FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2022
Gellman reports from the front: In a new piece for The Atlantic, Barton Gellman asks what may be a very good question:
"What happened to Michael Flynn?"
As Gellman notes in some detail, Flynn was once a highly-regarded two-star general, serving in Special Operations in Iraq under Presidents Bush and Obama. As of 2009, “I thought, God, this guy is flipping magic," General Barry McCaffrey is quoted telling Gellman.
Flynn seemed to be magic—but that was then, and this is now. Recently, Gellman went to see Flynn on a current-day front. Here's what he says he saw:
GELLMAN (7/7/22): I went to hear him speak at the Trinity Gospel Temple in Canton, Ohio, where he served as mascot and majordomo of a traveling road show called “ReAwaken America.” It was a proudly mask-free event; anyone with a covered face was asked to leave. There would be six dozen speakers over two days, including MAGA stars such as Eric Trump, Mike Lindell, and Roger Stone. But Flynn was the big draw.
Some of the things he said fell into a category of assertion that his military-intelligence critics used to call “Flynn facts.” “Read some of The Federalist Papers,” Flynn told the crowd. “They’re simple; they’re amazing, amazing documents as to who we are.” He added, “Ben Franklin’s one of the ones that wrote some of this and argued some of it.” (No, he’s not.) Flynn attributed the nation’s founding to divine intervention, adding, “That’s why the word creator is even in our Constitution.” (It isn’t.)
What Flynn has is an everyman quality, according to Steve Bannon, who said he declined an invitation to join the tour. “Mike is authentic,” Bannon told me. “To them, he’s authentic. He’s a fighter. That’s big.” Flynn reminds Bannon, he said, of his Irish uncles and cousins: “He’s not pretentious. He’s one of them.”
If this was authenticity, though, it was authentically detached from reality. The animating ideas behind the “Great ReAwakening,” expounded by the various speakers, were (1) that forces loyal to Satan are stealing political power in rigged elections (2) on behalf of a global conspiracy masterminded by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, and Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli public intellectual, and (3) that the cabal has fabricated the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to mandate dangerous vaccines, which (4) make people sick and may secretly turn them into “transhumans” under the conspiracy’s remote control.
QAnon talking points pervade the “ReAwaken America” tour. In Canton, [emcee Clay] Clark got a rise from the crowd with a reference to “adrenochrome,” which QAnon myths describe as a drug that cannibalistic global elites harvest by torturing children.
At this juncture, we're forced to note a basic point. Gellman doesn't quote Flynn making these very strange assertions about the cannibalistic global elites torturing children to harvest that mythical drug. It's true that Flynn is on this tour. But Gellman doesn't quite him making these very odd statements.
In fact, after watching Flynn on the front, Gellman is only able to report him making some relatively harmless misstatements about the Federalist Papers and the Constitution. This is a major problem with Gellman's piece. It should have been addressed by the Atlantic's editors.
A bit of a journalistic flimflam might seem to be underway here. Still and all, Gellman offers this chronicle of Flynn's past behaviors—and he poses a question as he does:
GELLMAN: He has baffled old comrades with his transformation since being fired as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. He led chants to lock up Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2020, he posted a video of himself taking an oath associated with QAnon. He has endorsed crackpot fabrications of the extreme right: that Italy used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Biden in 2020, that COVID-19 was a hoax perpetrated by a malevolent global elite, that the vaccine infused recipients with microchips designed for mind control.
Has Flynn always been susceptible to paranoid conspiracies? Or did something happen along the way that fundamentally shifted his relationship to reality? In recent conversations I had with the former general’s close associates, some for attribution and some not, they offered a variety of theories.
Did "something happen" to General Flynn? Former associates voice various theories. Eventually, Gellman writes this:
GELLMAN: One after another in my interviews, people who know Flynn speculated about the possibility of cognitive decline or a psychological disorder, then shied away. McCaffrey was the only person prepared to say on the record, “I think he was having mental-health problems.”
Has there been a "cognitive decline" or the emergence of a "psychological disorder?" McCaffrey was willing to speak about "mental-health problems.” The discussion of same ended there.
Gellman pulls a bit of an okey-doke as he describes the current-day Flynn on the current-day front. He works hard to make readers think that Flynn said various things in his Canton speech which he apparently didn't say.
That said, is something wrong with General Flynn? Could there be some sort of cognitive issue? Some sort of psychological disorder or mental health problem?
Our journalists hate to explore such topics when discussing public figures. Nothing will make them go there.
In closing, though, we'll offer these questions with respect to the crazy claims to which the Canton crowd responded:
What would make anyone believe such claims? What are we to make of the fact that anyone, let alone a cheering crowd, could display such apparent disorder?