What starts in Ukraine may not stay in Ukraine: How war could affect Southwest Florida

Ukrainian soldiers train at US Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in 1998. The US-Ukrainian military relationship stretches back decades. (Photo: US DoD)

Jan. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

In Southwest Florida, the crisis over the Ukraine may seem like a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

That’s the way British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain described the dispute between a democratic Czechoslovakia and Nazi Germany in 1938.

The Czechoslovak government was pressured to give up parts of its territory to appease Adolf Hitler and once he had those pieces he swallowed the rest of the country whole. A full-scale world war eventually followed.

Today Vladimir Putin is endangering Ukraine, threatening war to get his demands met. It seems like a very close replay of Hitler’s moves on Czechoslovakia.

Two of the most knowledgeable Ukraine-Russia analysts have put forward their evaluations of the situation.

Alexander Vindman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, was director for European Affairs at the National Security Council when in 2019 he blew the whistle on President Donald Trump’s improper political demands on the Ukrainian government. He offered his take on the current situation on Jan. 21 in the magazine Foreign Affairs: “The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond.”

Fiona Hill was an intelligence officer on Russian and Eurasian affairs for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and served on the National Security Council under Trump. In a clinical and steely performance, she too testified against Trump’s improper use of his office during his first impeachment hearings. Her article appeared on Jan. 24 in The New York Times under the headline: “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It.”

Both call for a strong, robust American response and in particular urge the United States to take the initiative and not just react to Putin’s moves. Hill believes Putin has a much larger goal: to kick the United States out of Europe altogether, allowing Russia to dominate the continent. Both warnings are scary, insightful and deserve heeding.

But why should anyone in Southwest Florida care? It’s not as though Naples is on the front lines or Russian tanks will be rolling into Fort Myers. No matter what happens on the frosty plains of Ukraine, Southwest Florida will still have its sun and beaches.

As World War II demonstrated 80 years ago, conflicts in faraway lands have a way of impacting even places very remote from them, especially in today’s interconnected world. What is more, shooting wars have a nasty tendency to spread their effects in unexpected and uncontrolled ways, especially the longer they go on.

Southwest Florida has already seen how a large, overarching crisis can affect daily life in countless everyday ways. The COVID pandemic emptied store shelves, disrupted travel, upended the supply chain and sowed deep and passionate political divisions over health precautions and vaccinations.

COVID is an assault by an impersonal force of nature; a war in Ukraine that expanded into a US-Russian conflict—presuming that it remained non-nuclear—would be the result of human decisions but would be no less and in some ways, even more impactful.

So how could a hot war in Ukraine immediately affect residents, retirees and tourists in Florida’s Paradise Coast?

Gas prices

United States officials are already negotiating with oil producers to make up for shortfalls in oil supply should Russian oil exports be shut off, either by the Russians or Western blockades.

While Southwest Florida doesn’t get its gasoline from Russia, a global tightening of supply would send prices at the local pumps higher—potentially much higher.

Indeed, gasoline supplies could be so straitened that Floridians—and all Americans—could see the return of gas lines reminiscent of the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

If the scarcity persists, US oil companies could again start eyeing oil drilling and exploitation in eastern Gulf of Mexico or under the Everglades and this time there would be little political will to stop them, even if it would take years for Florida oil to make a difference.

Cyber disruption

The Russians have mastered the art of the cyberattack as a weapon of war. Prior to what the military calls “kinetic” assaults they have launched major electronic onslaughts. They’ve done this in Estonia, Georgia and they just did it in Ukraine, one reason that the alert level of an imminent invasion went up so urgently.

As the Internet has broken down national boundaries, so it has dissolved protective barriers. Cape Coral, Fla., is as vulnerable to cyber-attack as Kyiv. It is not as likely to be a deliberate target since it holds no strategic interest or assets. Nonetheless, should war break out, it might experience collateral damage along with the rest of the United States.

Just how interconnected the electronic world is, was brought home to this author during the 2018 congressional campaign of Democrat David Holden in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Staff discovered that the campaign website was being monitored from Moscow—and not just from Moscow but by someone in the Arsenal building, a very secure and secret spot in the very heart of the Kremlin complex. The campaign contacted US authorities. The incident proved that even a place as obscure, remote and strategically insignificant as Southwest Florida could find itself under a watchful Russian eye.

If war breaks out, every time there is an interruption in digital service, whether of the Internet, wi-fi, cable television or telephone, Southwest Floridians may be left wondering whether it’s the result of a technical glitch, a random accident or a deliberate attack. They will not know how long it will last. It will make the web of connectivity that binds us together unstable and affect virtually every human activity. It will make commerce, communications and control extremely difficult and in many cases impossible.

A key cyber vulnerability will be in the banking and financial system. If this system is disrupted, credit card transactions might not go through due to downed networks. Access to bank accounts may be blocked. Electronic payments and income may become erratic and undependable.

Stock market crash

Collier County, Fla., tops the country’s midsize markets in numbers of people who get passive income from stocks, bonds and investment, with Lee County a close second, according to a report from the US Chamber of Commerce. That passive income is dependent on a healthy and robust stock market.

Over the past weeks, the New York Stock Exchange has experienced precipitous plunges as a result of war jitters. If war actually breaks out it might crash on the scale of 1929. We might see halts in trading as circuit breakers kick in to stop free-falls. There could be massive losses of wealth that could have a very direct effect on Southwest Florida residents.

Inflation, already high but expected to decline later this year, could climb higher, eroding everyone’s purchasing power.

Supply chain disruption

The world is already dealing with supply chain disruptions caused by COVID. Shoppers in local stores are seeing empty shelves where once items like cream cheese or paper products or frozen vegetables were once plentiful. During the early days of the pandemic the rush was on for face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Depending on the scale and scope of a Ukrainian war, supply chains might be disrupted around the world.

Russian attacks on cyber infrastructure combined with extremely high military demand for key elements like steel or silicon could result in scarcity in a wide variety of goods at the retail level, including here in Southwest Florida. However, it’s impossible to predict with any precision which goods might be affected or where scarcity might emerge.

Travel disruption

Anyone who has traveled, especially by air, has experienced travel delays due to weather or other unexpected obstacles. The COVID Omicron surge was a major disruptor, felling flight crews and introducing unpredictability into airline schedules and flights.

A US-Russian conflict could compound that with deliberate Russian efforts to disrupt air corridors, interfere with commercial aviation or confuse navigation systems on the ground or in the air.

Social media disinformation

As the Mueller Report detailed, Russian operatives substantially interfered in the 2016 election (especially in Florida), helping to put Donald Trump in office. They are now practiced and proficient in the use of American social media to achieve political and strategic aims. After all, the word “disinformation” is originally a Russian word (дезинформация).

A US-Russian conflict would likely see a tsunami of Russian-aided social media and Internet propaganda and disinformation aimed at confusing, misleading and dividing Americans.

A unique local aspect of this is the Florida presence of two major American pro-Russian sympathizers, Donald Trump and Michael Flynn. On Jan. 24, Flynn penned an op-ed in the conservative Western Journal that was characterized by Forbes magazine as voicing support for a Russian invasion. It presented the Russian viewpoint on Ukraine.

It will likely be impossible for Americans to wall themselves off from these efforts but with public discernment, skepticism and the efforts of social media platforms to responsibly weed out false and misleading disinformation, perhaps the impact can be kept to a minimum.

Avoiding the inevitable

Nothing in human affairs is inevitable except death and taxes. Even the most seemingly unstoppable force can be stopped if it’s controlled by human decisionmaking. War is one of these kinds of events.

A diplomatic solution in Ukraine is entirely possible although the alignment of forces doesn’t favor it at the moment. Putin simply doesn’t regard Ukraine as an independent country. He attempted to dominate it through subterfuge, first by putting his own candidate in the Ukrainian presidency, then by backing breakaway areas and competing regional governments. He put his own candidate in the American presidency to aid and abet these efforts but that puppet is now gone from power. His efforts to date have not yielded the desired result.

Now he’s left with either threatening physical force or using it on a massive scale.

The United States and its NATO allies recognize Ukraine as a separate, independent state and treat it that way. This irreconcilable difference is what is fueling the current crisis.

Though seemingly mild-mannered and quiet, President Joe Biden long recognized the Russian threat. In particular he had an early awareness of the danger presented by Russian corruption, bribery and subversion as a state tool to buy agents and defeat obstacles to its ambitions. The US government is taking action to thwart those efforts.

Obviously, a win-win-win (Ukraine-Russia-US) diplomatic solution would be the most desirable for all parties. However, if conflict breaks out, there exists the very real possibility that a Russian invasion could be thwarted, that Russian cyberattacks could be stopped and a successful counteroffensive launched. Americans could unite in defense of their country. Russia could suffer cyber damage as great or worse than any inflicted on the United States. Its economy could be shattered. Ukraine, the United States and NATO could emerge victorious—but at a cost in lives and treasure and all this amidst an ongoing pandemic.

There is no telling at this point how the Ukraine crisis will resolve itself. But only 80 years ago history provided an example: appeasement of Hitler did not work.

Appeasement of Putin will not work now. There come times when the forces of law and democracy must stand firm to survive. That’s true in international affairs and it’s true in domestic affairs.

Like an earthquake or a tsunami, the aftershocks from a Ukraine conflict will reach Southwest Florida in one form or another. This is not a “quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing.”

In this time and place that “faraway country” is right next door. And those “people of whom we know nothing” are our neighbors.

*  *  *

For further reading about post-Soviet Russia and the rise of Vladimir Putin (both available in the Collier and Lee county public libraries), see:

Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West by Catherine Belton.

From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia by Michael McFaul.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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It’s not your imagination: There really is a MAGA migration to Florida

Gingrich move to Naples is just latest addition to rightist roster

A satirical map of the MAGA migration to the Sunshine State. (Art: Author)

May 17, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated May 18 with current valuation of Sen. Rick Scott’s home.

If you had the impression that all the debris and detritus of the Trump years was drifting southward to Florida—you’d be right.

The latest move is by Newt and Callista Gingrich, who on May 3 purchased a property in Naples’ tony Quail West development and will be moving there permanently in September.

Newt and Callista Gingrich announce their Florida move on Twitter. (Photo: Twitter)

They’re just part of the Trumps, Trumpsters and assorted Trumpers migrating to the swampy warmth of Florida south of Interstate 4.

Of course, the real lodestar for all this is Donald Trump himself, the loser of the 2020 election, who retreated to his luxurious lair of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach following his failed January 6th attempt to overturn the US government and cancel the election. Trump became a full-time Florida resident in September 2019 and officially tweeted the change on Nov. 1 of that year.

“…Despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse,” he complained of New York. At the time he was under pressure from New York authorities investigating a variety of suspected misbehavior. (That pressure may turn into indictments any day now, his Florida residence notwithstanding.)

Along with the Former Guy himself came the family Trumps, who have settled along the east coast of the peninsula. Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have purchased a lot for $32 million on Miami’s exclusive Indian Creek Island, known as the “Billionaires Bunker.”

Further north, Don Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, purchased two waterfront homes in Jupiter’s Admiral’s Cove, another exclusive high-end enclave. The main house, 492 Mariner Drive, listed for $11 million. Next door, Guilfoyle was planning to purchase a $9.5 million mansion for her family, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Marla Maples shows off her new Florida driver’s license, taking care to conceal her address. (Photo: Instagram)

It’s not only the current family coming south: Trump ex-spouse Marla Maples has settled in Miami, joining her daughter Tiffany who already resides there with her fiancée, Michael Boulos. In March, Marla posted a photo on Instagram of her coyly displaying a Florida driver’s license.

Interestingly, while Trump & Family settle into extravagant and expensive digs, lesser Trumpsters who served his campaign or administration are pleading poverty and penury, either because they’re out of the graces of the Orange One, or because they’re facing the wrath of law enforcement.

Fort Lauderdale is home to Roger Stone, political trickster, lobbyist and consultant. Stone was arrested there on Jan. 25, 2019 and charged with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements during Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion. He was convicted of seven felonies and sentenced to 40 months in prison. Trump first commuted his sentence and then pardoned him altogether just before leaving office. However, this past April 16, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sued Stone for $2 million in back taxes.

Stone pleaded poverty: “The Internal Revenue Service is well aware of the fact that my three-year battle for freedom against the corrupted Mueller investigation has left me destitute,” Stone told The Associated Press. “They’re well aware that I have no assets and that their lawsuit is politically motivated. It’s particularly interesting that my tax attorneys were not told of this action, filed at close of business on a Friday. The American people will learn, in court, that I am on the verge of bankruptcy and that there are no assets for the government to take.”

That’s not the IRS view, which holds that Stone and his wife used a commercial front to “shield their personal income from enforced collection” and support a “lavish lifestyle.”

According to the IRS filing: “Despite notice and demand for payment, Roger and Nydia Stone have failed and refused to pay the entire amount of the liabilities.”

The drama will play out in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom over the coming months.

Also in Fort Lauderdale, Brad Parscale, who touts himself as “an advertising legend,” served as Trump’s campaign manager for 897 days before a major Trump rally he organized in June 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma failed spectacularly.

Brad Parscale’s former Ft. Lauderdale home. (Photo: Miami MLS)

During his Trump time, Parscale was riding high with a salary of $15,000 a month but with seeming use of much more. Under Parscale Properties LLC, he invested in real estate around Fort Lauderdale including a $2.4 million waterfront home for himself. Over the course of a few months he also purchased $300,000 in luxury cars.

But apparently he wasn’t feeling well after his fall from grace. On Sept. 27, 2020 his girlfriend called Fort Lauderdale police to say that he was waving a gun and threatening both her and himself. Parscale’s takedown by police in his driveway was videotaped and widely broadcast. He sold his main house shortly after his arrest and the following day listed a townhome he also owned.

In March 2021, Pascale announced that he had formed a new super political action committee (PAC) called American Greatness PAC and a non-profit American Greatness Fund, which promotes what it calls the Election Integrity Alliance to “unite groups and efforts across the nation focused on combating election fraud.” It will fund state legislators and activists “on challenges to free and fair elections.”

Donors will no doubt be reassured by Parscale’s proven record of handling money in the past.

The other side of Alligator Alley

In an essay published in The Washington Post this past January, humorist Dave Barry put Florida’s east and west coasts into perspective:

“…Miami, where I live, is directly across the Everglades from Naples, only about 100 miles as the crow flies, which the crow had better do because if it lands it will be eaten by a Burmese python,” he wrote. “But despite their proximity, the two cities, because of unfortunate stereotypes, view each other negatively. Miami views Naples as a boring, retiree-infested backwater where the height of wild nightlife is ordering a second round of breadsticks at the Olive Garden. Naples views Miami as an insane urban hellscape whose residents celebrate every occasion, including Valentine’s Day, with gunfire.

“For the record, both of these unfortunate stereotypes are 100 percent accurate.”

Perhaps it was this boringness—or viewed another way, the peace and quiet—of the Gulf coast that first drew Indiana native Mike Pence to Sanibel Island. During his time as Trump’s vice president, Pence would occasionally vacation at an undisclosed location there. Whether his trips continue in the future or he settles there permanently, only Pence himself knows.

For four years Pence was an unfailingly loyal and servile wingman to Donald Trump—who rewarded him by inciting a murderous mob to try to lynch him on Jan. 6.

Also on the Gulf coast is the longtime home of former Florida governor and current senator Rick Scott, whose beachfront home at 3150 Gordon Dr., Naples, is estimated to be worth over $30 million as it awaits climate change-driven sea level rise to wash it into the Gulf.

Naples, with a picturesque downtown and beautiful beaches, has been a minor haven for right-wing pundits and performers for some time.

Fox News commentator Sean Hannity bought a $4.75 million penthouse in a luxury high-rise condo called Moraya Bay in 2009. It was one element of his real estate empire that reportedly includes as many as 900 properties around the country. Hannity sold that penthouse for $5.7 million in December 2020 and has reportedly moved on to Florida’s east coast.

Among the Fox news readers, Brett Baier also has a condo in Naples, possibly in Moraya Bay.

Also in Naples, rocker Ted Nugent, better known at this point for his extreme political views than his music, has long been an occasional seasonal resident. Nugent announced on April 19 that he had contracted COVID-19 a week after performing at Seed to Table, a defiantly COVID-denying, anti-masking market in North Naples.

None of these celebrities made much of an impression on the local community, either showing up on the streets, in shops or in the pages of slick hometown lifestyle magazines as charitable donors.

To the north of Sanibel, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson occasionally visits the $2.9 million, 3,000-square-foot plus, single-level modernist home he purchased in 2020 on Gasparilla Island, one of the Gulf shore’s many islands.

Newt and Callista Gingrich are the latest additions to the Gulf shore, scheduled to move permanently to Naples in September.

Newt, of course, was Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1995 until he was ousted in 1999. Callista is just back from a stint as US ambassador to the Vatican’s Holy See.

Her presence will give Naples two former Vatican ambassadors, given the presence of Francis Rooney, who served in that capacity from 2005 to 2008 before representing the district in Congress from 2016 to 2020.

Rooney called Southwest Florida “the redder than red region” in a 2016 speech at the Collier County Fairgrounds when he introduced then-candidate Donald Trump. While he later broke with Trump and Trumpism, he was certainly right in his characterization.

To his credit, for all his ideological loyalty, Gingrich vehemently denounced the Jan. 6 insurrection in no uncertain terms:

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” said Gingrich in a Fox News interview the day after the riot. “This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.”

This is not to say that Gingrich hasn’t pounded the Trumpist drum for a long time. But at least he drew the line at insurrection.

Someone who never broke with the Big Lie and in fact swore actual allegiance to the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory is Michael Flynn. He served 24 days as Trump’s national security advisor in 2017 before being dismissed after lying to Pence about his contacts with the Russians. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then withdrew his guilty plea. He was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.

On April 9 Flynn and his wife Lori closed on a home in the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood. It’s a modest, 2,236-square foot single family home valued at $543,005 with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms that backs onto a lake.


Sidebar: Disappearing beaches

The Moraya Bay condo in North Naples pushes beachgoers into the Gulf using its beach chairs as barriers in March 2021. (Photo: Author)

In keeping with Trump’s “Me First” philosophy, Naples’ beachfront condos and hotels are now trying to drive Floridians off the sands of the area’s beaches.

Florida law allows property owners to possess beaches up to the “mean high tide line”—i.e., the dry sand up to the water. For the most part, the beaches are sufficiently broad that in the past there was room for all and people could walk and pitch their umbrellas where they liked.

But the high-end beachfront resorts and condos sell themselves as having exclusive, private beaches. They’re prohibited from putting up clear barriers like traffic cones to keep people off the sand. Instead, they put up barriers of beach chairs right to the water’s edge. Beachgoers are allowed on the dry sand as long as they keep walking but if they sit down they’re shooed away by security guards. Otherwise, everyday Floridians had better stay in the water—not exactly where people can camp out to enjoy a day at the beach.

The leader in this movement to appropriate the beaches is the Moraya Bay condo in North Naples, once home to Hannity. Further south, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the town’s Vanderbilt Beach has moved with increasing aggressiveness to keep plebeians off its sands. Once upon a time, the Ritz-Carlton was tolerant and welcoming but no more. The condos’ movement against beachgoers is picking up steam, both with other property owners and with state legislators like the area’s state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) who in 2018 introduced legislation to make it more difficult for municipalities to claim beaches for all residents.

Naples, which prizes its beaches as its main tourist attraction, is headed toward a time when all but a small strip of wet sand will be off-limits to anyone other than the extremely well-heeled. It’s the logical result of Trumpism on the ground—literally.


It’s the law

“My parents live in Florida now,” observed comedian Jerry Seinfeld. “They moved there last year. They didn’t want to move to Florida, but they’re in their 60s, and that’s the law.”

Seinfeld continued: “You know how it works. They got the leisure police. They pull up in front of the old people’s house with the golf cart, jump out: ‘Let’s go, Pop! White belt, white pants, white shoes! Get in the back! Drop the snow shovel! Right there! Drop it!’”

As it is for normal people, so it is for Trump and his Trumpsters. Perhaps Seinfeld’s Florida must-move law was the only law Trump ever obeyed—and even then he was tardy, being well past 60 when he took Florida residency in 2019. Flynn, Stone and the Gingriches are all past 60 and all coming to Florida to—presumably—retire.

Being under 60, the family—Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., and Tiffany—have moved because that’s simply the way of the world: where Daddy goes, so they go all.

As for the rest of the Tumpers, pundits and assorted minions of all ages, in addition to the extreme politics, they’re attracted to the beaches, the heat and the low taxes like everyone else.

Politically, though, these are not just ordinary immigrants. Their presence along with their money, a Trumpist governor and a Republican legislature incline Florida to indeed become Florumpia—a state governed in true Trump fashion where voting is suppressed, dissent is crushed, corruption is pervasive, lawbreaking is excused, lying is instinctive, bankruptcy always looms and fantasy prevails.

In Florida, all the world will be able to see what a second Trump administration would have looked like—and could look like again if Trump and Trumpism are able to triumph in future elections at any level.

But then, Florida has always attracted delusional dreamers and fevered fantasists. Why should Trump be any different?

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn purchases home to settle in Englewood, Fla.

Michael Flynn, wife Lori (to his right) and family swear “where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan, on July 4, 2020. (Image: CNN)

April 21, 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, and his wife Lori have purchased a home in Englewood, Florida in the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Sarasota County.

The home was purchased on April 9 with a $208,750 mortgage, according to court records. Zillow estimates the property value at $543,005. It is a 2,236-square foot single family home with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms that backs onto a lake.

Flynn was in Southwest Florida last month to address private gatherings in Naples and Fort Myers. Both events had to be moved to concealed locations when the management in their original restaurant venues declined to host them. Initially, Flynn was to have been accompanied by Red Pill Roadshow, a traveling production that promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory in a tent-revival atmosphere.

Flynn has been closely identified with the QAnon movement. On July 4, 2020 he and his family posted a video in which they swore “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan. (For an excellent in-depth examination of QAnon, including elements of Flynn’s role in it, see HBO’s six-part documentary “Into the Storm.”)

Flynn and his wife previously resided in Middleton, Rhode Island. Lori Flynn declined to talk to the Englewood Sun newspaper, when its reporter contacted her.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn tries to rally dispirited conservatives during Southwest Florida visit

Michael Flynn attends a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona in 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

March 18, 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn, former national security advisor and lieutenant general, tried to rally dispirited Trumpers with a message of continued effort and community engagement during a series of appearances in Southwest Florida last week.

Flynn also said he was looking for “America first” candidates for future races at the local and state levels to promote elements of Donald Trump’s previous agenda.

“This is a very interesting time for our country, to say the least,” he said in a brief address at a private home on Tuesday, March 9. “…Engage people. Get in people’s faces. Engage people. And I’m going to tell folks tomorrow, get out and engage their communities wherever they’re from. And maybe they’re from around here but as we carry our message, there are people from Michigan, people from Oregon. But we have to engage and I’m telling you, much, much more than we ever have in our lifetimes.”

In an online interview with Brendon Leslie, a local independent conservative blogger and netcaster, Flynn said, “We’re seeking candidates, people, who want to step up to the plate and run at the local level, at the state level,” who share his beliefs.

Flynn completed his tour of Southwest Florida last Thursday, March 11, just as he was facing a new investigation from the US Army Inspector General, according to The Washington Post.

Despite his affiliation with the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory, Flynn’s message was largely one of encouragement for demoralized followers of former President Donald Trump and recommitment to traditional conservative values.

Flynn addressed groups in Naples and Fort Myers in addition to a gathering at a private home. All gatherings were unmasked and ignored social distancing guidelines.

In Naples, Flynn spoke on the evening of Wednesday, March 10, at a gathering at the Naples Beach Hotel. Originally scheduled for Shula’s Steakhouse, the venue was changed when Shula’s management declined to host it. The event was made “secret” except to ticketholders.

That event was organized by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional primary candidate and conservative activist, who also organized an unannounced appearance by Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio in Naples on Dec. 3. Initially intended to benefit McLaughlin’s Constitutional Warriors Political Action Committee (PAC), the March 10 beneficiary was changed to something called SAVA-PAC, which is not registered with the Federal Election Commission.

In Fort Myers, Flynn spoke on Thursday, March 11 at the Ter-Tini’s event venue after the Roots Restaurant and Treehouse Rooftop Lounge in the Bell Tower Shops declined to host that gathering. As originally planned the Fort Myers event was organized by Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon-promoting traveling show. This event venue was also concealed following the Treehouse cancellation and a report on it by NBC-2 News.

Flynn’s Fort Myers appearances were organized by The Florida Conservative blog, written by Michael Thompson, a Republican Party activist based in eastern Lee County. Initially intended to benefit a Florida Conservative PAC, a luncheon and benefit for veterans was added, with proceeds going to the Southwest Florida Heroes Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit corporation founded by Thompson to benefit first responders and veterans.

A consistent theme of all of Flynn’s remarks was the need for Trump believers to stay involved in their communities to spread their message and not surrender to demoralization.

Flynn’s fullest and most articulated explanation of the beliefs he brought to Southwest Florida preceded his visit. He expressed them in a March 8 essay posted to the conservative website The Western Journal, titled “5 Lessons I Learned When the Deep State Came After Me and My Family.”

In the essay, Flynn decried the “downward slide” of America based on “the shifting definitions of right and wrong blindly accepted by many Americans today.

“Our leaders would have us believe that these changing values are inevitable and that they are good. That is why they are called ‘progressive.’

“Yet to those of us who still believe in the immortal truths upon which America was founded, their so-called ‘progress’ is alarming, to say the least.”

Flynn argued that there is no alternative to the United States in terms of opportunity and freedom and that those who believe in it cannot retreat or disengage from continued effort.

“God enabled me to endure a years-long campaign by the left to destroy me and my family. They wanted me to serve as an example to anyone who would defy the entrenched bureaucrats of the swamp.” However, he wrote that he had emerged victorious.

Flynn attributed what he considered his victory to his religious faith and urged readers to “make faith an essential part of your battle strategy today.”

He also stressed the importance of family, friendship and fighting for conservative ideas.

“We need those who will stand against failed Marxist ideologies that have invaded the mainstream of our consciousness like a network of choking vines seeking to strangle the mighty American oak tree,” he wrote. He warned of the dangers of technological censorship, “cancel culture” and charged that opponents of conservatism want to force Americans into servitude, taxation, and “want to take our children from us, forcing them to look to Big Brother government.”

In that essay and in his Southwest Florida appearances, Flynn urged his audiences to stay engaged.

In a message to his followers on the Telegram messaging application that he sent out on March 10, Flynn was more blunt: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is suppose to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”

Analysis: Martyr or menace?

Flynn’s Southwest Florida trip was not the QAnon extravaganza it initially was intended to be, given his past fealty to the bizarre conspiracy theory and the presence of Red Pill Roadshow (and the reluctance of local venues to host that sort of thing).

It was not a Proud Boys celebration despite Christy McLaughlin’s past history of having Proud Boys show up invited but unannounced at an event she organized. (One alleged Proud Boy, Christopher Worrell, who was present at her Dec. 3 event in Naples, was arrested in East Naples on Friday, March 12, by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents for allegedly participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection.)

Proud Boy Christopher Worrell, who was arrested in East Naples for his alleged participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, at a Dec. 3 event in Naples. Worrell is in the back row, to the right of Christy McLaughlin, making the “white power” sign. (Photo: Facebook)

It was not a mindless repeat of the Big Lie that Trump won the election and had it stolen from him. In fact, it was not much about Trump at all, at least not by name.

Nor was it about the Jan. 6 insurrection, riot or attempted lynching of Vice President Mike Pence. Nor did it touch on the infamous White House meeting on Dec. 18 when Flynn was widely reported to have advocated that lawyer Sidney Powell be appointed a special counsel, that the US Army take over vote counting in five key swing counties and rerun the election and that martial law be imposed to invalidate the initial results. (Flynn maintains that is not what happened in an extensive interview with Western Journal.)

In fact, what is striking about his Southwest Florida trip is the degree of Trumpist demoralization that Flynn felt he needed to counter. In his Telegram message, Flynn told his followers: “I sense your frustrations. We are not giving up our pursuit for the truth.” In his March 9 remarks he told his audience: “I will tell you that you have to be positive. You have to fight tooth and nail. And I always tell people like, Abraham Lincoln, he just—I said this to Kim [a member of the audience]—that guy lost like seven races and he’s the greatest, you know, top three, maybe [presidents].” In his Western Journal article, which was addressed to a broader audience beyond Southwest Florida, he wrote, “Sadly, some will allow this alarm [over changes in America] to grow into defeatism. They will turn their faces away from the battle before us in hopes of finding a position to retreat to.”

Flynn’s Southwest Florida tour was part of the post-insurrection, post-presidency Trumpist rebuilding process that is strongly akin to Adolf Hitler’s post-putsch rebuilding of the Nazi Party. However, there was no advocacy of violence, no incitement to continued insurrection, no calls for any illegality that can be ascertained by this author. Ostensibly, Flynn was calling for a renewal of bedrock American values.

However, it needs to be remembered that Flynn, his professed allegiance to truth, justice and the American way notwithstanding, has quite a checkered record that belies his current conservative portrayal as a Trumpist martyr. After a military career in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant general, he was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after two years. (Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell stated: “I asked why Flynn got fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty every [sic] since.”). According to a Defense Department Inspector General report, before his 24-day stint as Trump’s National Security Advisor, Flynn allegedly received $530,000 in payments to serve as a foreign agent for Turkey without receiving Defense Department permission to do so, which may have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause. He received $45,000 from RT, the official Russian television channel, to legitimize the channel by attending a dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia and conversations with Russian officials, in particular Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, although he subsequently withdrew that plea. In the final days of the Trump administration, when Trump was trying to cancel the election results, he allegedly advocated overturning the election. The only reason he was free to speak in Southwest Florida was because he was pardoned by a president who was twice impeached.

For all that, Flynn, perhaps more than Donald Trump himself, realizes that meeting his ideological goals is a long game that will be built on grassroots organizing and local electoral engagement. He is taking the first steps in that direction.

In his interview with Brendon Leslie, Flynn made the observation that “There’s two sides to the truth. No, there’s actually three sides to the truth. There’s your truth. There’s my truth. And then there’s the truth itself.”

True enough. And in another insight, Flynn has written: “I was once told if we’re not careful, 2 percent of the passionate will control 98 percent of the indifferent 100 percent of the time.”

In Southwest Florida as much as anywhere else, that is absolutely true.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

UPDATED: Michael Flynn, QAnon-related show cancelled in Fort Myers, new location concealed

Michael Flynn, center, pledges “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan, in a July 4, 2020 video he posted that was reported by CNN. (Image: CNN)

March 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

The dinner and fundraising event featuring Michael Flynn, former national security advisor, and Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon-promoting traveling production, which was scheduled to come to Fort Myers, Fla., on March 11, has been cancelled in its originally scheduled location.

A new location will be revealed only to ticketholders 12 hours before the event, according to its organizer, The Florida Conservative blog.

Management at the Treehouse Rooftop Lounge, an entertainment venue in the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, where the event was to have taken place, confirmed its cancellation there.

Word of the cancellation was also spread yesterday by an officer of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

The fate of a “secret” Michael Flynn dinner in Naples scheduled for March 10 remains unclear. (For more on the Fort Myers event, Red Pill Roadshow and background on QAnon, see: “QAnon show, Michael Flynn, coming to Fort Myers.”)

Local television reporter Amelia Fabiano with NBC-2 News interviewed Red Pill Roadshow’s president, Brian Gamble, on Feb. 26, who denied that the production company promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“I’ve never really believed in the Q doctrine, but I believe that Americans should have a right to free speech,” Gamble told Fabiano. “To say we’re a Q event or anything like that – nothing could be further from the truth. We’re a free speech event.”

The new announcement was made the day before some QAnon cultists hold out hope that Trump will somehow take power on March 4, when inaugurations occurred prior to passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1937.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

QAnon show, Michael Flynn, coming to Fort Myers

Michael Flynn, center, pledges “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan, in a July 2020 video he posted that was reported by CNN. (Image: CNN)

Feb. 23, 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security adviser, and a QAnon-promoting traveling roadshow are coming to Fort Myers.

Two fundraising events with Flynn are scheduled for Thursday, March 11. One will be a dinner at the Roots Restaurant and Treehouse Rooftop Lounge on Bell Tower Drive in Fort Myers, according to the organizers.

The event marks the emergence of Flynn from a previously announced “secret location.” He was to have been the main speaker at a fundraising dinner in Naples on March 10.

However, when the original venue, Shula’s Steakhouse, canceled the booking, the dinner was moved to the “secret location,” according to its organizer, Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional candidate and conservative activist. That dinner was intended to benefit her Constitutional Warriors Political Action Committee.

In the past, McLaughlin had organized a Naples fundraiser that featured Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, who appeared unannounced at the event. McLaughlin also promised unnamed and unannounced guests at the Flynn dinner.

The new dinner is being presented by The Florida Conservative, a conservative blog, and Red Pill Roadshow. No names for specific individuals are provided by either organization’s website.

Red Pill Roadshow is a traveling production that promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory in a tent-revival atmosphere. It was born out of a 2019 Washington, DC rally called “The Great Awakening,” which in QAnon mythology is an apocalyptic battle between Donald Trump supporters and their enemies. (In American history “the Great Awakening” was a religious revival that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 40s.)

QAnon is a widely-repudiated online conspiracy theory holding that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring and controlling the country and its culture. The cabal was said to be plotting against Donald Trump who was secretly fighting them while in office. This battle was to culminate in “The Storm” or “The Great Awakening,” when Trump was going to round up members of the cabal in mass arrests. Q is supposedly a high-level intelligence officer who chronicled the battle.

Red Pill Roadshow was founded in 2019, according to its website, and is dedicated to “Bringing The Great Awakening to your town.” The “red pill” is a reference to the 1999 movie The Matrix, in which a red pill reveals the truth about a falsely constructed world.

The video on the Red Pill Roadshow website features a “Great Awakening” event in Washington, DC event held on Sept. 11, 2019.

“While putting the show together, we experienced how the fake media and big tech worked hand-in-hand in attempting to silence our opposing political views,” states the text on the website. “However, their efforts to censor us and to deny us our right to peacefully assemble and to free speech didn’t have the desired outcome the opposition had hoped for.

“So, now enter the Red Pill Roadshow, created specifically to bring The Great Awakening free-speech events to your town!” 

According to the website, Red Pill Roadshow has been banned from Twitter and Instagram.

In Florida, Red Pill Roadshow has held events in Jacksonville and Tampa. An extensive account of the August 2020 Jacksonville event appeared on the website DailyDot.com, an online news outlet, in an article, “On the floor for the Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon tent revival.”

According to that article, McLaughlin addressed the Jacksonville crowd, saying that “If Donald Trump isn’t re-elected in November, America will cease to exist.” The article quotes her saying  she was “thrown out of law school for being a conservative. ‘Now I’m Florida International University’s worst nightmare,’ she snarled, then suggested defunding colleges.”

The article also stated that: “A stack of fliers on a trashcan encouraged joining right-wing militias, including Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters.”

QAnon was specifically condemned by a resolution passed in the US House of Representatives in October 2020, which found that “the conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon undermine trust in America’s democratic institutions, encourage rejection of objective reality, and deepen our Nation’s political polarization.” The resolution passed by a vote of 371 to 18, with two of Southwest Florida’s representatives voting for it. (Then-Rep. Francis Rooney was absent.)

According to the announcement on the Florida Conservative blog, the Fort Myers event consists of two fundraisers, one for SW Florida Heroes Foundation, Inc., which benefits first responders.

The beneficiary of the second fundraiser is not revealed in the announcement.

In the past, McLaughlin has been an adamant opponent of  COVID-related masking. While the event announcement does not say if masks and social distancing will be required, the likelihood is that it will be unmasked.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Michael Flynn dinner moving to ‘secret location’ after being booted from Shula’s Steakhouse

Feb. 6, 2021 by David Silverberg

A conservative fundraising dinner in Naples, Florida featuring Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor pardoned by former president Donald Trump, is moving to a “secret location” after being booted from Shula’s Steakhouse in the Naples Hilton, according to its organizer.

Christy McLaughlin announces a ‘secret location’ for her PAC’s dinner event. (Image: Christy McLaughlin/Facebook)

The dinner, scheduled for March 10, was organized by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional candidate, Proud Boys supporter and conservative activist.

The dinner, promoted as a “constitutional gala,” was intended to raise money for McLaughlin’s Constitutional warriors Political Action Committee. McLaughlin announced creation of a group with that name at the time of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. The Flynn dinner marks its public debut as a political action committee.

McLaughlin insisted that despite the cancelation of its original venue, the event would go forward.

“The radical left—Antifa, BLM [Black Lives Matter], who knows? —has come after us in the form of cancel culture yet again,” McLaughlin said in a 90-second Facebook video posted on Thursday, Feb. 4. “They’ve even gone so far as to attack the venue of our event, the location of our event, personally going after the manager of Shula’s, the restaurant that we were going to hold the event at. The radical left can try to prevent this event from happening all they want but I want to tell you one thing and I want to be very, very clear: cancel culture will not cancel this event.”

Because Shula’s had declined to provide the venue, McLaughlin said “we are now going to reassess the location and keep it a total secret.” Existing ticketholders could discover the location by getting in touch with her, she said, but “we are going to have it at a secret location where the radical left will not be able to protest or interfere with our meeting event with Gen. Michael Flynn.”

Also scheduled to speak was Kimberly Klacik, Republican candidate for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, who was defeated in the 2020 general election.

The Jan. 25 announcement of the dinner mobilized progressive activists in Naples to protest Flynn’s presence and contact Shula’s management, which responded.

Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys chairman and FBI informant, addresses a gathering at the Naples Mercato on Dec. 3, 2020. (Image: Christy McLaughlin/Facebook)

On Dec. 3, 2020 McLaughlin organized a similar fundraising dinner for the Republican candidates in the Georgia Senate runoff elections at The Counter in the Mercato in Naples. Although John DiLemme, founder of the Conservative Business Journal, was the featured speaker, the group was addressed by Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, a Trumpist, conservative group advocating violence and white supremacy that played a prominent role in the Capitol insurrection. Pre-event publicity for the gathering never mentioned that Tarrio or the Proud Boys would be present.

The original announcement of the Dec. 3, 2020 event in Naples, which did not mention the presence or attendance of the Proud Boys and its chairman.

Although Flynn and Kacik were the featured speakers at the Shula’s event, McLaughlin stated that there would be “a few more special guests who might be attending as well. Any body want to guess who it is?”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg