the matter further.

Another new mega-donor turned a professional setback arising from his support for Trump into a new opportunity. Palmer Luckey built a prototype for a virtual reality headset as a teenager and sold his company, Oculus VR, to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. Forbes estimated the 21-year-old's cut at more than $500 million.

Luckey has credited Trump's book The Art of the Deal with inspiring him at age 13, according to The Wall Street Journal, and he sent Trump a letter in 2011 encouraging him to run for president. During the 2016 campaign, Luckey donated $10,000 to Nimble America, a pro-Trump group associated with misogynistic and white-supremacist online posts. Luckey has given conflicting accounts of whether he wrote some of the messages under a pseudonym. After an internal uproar at Facebook, the company placed Luckey on leave and fired him in 2017, the Journal reported.

Luckey deepened his political activism, expanding his giving and hosting a fundraiser for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). He started a new company, Anduril, that would cater directly to the Trump administration by making security technology for the southern border. The company raised $200 million from investors and won government contracts totaling almost $100 million.

Luckey didn't respond to requests for comment.

Luckey's sister, Ginger Luckey, is engaged to Matt Gaetz, the embattled Florida congressman and Trump ally. Their mother, Julie Luckey, who home-schooled Palmer, was slated to be a VIP guest for the January 6 rally. It's not clear if she attended. She didn't respond to requests for comment.

Government Posts: Ike Perlmutter, Duke Buchan, Lynda Blanchard

Duke Buchan, a wealthy but little-known Wall Street investor, wasn't shy about coveting an ambassadorship after he and his wife gave the Trump Victory fund almost $450,000 each, the maximum amount allowable by federal campaign finance laws in 2016. One of the last vestiges of the spoils system, cushy diplomatic posts routinely go to campaign patrons. Buchan and his wife, joint donor Hannah Flournoy Buchan, declined to comment.

Buchan told friends that he viewed Trump as a disrupter and cheered the candidate's attacks on political correctness, looking forward to saying "Merry Christmas" again, The New York Times reported in 2017. Buchan was rewarded with an appointment as ambassador to Spain, where he had studied abroad decades earlier. He reportedly complained that European Union regulations scuttled his plans to bring his polo ponies along. While in office, Buchan took part in the Trump administration's controversial efforts to oust Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

While ambassadorships are common rewards for big donors, Lynda Blanchard was unusually blunt about it. According to a person familiar with her appointment who asked not to be named in connection with the discussions, Blanchard explicitly reminded transition officials how much she donated. She and her husband gave more than $2 million to Republicans between 2015 and 2018, when Trump nominated her as ambassador to Slovenia, Melania Trump's native country. Blanchard didn't respond to requests for comment.

Blanchard, who founded a real estate investment firm, is now staking millions on her own candidacy for U.S. Senate in Alabama. She held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in March with a surprise appearance from Trump, but then he endorsed her rival: Rep. Mo Brooks, one of the leaders of the congressional effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

One new Trump-era mega-donor was rewarded with a less-conventional role in his administration. Ike Perlmutter, the Marvel Entertainment chairman who was one of Trump's largest overall backers and belongs to his Mar-a-Lago club, became an unofficial yet influential adviser on veterans issues. As ProPublica first reported in 2018, Trump gave Perlmutter and two associates sweeping influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs. They had a hand in policy and personnel decisions, even reviewing budgets and contracts.

Perlmutter, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has said he had no formal authority and sought no personal gain.

A liberal veterans group, VoteVets, sued the VA over Perlmutter's role, alleging that it violated a Watergate-era sunshine law. In March, an appeals court said the case could proceed.

Personal Ties: Anthony Lomangino, Steve Witkoff, Vernon Hill

Though Perlmutter, 78, was drawn in by his personal relationship with Trump, he has become a bigger force in Florida Republican politics. Before backing Trump, he and his wife gave $2 million to a super PAC supporting then-presidential candidate Marco Rubio, and more recently he's become a major benefactor of Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely considered a leading contender for the party's 2024 presidential nomination if Trump doesn't run.

For other new mega-donors who got involved because of their personal ties to Trump, it's less clear if their support will extend to other candidates.

Fellow Mar-a-Lago member Anthony Lomangino and his wife have given more than $3 million, plus $150,000 to help aides cover legal fees arising from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. They had previously given less than $40,000 total. Lomangino, whose wealth derives from selling a recycling-collection company to industry giant Waste Management, declined to comment.

Vernon Hill, Trump's sometime banker and golf buddy, gave more than $2 million, ten times more than he'd ever given before. In 2020 he praised the federal government's small business relief program, which his bank, like many others, helped administer. Hill didn't respond to requests for comment.

Steven Witkoff, a New York real estate friend, gave more than $2 million and served as an informal adviser on tax cuts, opioids and reopening businesses during the pandemic. He has also since become a DeSantis backer. Witkoff didn't respond to requests for comment.

John McCall, the business partner of Trump's friend and purported hairspray supplier Farouk Shami, gave $1.7 million to Trump and the GOP since 2015, versus less than $20,000 previously. McCall didn't respond to requests for comment.

Derek Willis, Joshua Kaplan, Joaquin Sapien, Doris Burke and Mollie Simon contributed reporting.

Astroturf Money: How Hawley And Greene Jacked Their Fundraising Numbers

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Two of the leading Republican firebrands in Congress touted big fundraising hauls as a show of grassroots support for their high-profile stands against accepting the 2020 election results.

But new financial disclosures show that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), relied on an email marketing vendor that takes as much as 80 cents on the dollar. That means their headline-grabbing numbers were more the product of expensively soliciting hardcore Republicans than an organic groundswell of far-reaching support.

Hawley and Greene each reported raising more than $3 million in the first three months of the year, an unusually large sum for freshman lawmakers, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission. That's more than the average House member raises in an entire two-year cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The tallies generated favorable press coverage for Hawley and Greene, and they both seized on the numbers to claim a popular mandate.

Politico called Greene's result "eye-popping" and "staggering," a sign that she "appears to have actually benefited from all the controversies that have consumed her first few months in office." The House voted in February to remove Greene from her committee assignments because of her social media posts that promoted far-right conspiracy theories; racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim rhetoric; and violence against Democratic leaders.

"I am humbled, overjoyed and so excited to announce what happened over the past few months as I have been the most attacked freshman member of Congress in history," Greene said in an emailed statement on April 7. "Accumulating $3.2 million with small dollar donations is the absolute BEST support I could possibly ask for!"

As for Hawley, who was the first senator to say he'd object to certifying the Electoral College results on January 6, Politico proclaimed that his massive increase showed "how anti-establishment Republicans are parlaying controversy into small-dollar fundraising success." Hawley's pollster, Wes Anderson with the political consulting firm OnMessage, said in a memo distributed to supporters that the "fundraising surge" made "crystal clear that a strong majority of Missouri voters and donors stand firmly with Senator Hawley, in spite of the continued false attacks coming from the radical left."

It wasn't until later, when the campaigns disclosed their spending details in last week's FEC reports, that it became clearer how they raised so much money: by paying to borrow another organization's mailing list.

"List rental" was the No. 1 expense for both campaigns, totaling almost $600,000 for each of them. It's common for campaigns to rent lists from outside groups or other candidates to broaden their reach. But for Hawley and Greene, the cost was unusually high, amounting to almost 20 percent of all the money they raised in January, February and March.

The actual return on renting the lists was likely even lower, since it's probable that not all their donations came from emailing those lists. It's not possible to tell from the FEC filings which contributions resulted from which solicitations. Firms that sell lists sometimes demand huge cuts: The top vendor for Hawley and Greene, LGM Consulting Group, charges as much as 80 percent, according to a contract disclosed in Florida court records as part of a dispute involving Lacy Johnson's long-shot bid to unseat Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN)

The Hawley and Greene campaigns did not respond to requests for comment. LGM Consulting Group's principal, Bryan G. Rudnick, also did not respond to phone messages or an email.

Far beyond these two campaigns or this one company, small-dollar fundraising has exploded thanks to easy online payments, which are rewriting the playbook for campaign finance in both parties. At the same time, the rise of email fundraising has spawned some aggressive or even deceptive marketing tactics and made plenty of room for consultants and vendors to profit. A move by then-President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign to sign up supporters for recurring payments by default led to as much as three percent of all credit card fraud claims filed with major banks, according to The New York Times. In some long-shot congressional races, consultants could walk away with almost half of all the money raised, The Washington Post reported.

Hawley's and Greene's list rentals show how politicians can pad their fundraising figures — if they're willing to pay for it. There's scant evidence that fundraising success represents broad popular support for a politician outside the narrow slice of Americans who make political contributions, and many of the people on the rented mailing lists may not have been constituents of Hawley's or Greene's. Still, the money is real, and the perception of fundraising star power is its own kind of success in Washington.

"They're juicing their numbers, but their return on investment is still a net gain," said Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, a professor at Fordham University who researches how political campaigns use digital communications. "The money matters, the articles about the money matter and convey power, and it adds to their clout."

The cost to rent a list can be a flat fee, a percentage cut of money raised, or even all money raised after a campaign clears a certain threshold. Donors have limited visibility into where their money goes and may not realize how much is being diverted from the candidate they mean to support.

Renting lists can pay dividends for campaigns because people who respond by donating then enter the candidates' own databases of supporters, and past contributors are much more likely to give again. Candidates with big donor bases can tap them for more money later or turn around and rent their own list to others.

Political professionals have gotten more sophisticated about efficiently converting online outrage into campaign cash. At the same time, candidates who court controversy may increasingly rely on rage-fueled online fundraising as more traditional donors freeze them out. In the aftermath of January 6, Hawley lost the support of some big donors, and major companies such as AT&T and Honeywell pledged to withhold donations from lawmakers who objected to the Electoral College vote.

"The news cycle that emerges out of controversial behavior by a candidate is like a strong gust of wind, and these mechanisms like list-building are the equivalent of sails," said Eric Wilson, a digital strategist who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "For candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley, who have largely been shunned by traditional corporate donors who are frequently the mainstays for elected officials, especially in off years, they have no choice but to pursue grassroots fundraising. And in order for that to work, they have to continue to make more noise. It is a feedback loop in that regard."

It's not clear how Rudnick compiled his list (or lists). But one clue to the audience that Rudnick may help unlock is who else has hired him. Besides Hawley and Greene, FEC records show that last quarter LGM Consulting also rented a list or provided online fundraising solicitations to:

In the 2020 campaign cycle, the firm's clients included then-Rep. Doug Collins, a Trump ally who lost the Georgia Senate primary; Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year-old congressman from North Carolina who spoke at the January 6 rally; and Laura Loomer, a far-right internet personality who calls herself a "proud Islamophobe" and lost a run for a Florida congressional seat.

Rudnick has his own history of controversy. He was fired by the Pennsylvania Republican Party in 2008 after sending emails to Jewish voters likening a vote for Barack Obama to the lead-up to the Holocaust. "Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake," the email said. "Let's not make a similar one this year!" Rudnick told the Associated Press at the time that party officials authorized the message, but he declined to name them.

Campaigns don't have to disclose whose list an email is being sent to, and fundraising emails aren't comprehensively made public, so it's not possible to tell exactly how Hawley and Greene used the lists they rented. But several of Hawley's fundraising emails contained digital fingerprints tying them to Rudnick: They were sent from a web domain that shares an address with one of Rudnick's companies, and the links to donate include "ASG," short for Rudnick's Alliance Strategies Group.

In one email, sent on March 6, Hawley touted his interview on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, in which Hawley said Democrats would use the January 6 insurrection "as an excuse to seize power, to control more power, to step on people's Second Amendment rights, to take away their First Amendment rights." Following up on a major media appearance with a fundraising email is an effective technique, Wilson said.

In a second email using the Rudnick-linked domain, Hawley explicitly laid out his goal of posting an impressive fundraising number.

"I will be filing the first FEC financial report I have filed since I stood up for the integrity of our nation's election and the left began their attempts to cancel me," Hawley said in the email. "With your donation of $25, $50, $100 or more before the critical deadline on March 31, we will shock the left — they won't be able to ignore us any longer."

Rep. Brooks Said Biden’s Election Could Spark Civil War, Seeks Senate Seat

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Mo Brooks, the Alabama congressman who is about to launch a campaign for Senate, has officially said he condemns the Capitol riot and opposes violence.

But in hours of right-wing media interviews before and after the deadly insurrection on January 6, he repeatedly raised the prospect of violence as a possible response to Donald Trump losing the 2020 presidential election.

"This is pretty much it for our country," Brooks said in a December podcast interview that has not been previously reported. "In my judgment, it rivals the election of 1860," he added, referring to the election of Abraham Lincoln, "and we saw what ensued from that" — meaning the Civil War.

Brooks' office didn't respond to requests for comment for this article.

Brooks was outspoken in baselessly accusing Democrats of "stealing" the presidential election and seeking ways to keep Donald Trump in power. Now he is hoping those statements will springboard him to higher office in a Senate race that will test the endurance of Trumpism in the Republican Party and show what political consequences lawmakers may face for openly advocating anti-democratic ideas.

The Alabama congressman announced his campaign last night to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. Brooks made his announcement alongside Stephen Miller, the former White House adviser who drove Trump's hardline immigration policies, including family separation. As an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Miller frequently drew from white nationalist and white supremacist websites, according to emails revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brooks and Miller have been allies since they worked together to defeat a bipartisan immigration compromise in 2013.

Brooks' remark about the 1860 election came on an episode of Sean Hannity's podcast that was guest-hosted by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and aired on December 22. Though the episode was billed as "Previewing the Class of 202‪1‬" in Congress, Gohmert dedicated the entire 99 minutes to promoting conspiracy theories and falsehoods about Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Brooks joined Gohmert toward the end of the show, along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, all leaders of the plan to object to Congress's certification of Electoral College votes on January 6. The four members of Congress discussed how Trump supporters were mobilizing for a massive demonstration in Washington.

"On January 6, this is somewhat akin to the Alamo," Brooks said, referring to the famous battle in 1836 where Mexican troops wiped out rebelling Texans at a fort in San Antonio. "Although I hope we will survive."

Brooks' invocation of historical violence was a preview of the speech he gave on January 6 at the rally on the Ellipse. Before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol and fought their way inside, Brooks asked if people were ready to lay down their lives for their cause.

"Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history," Brooks said. "So I have a question for you: Are you willing to do the same?"

After the crowd turned violent — leading to five deaths and hundreds of injuries, endangering lawmakers and disrupting the congressional proceedings — Brooks faced blowback. House Democrats introduced a formal censure motion, and billboards in Alabama demanded his resignation.

Brooks defiantly denied any responsibility for the violence on January 6. At the same time, he said he welcomed the criticism because he viewed it as helpful to his political prospects.

"That's a good thing," Brooks said in a February 3 radio interview in response to a question about the billboards. "I don't want to discourage it, because I think it's beneficial, at least in the state of Alabama, where winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the general election."

"Congress Decides"

On December 2, Brooks became the first member of Congress to say he would object to the Electoral College votes from key states that delivered Biden's victory. While the Constitution and federal law do establish a procedure for Congress to certify the Electoral College votes, many of Brooks' fellow Republicans recoiled at the idea of trying to use it to overturn an election whose outcome they didn't like. The certification in Congress is usually an uneventful formality after states have already certified their election results.

But Brooks himself presented it as a serious plan for keeping Trump in office despite losing the election. "Ultimately, Congress decides who won the White House, not the courts," Brooks said in a November 10 radio interview.

In dozens of right-wing media interviews between the November 3 election and the January 6 insurrection, Brooks spelled out his idea. If Congress rejected enough Electoral College votes to prevent either candidate from winning a majority, the presidency would be decided by the House of Representatives. The House would vote by state delegations, a majority of which were in Republican hands. All it would take for this plan to work, according to Brooks, was for enough Republicans to join him.

"In the United States Congress, we control who the president of the United States is," Brooks said in an interview with the Epoch Times posted on November 18. "The House would be in a position to elect a Republican to the White House."

In Brooks' telling, keeping Trump in power was just a question of political will. "No question it's an uphill climb, because I'm not sure how many Republicans we have that are willing to do what's necessary," he said on Fox News on December 4. "You have no idea who's going to win the political fights or any other fight until you fight them."

As precedent, Brooks cited the disputed election of 1876, which Congress resolved by electing Rutherford Hayes in exchange for ending Reconstruction.

"It was on the heels of hundreds of thousands of Southerners being killed in the war of Northern invasion, as a lot of Southerners viewed it back then," Brooks said in a December 17 talk radio interview. "Hayes cut that deal. Then he was elected president of the United States, and he was honorable, so he kept his promise and he withdrew the Northern forces and Reconstruction ended."

"We Need to Fight And Take It Back"

Brooks' rhetoric continued to escalate in the runup to January 6. In some interviews, he talked about fighting in terms of voting and pressuring lawmakers, the way that many politicians use the word without meaning literal combat.

"How it plays out, quite frankly, is dependent on the American people," Brooks said on Fox News on January 3. "To the extent they contact their senators and their congressmen and demand honest and accurate elections, then we're going to win this fight on January 6. But if the American people do not rise up, if they don't contact their senators, if they don't contact their congressmen, demanding that their congressmen and senators do the right thing for our republic, well then, we're not going to win on January 6. So I urge all Americans to participate in this fight on behalf of their country."

At other times, however, Brooks spoke of fighting as armed struggle, foreshadowing his speech at the Ellipse.

"When it came time to fight in the Revolutionary War, beginning in 1776, people actually put their lives at stake," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview aired on December 17. "All throughout history, American history, there have been time after time where American men and women have stood strong and fought for their country, often losing their lives in order to keep our republic, keep our liberty, keep our freedoms. And the bedrock of all those things are accurate and honest elections. And right now, the socialist Democrats have successfully stolen those from the American people in 2020. And we need to fight and take it back."

Brooks indicated in media interviews that he chose his words carefully. "If I'm on the radio, I know that every word that I say is going to be recorded forever," Brooks said in a January 4 radio interview, in the context of defending Trump's pressuring of Georgia officials to reverse that state's election results in a phone call that the president didn't know was being recorded.

Brooks met with Trump at the White House in December, along with Biggs and Gosar, to discuss their plans for January 6. As Brooks recounted in a December 29 Fox News interview, Trump told the representatives that a senator would join their objection, the necessary step for a debate and vote in both chambers. The next day, December 30, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), became the first senator to announce he would object.

Brooks, Biggs, and Gosar also, according to "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander, came up with the plan to amass a crowd outside the Capitol on January 6. "We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," Alexander said in a video that he later deleted, "so that who we couldn't lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

Spokespeople for Brooks and Biggs have denied working with Alexander. Gosar, who appeared at earlier events with Alexander in Arizona, hasn't commented on their relationship. Spokespeople for Biggs and Gosar didn't respond to requests for comment, and Alexander couldn't be reached.

Brooks made clear that his ultimate goal was to keep Trump in office.

"Kind of like bowling a 300 game or hitting a hole-in-one, that's actually reversing the election fraud effort on the part of the Democrats such that Joe Biden is not sworn in on January 20, Donald Trump is," Brooks said in a January 4 Newsmax interview.

"We Did Not Have Ultimate Success"

Once rioters breached the Capitol, Brooks immediately blamed left-wing agitators whom he called "antifa." "You have to ask yourself, who would be motivated to distract from our message," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview on the night of January 6, while waiting for the certification proceedings to resume. "I don't believe that's in the interest of the Trump supporters."

Brooks continued this effort to shift blame in a radio interview the next day. "Too many Trump supporters were angry and allowed themselves to be manipulated or orchestrated by fascist antifa types," Brooks said.

The interviewer, Dale Jackson, pressed Brooks to acknowledge and condemn the violence by Trump supporters. "Why are you trying to make this about antifa as opposed to about the clear, obvious Trump supporters?" Jackson asked. "Why are we trying to diminish this?"

Brooks shot back, "That is the political spin that the fake news media and the socialist Democrats are trying to put on this."

"Well, I'm not the fake news media, I'm not a socialist Democrat," Jackson countered. "Why don't people just condemn this and stop trying to find reasons why it happened? … Your Facebook and Twitter page I guarantee is filled up the same way mine is with people talking about this in this way. And I just say we've got to be more forceful, I think. Am I wrong?"

Brooks didn't answer directly. "I don't know what's on my Facebook page," he said with a laugh. "That's something that my staff does, not me."

"My point is this," Jackson concluded, giving Brooks one last chance to unequivocally condemn the violence by Trump supporters before the interview ended. "I see too many of them saying, 'Yeah, see, it's antifa, it's not this,' and they're using this as a reason. And I just don't think that's a good — that's not helpful in any way."

Brooks demurred. "Well, I think the main message, which we've diverted from, is the fight we had last night in the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to protect and promote honest and accurate elections," he said. "And it's most unfortunate that whomever was able to divert attention from that, and unfortunate that while we made progress, we did not have ultimate success."

In an interview with ProPublica, Jackson said he understood Brooks to be condemning the violence. "The only disagreement we were having was whether antifa was a key driver of this thing," he said. "It wasn't whether or not it shouldn't have happened or was wrong. I think we all agree on that."

"You Can Resist, Often Through Violence"

Brooks elaborated on his views on violence in another radio interview on January 7.

"Might I suggest that over history, when you're in a republic, and there is no longer confidence in the election system, you have three options," he said in the interview, which was reported on at the time by The Intercept. "You can emigrate from that country, which is what a lot of people did in the 1920s and 1930s, in socialist Germany, with Adolf Hitler. You can submit, which is also what a lot of people did in Germany. Or you can resist, often through violence. None of those three options are good."

"Wait a minute," the host, Matt Murphy, interrupted. He pressed Brooks to clarify: "You said we must emigrate, leave?"

"No, I'm telling you what has happened historically over time when a republic loses confidence in its election system," Brooks said. "What do people, individual people do?"

They continued going back and forth, with Murphy giving Brooks more opportunities to walk back from raising the specter of violence and Brooks sticking to it.

Finally, Murphy tried: "When you bring up one of your options to be violence, it brings us directly to your words yesterday, Mo. And I'm wondering if you regret saying what you said at the rally yesterday?"

"Absolutely not," Brooks said.

Murphy, who didn't respond to a subsequent request for comment, then suggested the need to reckon with the ideas that motivated Trump supporters to attack the Capitol. "We better be willing to have serious discussions about what led to the level of frustration and anger that would cause people to allow their emotions to bubble over to the point that they would engage in something like this," he said.

Brooks' response was to explain that people were losing faith in voting — a view he had spent months promoting, and which he said left violence as one of three options. "It's pretty clear," he said, "people are getting frustrated, and they're losing confidence in the honesty and accuracy of the election system."

Brooks also shared a version of this view on Twitter that morning, writing that people who come to believe that voting can no longer get the results they want may be "FORCED" to "fight back with violence."


"How Can You Misinterpret My Intent?"

Weeks later, Brooks distanced himself from the violence of January 6. At a home-state rally on January 23, Brooks defended his speech at the Ellipse by accusing journalists of twisting his words.

"The news media, which is supposed to be the safeguard of any republic, has to a large degree become nothing more than a socialist propaganda puppet that rivals those in Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao Zedong's Communist China, and socialist Germany's 1920s and 1930s," Brooks said, repeating his unusual way of avoiding the term "Nazis." "The fake news media and the socialists deceitfully suggest I intended to incite a riot when my words prove the exact opposite."

Brooks explained that when he said on January 6, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," he was referring to voting in the 2022 and 2024 elections. He said his meaning was clear because as he said those words, he swapped out a camouflage Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus cap for one that read "Fire Pelosi."

"How can you misinterpret my intent?" Brooks said, drawing cheers.

But what Brooks did not acknowledge or attempt to explain was the next sentence that immediately followed "kicking ass": the line asking those assembled whether they were willing to sacrifice "their blood" and even "their lives."

"My answer is yes," Brooks said on January 6. "Louder. Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?"

Mollie Simon and Kirsten Berg contributed reporting.

Why Biden’s Vaccine Promise Can’t Be Fulfilled Until Summer

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

President Joe Biden has ordered enough vaccines to immunize every American against COVID-19, and his administration says it's using the full force of the federal government to get the doses by July. There's a reason he can't promise them sooner.

Vaccine supply chains are extremely specialized and sensitive, relying on expensive machinery, highly trained staff and finicky ingredients. Manufacturers have run into intermittent shortages of key materials, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office; the combination of surging demand and workforce disruptions from the pandemic has caused delays of four to 12 weeks for items that used to ship within a week, much like what happened when consumers were sent scrambling for household staples like flour, chicken wings and toilet paper.

People often question why the administration can't use the mighty Defense Production Act — which empowers the government to demand critical supplies before anyone else — to turbocharge production. But that law has its limits. Each time a manufacturer adds new equipment or a new raw materials supplier, they are required to run extensive tests to ensure the hardware or ingredients consistently work as intended, then submit data to the Food and Drug Administration. Adding capacity "doesn't happen in a blink of an eye," said Jennifer Pancorbo, director of industry programs and research at North Carolina State University's Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center. "It takes a good chunk of weeks."

And adding supplies at any one point only helps if production can be expanded up and down the entire chain. "Thousands of components may be needed," said Gerald W. Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program at Texas A&M University's Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs and a former senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services office for preparedness and response. "You can't just turn on the Defense Production Act and make it happen."

The U.S. doesn't have spare facilities waiting around to manufacture vaccines, or other kinds of factories that could be converted the way General Motors began producing ventilators last year. The GAO said the Army Corps of Engineers is helping to expand existing vaccine facilities, but it can't be done overnight.

Building new capacity would take two to three months, at which point the new production lines would still face weeks of testing to ensure they were able to make the vaccine doses correctly before the companies could start delivering more shots.

"It's not like making shoes," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with ProPublica. "And the reason I use that somewhat tongue-in-cheek analogy is that people say, 'Ah, you know what we should do? We should get the DPA to build another factory in a week and start making mRNA.' Well, by the time a new factory can get geared up to make the mRNA vaccine exactly according to the very, very strict guidelines and requirements of the FDA ... we already will have in our hands the 600 million doses between Moderna and Pfizer that we contracted for. It would almost be too late."

Fauci added that the DPA works best for "facilitating something rather than building something from scratch."

The Trump administration deployed the Defense Production Act last year to give vaccine manufacturers priority in accessing crucial production supplies before anyone else could buy them. And the Biden administration used it to help Pfizer obtain specialized needles that can squeeze a sixth dose from the company's vials, as well as for two critical manufacturing components: filling pumps and tangential flow filtration units. The pumps help supply the lipid nanoparticles that hold and protect the mRNA — the vaccines' active ingredient, so to speak — and also fill vials with finished vaccine. The filtration units remove unneeded solutions and other materials used in the manufacturing process.

These highly precise pieces of equipment are not typically available on demand, said Matthew Johnson, senior director of product management at Duke University's Human Vaccine Institute, who works on developing mRNA vaccines, but not for COVID-19. "Right now, there is so much growth in biopharmaceuticals, plus the pinch of the pandemic," he said. "Many equipment suppliers are sold out of production, and even products scheduled to be made, in some cases, sold out for a year or so looking forward."

In the meantime, the shortage of vaccines is creating widespread frustration and anxiety as eligible people struggle to get appointments and millions of others wonder how long it will be before it is their turn. As of February 17, the U.S. had distributed 72.4 million doses and administered 56.3 million shots, but fewer than 16 million people have received both of the two doses that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require for full protection.

The Biden administration has said it is increasing vaccine shipments to states by 20 percent, to 13.5 million doses a week, and encouraged states to give out all their shots instead of holding on to some for second doses. But now that second-dose appointments are coming due, many jurisdictions are having to focus on those and stepping back from vaccinating uninoculated people. Even as the total number of vaccinations increased last week, the number of first doses fell to 6.8 million people, down from 7.8 million three weeks ago, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

At best, it will take until June for manufacturers to deliver enough doses for the roughly 266 million eligible Americans age 16 and over, according to public statements by the companies.

That includes expected deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine, which is widely expected to win emergency authorization from the FDA shortly after a public advisory committee meeting on Feb. 26. But Johnson & Johnson has fallen behind in manufacturing. The company told the GAO it will have only 2 million doses ready to go by the time the vaccine is authorized, whereas its $1 billion contract with HHS scheduled 12 million doses by the end of February. It's not clear what held up Johnson & Johnson's production line; the company has benefited from first-priority purchases thanks to the DPA, according to a senior executive close to the manufacturing process. A Johnson & Johnson spokesman declined to comment on the cause of the delay, but said the company still expects to ship 100 million U.S. doses by July.

Vaccine Supply Won't Cover All Until Late Spring

Public statements from vaccine developers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson illustrate how many people could be covered by the available U.S. supply from now until the end of the summer.

Moderna declined to comment on "operational aspects" of its manufacturing, but "does remain confident in our ability to meet contracted quantities" of its vaccine to the U.S. and other nations, a spokesperson said in a statement. Pfizer did not respond to ProPublica's written questions.

Ramping up production is especially challenging for Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines use an mRNA technology that's never been mass-produced before. The companies started production even before they finished trials to see if the vaccines worked, another historic first. But it wasn't as if they could instantly crank out millions of vaccines full blast, since they effectively had to invent a novel manufacturing process.

"Putting together plans 12 months ago for a Phase 1 and 2 trial, and making enough to dose a couple hundred patients, was a big deal for the raw material suppliers," said Johnson, the product manager at Duke University's vaccine institute. "It's just going from dosing hundreds of patients a year ago to a billion."

Raw materials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are also in limited supply. The manufacturing process begins by using common gut bacteria cells to grow something called "plasmids" — standalone snippets of DNA — that contain instructions to make the vaccine's genetic material, said Pancorbo, the North Carolina State University biomanufacturing expert.

Next, specific enzymes cultivated from bacteria are added to cause a chemical reaction that assembles the strands of mRNA, Pancorbo said. Those strands are then packaged in lipid nanoparticles, microscopic bubbles of fat made using petroleum or plant oils. The fat bubbles protect the genetic material inside the human body and help deliver it to the cells.

Only a few firms specialize in making these ingredients, which have previously been sold by the kilogram, Pancorbo said. But they're now needed by the metric ton — a thousandfold increase. Moderna and Pfizer need bulk, but also the highest possible quality.

"There are a number of organizations that make these enzymes and these nucleotides and lipids, but they might not make it in a grade that is satisfactory for human consumption," Pancorbo said. "It might be a grade that is satisfactory for animal consumption or research. But for injection into a human? That's a different thing."

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine follows a slightly more traditional method of growing cells in large tanks called bioreactors. This takes time, and the slightest contamination can spoil a whole batch. Since the process deals with living things, it can be more like growing plants than making shoes. "Maximizing yield is as much of an art as it is a science, as the manufacturing process itself is dependent on biological processes," said Parker, the former HHS official.

The vaccine developers are continuing to find tweaks that can expedite production without cutting corners. Pfizer is now delivering six doses in each vial instead of five, and Moderna has asked for permission to fill each of its bottles with 15 doses, up from 10. If regulators approve, it would take two or three months to change over production, Moderna spokesman Ray Jordan said on Feb. 13.

"It helps speed up and lighten the logistical side of getting vaccines out," said Lawrence Ganti, president of SiO2, an Alabama company that makes glass vials for the Moderna vaccine. SiO2 expanded production with $143 million in funding from the federal government last year, and Ganti said there aren't any hiccups at his end of the line.

Despite the possibility of sporadic bottlenecks and delays in the coming months, companies appear to have lined up their supply chains to the point that they're comfortable with their ability to meet current production targets.

Massachusetts-based Snapdragon Chemistry received almost $700,000 from HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a new way of producing ribonucleoside triphosphates (NTPs), a key raw material for mRNA vaccines. Snapdragon's technology uses a continuous production line, rather than the traditional process of making batches in big vats, so it's easier to scale up by simply keeping production running for a longer time.

Suppliers have told Snapdragon that they have their raw materials covered for now, according to Matthew Bio, the company's president and CEO. "They're saying, 'We have established suppliers to meet the demand we have for this year,'" Bio said.

Mollie Simon and Caroline Chen contributed reporting.

Capitol Rioters Plotted Publicly For Weeks, But Police Were Unready

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

The invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was stoked in plain sight. For weeks, the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

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Inside Trump And Barr’s Last-Minute Killing Spree

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

In its hurry to use its final days in power to execute federal prisoners, the administration of President Donald Trump has trampled over an array of barriers, both legal and practical, according to court records that have not been previously reported.

Officials gave public explanations for their choice of which prisoners should die that misstated key facts from the cases. They moved ahead with executions in the middle of the night. They left one prisoner strapped to the gurney while lawyers worked to remove a court order. They executed a second prisoner while an appeal was still pending, leaving the court to then dismiss the appeal as “moot" because the man was already dead. They bought drugs from a secret pharmacy that failed a quality test. They hired private executioners and paid them in cash.

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Trump Rushing Rules To Promote Deadly Pollution — And Federal Firing Squads

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Six days after President Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified food safety groups that it was proposing a regulatory change to speed up chicken factory processing lines, a change that would allow companies to sell more birds. An earlier USDA effort had broken down on concerns that it could lead to more worker injuries and make it harder to stop germs like salmonella.

Ordinarily, a change like this would take about two years to go through the cumbersome legal process of making new federal regulations. But the timing has alarmed food and worker safety advocates, who suspect the Trump administration wants to rush through this rule in its waning days.

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Most States Are Unprepared To Distribute Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

As the first coronavirus vaccine takes a major stride toward approval, state governments' distribution plans show many are not ready to deliver the shots.

The challenge is especially steep in rural areas, many of which are contending with a surge of infections, meaning that access to the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines may be limited by geography.

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Headlines GOP Fundraiser As Virus Surges

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie headlined a fundraiser for the North Carolina Republican Party last week, taking time away from his job leading the government's second-largest agency at a moment when COVID-19 cases are surging in VA hospitals.

Though legal, campaigning by cabinet secretaries is a departure from historical norms. Nevertheless, it's become standard practice in the administration of President Donald Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hit the campaign trail for Trump, and several other cabinet members recently visited Iowa. Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is also campaigning in North Carolina. Trump himself has routinely blurred politics with official functions, most prominently by hosting the Republican convention on the White House lawn, and he's brushed off more than a dozen staff violations of the federal Hatch Act, which limits political activity by government employees.

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Why A Real Vaccine Won’t Arrive Before Election Day (Without A Miracle)

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Despite President Donald Trump's promises of a vaccine next month and pundits' speculation about how an “October surprise" could upend the presidential campaign, any potential vaccine would have to clear a slew of scientific and bureaucratic hurdles in record time.

In short, it would take a miracle.

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Trump’s Vaccine Czar Won’t Relinquish Stock In Drug Company Despite Blatant Conflict

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

The former pharmaceutical executive tapped by President Donald Trump to lead the administration's race to a COVID-19 vaccine is refusing to give up investments that stand to benefit from his work — at least during his lifetime.

The executive, Moncef Slaoui, is the top scientist on Operation Warp Speed, the administration's effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine in record time. Federal law requires government officials to disclose their personal finances and divest any holdings relating to their work, but Slaoui said he wouldn't take the job under those conditions. So the administration said it's treating him as a contractor. Contractors aren't bound by the same ethics rules but also aren't supposed to wield as much authority as full employees.

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Now In Government Food Aid Boxes, A Letter From Trump

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table may discover a new item in government-funded relief packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat: a letter signed by President Donald Trump.

The message, printed on White House letterhead in both English and Spanish, touts the administration's response to the coronavirus, including aid provided through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative to buy fresh food and ship it to needy families.

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Richest GOP Donor In South Dakota Was Probed For Child Pornography

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

T. Denny Sanford, the richest man in South Dakota and a major donor to children's charities, was being investigated for possible possession of child pornography, according to four people familiar with the probe.

Investigators with the South Dakota attorney general's Division of Criminal Investigation obtained a search warrant as part of the probe, according to two of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said the case was referred to the Department of Justice for further investigation.

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How Sen. Collins Helped Big Hotel Chains Grab Small Business Funding

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

In March, as lawmakers raced to put together a massive stimulus package to cope with the pandemic-related shutdowns sweeping the country, a New York company that invests in hotels deployed a Washington lobbyist for the first time. The lobbyist's mission was to secure an exception in the emerging relief program for small businesses so that hotel chains would become eligible.

The company, EOS Investors, had more than 500 employees, putting it above the limit in the original proposal by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). But if the cap for hotels were set for each location instead of companywide, then EOS could benefit at several of its properties, like the collection of resorts that EOS had recently acquired in Kennebunkport, Maine.

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