Is Michael Flynn Coming to a Church Near You? - Word&Way

Is Michael Flynn Coming to a Church Near You?

In the sanctuary of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, disgraced former Lt. General Michael Flynn on Friday (Feb. 23) opened a two-day QAnon-themed conference by insisting the U.S. is a Christian nation. His event at a prominent Southern Baptist church was just the latest stop in a tour of churches as Flynn preaches an unholy trinity of Christian Nationalism, conspiracy theories, and MAGA politics.

Standing beneath a stained-glass window of a cross and between two American flags on stage, he claimed “this country was really birthed by Christians” and the U.S. “is supposed to be a Christian-based society.” Pointing to the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance — before he led the congregants in saying the Pledge — Flynn said those words were necessary because “it’s what we are, it’s who we are.”

Flynn quickly shifted from his vision of a “Christian” society to talking about “moral decay.” Using the rhetoric of QAnon conspiracy theories about alleged sex trafficking rings, he insisted child trafficking is “a massive, massive problem” and “the worst problem in this country right now.” While child trafficking is a problem, such claims are based on wildly exaggerated numbers.

Several promoters of QAnon theories joined Flynn at the event led by America’s Future, a nonprofit where Flynn serves as board chairman and his sister, Mary O’Neill, is executive director. The organization was founded in 1946 by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and was later led by former Army Major Gen. John Singlaub (who had been forced into retirement for public criticism of President Jimmy Carter and played a role in supplying weapons in the Iran-Contra affair).

After Schlafly’s death in 2016, legal battles erupted over control of her organizations — with Missouri Republican activist Ed Martin taking over much of her empire, including America’s Future. In 2021, Martin turned the organization over to Flynn, and a month later Singlaub announced he would no longer have anything to do with it. According to an exposè of the group published last week, the nonprofit has since paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Flynn and multiple of his siblings. The money coming into the organization is largely from a couple of wealthy anonymous donors.

The main attraction at America’s Future events today is Flynn, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI (before receiving a pardon from Donald Trump), inspired far-right militias at “Stop the Steal” rallies before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked by the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee if he thought the violence of the insurrection was justified and if he believed in the peaceful transfer of power.

Now, Flynn is recruiting an army in church sanctuaries.

Screengrab as Michael Flynn speaks at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on Feb. 23, 2024.

Birchman’s senior pastor, a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, defended hosting the conference in an email to me before the event (though he didn’t address my questions about Flynn’s support for Christian Nationalism and the Jan. 6 insurrection). On Sunday after the conference, Rev. Bob Pearle mentioned the event during worship, saying it had been “a great conference” and he was “blessed” by it. That service also featured a testimony from someone who attended. But Birchman isn’t alone in bringing Flynn into their sanctuary and incorporating his message into Sunday worship.

In December, America’s Future held their “Get in the Fight” event about child sex trafficking at a large nondenominational church in Sterling, Michigan. In January, they were at Fox River Lutheran Church in Sheridan, Illinois, which is part of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. That church’s pastor has spoken at the ReAwaken America Tour, a traveling variety show of Christian Nationalism, pro-Trump “prophecies,” and anti-vaccine conspiracies headlined by Flynn.

In April, America’s Future will hold their “Get in the Fight” conference in Spokane, Washington, at a charismatic church led by Matt Shea, a controversial former state lawmaker. In 2019, a Washington House of Representatives report said Shea “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States government” in Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. He also spoke at “Stop the Steal” rallies in Washington and Idaho, including one at which he called for people to prepare for “total war.” Shea’s presence on stage last year during a Sean Feucht concert in Spokane sparked controversy for the city’s mayor because she came on stage for Shea and Feucht to pray over her.

Flynn’s group is also planning in June to take their conference to a Baptist-turned-nondenominational church in Ohio, with more events to come. O’Neill noted at Birchman, “As my brother says, ‘We’re going to 50 states.’” And the group is holding other events over the next few months, including a movie screening at Mar-a-Lago with “VIP experience” tickets for “Trump Patriots” that cost $10,000.

Despite Flynn’s status in the MAGA movement as Trump seeks a return to the White House, his “Get in the Fight” conferences at churches have been ignored. So this issue of A Public Witness gives you an inside look at Flynn’s latest QAnon crusade.

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Get in the Fight

During the recent conference at Birchman Baptist, Flynn urged those present to be passionate and get involved as “true believers” in tackling the issue of child sex trafficking. He argued that while 98% of the population will remain indifferent, the 2% who are passionate can make a difference.

To “prove” that a small percentage could make a difference, he invoked the myth that “less than 3%” of the people in the American colonies fought against the British in the Revolutionary War. It’s the false claim that led to the name of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group that formed to oppose Barack Obama after his election in 2008 and whose members have participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and other acts of anti-government violence. After Flynn said at a December 2020 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., that they were in “a spiritual battle for the heart and soul of this country,” a group of Three Percenters declared: “We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge.”

At Birchman, the language of fighting also popped up. Actor Bazzel Baz declared, “Sitting in this congregation is an entire army of God’s chosen people to do this work.” He added that “Satan will flee if you fight.” He and other speakers encouraged people to run their own “rescue operations,” and the speakers frequently disparaged law enforcement officials as part of alleged pedophile rings.

Others at the event also pushed the QAnon idea that a cabal of liberal politicians and Hollywood elites are engaging in, as one speaker put it, “Satanic ritual abuse” and child sex trafficking.

“How many of you have heard of Pizzagate?” pundit Lara Logan, a board member at Flynn’s America’s Future group, asked about the claim there’s a Satanic pedophile ring tied to Hillary Clinton in the basement of a pizza restaurant that doesn’t even have a basement. “It was years before I realized and started to investigate and discovered, holy guacamole, this actually is all true.”

Logan, who received top billing for the conference along with Flynn, was dumped by Fox News after an anti-vax segment comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and she was banned from Newsmax after a QAnon-themed rant. But she was welcomed to the church’s stage with applause to spread false claims like Pizzagate, a conspiracy that inspired a man to fire an AR-15 into the family restaurant as he looked in vain for the nonexistent basement.

“It’s like science fiction, but it’s real,” Logan added about other stories of human trafficking rings.

Logan’s attempt to cite Scripture went about as well as her fact-finding of Pizzagate. Intending to praise a couple of local activists fighting against child trafficking, Logan called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” In Matthew 7, Jesus used that phrase not to describe someone fighting hard but to warn about “false prophets.” It’s why the advocacy group Faithful America uses that verse to describe Flynn and other leaders of the ReAwaken America Tour in protest banners.

Screengrab of a panel conversation at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on Feb. 23, 2024, with (from left) Jaeson Jones, Bazzel Baz, Tina Baz, Tara Lee Rodas, Liz Crokin, and Lara Logan.

Liz Crokin, an outspoken supporter of QAnon conspiracies who helped popularize the Pizzagate claims, said at the conference that “even after I learned the truth about Pizzagate” it took more time to figure out more about how to publicize “elite pedophile rings.” She claimed that reporters “hysterically” call Pizzagate a “conspiracy theory” in part because some of them are involved in pedophilia.

Other speakers included Mike Smith, a former stuntman who is a board member for America’s Future and has created QAnon films (one of which was shown at the conference); Tara Lee Rodas, who has appeared on numerous QAnon-related podcasts and shows; and Brian Gamble, a Flynn associate who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Several speakers during the conference also criticized immigration and the Biden administration’s border policies. The opening night ended with comments from Robert Agee, a lead organizer of a recent “Take Our Border Back Convoy” rally in Texas that was full of Christian Nationalistic appeals (and baptisms) as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott refused to follow a Supreme Court ruling allowing the U.S. Border Patrol to remove razor wire barriers installed by Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border. Agee, who has been part of Flynn’s ReAwaken America Tour, praised Flynn and the “mighty warriors” at Birchman Baptist as he talked about how God led him and others to start the recent border convoy.

“The battle belongs to the Lord,” Agee added. “This was a Jericho March.”

Flynn’s sister also claimed during the event that Abbott used to be weak on border issues because “the cartel owned him,” but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had since “freed him” after Paxton survived his recent impeachment trial.

In addition to the speakers, the conference at Birchman Baptist also attracted attendees pushing extremist politics. Among those present were Pete Chambers (another key organizer of the border convoy) and Ryan Zink (who was convicted for his behavior during the Jan. 6 insurrection and is now running in the Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas).

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Blessing the Conspiracies

The “Get in the Fight” conferences aren’t just events renting church buildings. They occur with the endorsement and promotion of the host pastors. All three recent events — in Michigan, Illinois, and Texas — came after clergy encouraged their congregants to attend. And the pastors practiced what they preached by showing up.

Rev. Jerry Weinzierl, senior pastor at Grace Christian Church in Sterling, Michigan, specifically highlighted the presence of Michael Flynn and Lara Logan during Sunday worship before the event as he encouraged his congregants to register. And he helped open the event later that week with prayer. Standing in his church’s sanctuary alongside Christmas trees and decorations, he called it “an honor” to host the conference. In his prayer, he compared his church and America’s Future to those in biblical stories who resisted the Egyptian Pharaoh and King Herod when those dictators sought to kill babies.

“Lord God, we’re putting a light on it. We are lighting this thing up. We are putting a light on it so people can know what’s really going on. And, Lord God, I thank you that you’re helping us do that,” he said during his prayer. “We’re in a battle. And we make this commitment, Lord God, to sound the alarm, to pay the price, to get in the fight. But, Lord, show us how through these brave men and women that have come to speak to us.”

The pastors also have mentioned the conference afterward during Sunday worship, continuing to bless the speakers and their messages. For instance, after the January “Get in the Fight” conference at Fox River Lutheran Church in Illinois, conference speaker Tara Lee Rodas gave the message during the Sunday church service to echo key themes from the meeting and promote Flynn and his organization.

“The battle right now is for the children and it’s for the next generation,” she declared as she explained that America’s Future “goes around state to state” on this issue. “And we depend on churches, church families because this battle is going to be won with the church.”

“We believe the Bible is the word of God, and that’s what we’re going to stand on,” she added. “No matter what this culture says, no matter how confused this culture is, we need to stand on the word of God. And so that’s what America’s Future is doing.”

Screengrab as Tara Lee Rodas speaks at Fox River Lutheran Church in Sheridan, Illinois, on Jan. 28, 2024.

After the sermon by Rodas, the pastor prayed, the congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer, the pastor declared that “we need to get in the fight,” and the congregation sang “Days of Elijah.”

With these moments, the QAnon-themed messages of a group led by a man who tried to overthrow American democracy are sanctified. And while host pastors in Michigan and Texas noted during Sunday services that most churches refuse to partner with America’s Future, they prove that some are willing to open up their holy spaces to Flynn’s militaristic Christian Nationalism and promoters of false Pizzagate conspiracies.

Such MAGAchurches shouldn’t be ignored. Wolves in sheep’s clothing can threaten the whole flock.

As a public witness,

Brian Kaylor

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