They gathered in Dallas to call for violence if they don't get their way

"Patriots" spent Memorial Day talking about the next act of violence they'll commit if they don't win future elections — and to hand their money to far-right grifters. I snuck in to join them.

Author’s note: I’m taking a break this week from my weekly roundup of police shootings because I somewhat unexpectedly spent all of Memorial Day weekend at a QAnon conference in Dallas. My dispatch is below. To all those who subscribed to this newsletter after seeing my video of Mike Flynn calling for a coup, hello and welcome. The latest project at Where Do We Go From Here is on police shootings, but you view past coverage on corruption in Congress, false claims that led to the forever wars, immigration and the lives of undocumented migrants and Facebook’s radicalization engine. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Now, strap in.

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The flags are at half staff for the latest mass shooting outside a hotel in Dallas and hundreds of normal, respectable-looking white people are in their finest dress to have drinks with two far-right celebrities who over the next three days will tell them the lies that they all believe as they plan the next insurrection, coup, civil war, revolution or something worse.

This is the “For God and Country Patriot Roundup,” and the faithful have come from all across the America to practice their new religion: a twisted combination of QAnon, fervent belief in widespread election fraud, the contradictory beliefs that COVID is both a hoax and something foisted on us by the Chinese as an act of war, disbelief in masks and the vaccine, and the deeply-held conviction that these “Patriots” are in a Biblical struggle for the future of the country and the world.

Only the truth can hold them back. 

For three days they gathered in the dim ballroom of a downtown honky tonk and did what they were told. “Who’s a patriot?” the main organizer, a plaid blazer of a man known as “QAnon John,” would ask them. “I’m a patriot!” came the inevitable reply. “I want you all to clap like this,” a man said and they did, all clapping along for the Star Spangled Banner. They sang along with the man, a Black comic who had just made a dick joke about Michelle Obama, with most of them forgetting to remove their hats. They listened as a disgraced general compared getting kicked off of Twitter and Facebook to American soldiers who have died in combat. Five thousand men died on Omaha Beach alone when we stormed Normandy, Mike Flynn reminded them, so surely these patriots could sacrifice their precious feeds by sharing a meme or a story that is not true. They reveled in their time with each other, the loneliness that pervades their lives — largely caused by this belief system that alienates themselves from friends, family and society at large — washing away in a sea of red MAGA hats and t-shirts with QAnon slogans and references. Where we go one, we go all, they reminded themselves, not understanding that the only place left for them to go is into each other’s arms. But the insular nature of this movement, religion, cult, or whatever you want to call it should not serve as reason to dismiss these people. It’s unclear how many of them there are across the country, but on Memorial Day weekend as many as 1,500 of them chose to pay between $500 and $1,000 to spend the first three-day weekend since the pandemic lockdowns ended with each other. That is no insignificant number. 

What remains to be seen is what these people will do next, and there is plenty of evidence that it will be violent. In fact, one of their heroes encouraged so to raucous applause. “I’m just a simple Marine,” one man in a question-and-answer session with Mike Flynn began. “I wanna know why what happened in Myanmar” — pronounced “Minimar,” of course — “can’t happen here.”

“No reason,” Flynn said. “It should happen here.” (Flynn has now equivocated and said he meant “of course” what happened in Myanmar “should never happen” here. This was neither the spirit of his response nor the literal words he said.)

The crowd heard what I and everyone who has seen the video heard, and cheered wildly. In America in 2021, “Patriots” who gather “For God and Country” cheer for a military coup that has claimed more than 700 lives and resulted in the detainment of 3,000 people who voted for the wrong person. 

***

It’s the first night of the convention and David Brooks is on my television bemoaning that there couldn’t be a bi-partisan decision to investigate the attempted insurrection on January 6. Seven floors below me, some of the insurrectionists are gathered to lay their plans for the next conflict, which will come as soon as they don’t get their way in the 2022 midterms and when Trump isn’t installed as dictator in 2024. 

The talk of war is over. The planning has begun.

What is happening here is not an aberration. The attempted insurrection on January 6 was not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing campaign, being led by people like Flynn, former Trump lawyers L. Lin Wood and Sydney Powell, and a battalion of QAnon and far-right influencers conducting information warfare alongside an army of as many as 100 million Americans — “digital soldiers,” as Flynn calls them. 

And in this information war, these soldiers need to establish beachheads. This can be achieved by infecting their feeds with the misinformation they constantly consume. 

“Nobody has an excuse anymore,” Flynn told the crowd. “People that tell me, ‘Well, I don’t do that internet thing’ or ‘I don’t do social media’ — you don’t have an excuse anymore. That means that you’re sitting on the couch somewhere doing nothing for this country.”

“You are the news,” followed Jason Sullivan, Roger Stone’s former media strategist and the self-billed “Wizard of Twitter,” who is no longer on Twitter, and who made a noose gesture in reference to Hillary Clinton in his speech the previous day. “And we’re going to own that, and we’re going to claim that, and we’re going to radiate it at a level that they’ve never, ever expected before.”

But as with all things in the far-right griftosphere, there was another play being made at this Patriot Roundup that the Patriots weren’t really in on until now. Flynn gave the introduction.

“Jason was just taking me through this amazing capability in the back, showing me the various trending going on right now against Donald Trump,” he said, describing something that could be as simple as opening up trending topics on Facebook and Twitter or as complex as setting up trending topic columns on Tweetdeck — neither of which display any real technological wizardry. 

So what exactly is this proprietary technology that is going to turn the tide of this information war in favor of the patriots?

“Part of the narrative that we saw when Jason was explaining this to us backstage, when he was showing us his software, is the algorithm of the people the other side has that are making waves, that are driving numbers up for the enemy,” said far-right radio host Doug Billings in a sentence that I am still trying to understand. 

Apparently they were talking about left-wing figures trending on social media. That day, it happened to be Adam Schiff and Rob Reiner. The point of this discussion was to get patriots to get their own side’s figures to trend in the “digital battlefield” (maybe?).

“I mean, who’s the other guy that’s, like, dating the Chinese spy?” Flynn asked of Eric Swalwell, who was the target of a Chinese intelligence operation that he reported to the FBI regarding a woman he has not seen since 2014. “Now he’s not trending today, but why don’t we make him trend? Swalwell. Get somebody trending on him.”

It’s unclear how Sullivan’s technology could “get somebody trending on” someone else, or whether the whole point of this is to get conservative or liberal figures trending (absolutely no fucking clue) but what is clear is that we are dealing with a type of grifter whose immaturity and lack of knowledge about pretty much anything knows no depths.

“Think we could have some fun with his last name?” Sullivan asked of Swalwell as the crowd laughed.

“Swallow well, thank you,” Billings replied, grinning.

The idiots in the back of the school bus now lead a digital army of wine moms and landscape company owners who criss-cross the country on Harley Davidsons to absorb insanity and salivate about committing political violence. Every time the Republican party capitulates to Trump, it is capitulating to its unhinged wing.

***

The actual point of all this isn’t actually to win the digital war, which will obviously not happen as long as its soldiers are being constantly slaughtered in the form of getting kicked off Twitter for talking about QAnon. The whole point is for Sullivan and Flynn to get your phone number — then your money.

“I can’t give everyone access to the tools — we can’t afford to have them leak to the opposition — but I have labored over this a very long time and we’re going to figure out a way and I think I’ve figured that out now... How do we disseminate information to our digital soldiers all across the United States, simultaneously, when it matters?” Sullivan told the crowd after they gleefully chanted “Get him out” as Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer was being removed. “What we’re going to be able to do is, we’re gonna tell you, ‘Look Adam Schiff is, Shifty Schiff is doing this, and this is what (Flynn) thinks we oughta do about it, and guess what? You’re all gonna get a text message.”

That way, the patriots can have the latest intel for their information war, Sullivan said. That way, Sullivan and Flynn can also pitch them on their latest grift, like paying $17.76 a month for MAGAiNFO.tv, which live-streamed the conference and appears to be just a collection of links to right wing broadcast programming. 

With much of the weekend feeling like church, giving up alms to the men on the stage probably felt natural for those in the pews. What become clear to me is that QAnon should be considered a religion at this point. I cannot tell you how many times I heard speakers reference that everyone had gathered at Eddie Deen’s Ranch in Dallas, Texas on this Memorial Day Weekend “because of what? Because of God,” and then they’d point to the word God as the crowd cheered. 

There are many things people do for God. Good things and evil things, but never really mediocre things. The problem with the people in Dallas is that they don’t really ever talk about the good things they are going to do for God, or that God is telling some of them to do. They really only ever talk about the bad things: cracking down on people’s rights, creating a less democratic and more fascistic society, committing violence if they don’t get their way in an election. Political and religious violence committed by zealots who want to silence and oppress all other thoughts and ideals. Basically, the exact same thing they accuse dark and nefarious global forces to be doing to them.

There were other, non-religious themes of the weekend. There’s the terrifying combination of disorganized, incurious and frankly not-very-smart people itching for violence while being extremely well-armed. There’s the contradiction of being afraid to walk 10 minutes from the hotel to the event space because they fear they’ll encounter homeless person — one man gave me the advice of hiding my conference pass inside my shirt to avoid being mugged — but running directly into pepper spray on January 6. There is also revolution. Most of the attendees actually envision themselves as freedom-fighting patriots in a battle for the soul of the country, and they’re willing to fight and die for the cause. “We’re too nice,” Flynn told the crowd at one point. “We have to get tough.”

He reminded the crowd that the revolutionaries who defeated the strongest, largest and best army in the world when this country was founded did so not because they had more men, or better equipment, or even better strategy. They won because they believed in the their cause and the British soldiers didn’t believe in their’s. The Patriots in Dallas all believe in God and country, they repeatedly exclaimed. It’s everyone else who doesn’t. 

***

All the photos on this post are mine. The first is from the night I arrived back from Dallas, taken at the American legion in Savannah. All others are from the QAnon convention itself. Barring any other last-minute, cross-country trips to cover the far-right or other chaos, I’ll return next week with an extended police shooting round up.