Dark Money Is Behind GOP Effort To Roll Back Child Labor Protections

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill at the end of May that rolled back the state’s child labor laws by extending the hours that teenagers can legally work in the state and loosening restrictions on the types of businesses they can work in.

The new law, S.F. 542 , allows children as young as 14 to work up to six hours on a school day; 16- and 17-year-olds to work the same hours as an adult; and 16-year-olds to serve alcohol as part of their jobs.

Iowa is one of several states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have passed similar legislation that weakens labor protections for minors in recent months.

The move drew sharp criticism from labor advocates. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning labor think tank, called the bill “one of the most dangerous rollbacks of child labor laws in the country” and asserted that much of the law violates federal labor law.

Over the past two years, lawmakers in at least 10 states — most recently in Wisconsin , Ohio , and Missouri — have passed or introduced legislation to weaken child labor protections.

In March, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill that, among other provisions, eliminated child work permits, effectively treating kids as young as 14 entering the workforce the same as adults.

The effort to remove child labor protections is mostly taking place in states with GOP-controlled legislatures and, according to a recent investigation by the Washington Post , is spearheaded by the Foundation for Government Accountability. FGA is a Florida-based right wing lobbying group that describes itself as a “powerhouse for policy wins in the areas of welfare, unemployment, workforce, election integrity, and health care” and claims to help “free individuals from the trap of government dependence and to let them experience the power of work.”

According to the Post ’s reporting, the FGA coordinated with lawmakers to draft and revise model legislation that weakens labor protections for children, which the lawmakers could then introduce in their states.

It’s not uncommon for policy organizations like the FGA to provide lawmakers with draft language for bills designed to push a specific agenda. Arkansas GOP state Rep. Rebecca Burkes, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the bill Sanders signed “came to me from the Foundation [for] Government Accountability,” according to the Post .

“There is a focus for them right now, particularly on the state level, on policies that erode investments in public education, increase the desperation of the poorest families by restricting access to Medicaid or food assistance, while also, of course, taking down guardrails on excessive hours or hazardous work for children,” said Jennifer Sherer, the senior state policy coordinator at the Economic Policy Institute.

Sherer added that she thinks groups like the FGA have a high level of influence in state legislatures, especially in red states, and are seeing that influence as a moment of opportunity to push their agenda into policy. At the same time, Sherer said, industry lobbying groups like the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business have a “clear industry interest in expanding their access to as large a possible pool of low-wage labor” and help advocate for legislation that weakens child labor laws. “So there’s a clear financial industry interest converging with a handful of billionaires who have a pretty deep ideological commitment and deep pockets to back up that part of the agenda,” Sherer said.

The FGA belongs to the State Policy Network, a vast network of right-wing nonprofits and think tanks throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. The SPN and its affiliates claim to be independent and nonpartisan , but a 2013 investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered the group’s right-wing ties and how they coordinate with Republican politicians to push GOP policy goals into state legislatures. Specifically, many of the affiliate organizations within the SPN are also members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial right-wing network of conservative state politicians and corporate lobbyists who work together to write model legislation that benefits some of the country’s biggest corporations.

Staff members of the FGA have served on ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force , and the FGA has promoted ALEC resources , including examples of model legislation, on its website. At ALEC’s 2020 annual meeting, the FGA’s chief operating officer and general counsel Jonathan Bechtle celebrated successful efforts to block Medicaid expansion in 13 states and accused expansion supporters of “depending on ignorance, really, to win the day.”

The FGA’s website doesn’t disclose its funding sources and political connections, but an investigation by the American Independent Foundation reveals that a sizable chunk of its funding comes from powerful conservative donors and dark money groups that are covertly supporting its mission to weaken child labor laws.

These groups have ties to three of the most influential donors in conservative politics: Leonard Leo, the Koch brothers, and Richard Uihlein.

Leonard Leo

Leo is a co-chairman of the board of the right-wing legal think tank the Federalist Society and has become something of a power broker in helping to elect conservative judges in states across the country. The FGA’s annual revenue tripled from 2016 to 2021, from $4.5 million to $13 million, and a large chunk of that revenue — $2 million — came from the 85 Fund. The 85 Fund is a dark money group connected to Leo that is used to fund conservative policy and political causes, such as in the months before the 2020 election, when it spent $250,000 advocating against voting by mail. The group also spent millions of dollars in support of former President Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees.

The Koch Brothers

Between 2014 and 2019, the FGA received more than $7 million from DonorsTrust, another dark money group with ties to businessman Charles Koch. DonorsTrust describes itself as a “donor-advised fund provider.” As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it doesn’t have to disclose its donors, and it often functions as an intermediary: Donors give to DonorsTrust, and the organization donates to political groups, effectively making the original donor untraceable. In 2011, Charles Koch and his brother David, who died in 2019, were the top contributors to DonorsTrust, according to an analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review .

The Koch brothers have a long history of using their vast fortune to roll back child labor laws: When David ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, he pledged to repeal them . The Koch-founded Cato Institute has also advocated against child labor protection laws, arguing that they hinder economic growth.

Richard Uihlein

The FGA received nearly $18 million in donations from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation between 2014 and 2021. Richard Uihlein, the billionaire owner of the Uline shipping and business supply company, uses the foundation to make charitable donations. Uihlein is one of the biggest donors to conservative causes, and his money has funded anti-abortion efforts , attacks on the LGBTQ community , and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election .

Since its founding in 2006, the foundation, named after Richard’s father, has contributed millions of dollars to far-right causes, including union-busting groups like the Illinois Policy Institute.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

A New Strategy: How Law Students Are Targeting The Gun Industry

Gun violence is widely seen as an epidemic in the United States. According to the American Public Health Association, it is the leading cause of premature death in the country, resulting in nearly 40,000 deaths every year. While Congress struggles to pass laws to restrict access to firearms, two gun safety advocacy organizations, whose specialty is traditionally to lobby lawmakers to change gun laws, are trying a different approach to put the squeeze on the gun manufacturing industry.

Giffords, the group formed by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords that works to stem gun violence, and March for Our Lives, the movement against gun violence created by young people in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, have launched a new effort this month aimed at recruiting law students to sign a pledge that they won’t represent the gun lobby.

The idea stems from the role that a handful of the biggest law firms in the country play in ongoing efforts to fight gun violence, according to David Pucino, Giffords’ deputy chief counsel. Law firms Kirkland & Ellis , Foley & Lardner , McGuireWoods , and Hunton Andrews Kurth and the legal arm of the National Rifle Association, among others, have fought in court against the stricter regulation of guns and have represented gun manufacturers in lawsuits filed against them over their role in mass shootings.

“[The issue of gun violence is] something that I think is pretty important to a lot of folks, but they don’t necessarily know how to action that, how to translate that into their work and their legal career,” Pucino told the American Independent Foundation. “And at the same time, there are these law firms that really take advantage of that, that represent some really reprehensible companies that have done some horrible things.”

Big law firms spend time and money recruiting law students to come work for them straight out of law school, often enticing them with glamorous perks, as an article on the website Balls and Strikes about law firms and the gun industry points out. They represent a wide variety of clients across all industries, but, as Pucino explained, they often omit their clients with ties to the gun lobby when recruiting law students, later assigning many of those young lawyers to represent those clients.

“There’s certainly the case that the legal system allows for and encourages for everyone to have representation, of course,” Pucino said. “But that fact doesn’t mean that anyone is entitled to your representation. And if your view is that you don’t want to support and aid and abet the gun violence epidemic, there needs to be an avenue for you to be able to express that and say that.”

To roll out the initiative, Giffords and March for Our Lives held events on the campuses of some of the country’s biggest law schools: UC Berkeley School of Law, Cardozo School of Law, CUNY School of Law, Vanderbilt Law School, and Yale Law School. But Pucino emphasized in an email to the American Independent Foundation that the event is “broad and national,” and both groups plan to hold similar events at other law schools when students reconvene in the fall.

At these events, organizers provide students with tools and prompts to use when they’re interviewing to work at law firms that may have ties to the gun industry, including asking whether they have gun industry clients or do any pro bono work representing the gun industry. If they do, prospective employees can make it clear that they have a personal conflict of interest representing such clients because of their opposition to gun violence.

“I think so much of what’s caught up in these issues is questions of power,” Pucino said. “If you’re a young lawyer at a giant law firm, you have so little power. But the moment when you do have that power is before you sign on the dotted line, before you say, I’m going to commit to go work at this place.”

Pucino said that the success of the effort will depend on convincing as many students as possible to sign the pledge. It’s easy for a big law firm to ignore that kind of gun safety dialogue from one prospective employee, he said, but if more law students looking to enter the workforce engage with recruiters in this way, firms might think twice about the kinds of clients they take on.

“So it’s not even necessarily, Don’t go work at this firm, but ask before you sign on: Would you force me to work on a gun case? Would you force me to represent somebody whose irresponsible actions have led to a mass shooting or other violent events?”

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

How A Dark-Money Power Broker Financed Right-Wing Judicial Campaigns

As the former vice president and current co-chair of conservative legal think tank the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo sits atop one of the most influential right-wing organizations in the country. The Federalist Society counts at least five sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices among its members, as well as dozens of judges on lower courts.

But Leo’s influence extends far beyond the Federalist Society and its sway over the Supreme Court.

Over the past two decades, Leo has operated behind the scenes of several well-funded dark money groups — political nonprofits that can spend money on political activities but don’t have to disclose their donors — that have spent tens of millions of dollars to boost conservative candidates in state supreme court elections across the country. According to an investigation published by the website Grid in December, nonprofit political groups connected to Leo have spent at least $31 million in 42 supreme court races across 15 different states since 2010.

The web of political nonprofits and organizations tied to Leo isn’t easy to define. On paper, Leo’s name isn’t associated with any of the major dark money groups that have directly spent money on political advocacy or to influence judicial elections. But a 2022 New York Times investigation of Leo revealed the extent of his connections to these groups, explaining how he solicits money from wealthy donors and directs the money to specific political causes through several for-profit and nonprofit groups.

Leo is most closely associated with the Judicial Crisis Network and the 85 Fund, though his name doesn’t appear in the tax filings for either of these groups and he’s not on their payrolls. According to the same New York Times article, Leo is connected to both groups through several for-profit groups of which he is a full or partial owner. One of the groups is CRC Advisors , a Virginia-based policy incubation group that Leo co-founded in 2020 with communications executive Greg Mueller. The other is BH Group, an LLC that dissolved earlier this year, days after Politico revealed a potential conflict of interest between the company and former Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The Judicial Crisis Network, which goes by the name Concord Fund on its tax filings and was previously known as Judicial Confirmation Network, is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization — considered under tax law a “social welfare” organization that can engage in political advocacy — that advocates for and supports conservative policies and legislation and limited government. There’s no limit as to how much these groups can spend on political activity, so long as it’s not in direct campaign contributions, and they don’t have to disclose their donors.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, the Judicial Crisis Network spent millions of dollars in dark money advocating for the Supreme Court confirmations of Neil Gorsuch , Brett Kavanaugh , and Amy Coney Barrett . Leo is connected to the Judicial Crisis Network through the group’s president, Carrie Severino, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas whom the Daily Beast describes as Leo’s “protégé.”

Severino is also the president of The 85 Fund, a nonprofit formerly called the Judicial Education Project, which has a similar mission to JCN’s. Unlike JCN, though, The 85 Fund is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit , which can’t directly spend money on political advocacy. But a 501(c)(3)y can give money to a 501(c)(4) social welfare group, which can directly spend money on political ads as long as it’s not in coordination with any specific political campaign.

Because of these laws, The 85 Fund doesn’t directly spend money on political advocacy. But the group’s close relationship to JCN — particularly when JCN was spending millions of dollars on advocacy efforts to support Trump’s Supreme Court picks — raised ethics concerns with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

During a confirmation hearing for Barrett on October 13, 2020, Whitehouse condemned the Leo and Severino-backed organizations, saying:

In all cases, there’s big anonymous money behind various lanes of activity. One lane of activity is through the conduit of the Federalist Society. It’s managed by a guy – was managed by – a guy named Leonard Leo, and it’s taken over the selection of judicial nominees. How do we know that to be the case? Because Trump has said so over and over again. His White House counsel said so. So we have an anonymously funded group controlling judicial selection run by this guy Leonard Leo.

Then in another lane, we have again anonymous funders running through something called the Judicial Crisis Network, which is run by Carrie Severino, and it’s doing PR and campaign ads for Republican judicial nominees. … Somebody … spent $35 million to influence the makeup of the United States Supreme Court. Tell me that’s good.

The JCN and The 85 Fund have paid both of Leo’s for-profit groups, CRC Advisors and BH Group, tens of millions of dollars since 2016, according to the New York Times . Most of the money going through all of these groups trickled down from a dark money group called the Wellspring Committee , according to the Times , which was founded and primarily funded by the Koch Brothers until it dissolved in 2019.

Leo-affiliated dark money found its way into state supreme court races through the Republican State Leadership Committee, a super PAC that focuses its spending on right-wing candidates in state elections. An arm of the RSLC called the Judicial Fairness Initiative focuses on state judicial elections and, according to Grid’s investigation , spent more than $10 million on state judicial elections between 2014 and 2018. Over the past several election cycles, JCN has been a top donor to the RSLC, giving the group nearly $5.5 million since 2016.

The RSLC has played a pivotal fundraising role in some of the most contentious state supreme court races of the past several years. In the 2021 Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, for example, the group spent $1.2 million in last-minute ads to support Kevin Brobson, the conservative candidate who won the election. Last fall, the RSLC spent $2 million in support of three right-wing justices running for reelection to the Ohio Supreme Court. Most recently, the group spent at least $200,000 to support Dan Kelly, the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate who lost in April in what was the most expensive state judicial election in U.S. history.

In 2020, Leo founded a new organization called Marble Freedom Trust, which, according to its tax filings , was created to “maintain and expand human freedom consistent with the values and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.”

Leo’s new group flew under the radar until the New York Times reported in August that Barre Seid, the billionaire owner of the electrical products manufacturer Tripp Lite, had given the organization 100% of the shares in the company in a massive $1.6 billion donation the previous year.

Because Marble Freedom Trust is registered as a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization , the group can spend an unlimited amount of money on political advocacy as long as it’s not given directly to a campaign. Since its founding, Marble Freedom Trust has given at least $229 million to other nonprofits, including $153 million to the conservative legal organization the Rule of Law Trust and $16.5 million to the JCN, according to the Times .

Leo told the Times in a statement, “It’s high time for the conservative movement to be among the ranks of George Soros, Hansjörg Wyss, Arabella Advisors and other left-wing philanthropists, going toe-to-toe in the fight to defend our Constitution and its ideals.”

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

Dark Money Group Jumps Into Wisconsin Judicial Race Behind Kelly

The Republican State Leadership Committee placed a $200,000 ad buy in support of conservative Justice Daniel Kelly last week.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a right-wing think tank and political organization, announced last week that it will spend $200,000 in Wisconsin in support of conservative justice Daniel Kelly's run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The bulk of the money will fund a 17-second television ad that will air across the state and that contrasts images related to COVID-19 guidelines, gun violence protests, and police reform protests with headlines about the state Supreme Court striking down COVID-19 restrictions. After asking, "What makes Wisconsin great?" the ad's narrator says, "We're independent thinkers. We don't let the D.C. outsiders tell us how to live. When the liberal elite try to set aside our rule of law, we stand in their way. Don't California our Wisconsin. Vote Dan Kelly for Wisconsin Supreme Court."

But the RSLC has its own history of political spending and influence in state and judicial elections.

The group describes itself as "the largest organization of Republican state leaders in the country and the only national committee whose mission is to elect Republicans to multiple down-ballot, state-level offices in all 50 states." Fulfilling that mission usually comes in the form of what the news outlet Common Dreams calls a" dark money bomb ," a large influx of last-minute financial support for a candidate, usually in the form of TV and radio ads, mailers, and digital advertising in the days leading up to an election.

The Judicial Fairness Initiative , a project of the RSLC that targets state judicial elections, has spent just over $150,000 on mailers and digital advertising to help Kelly's current campaign, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks state political spending.

The RSLC is seen by experts on campaign finance as a dark money machine . In the 2020 election cycle, the group's top donors were the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce , two major right-wing organizations that, thanks to their 501(c)(4) tax status , can give an unlimited amount of money to groups like the RSLC and don't have to disclose their financial contributors.

Over the past several election cycles, the RSLC ramped up its spending on state judicial races and in the fall of 2022 it spent a record amount on state supreme court races — at least $5 million. More than $2 million was targeted at races in Ohio, where all three candidates supported by the group won their elections.

The RSLC's latest effort is not the first time the group has gotten involved in a Wisconsin judicial election. In 2020, when Kelly ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court, the group spent more than $800,000 to support his campaign in the days leading up to the election.

The previous year, the group spent more than $1.3 million on last-minute ads to help conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn win his election. In a since-deleted press release , the RSLC took credit for the win, writing that the Judicial Fairness Initiative's "full-scale, micro-targeted voter education project of $1.3 million … helped carry conservative Judge Brian Hagedorn to victory."

It's unclear whether the RSLC plans to spend more than $200,000 to help Kelly win the election, which has shattered records to become the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history. In a statement to the Daily Caller , Dee Duncan, the president of the RSLC's Judicial Fairness Initiative, said that the group will "continue to invest the necessary resources needed to help Dan Kelly get across the finish line next month."

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

Right-Wing SuperPACS And Anti-Choice Outfits Enter Wisconsin Judicial Race

As the race to fill the impending vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court heads to a primary election next week, special interest groups are spending tens of thousands of dollars in support of the two conservative candidates for the seat.

The groups that have helped Daniel Kelly and Jennifer Dorow have ties to far-right organizations and figures that have spent millions of dollars advocating against abortion, transgender health care, and what conservatives refer to as "critical race theory," and supporting other anti-democracy efforts, including attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

But these groups aren't contributing to the campaigns directly. Instead, their support comes in the form of independent expenditures, a form of advocacy for or against a candidate, usually in the form of TV or radio ads, mailers, phone banking, and digital ads. Independent expenditures are required by law to be made without coordination between the group making them and the candidate it's supporting.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will face off in the April 4 general election. These are the groups that have spent the most in independent expenditures to help Kelly and Dorow:

Fair Courts America

Fair Courts America, a political action committee with deep ties to the far-right billionaire megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, has spent $1.3 million in support of Kelly's campaign. According to campaign finance reports, Dick Uihlein has personally contributed $1.5 million to Fair Courts America's activities in Wisconsin.

Fair Courts America is a newer super PAC, formed in 2022 under the umbrella of Restoration of America , a super PAC that was created in 2015 by the right-wing Christian advocacy group Restoration Action .

In an internal memo obtained by The American Independent Foundation in October 2022, Fair Courts America repeated an attack against the billionaire and donor to left-wing causes George Soros, saying "left-wing billionaire George Soros has teamed up with Big Labor, the radical environmentalists, the billboard trial lawyers, and other liberal interest groups to seize control of state courts."

The PAC calls itself "the only national conservative organization battling the Left in state court fights." The internal memo outlined the group's strategic plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to support conservative candidates in key state supreme court races in 2022.

Over the past few election cycles, the Uihleins have become one of the most influential forces in Republican politics. A 2018 New York Times profile of the couple called them "the most powerful conservative couple you've never heard of" and detailed the extent of their influence, including $26 million spent in support of more than 60 congressional candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

Beyond financial support for candidates, the Daily Beast reported , the Uihleins gave millions of dollars to groups that were actively trying to overturn the 2020 election. Among them was the Conservative Partnership Institute, a far-right policy think tank that counts former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, and a lawyer who worked with the Trump campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results, among its ranks.

The American Principles Project PAC

The American Principles Project, another super PAC that has spent money in support of Kelly, is a Virginia-based right-wing policy think tank founded in 2009 by legal scholar Robert George and conservative political strategist Frank Cannon.

Thus far, the PAC has spent more than $66,000 to help Kelly's campaign through digital advertising and messaging, according to campaign finance filings.

Describing itself as "the premier national organization engaging directly in campaigns and advocacy on behalf of the family," the American Principles Project has focused its energy and resources on attacking transgender advocacy in public health and education, as well as so-called "critical race theory" it claims is being taught in schools.

In the 2022 midterms, the PAC said , it spent nearly $16 million in 13 states to educate voters on the "threats to the family from left-wing cultural extremism, largely as a result of Democrat policies." The PAC's midterm campaign centered on transphobic , false messaging related to the nonexistent dangers of gender-affirming health care procedures — which have been supported and endorsed as safe and lifesaving by a number of major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association — trans inclusion in schools, and trans athletes competing in sports.

Women Speak Out

Virginia-based anti-abortion super PAC Women Speak Out , another organization supporting Kelly, is the political partner of the nonprofit Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America .

According to campaign finance filings reviewed by the nonprofit watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the PAC has spent over $50,000 on phone calls, text messages, and mailers in support of Kelly. The PAC recently pledged at least another six figures to help Kelly win.

Established in 1992 under the name Susan B. Anthony List in response to the pro-abortion rights political advocacy group EMILY's List, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America spends millions of dollars each election cycle solely to help elect anti-abortion candidates.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the organization renamed and rebranded itself as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America to counter the pro-abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Following the rebrand, the group has shifted its focus to fighting abortion rights organizations and policies at the state level, which has included using Women Speak Out to spend money in support of anti-abortion candidates in state and judicial elections.

Justice for Wisconsin

The only group that has spent money to support Dorow's campaign through independent expenditures is a new committee called Justice For Wisconsin.

According to campaign finance filings, the committee has spent $55,000 on radio ads in support of Dorow's campaign.

The only information provided by the campaign filing lists Cathy Zeuske as its treasurer. Zeuske is a former Republican Wisconsin state representative and state revenue secretary, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

Michigan Lawyer Who Sought To Overturn Biden's Victory Tied To Russian Spy

A Tennessee attorney who worked on a Michigan lawsuit alleging voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election has a history of working with Russian nationals, an investigation by the American Independent Foundation has found.

The lawyer, G. Kline Preston IV, worked with a conservative legal group in Michigan as part of an effort to overturn the election results in the state, where Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by a slim margin in 2020.

Preston has worked for Republican politicians and causes as a legal adviser for nearly two decades. He has said he is " family friends " with Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, whose campaign he represented in 2005 as it was being investigated for possible finance violations. He gave legal advice to Blackburn's 2007 House campaign and worked with her as recently as 2014.

Preston has a long history of sharing pro-Confederate propaganda on social media. He even quoted a former Ku Klux Klan leader in one of the many books he's written. In 2013, Preston sent a tweet suggesting that former President Barack Obama is not American — the same "Birther" conspiracy theory that Trump pushed before he ran for president.

"As long as US is electing foreign-born presidents, I propose Vladimir Vladimirivich [sic] Putin," Preston tweeted in 2013.

On Nov. 8, 2020, lawyers with the right-leaning Great Lakes Justice Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Wayne County residents alleging fraud took place during the vote count. The lawsuit, which alleged that officials affiliated with Democrats "allowed illegal, unlawful, and fraudulent processing of votes cast" in a plot to sink Trump's chances of winning the state, was initially dismissed by the Wayne County Circuit Court. The lawyers behind the legal effort then appealed the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

During the effort to get the Michigan Supreme Court to hear their case, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawyers filed affidavits from 47 witnesses who alleged they saw voter fraud during the vote count at Huntington Place, the convention center in Detroit where the voting and vote-counting were conducted. Among the affidavits is a sworn statement from Preston that identifies him as "an attorney for the GOP in Michigan on November 3-4, 2020."

In the statement, Preston claimed that election officials at the venue where the vote-counting took place intentionally set up their process in an obscured area so Republican election observers couldn't see what they were doing.

"The entire set-up of the administration and calculation of ballots on November 4, 2020, at the Detroit Department of Elections in the TCF Center was improper because a central part of their procedure was hidden and obscured in plain sight by the raised stage on which unknown functions were performed involving ballots which were not subject to observation, review, scrutiny or challenge," the statement reads.

On Nov. 23, 2020, the Michigan canvassing board voted to certify the state's election results, with one of two Republicans joining the Democratic board members in the vote.

One of the Russian nationals Preston is connected to is Maria Butina, an unregistered foreign agent who infiltrated the National Rifle Association as part of a Russian effort to influence conservatives. In 2018, The Daily Beast uncovered that it was Preston who first introduced Butina's handler, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, to David Keen, the former president of the NRA. According to their reporting, Preston is a "friend and confidant" of Torshin. In 2011 — the same year he introduced Torshin to Keene — Preston traveled to Russia to serve as a foreign elections observer. Preston also told The Tennessean in 2018 that Torshin "was interested in the NRA so I hooked him up."

In speaking with Rolling Stone in 2018, Preston waved off suspicion about introducing his friend to the NRA's leader. "Torshin is a gun enthusiast," he said. "I just called [Keene] out of the blue. I told him, 'Hey, I got a friend who is interested in the NRA, gun rights, that kind of stuff. Happens to be a Russian senator.'"

Preston is mentioned several times in the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Most notably, the report mentions that "according to Butina and press reporting, Tennessee attorney G. Kline Preston may also have been involved in the introduction."

From 2015 to 2017, Butina acted "as an agent of Russia inside the United States by developing relationships with U.S. persons and infiltrating organizations having influence over American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation," according to the Justice Department.

Butina was working at the direction of an unnamed individual only described as a "high-level official in the Russian government who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank," according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against her.

The "high-level official in the Russian government" mentioned in the affidavit was later revealed to be Torshin, Preston's "friend and confidant."

Preston's ties to Moscow extend far beyond the Butina episode. As an undergraduate, he studied in Russia at Leningrad State University and is said to speak Russian fluently. In the affidavit, Preston says he's written 14 books on law, most of which are about Russian law and elections, including "Parliamentary Elections of the Russian Federation: The Case Against Western Media Bias and Prejudice" and "The Law on Advertising of the Russian Federation." According to Preston's website, he served as a freelance elections observer in at least three Russian parliamentary elections in 2011, 2012, and 2016.

In August of 2020, Preston appeared on the internet show of Johan Bäckman , a Finnish pro-Russian political academic, and said he anticipated there would be widespread voter fraud to prevent Trump from being reelected. "We also have an issue now with the integrity of our voting system," Preston said. "So I anticipate a lot of voter fraud during our election ... U.S. elections are nothing like what we see in Russia."

He also has decades of business experience with Russia, according to his LinkedIn profile . The Daily Beast found a cached version of his law office's website that expands on his years of work with Russian clients, including a claim to have organized the "visit, participation and conference for Russian Government Officials to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association."

In an interview, Preston said he volunteered for Lawyers for Trump, a coalition of right-wing lawyers formed in July of 2020 that led legal efforts to overturn the election results in several states with false allegations of election fraud. Preston said the group placed him in Michigan to serve as an "election observer."

"[Lawyers for Trump] reached out and I got back in touch with them and said I'd be happy to [help] and went and spent about a week up in Detroit," Preston told the American Independent Foundation. "A lot of it was monitoring. We had people at the precincts."

Preston insisted he worked with Lawyers for Trump of his own accord, not at the direction of any Russian nationals. But in speaking with the American Independent Foundation he repeatedly praised the way Russia runs its elections, saying the country is "much better" at running elections than the United States, which he called "a joke."

Preston looks to Russian elections — which are historically mired in corruption and fraud — as an exemplar of how the United States should run its elections.

"I've been an observer in five federal elections in Russia," Preston said. "And I'm just here to tell you their elections are run much more smoothly — and with much more credibility than what I saw in Detroit."

Though the lead-up to the 2020 election in the U.S. was once again fraught with concerns of Russian interference, there's been no evidence that Russia or any other country had a hand in the post-election efforts to overturn the results in Michigan or any other state. A declassified intelligence report from March of 2021 confirmed that Putin did in fact authorize interference in the 2020 election by attempting to influence people close to Trump. "Neither Russia nor other countries tried to change ballots themselves," the report concluded.

Ultimately, the Great Lakes Justice Center's lawsuit was tossed by a Wayne County Circuit Court judge, who found that "the affidavits supplied by plaintiffs, purporting fraud, were 'rife' with generalization, speculation, hearsay, and a lack of evidentiary basis." An appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court was later dismissed as moot after the Michigan Board of Elections certified the state's election results.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent .

Fascists Exploiting School Controversies To Recruit New Members

Hillary MacKenzie knew the first board meeting of the new school year would be contentious. When students in Orange County, North Carolina, returned to in-person school after nearly a year of remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school board was still trying to figure out the best practices to keep them safe.

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January 6 Committee Will Hold Bannon In Criminal Contempt

The Congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol announced on Thursday that it would move to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The House select committee sent subpoenas to Bannon and three of former President Donald Trump's other close allies on September 23.

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Republicans Angrily Attack Hearing On Violent Extremism In Military

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing on the recent rise of domestic violent extremist groups and how they're targeting active and retired military members in their recruitment efforts. Extremism within the ranks is nothing new — both the Department of Homeland Security and terror experts have for years warned of domestic violent extremists in the armed forces — but ever since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the presence of active-duty military and veterans among the rioters who carried it out, there's been renewed concern about the issue.

But while two panels of expert witnesses testified about the problem, citing data and research that show not only that the problem exists but also that it's on the rise , Republican members of the committee repeatedly tried to derail the hearing by attacking their Democratic colleagues and the witnesses who testified.

In his opening remarks, ranking member Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) falsely accused committee Chair Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) of making the hearing a partisan exercise that would harm the reputations of veterans.

"It grabs at the headlines when veterans are accused of becoming violent extremists," Bost said. "But there is very little data on how many veterans are actually involved in violent extremism. ... We cannot let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch."

Bost wasn't entirely wrong in his comment about the lack of data, but as Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, said in her testimony, "We suffer from a significant lack of data on veteran attitudes and support for extremist movements, although we do know from repeated incidents that veterans are frequently and disproportionately engaged in violent extremist action in the U.S. Army."

Bost was far from the only Republican on the committee to attack his Democratic colleagues. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) opened his remarks with a harsh message to Takano: "I hope every veteran in America is watching this hearing today and hearing from you and the majority in control of this committee that our veterans are so stupid and susceptible to becoming domestic terrorists that you and the Democrats have to save them from it," Banks said. "It's widely offensive and dangerous."

Banks then went on to focus much of his time questioning and mocking past tweets by Miller-Idriss addressing the trend of right-wing figures boasting about their consumption of red meat as performative masculinity. "Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, you have presented numerous concerning statements that may lead people to question your credibility," Banks said. "Dr. Miller, I had a hamburger last night. Does eating red meat make me an extremist?"

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), a freshman member of Congress who has become known for his extremist views and what some observers say are ties to white nationalism , joined in remotely from a mountain somewhere in his home district in North Carolina to slam his Democratic colleagues and the expert witnesses participating in the hearing. "The only extremism I am aware of that exists in a large manner inside of our military is an extreme level of patriotism," he said. "I do not appreciate this hearing. Veterans are being derided and spit upon."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Domestic Terror Threats Have ‘Exploded’ Since 2020

FBI Director Chris Wray told members of Congress on Tuesday that the number of domestic terror cases in the United States has "exploded" over the past year and a half, confirming many suspicions surrounding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On Tuesday, Wray told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the FBI's domestic terrorism caseload has "more than doubled" since the spring of 2020, "from about 1,000 to around 2,700 investigations."

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Poll: Americans More Worried By Domestic Terrorism Than Foreign Enemies

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

More Americans are worried about threats from domestic extremist groups than foreign ones, according to a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago.

The poll, which was released Thursday morning, found that 65 percent of respondents said they are extremely worried about threats from domestic extremist groups. Seventy-five percent of Democratic respondents said they were very worried about the domestic extremism threat, while 57 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of independents also said they were very worried about threats posed by those groups. But just 50 percent of overall respondents said they were worried about threats from extremist groups outside of the United States: 49 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of Republicans, and 41 percent of independents.

There was a steep increase in violence from far-right extremist groups during the Trump administration. The number of incidents peaked in 2020 to the highest levels shown since the data was first collected in 1994, according to an analysis of data from the Washington Post. The Post found that the rise in far-right extremism was mostly driven by white supremacists, as well as anti-Muslim and anti-government extremist groups.

Nearly 600 individuals have been charged for their involvement with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capital led by far-right extremists and supporters of Donald Trump. And experts warn that actions taken by the FBI and law enforcement to hold individuals accountable are not the end of far-right extremist violence. They say it could even get worse , especially with a Democrat in the White House.

Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, told the American Independent Foundation, "It's under Democratic administrations where these groups proliferate. So, for at least the next four years... we're still gonna see a period of heightened activity."

In early August, a leaked Department of Homeland Security document warned of a "modest but increasing threat of violence" from people and groups who believe 2020 election conspiracy theories.

And in recent weeks, popular extremist and white supremacist channels on encrypted social media apps including Telegram have been exploiting 2020 election conspiracy theories, anti-government sentiment over coronavirus vaccine and mask mandates, 2020 census data, and most recently, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in order to recruit new people into their ranks.

On Saturday, shortly after the capital city of Kabul fell to Taliban control, far-right extremist channels were praising the Taliban and drawing comparisons to the conservative agenda in America.

"The Taliban is going to ban abortion, vaccines, and gay marriage... maybe we were fighting on the wrong side for 20 years," Nick Fuentes, an anti-Semitic and ultra-right vlogger posted to Gab.

Messages also showed people praising the Taliban — in particular, how they were able to take over Afghanistan so quickly. According to Buzzfeed News , one influential far-right vlogger with ties to a violent neo-Nazi group wrote, "the Taliban is epic. The US had to invade in the early 2000's and stay over 20 years, spending $1 trillion dollars, and dozens of American lives to hold them back. As soon as we left, the Taliban takes over the whole country in like 12 hours. LMAO."

Sara Kamali, an extremism researcher and scholar, told Buzzfeed News that the political backlash over the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan "has been leveraged by white nationalists to support their claim of the illegitimacy and ineptitude of the Biden administration as well as calls to reinstate Donald Trump as president." She worries that this rhetoric could be used as a recruitment tool for extremist groups.

Just Thursday afternoon, law enforcement arrested a man in Washington, D.C., who barricaded himself in a truck parked outside of the Library of Congress, claiming he had a bomb. The man, who was identified by police as Floyd Ray Roseberry, posted videos of himself to Facebook railing against President Joe Biden and Democrats while threatening to blow himself up to start a revolution.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Terror Experts Warn Census Data May Spur White Nationalist Violence

The U.S. Census Bureau released its data from the 2020 decennial survey last week, which revealed, among other findings, that the white population in the country is declining .

White supremacist and extremist groups on the messaging platform Telegram quickly latched onto the news, ratcheting up their racist rhetoric in an attempt to recruit new followers, prompting experts who track extremist movements to warn that it could lead to an uptick in violence from such groups.

According to the census data , almost all of the population growth over the past decade was among people who identified as Black, Asian, and Latino, while the white population in the United States declined for the first time in history.

In popular extremist and white supremacist channels, that data was shared with racist analysis and a call for supporters to take action. One Telegram channel that has more than 50,000 subscribers posted the data along with a video of a large group of people fighting outside of a shoe store in LA, with the message, "Life is worth less than a free pair of this seasons [sic] shoes to these societal parasites... that doesn't bode well for the West."

Another message posted in a different white supremacist Telegram that has been shared more than 7,500 times warns that "White decline is deliberate policy, not an accident of history. And like any policy it can be changed."

The census data and subsequent reaction it has garnered in far-right circles on the internet has some extremist experts on guard, many warning that it could lead to a surge in violence, particularly race-based hate crimes.

"This has always been their greatest fear," said Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst for domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security. "And I think it's one of the main drivers behind white supremacist recruitment and violence, the demographic shifting in America."

He added that the "latest census results just reinforce that fear and realization."

"Undoubtedly," he said, "there are going to be people on the far-right that will be agitated and angered by this data and want to do something about it."

Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, also fears an uptick in extremist violence in the wake of the census data and said it was a trend the country had already observed over the past five years.

"The fact that these demographics are going to continue in this way, it means we have a serious problem on our hands with millions of Americans who fundamentally disagree with a multicultural, diverse democracy," she said. "And it's going to become a much worse situation."

"I think that the fact that we've seen the attacks on the voting on January 6, the attempts undermine electoral systems — this all part of the freakouts about demographics," she added.

The census data comes as experts already fear threats of increased violence from far-right extremist groups more broadly.

A Department of Homeland Security memo that leaked in early August warned of "increasing but modest" threat of violence from people and groups who believe are still pushing 2020 election conspiracy theories. And a study published on Aug. 6 from the Chicago Project on Security & Threats at the University of Chicago found that nearly 21 million Americans agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency" and that "the 2020 election was stolen, and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."

For researchers like Beirich and Johnson, who track extremist movements and analyze chatter in encrypted extremist and white supremacist groups, the census data adds yet another opportunity of recruitment for such groups.

In the past few years, extremist and white supremacist groups have been successful in recruiting supporters from conspiracy theories movements like QAnon, along with anti-mask and anti-vaccine supporters, and other anti-government groups.

With the coronavirus delta variant crippling parts of the country and mask mandates being reinstated, Johnson worries the extremist groups may grow more active.

"It's under Democratic administrations where these groups proliferate," he said. "So, for at least the next four years... we're still gonna see a period of heightened activity."

He added, "It's going to take time to slow the momentum and growth we've seen over the past 10 years. This stuff doesn't stop on a dime."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Former Trump Appointee Charged With Assaulting Officer On Jan. 6

Federico Klein, a former Trump appointee to the State Department, was charged Thursday with allegedly assaulting a Metropolitan Police Officer using a deadly weapon during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

According to an expanded indictment, Klein, "using a deadly or dangerous weapon, that is, a shield, did forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere with an officer and employee of the United States."

Though Klein was first charged individually on March 19 for his actions on January 6, the Justice Department combined his case with that of six other defendants, and two individuals yet to be charged, on July 29.

The superseding indictment alleged that Klein was part of a wave of rioters who engaged in a violent conflict with police officers in the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol and a nearby tunnel between 2:40 p.m. and 3:18 p.m. ET. In videos released by the Justice Department, rioters, including Klein, allegedly engaged in fierce coordinated assaults against the line of police officers attempting to block off the tunnel, using metal poles, riot shields, and other makeshift weapons.

During the first hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate January 6 — assembled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after an initial bipartisan commission failed to come together amid GOP pushback — Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) said that she and another member of Congress were sheltering in an office "40 paces" from the tunnel where rioters, including Klein, were fighting police officers attempting to hold them off from progressing farther.

She credited law enforcement from keeping her alive.

"I listened to you struggle," she told officers testifying during that hearing, who had been present at the Capitol and had pushed back the mob. "I listened to you yelling out to one another. I listened to you care for one another… I listened to people coughing, having difficulty breathing. And then I listened to you getting back into the fight."

She added, "The reason I was able to hug [my children] again was because of the courage you and other officers showed that day."

A video released by the Justice Department indeed appears to show Klein allegedly pushing his way to the front of a group of rioters attempting to break through a police line in that tunnel.

According to D.C. CBS affiliate WUSA9 , in the footage, Klein appears to grab at a riot shield in the hands of an MPD officer before ultimately picking up a large metal pole, all while urging on the other rioters and allegedly calling for mob reinforcements.

Klein, along with the six other is currently facing at least eight charges , including multiple counts of assaulting a police officer.

According to WUSA9, Klein was turned in by his former State Department colleagues who saw his photo on an FBI wanted poster following the attack.

The January 6 insurrection ultimately resulted in several deaths, tens of millions of dollars in repairs, and more than 600 separate charges. At least 140 law enforcement officers , both Capitol and Metropolitan Police, were injured in the attack; several who guarded the Capitol that day have since died by suicide.

Despite the damage, many Republican lawmakers, as well as former President Donald Trump, who was impeached for incitement of insurrection related to that attack, have attempted to rewrite what happened that day, insisting, among other things, that the incident was little more than a "tourist" visit , or that members of the mob were actually " antifa " activists dressed as Trump supporters, claims which are not rooted in reality and have been repeatedly debunked.

The House committee's inquiry into the matter is ongoing, and separate investigations by federal law enforcement are also underway.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Ex-Trump Staffer To Lead Protest Against Prosecution Of Capitol Rioters

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Matt Braynard, who served as data chief for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, has announced that he will host a rally on September 18 in support of people charged with crimes in connection with the rioting by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

In 2017, Braynard founded a nonprofit organization called Look Ahead America, which says on its website that its mission is to "register, educate, and enfranchise" the "rural and blue-collar patriotic Americans who are disaffected and disenfranchised from the nation's corridors of power."

He had announced on Steve Bannon's podcast in late July that he was organizing a "huge" rally to "push back on the phony narrative that there was an insurrection."

In a video posted to YouTube on Aug. 9, Braynard said that the event, which he is calling the "#JusticeforJ6 Rally," would be co-hosted by Cara Castronuova, a celebrity fitness trainer, conservative commentator, and co-founder of a nonprofit organization called Citizens Against Political Persecution.

Braynard teased a lineup of speakers that he said would be announced in the coming days. "These are people that you are going to be very excited to hear are joining their voices with ours and are going to be at the rally as part of our effort to raise awareness of this tragedy, of this grave violation of civil rights of hundreds of our fellow Americans," he said.

Braynard says that he has obtained a permit for the rally, which is to be held on the West Lawn of the Capitol, and a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department told the Huffington Post that the permit was approved. A spokesperson for the Capitol Police confirmed to WUSA9 that they're aware of the rally.

More than 500 people have been charged with crimes by the Department of Justice for actions taken during the riot at the Capitol, as a result of which five people died. Since January 6, four Capitol Police officers who responded to the riot have died by suicide.

Braynard told Bannon in July that the protest was "largely peaceful" and that any violence happened in instances where protesters were "egged on in many cases by the Capitol Police."

Braynard kept a relatively low profile throughout the Trump presidency but reemerged in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when he began independently collecting voting data and, in collaboration with the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization with ties to Trump's legal team, claimed it proved there had been massive fraud.

Braynard's voting data was cited in multiple failed lawsuits filed by Trump lawyers and supporters in an attempt to overturn the election results.

In the months since January 6, Braynard has also been one of the leading conservative voices trying to reframe the narrative of the insurrection. He's been holding rallies in support of people arrested for their actions on January 6 all summer, including one at the D.C. Central Detention Facility on July 17 that drew about 100 people.

Braynard asked in his announcement on YouTube that attendees at the rally "be respectful and kind to all law enforcement officers who may be present. ... And if they ask you to do something, please do so."

Meanwhile, intelligence communities have warned that there remains a serious threat of violence from right-wing extremist groups. On August 6, ABC News shared a Department of Homeland Security bulletin that warned of "an increasing but modest level of activity online" by 2020 election, noting, "Some conspiracy theories associated with reinstating former President Trump have included calls for violence if desired outcomes are not realized."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.