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What Is Michael Flynn’s Long Game?

Is the man who wanted Donald Trump to declare martial law prepping for some American Armageddon? Or is he doing something more subtle that the press is missing entirely?

Apocalypse Now played on my iPod as my flight lifted off from Arkansas. Watching Willard cruise up the river to kill Kurtz for most of the flight put me in the right frame of mind on the long arc that took me over Mississippi (state and river), Alabama, Florida, and Joe and Mika’s house with its conveniently attached Morning Joe studio garage on the Atlantic Coast.

I pulled a manila envelope from my leather attaché case to review the dossier. Any good operator does his homework. I’d been gathering yarn on Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired), for years. The General occupied two chapters of a book I published in 2019, American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the US Tragedy in Afghanistan. And that was from the time before he got really interesting. I fiddled with the miniature Combat Infantryman Badge pinned to the lapel of my seersucker suit before descent into Miami and a low flyover of the Trump National Doral Golf Club, my home for the next two days. The internet told me I was going to the worst place in the world. And I didn’t even know it yet.

Weeks before and hundreds of miles to the west, my nephew drove me to a megachurch, a local guide helping me chart the river of American crazy that snaked through the culture war like a central circuit. Dream City Church sits between Lookout Mountain and Shadow Mountain. Twitter told me Mike Flynn was totally insane, driven lewanáy (the Pashto word) by the FBI, operating out of Sarasota without any decent restraint, that his methods had become … unsound. I’d been sending him text messages for months, and occasionally he’d respond; surprisingly good emoji game for an old guy. But I wanted to talk to him in person.

Phoenix—the city, not the Vietnam war CIA assassination and rural Southeast Asia terrorism program run by technocrats with Ivy League degrees and names like “Blowtorch” Bob Komer—was my first stop. It was June, and Arizona was hot, 104 degrees. Flynn was supposed to be promoting a movie called The Deep Rig, with a keynote alongside the guy, before the screening of the film about the Cyber Ninja guy, who was behind the Arizona audit. This was all in support of the MyPillow guy’s contention that the 2020 election, in which the Apprentice guy lost to the Delaware guy, was a sham, stolen by Democrats and Dominion Voting Systems. All of this was heavily promoted by the Biosphere 2 guy on his War Room podcast, fomenting protests that finally led to the QAnon Shaman guy bellowing while wearing flag face paint and buffalo horns in the Senate chamber during the riots at the Capitol on January 6.

When The New Republic came calling, expectation hung in the air, thick as the pan-seared swordfish at the Old Ebbitt Grill. I was to pick up Flynn’s path at a megachurch in Maricopa County. Find the General. Infiltrate his team by whatever means available and … well, I wasn’t sure what. Except: That day, Twitter gave me bad intel. Flynn wasn’t there. Instead, he delivered his keynote—all 30 seconds of it—via video message from an undisclosed location in what looked like Florida: “This is all about a story that needs to be told, about what happened during the presidential election on 3 November 2020. God bless you all, God bless America, get involved in your communities,” said Flynn, wearing a T-shirt and blazer. Then he disappeared back into the ether.

Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you’re going all the way.

Flynn speaking at a “Stop the Steal” protest in Washington, D.C., December 12, 2020
Mark Peterson/Redux

Mike Flynn kept it low-key for a few months after the Capitol riots on January 6; I’d texted him that day, but he never responded. He moved to Florida, having sold his townhome in Old Town Alexandria, on the same street as Stanley McChrystal, in 2018. He wasn’t welcome in polite company in Washington, even the polite company with whom he’d once crafted kill lists on Excel spreadsheets. So he got a modest house on a golf course a little ways inland from the Gulf Coast, where he could get in a good morning surf at Lido Key beach and then get down to business.

Business meant hopping from right-wing trade show to right-wing church revival, talking shit, building his base. A month before The Deep Rig’s premiere, Flynn was the star at an event called “For God and Country: Patriot Roundup,” held in Dallas at the Omni Hotel. The Omni was a 12-minute drive from his lawyer (and co-headliner at the Roundup) Sidney Powell’s office in a glass and granite building. In 2020, Flynn and Powell tried, and failed, to get Trump to order the military to rerun the election after Biden won. “Martial Law’s been instituted in this country 64 times,” was Flynn’s nonchalant yet eyebrow-raising argument. Powell’s offices, in turn, were a mile down the street from the house where Lee Harvey Oswald adjusted the telescopic sight on his Mannlicher-Carcano carbine and steadied the weapon on a back fence to try to kill Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker.

At the time, Walker was out of the Army and becoming a star in right-wing politics. The Army censured him for indoctrinating his troops with John Birch Society materials, which was when he decided Jack Kennedy was a crypto-communist and resigned. In December 1961, he made the cover of Newsweek. The next year, he ran for governor of Texas, losing badly in the Democratic (!) primary. Then, in April 1963, Walker sat at his desk at 4011 Turtle Creek Boulevard, puzzling over his 1962 taxes, when he heard a bullet whizz over his head. Oswald faded into the Dallas night, emerging seven months later to kill President Kennedy at Dealey Plaza with the same cheap, Italian mail-order rifle. The Patriot Roundup Flynn attended was a half-mile from the book depository where Lee Harvey took aim at his second target. He was onstage in front of a sketch of a giant cowboy hat projected on the screen, wearing a red Adidas pullover and blue jeans, taking questions.

“I wanna know why,” asked a man in a ball cap and glasses, “what happened in Mynamar”—Minnimar, with the Texas twang, meaning Myanmar, where the military had carried out a coup in February—“can’t happen here?”

The crowd cheered. “No reason,” Flynn responded, “I mean, it should happen here.” More cheers. The video got uploaded. The next day, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney tweeted: “No American should advocate or support the violent overthrow of the United States.” Flynn couldn’t walk it back on Twitter—he’d been banned, along with Sidney Powell and Donald Trump, since January 8. He responded on Parler, the right-wing Twitter knockoff that had been one of the first places the FBI went looking for evidence about the rioters on January 6. Flynn posted: “There is NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America.” But he said what he said.

A month and a half later, at the Church of Glad Tidings in Yuba City, California, it happened again. Flynn gave a speech and got an AR-15 and a painting of himself as a thank-you. A large man with a red, white, and blue radioactive symbol on his T-shirt held the gift weapon at the low ready for Flynn’s inspection. The General tried a joke: “Maybe I’ll find someone in Washington, D.C.” To shoot, presumably.

Everyone inside the Church of Glad Tidings laughed, but outside, the humor was lost: The image of Mujahedin Mike Flynn stalking through manicured backyards in Kalorama clutching a church-issued woodland camo assault rifle, Oswald-style, was scary as shit to the soft-handed political people in D.C. Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi called Flynn a “clear and present danger” on Chris Hayes’s television show. But how would that danger manifest? He and Stan McChrystal borrowed Al Qaeda operational doctrine to kill hostiles in Iraq. But what was the play here? Would he go Snowden and drop a load of America’s secret dirty laundry in a YouTube video? Would Mad Mike Flynn grow a beard, throw on a BDU field jacket, and start issuing smartphone camera–recorded fatwas from Y’All Qaeda headquarters deep within an abandoned gold mine in Winnemucca? What was this all building toward? What was Mike Flynn’s long game?

In Phoenix, Austin Steinbart, a.k.a. Baby Q, a 30-year-old, six-foot-five internet guy who claimed to be a time-traveling secret agent from the future, took the megachurch stage. I’d paid $56.86 for two tickets for this; outside the auditorium was a movie-theater–worthy concession stand. My nephew and I were packed in near the front of the half-empty theater—capacity was 3,000 for the church’s auditorium, so the crowd was still big. The bass was punishingly loud on the church’s sound system, but no one seemed to mind.

Steinbart lived in Chandler, Arizona, except for those months when he was serving 225 days in prison for posting brain scans of NFL players online in an extortion scheme. “We need to put aside these differences and come together to get the message out about the fraudulent election that was just foisted upon us,” Steinbart told the crowd. It was a pretty banal statement for Steinbart, who’d recently been caught trying to use a rubber penis and someone else’s urine to beat a court-ordered drug test. Then he pitched his product: Quantum Meetups, which was like, but with the word Quantum in front.

Finally the movie starts. From the beginning, the crowd is way into it. When a villain like Maxine Waters or Bernie Sanders appears on-screen, the crowd boos. When it’s Lauren Boebert, the crowd goes wild. Back to the guy, name of Patrick Byrne, whose origin story involves beating cancer twice in his twenties, earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford, and learning from a “part Native American guy” who was his spiritual adviser until he died in a plane crash the day after warning Byrne the election was rigged. At the funeral, Byrne meets the rest of his team, and they begin plotting to take down the cabal.

Mike Flynn left federal court in Washington, D.C., on December 1, 2017, the day he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

When Flynn is interviewed for the movie, he sounds like a frustrated soccer dad telling the kids to stop picking dandelions and start defending the goal. “I learned that our system was totally broken, OK?” He wears two green rubber WWG1WGA bracelets, a nod to the QAnon tagline “where we go one, we go all,” a quote from the 1996 Jeff Bridges sailing/survival/trial film, White Squall (don’t ask). There’s a Trump rally in Ohio going on at the same time, and Trump’s people are kicking out people wearing Q merch. Does this signal a split? The film’s shot eventually changes from Soccer Dad Flynn to a close-up shot of a bald, goateed man holding a crystal ball over his left eye. This is Jovan Hutton Pulitzer of Dallas, Texas. He’s worked in marketing since he was nine, when he sold rabbit meat to restaurants, and now he’s selling the Deep Rig crew on his Chinese bamboo detecting counterfeit ballot analyzer. Finally, we see Flynn talking about his trial by deep state fire. Everyone goes berserk. Americans love a good comeback story; the harder the fall, the higher the bounce, and Flynn had fallen pretty hard over the last seven years. I sat there wondering how high he could bounce.

It was no accident I got to be the caretaker of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn’s political memory. After I left the Army in 2010, I learned how to do journalism by working with Michael Hastings, the late Rolling Stone reporter who’d gotten Flynn’s boss Stanley McChrystal fired from his job running the war in Afghanistan when his whole staff, including Flynn, spent a few drunken nights talking shit about President Obama and Vice President Biden in Hastings’s presence while he was writing it all down. We’d done a story on Bowe Bergdahl, the Army deserter and Taliban prisoner of war. As the senior military intelligence officer in Afghanistan at the time, Flynn played a key role in the Bergdahl narrative, and I became fascinated with the General; he thought differently than most Army officers I’d encountered. He was a little crazy. From the start, I’ve gone for the crazy ones; if Flynn’s story really is a confession, then so is mine.

He was born on Christmas Eve, 1958, the sixth of nine children, to Charles and Helen Flynn of Middletown, Rhode Island. Charles fought in Normandy, at the Battle of the Bulge under George Patton, and was a guard at the Nuremberg trials. He came home, started a family, and then shipped out for war once again, this time in Korea, before retiring as a sergeant first class and returning to Rhode Island to make nine children. Three stripes, two rockers, no bullshit. Their mother was the glue, a force of nature who after raising nine children got a law degree at age 63.

After Flynn was fired from his job as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the summer of 2014, he would bury his beloved mother that December, gathering with seven of his siblings in Rhode Island after Helen died on Boxing Day. She’d hung on for one last Christmas with her family; that’s the kind of woman she was. Her children, none of whom would be described as reverent, speak about her in the respectful, awestruck tone normally reserved for saints. It was eight of nine children because their oldest, named Helen, just like mother, but whom everyone called Lennie, was killed in a freak car accident—she and her boyfriend were on their way home from Rhode Island College one night, when their car was hit by a fire truck that ran a red light and spun them into a tree. Lennie’s head was smashed, and she lay in the hospital in a coma for six months before dying. Mike was nine when he went to the funeral Mass, which filled St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island.

After youthful scrapes with the law, Mike joined Army ROTC at the University of Rhode Island and graduated at the top of his class in 1981. He rocketed up the ranks of military intelligence, becoming a legend in the 82nd Airborne for sneaking his Signals Intelligence Platoon into Grenada during 1983’s Operation Urgent Fury—he didn’t want to miss the action. Journalists once wrote about him with something akin to awe, and he fed tips and background to many of them. His intelligence and analytical work was described as brilliant by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Flynn was appointed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in July 2012, with a mandate to shake things up. For two years, he did just that—in the process antagonizing nearly every senior leader in the intelligence community, until he was taken out behind the woodshed by his peers. He tried to create a Defense Clandestine Service to compete with the CIA, which angered the seventh floor of Langley as much as had his widely read report, “Fixing Intel: Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan,” two and a half years prior. At DIA, Flynn tried to replicate what worked in Joint Special Operations Command—restructuring the whole damn apparatus—and it failed, spectacularly. Then his agency issued a classified report warning that Al Qaeda in Iraq was restructuring in Syria and Iraq as ISIS, which was not what the president or CIA Director John Brennan wanted to hear. Politico claimed the undersecretary of defense for intelligence (USD/I) and director of national intelligence (DNI) did the hit. The USD/I in question was Michael Vickers, a former Green Beret who’d played a key role in the CIA’s secret war against the Soviets by arming the Afghan mujahedin. He teamed up with the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to force Flynn out. Clapper, a former DIA director himself, was further assisted by an inside man, Flynn’s deputy director, an ex-CIA Latin America hand and intensely evangelical Christian named David Shedd. And that was it for Flynn’s career.

Except that he was just getting started.

Lance at the Do Lung Bridge: You know that last tab of acid I was saving? I dropped it.

Chef: You dropped acid? Far out.

I didn’t drop acid at the Trump Doral, but I might as well have been on a drip feed of that good pure Swiss Sandoz MK Ultra shit. On his podcast earlier that week, Steve Bannon said, “AMPFEST guys, they’re a little out there, bad hombres, tough hombres, street dogs.” AMPFEST, the American Priority Festival, started in 2018 as an aspirational right-wing Coachella, where like-minded artists and creatives could mingle with simpatico politicos. If Bannon—the Biosphere 2 guy—thinks you’re a little out there and says so before also dialing in to a video teleconference to give a talk designed to push you further out there, you know you’re tapping your fingers against the main vein of modern MAGA.

I’d spent the day scoping out the entrance and egress routes, checking the security systems, glad-handing the staff, and clocking the guard’s rotations and patterns at the 24,000-square-foot Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom, where Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, U.S. Army (Retired), would appear to rally the base, which in Arabic is pronounced al Qaeda.

The night before, there was a 1980s-themed party sponsored by Gettr. The party featured the K.I.T.T. car from the 1980s David Hasselhoff show Knight Rider. Gettr, a Twitter-Reddit knockoff that had gotten hacked the moment it went online, was the replacement for Parler. There would be something different, probably with a name like FlagR or Pat/Riot, after Gettr folded.

Among the guests were Zan Luna, a Flynn fan and Marine Corps veteran originally from Gallup, New Mexico, with a tattoo of the Eagle Globe and Anchor on her right deltoid and a single feather tattooed on her left deltoid. She’d survived the close impact of a rocket attack in Ramadi in 2004, when she was in one of Uday’s or Qusay’s palaces, she wasn’t sure which one, that the Marine Corps had taken over. The first rocket knocked her flat on her back with just enough time to see shrapnel from the second rocket hurl through the airspace her torso had occupied just seconds before. “You ever seen shrapnel?” she asks. When I tell her yes, she continues tracing a jagged outline in the air to emphasize its shape. “It’s like a dinosaur’s back.’ She didn’t think to go to sick call until the next day, when she was sliding out of her chair in the tactical operations center, her equilibrium off from the blast injury; her C.O. made her go, but the Marines screwed up, and she never got a Purple Heart for it.

On the veranda stage, Frank Sinatra’s cousin, Frankie Barbato, was the first act, belting out Ol’ Blue Eyes covers while a septuagenarian husband-and-wife team of pro-life OB-GYNs from Orlando slow-danced holding cigars. In the Presidential Suite a few hundred yards away, Roger Stone hosted an invitation-only Martini Mixer for MAGA-world celebs: Brandi Love, the MAGA MILF porn star, was there. So was Mindy Robinson, the actress who’d played Lucy Furr in 2017’s Evil Bong 666 and Grace the Reporter in 2019’s Ted Bundy Had a Son, and who now hosted a talk show called Red, White and F You. She was running for Congress in southern Nevada. George Papadopoulos, who’d served 12 days in federal prison for lying to the FBI before being pardoned, circled the crowd with his wife, Simona. Simona would be on the women’s leadership panel with Khalilah Ali, Muhammad Ali’s second wife, later that weekend. Ali was out by the K.I.T.T. car at the moment, autographing photos of her with the greatest fighter who ever lived—and the single most famous antiwar protester of the twentieth century. It was a strange place.

Stone joked that he got the grapefruit-size portrait of Richard Nixon tattooed between his shoulder blades so he’d have a dick on the back and the front. Roger was clearly in his element, despite his wife having stage four cancer, a manifestation of the stress incurred during the political witch hunts of the last few years against him and his family, he believed, and despite his being named as the defendant in multiple civil lawsuits.

The next day, Flynn’s family congregated around the AMERICA’S FUTURE booth; Flynn had inherited the organization from retired Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, who was 100 years old and still retained a seat on the board alongside Flynn, Flynn’s brother Joe, and a guy who sells hyperbaric oxygen tents like the one favored by Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch. Singlaub served in the O.S.S. on an Operation Jedburgh team code-named JAMES, coordinating French resistance fighters behind Nazi lines after Normandy, and then went on to an absolutely insane career with both the CIA and the Army.

Singlaub was the chief of staff for U.S. Forces in Korea, but President Jimmy Carter fired him for insubordination. Then he really got started, becoming a key figure in Iran-Contra, running clandestine networks of moneymen and smugglers in Oliver North’s Enterprise. In his nineties, he’d taken a shine to the Flynns, becoming one of the loudest advocates for Mike Flynn’s pardon, along with Flynn’s family and the Q people. Flynn found in Singlaub a kindred spirit, an Obi-Wan looking for a Luke before becoming one with the Force, with a priceless Rolodex full of sympathetic right-wingers with means who owed him favors. “It takes a network to defeat a network,” was McChrystal and Flynn’s mantra in Iraq. And now, Mike Flynn was out in the American political wilderness, building a network.

Initially, Flynn tried to go straight postretirement by running a private intelligence firm out of an office building in Old Town Alexandria with good line of sight to the DIA’s headquarters across the river. I dropped in on Flynn’s office in the summer of 2016, just before it folded. A large Flynn Intel Group logo adorned the lobby, and when the secretary told me that the General was in New York with Mr. Trump, she rolled her eyes. He just couldn’t stay away from the action.

Flynn wasn’t long for the corporate game, unlike his wartime boss McChrystal, who was making fat stacks and nursing his own political ambitions. McChrystal declined repeated requests for interviews about Mike Flynn, even while accepting others to promote his new book, Risk. A progressive Democrat and ruthless killer when he needed to be, McChrystal cut Mike Flynn off—total communications blackout—in 2016. “Anyone with half a brain put distance between themselves and Flynn,” a retired officer who’s known all the players for years told me under condition of anonymity; he was happy to feed me background, but Flynn was still so radioactive he didn’t want his name anywhere near this.

Left to right: Flynn with Michael Cohen (center) and Rick Perry at Trump Tower in New York, December 2016; Flynn in the Oval Office with (from left) Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Mike Pence, and Sean Spicer, January 2017

Trump got elected president, and Flynn was selected to come on as national security adviser. Then the FBI, an organization Flynn praised effusively on the final Aspen Institute/Kennedy School of Government/Brookings Institution speaking tour of his military career, came after him hard for calls he’d made to the Russians during the presidential transition. That led to his resignation after less than a month in the job and to criminal charges for lying to the FBI, the same charge the FBI used to send Martha Stewart up the river. Flynn would’ve fought it, but the FBI expanded its aperture and went after his son Michael Flynn Jr., who’d become a wing nut on Twitter. If they’re gonna hang you or they’re gonna hang your family, what do you do? Flynn once asked me rhetorically over the phone. You take the hanging and save your family.

So, in December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty. In May 2020, Bill Barr’s Justice Department dropped all charges. In late 2020, Trump pardoned him. After the pardon, I sent him a text message wishing him a Merry Christmas, adding I’d see him on the high ground, something a Green Beret I’d once worked for used to say. To my surprise, Flynn responded. “Yes, the moral high ground. 💪🙏🇺🇸.” In On War, Sun Tzu advises occupying high ground and attacking enemies downhill. What kind of attack did Flynn have planned from his moral high ground?

At the AMERICA’S FUTURE booth there was merch for sale; hats and T-shirts and baseball bats, all GEN FLYNN and AMERICA’S FUTURE–branded. Interestingly, none of them even gave a wink or a nod to Q; no Digital Soldiers, no WWG1WGA, no “trust the plan.” These were all in-group references to QAnon that Flynn previously embraced. “Trust the plan” is what Q would post when things in the real world got rough for the internet narrative.

“There is no plan,” Flynn said in an interview on February 5, 2021, with Doug Billings, the host of The Right Side podcast, trying to signal to the Q people to cool it. He’d been trying to establish some distance between himself and the fanatical brigade of 4chan-trolls turned digital soldiers that the internet had spawned. They’d trusted the plan, and still no storm had come. Donald Trump had lost the election. No one was acting out their roles in a replica White House on a life-size movie set constructed on a decommissioned Army base in Georgia now owned by Tyler Perry. JFK Jr. had not emerged from witness protection to testify against Hillary Clinton. No snuff film from John McCain’s secret military tribunal had emerged on Rumble. The Q people were getting restless, and they were about to turn on Flynn.

Flynn, a devout Roman Catholic, was being courted by evangelicals and trying to speak their language by delivering long, Catholic Prayer Card–style prayers to church groups. But then he fucked up and recited a variation of a 1990 prayer written by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a doomsday cult leader who’d inspired her followers at the Church Universal and Triumphant to leave their lives and build a giant bunker in Montana for a prophesied apocalypse that never came.

“We are your instrument of all your sevenfold rays, and all your archangels, all of ’em,” he thundered to a studio and internet audience of hundreds of thousands streaming the Kenneth Copeland Ministries show online. “We will not retreat, we will not retreat, we will stand our ground, we will not fear to speak, we will be the instrument of your will, whatever it is, in your name, and the name of your legions, we are freeborn, and we shall remain freeborn, and we shall not be enslaved by any foe, within or without, so help me God. God bless you, God bless America, thank you very much!”

Someone on the internet noticed that the language of Flynn’s prayer was a little New Age for a Catholic, looked it up, and realized that the General was once again way out on the edge.

Online, the Q people had started worrying that Flynn, in his new political incarnation as Holy Warrior Mike Flynn, the Middletown Mujahedin, might actually be a spy, an infiltrator, a Satanist who’d tipped his hand and inadvertently revealed his affiliation as a follower of the left-hand path. It was a breathtaking development that I certainly did not have anywhere on my right-wing narrative Bingo board; the remaining Q people had splintered into DSA-style infighting and eating their own, but enough pivoted hard into the “Mike Flynn’s in the Cabal, Not Fighting the Cabal” narrative that Flynn had to release a follow-up video interview explaining that no, he was not a crypto-Satanist. He was just a Catholic.

“I told Michael to be careful with those people,” said sister Mary, who’d worked in accounting for the Rhode Island Catholic Diocese for long enough to know that money, religion, and politics make for a highly combustible mixture. Mary was right; flirting with the evangelical base in 2021 had so far meant ex post facto explanations and denials: No, he did not want to do a coup, nor did he secretly worship the devil. The evangelicals could bring votes, but they also brought problems. But Flynn, gathering strength in the political wilderness, would need them as allies; there was no attempting a triumphant return to Washington as a holy warrior otherwise.

At the VIP cocktail party that night, I wore a tuxedo with an open collar, black bow tie dangling from my neck. I couldn’t find anyone who knew how to tie a proper bow tie. Roger Stone promised to show me at dinner, but he was having a private meeting with six people and the General in full view of anyone sitting at the circular bar in the clubhouse. I fiddled with my American Flag cufflinks, worried my play might not work. The bartender finished pouring a glass of wine for Dinesh D’Souza and handed me a Coca-Cola.

Mike Flynn walked in a little after 7, shook hands, and made for the green room. I’d introduced myself at the clubhouse, earlier, then retreated to watch as a nine-year-old boy wearing a sport coat, T-shirt, and gold chain with matching Cuba charm dangling from his neck went to meet the General; he’d heard Flynn would be at the Trump Doral, so mom took him there to stake out the joint. The kid was thrilled.

Flynn with a young admirer at Trump National Doral Miami, October 9, 2021
Mark Peterson/Redux for The New Republic

I was joined by two of Mike Flynn’s younger siblings. Joe Flynn was the ninth of nine. Mary O’Neill was the seventh. They were both with AMERICA’S FUTURE. Their older siblings were retired. Charlie, the eighth, was a general, running the U.S. Army in the Pacific from a base in Hawaii. Charlie, who joined the Army because Mike joined the Army, went infantry and is an entirely different kind of guy than Mike. Charlie makes the trains run on time; Mike knows the best time to blow up the tracks.

How’d you get in here? Joe asked me. Well, I attended a seminar on Chinese Communist Infiltration yesterday, I respond. And Roger’s going to tie my bow tie.

Joe has no idea how to tie a bow tie. They’re not flashy-clothing people in the Flynn family. I watched every interview I could find of Mike Flynn on the internet. The guy wore the same cream-and-burgundy striped tie for a softball interview by David Sanger of The New York Times at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2014 that he donned for the 2016 “lock her up” convention speech. I’d spent too much time trying to find out who made the tie and come up short, so I asked Joe.

The candy cane tie? Joe asks me and laughs. It means nothing. It’s from fucking T.J. Maxx or J.C. Penney. When I ask Mike Flynn about it, after the gala, he texts me back, “It’s my only tie!”—a claim that a Google Image search quickly debunks.

At the gala, Mike Flynn took the stage to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and led the crowd on a sing-along, stamping his foot and wearing leather boots, jeans, an open-collar white shirt with the same blue blazer with palm fronds on it that he wears for everything that requires a blazer. “I love this song,” Flynn said, reaching down to shake hands and pose for selfies. “I’m not going to take this bullshit anymore, I’m done taking this, and the American people are done as well.”

He then goes on with the speech. Aside from the line “the FBI ought to be abolished,” the text is dull, the kind of stuff I heard a hundred times at backyard BBQs as a military brat. Despite the Mad Mike Mujahedin energy, Flynn’s message tonight was standard stump speech stuff, about as exciting as the Federal Register. That’s what makes it interesting: The banality of the message is the message itself. Mike Flynn’s trying so hard to be normal. In fact, tonight, Mike Flynn is trying to be … a politician.

Stone was apparently there to assess the field and report back to the boss at Mar-a-Lago. That’s why Joe Kent and Matt Gaetz and Anthony Sabatini and Marjorie Taylor Greene were all there—they wanted to vault up the MAGA pyramid. Flynn didn’t need to vault, he was going for the capstone, and the gala was an audition to see if Flynn had the chops to do it. When I talked to him on the phone over the summer, he seemed, well, like a human being, albeit a peculiar one—worried about the same things that other retired officials I know were. Tonight, he seems like a human being tempted by Roger Stone to take a shot at becoming a president.

When the speech is over, as they give him a large metal poster of the Declaration of Independence as a thank-you (he’s going to donate it to a bar in Venice Beach, Florida), I catch his attention. He waves me off. I briefly give chase, wanting a few minutes of conversation. But it’s not in the cards, and I break contact in front of Matt Gaetz and his wife. I’m disappointed, and a little flattered, that he was wary enough to avoid physical contact or conversation with me the whole four hours, even though we’ve been texting back and forth this entire year.

He’d liked a piece I’d written and sent to him when Kabul fell to the Taliban, thanking me, calling it “very good and honest,” and then asking me the big question: “Why do you write for these communist rags?” I write for money to supplement my disability check from the VA, and so I could go anywhere and ask anyone any question I wanted. Normal communist reasons. He told me I was going to be pressured to make him into something “they” want, not what the truth is. “That is how propaganda works. The nation is in crisis, not hopeless, though. The rags you write for want socialism and will get it by pretending to be journals of ‘truth.’”

As Flynn exits, I notice Roger Stone at the next table—I’ve been in a tuxedo with an open collar since 4:30 p.m., waiting for Flynn to show up for his four hours on the ground. I ask Roger if he’ll take me up on his earlier promise to tie my bow tie. He tries, and fails, three times, and we agree to give up. While his hands are still around my neck, I ask him if he’s king-making here tonight. Roger looks at me hard, so I double down—Mike Flynn seems like he’s got the chops, I add. “If Trump doesn’t run, somebody’s got to,” Roger says, rotating to face me and answering my question with an eyebrow raise. Flynn sends me a message later that night.


I already departed because I’m in a borrowed plane and it will turn into a pumpkin, plus weather up top isn’t cooperating. I hope you got what you needed. My message is local action has a national impact and if people don’t get involved, we’re done.

I don’t fly out until after 9 p.m. the next day, but checkout is promptly at 11 a.m., so I leave my bag with the valet and set off to find a quiet spot with my laptop, settling in on a rooftop perch above the Trump Doral’s Lawn Bowling Green under a gold-and-white striped umbrella. It turns out to be on a back route the waiters use, and just then, lo and behold, Roger Stone walks by.

Roger, I say, you got a minute? He has three, he says, and sits down. I turn on my tape recorder. Trump is running in 2024, Roger insists; he talked to him today and wants to state up front that Trump is his preferred candidate; he has the best name recognition, he has the best fundraising potential, he gets the most media.


In the event that Trump chooses not to run, odd as it may sound, Flynn is the strongest candidate, in Stone’s eyes. No one else can galvanize the America First base (pronounced al Qaeda Amriki in Arabic, I think to myself) quite like Flynn. Maybe then he’d make a good running mate, since Trump would obviously be dumping Pence, but the quandary there: Trump and Flynn won’t run together, president and vice president, since they’re both residents of the same state (Florida). Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is another potential candidate Stone says he likes, but “he’s not ready,” and he’s going to face a tough reelection campaign for governor.

Flynn’s better at this politics stuff than I would’ve thought, I tell Roger; I watched him up close, in person, as he pressed the flesh, and people came away jazzed up. Roger tells me Flynn’s “got the common touch. He can talk with regular people.” More: “He’s a martyr. I feel strongly he should get a book and a documentary out, because the handy tactic of the left is to rewrite history as soon as possible. ‘Roger Stone was a Russian Spy.’ Fuck you, no I was not, there’s no evidence of that, but you can read it all over Twitter today; go take a look.”

I wondered why this incarnation of Mike Flynn put such a bug up the ass of establishment types in D.C.; the Flynn I observed was still trying to color inside the lines, talking about working within the electoral system, playing hard, rough, and sometimes dirty at street-level politics—but still playing politics. The Flynn-carnation I worried about was if he got bored with politics and went back to his first love: war.

I envisioned dark scenarios: out-of-work Flynn-stone coal miners abandoning booby-trapped cement mixers on interstates, bridges, and tunnels; ex-Delta dudes kidnapping members of Congress and running CIA- and Special Forces–trained Afghan mercenaries loyal to the General up the Mississippi in barges to seize control of the Bass Pro Pyramid in Memphis, cleaving the country in half.

Flynn pushed President Trump to declare martial law and have the military run a revote in December 2020 and endorsed that “Minnimar”-style coup. In the fall of 2021, Flynn was accused by a Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate of trying to enlist his help in a plot against an FBI agent turned congressman named Brian Fitzpatrick and other state officials. The candidate, Everett Stern, said Flynn’s representatives wanted to extort these people to force them to back an Arizona-style “audit.” Stern promptly told the FBI and put on a press conference to get the word out. Joe Flynn tweeted that Stern should “get help” and later told me: “Everett Stern is a fucking lunatic, and anybody who is listening to him is out of their fucking minds. It’s hilarious how scared the left is of Mike Flynn.”

Funny how these things keep popping up. I learned from Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” The same day that Joe told me Stern was a loon, the House January 6 committee subpoenaed Mike, as it previously had Steve Bannon, who ignored them. I wonder if Flynn will go that route.

Still, a part of me thinks that Flynn’s got everyone so wigged in their heads that they’re shadowboxing with a version of the General that doesn’t exist. Serious people seriously fear Flynn. I suspect that fear aids him; like George Patton’s fake army of inflatable tanks in England before D-Day, it directs attention away from what he is actually doing: helping to get people on his side elected to school boards, installing sympathetic figures in local legislative offices, and building a constituency in the areas where the national media rarely treads. While everyone is petrified that he’s charging in through the front door, he’s quietly sawing away at the floorboards. There are a thousand ways to grind American life to a halt, insurgent-style, that don’t require hitting the rubber-chicken circuit in the provinces as Flynn is right now. There must be a reason he’s submitted to it, the long march.

My ride to the airport was running late; Sony S., the Haitian Sensation, was my gunner in Afghanistan. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years. Sony was now back living near his native Miami, raising two children and working for Customs as an investigator, except for the one month a year when he served as a drill sergeant in the Army Reserve.

While I waited, I struck up a conversation with the valet, a handsome, square-jawed man with broad shoulders and an easy smile. He asked me what I’d been there for, and I said I was writing a piece on Gen. Flynn.

The General was here? he asked, surprised.

Yes, for just a few hours last night. They might run him for president if Trump doesn’t run in 2024, I explained. My new friend thought about it and shook his head, happy to explain why I was mistaken. The illuminati will never allow that, he told me. They made that mistake with Trump. The only solution, in his opinion, was a military coup; only the military could stand up to the communists and purge them from the ranks of decent Americans like himself.

Lot of communists in the world, I nodded, spotting a BMW 7 Series with tinted windows and a Haitian flag hanging from the rear-view pulling in, picking up my bags.

I set off with Sony in his BMW at top speed to a sports bar by the airport. To shake off the weird of the weekend before I got back to my family, I needed some normal, and there was something incredibly nice and normal in sitting there and reminiscing with Sony about our role in America’s past and our visions for our personal future. We picked up like no time at all had passed since the war, but in a good way, and for an hour before my flight, I forgot that I’d have to write the surreal glimpse I’d just gotten of one potential time line in America’s future: President Michael T. Flynn.

I guess it’s up to the American voter. The horror. The horror.