How Republican Politics (And Twitter) Created Ali Alexander, The Man Behind 'Stop The Steal'




  • In Politics
  • 2021-03-07 15:09:08Z
  • By HuffPost
(Photo: Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Getty)
(Photo: Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Getty)  

High above Constitution Avenue, on a rooftop terrace, "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander gazed down at the U.S. Capitol and the chaos he'd helped unleash.

A mob of President Donald Trump's supporters had just stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing members of Congress to scramble for safety. White nationalists, QAnon cultists and Make America Great Again extremists roamed the halls hunting for politicians. Some carried zip-tie handcuffs. One wore a sweatshirt that read "Camp Auschwitz."

"I don't disavow this," Alexander said, pointing to the scene below.

The longtime Republican political operative had spent months working with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and far-right activists, such as Mike Cernovich, to organize nationwide protests aimed at invalidating Democrat Joe Biden's presidential win. Alexander knew plenty of influential Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led an effort in the Senate to dispute the election results. He had connections to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which was also involved in promoting the rally-turned-riot.

Alexander had plenty of friends in low places, too: far-right Twitter influencers and grifters; members of the violent neo-fascist Proud Boys gang who showed up at his protests; Nick Fuentes, a prominent far-right extremist who participated in 2017's deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fuentes said in 2019 that he could accurately be described as a white nationalist, being both "white" and a "nationalist," and just two days before the riot he seemingly encouraged his followers to kill legislators.

Unsurprisingly, several of Alexander's previous Stop the Steal events had inspired bloodshed. But none of them ― and nothing in American history ― compared to what happened Jan. 6.

The warning signs were ominous. Before the rally, white nationalists and militia members talked about smuggling guns into D.C. Pro-Trump internet forums crackled with homicidal chatter and plans to lay siege to the Capitol. And the Proud Boys were back in town. They'd turned out by the hundreds for Alexander's two other Stop the Steal events in Washington. Brawls and stabbings occurred after those demonstrations. The Proud Boys attacked residents. In December, they ripped a Black Lives Matter banner off a Black church and burned it in the street. Their leader, Enrique "Henry" Tarrio, was arrested on Jan. 4 with high-capacity firearms magazines as he entered the city.

At the rally, the president whipped up demonstrators with a speech on the White House Ellipse, where Alexander had a front-row seat. "We will not take it anymore," Trump said. "We will stop the steal." The demagogue then pointed his supporters toward the heart of American democracy.

The mob arrived at the Capitol just before 1 p.m. Insurrectionists smashed through barricades and police lines. Once inside, they looted and vandalized. They urinated and defecated on floors. One of them scrawled "Murder the media" on a set of doors. Many were far-right extremists, including a Proud Boy allegedly looking to kill then-Vice President Mike Pence. Men carrying a flag from Fuentes' "America First" group prowled through the building. Another Alexander associate, Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet, a veteran of the Charlottesville rally, livestreamed himself inside the Capitol and was later arrested.

But it was the fate of Ashli Babbitt, a military veteran and QAnon conspiracy theory devotee, that crystallized to what lengths some would go on behalf of Trump. On Twitter, Babbitt was in thrall to MAGA propagandists and Stop the Steal organizers such as Jack Posobiec - one of Alexander's close friends and a prolific spreader of disinformation, including the Pizzagate sex trafficking conspiracy theory that in 2016 resulted in a pro-Trump gunman storming a restaurant in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 5, Posobiec tweeted a photo of a plane loaded with Trump supporters traveling to Washington and described them, seemingly in jest, as "domestic terrorists." Babbitt retweeted the message. It was her penultimate act on a platform that helped radicalize her.

The next day, she stormed the Capitol and tried to force her way through a broken window into the House chamber. A Capitol Police officer shot her in the neck. Babbitt died.

Police would later find pipe bombs outside the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee offices. They'd find Molotov cocktails in a nearby truck. National security experts declared the attack domestic terrorism. Seven people died in the mayhem or by suicide in the immediate aftermath, including three Capitol Police officers.

"I do not denounce this," Alexander reiterated from his rooftop perch, impassively surveying the Capitol grounds in a video posted to Twitter by one of his associates and preserved by Kristen Doerer at Right Wing Watch.

On Twitter, Alexander had called violence a "natural right." He was a prominent influencer on the platform, with almost 200,000 followers. "I am a sincere advocate for violence and war, when justified," he tweeted in 2019. "I recognize no law above what is natural and good." A militant Christianity has permeated his extremism; he has spoken often about being an agent of God.

Insomuch as he was a zealot, however, he was also out to make a buck. His Jan. 6 protest, which he'd dubbed the Wild Protest after Trump promoted his "March to Save America" event on Twitter ― "Be there, will be wild!" the president tweeted ― had brought in almost $200,000 in donations in just over two weeks. On his Stop the Steal site, Alexander hawked $45 T-shirts, $40 baseball caps and $75 yard signs. A bumper sticker cost $17.76. On merchandise site Gumroad, he sold self-designed "New Crusades" T-shirts for $55. Alexander hadn't bothered to set up a business or a nonprofit, he admitted on his personal site, where he peddled a "persuasion" class for $198. Stop the Steal donations flowed initially into his personal accounts. In mid-November, his lawyer, Baron Coleman, who has also served as local counsel in Alabama for Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, registered a limited-liability company, or LLC. One of Alexander's partners set up a political action committee.

To radical Republicans, he was worth it. Alexander, 36, represented the possibility of a multiracial far-right coalition and put a diverse sheen on a movement founded on white supremacy. And he did it from within. A lifelong product of Republican politics and activism who'd radicalized in step with his party, Alexander embodied a turn toward outright fascism. His Stop the Steal movement was simply a Trumpified extension of decades of Republican efforts to invalidate Democratic votes, especially Black ones, with false accusations of "fraud."

The day before the riot, Alexander bounded onto a stage in Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to prepare protesters for "rebellion." "Victory or death!" he cried, leading Trump supporters in a chant. Proud Boys and militia members were in the crowd. Some carried knives and clubs. "These degenerates in the deep state are going to give us what we want or we are going to shut this country down!" Alexander shouted as a cold rain fell. "Our government should be afraid."

Petty Crime, Conservative Politics

Ali Alexander was once Ali Abdul-Razaq Akbar. Alexander, who was born in Texas, claims his father was an exchange student from a "prominent family" in the United Arab Emirates who abandoned him and his Black mother when Alexander was a toddler. He says his mother raised him by herself in Fort Worth, where he went to Fossil Ridge High School. Even then, he was a conservative political junkie who liked to talk about the big sponsors he'd land who would take him to the "hieghts of the Hill" one day, as he wrote in 2005.

"Very early as a child, I sought power. I sought power and influence," Alexander would later say.

After high school, however, he got into legal trouble. He briefly attended the University of North Texas but dropped out in 2006 and was arrested that year for stealing property. A month later, he was arrested again for debit card abuse. In 2007 and 2008, the charges resulted in felony convictions.

But the Republican Party took him in. Alexander recognized Twitter's potential for political activism early on, creating his account less than a year after the platform launched. "I was like the first [of] four political operatives that joined Twitter, and we made sure there was mass adoption on the Republican side," he later told Cernovich in a podcast. Alexander also had a knack for graphic design and web development. He started setting up right-wing blogs, including one that attacked then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as an elitist trying to "marginalize traditional Americans." On his personal blog, Alexander embraced a right-wing "birther" conspiracy that disputed Obama's birthplace and racial identity. He wrote that Obama was an "African man (he is not Black!)."

In 2008, Alexander was a "member of the Republican National Convention Floor Operations team" and a contributor to a blog called "Hip-Hop Republican." He had quickly reinvented himself as a Republican "operative."

By 2009, at the latest, he was attending the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, an important gathering of right-wing activists and elected officials, where he would become a fixture. That year, former New York State Assembly Republican Leader Jim Tedisco brought on Alexander to run his online campaign in a special congressional election. The "tea party" movement had also roared to life, fueled by the same vengeful nativism and conspiratorial thinking as Trump's Make America Great Again movement. Alexander worked on tea party news sites and helped tea party candidates boost their online presence.

Ali Alexander with Republican megadonor David Koch.
Ali Alexander with Republican megadonor David Koch.  

In 2010, a tide of dark money from the conservative billionaire Koch brothers swept numerous tea party candidates into Congress, locking the GOP into culture warfare and vaulting Alexander into a higher echelon of Republican politics. For a small-time hustler, it was like being called up to the majors. In Texas, his mother, Lydia Dews, who did not respond to a request for comment, registered a company - presumably a political consultancy - called Vice and Victory Agency. It received more than $40,000 from a tea party PAC that Politico later dubbed a "scam PAC." The PAC's designated agent, Dan Backer, went on to run several major Trump super PACs.

"The majority of my work and my money comes from electoral politics," Alexander later explained. "So super PACs, billionaires and millionaires approach me to make sure that their money is going to causes that they believe in."

Early in his career, Alexander appears to have come to the attention of Mike Roman, the head of Charles and David Koch's "competitive intelligence" team, a surveillance and intelligence-gathering unit that the Koch Industries brothers used to monitor and counteract liberal groups and activists. Roman, one of Alexander's first Twitter followers, took to occasionally boosting the young operative's account. Roman would go on to work for Trump, first in 2016 to oversee "election protection," and, later, in the White House, where his duties were shrouded in secrecy, according to Politico. (On Election Day in 2020, Roman tweeted viral disinformation about Democratic voter fraud and was among the first people to amplify a "Stop the Steal" hashtag tweeted early that morning by Posobiec.)

In 2011, Alexander found his way to the heart of the GOP's minority rule project when the Leadership Institute, a conservative grassroots training organization in Washington, invited Alexander, who was still on probation for debit card abuse, to give a presentation about online fundraising. The organization's notable alumni include former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and violent pro-Trump neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, who told HuffPost in 2016 that the Leadership Institute had trained "this entire next generation of white nationalists."

Alexander forged other connections with prominent conservatives through Blog Bash, an afterparty for bloggers that he helped organize at CPAC. It was sponsored at times by organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Facebook and the Koch's libertarian FreedomWorks organization. In 2012, Blog Bash honored James O'Keefe, a Robert Mercer-financed Republican operative who has been labeled a "dirty trickster," for a film he made that purported to show voter fraud in New Hampshire. (Republicans have used O'Keefe's "stings" to support restrictive voter ID laws in state legislatures across the country.) With right-wing publisher Andrew Breitbart in attendance, O'Keefe gave a three-word acceptance speech: "Fuck the media!" In 2013, Ted Cruz shared the Blog Bash stage with Alexander. The freshman tea party senator delivered a softer, long-winded version of O'Keefe's speech, but his anti-media sentiment was palpable and foreshadowed not only Trump's authoritarian assault on the press but also the online propaganda machine that activists like Breitbart were building for the GOP.

"You scare the hell out of Washington," Cruz told the right-wing bloggers. "Y'all are on the front lines, taking this country back."

Ali Alexander, Blog Bash co-organizer Melissa Clouthier and Ted Cruz at Blog Bash in 2013. (Photo: YouTube)
Ali Alexander, Blog Bash co-organizer Melissa Clouthier and Ted Cruz at Blog Bash in 2013. (Photo: YouTube)  

Money was rolling in for Alexander. When he and his partners used Blog Bash to launch the National Bloggers Club, a collective they claimed would "fund private reporting projects," Republican megadonor Foster Friess, a co-owner of the right-wing Daily Caller, put up seed money. The group didn't seem to do much beyond solicit donations for CJ Pearson, a 12-year-old Black conservative who'd become a darling of Fox News after denigrating Obama. Alexander somehow became Pearson's "manager." (Pearson, now 18, was one of Alexander's Stop the Steal accomplices and was slated to be a speaker at the Wild Protest.)

By 2014, Alexander had landed a gig as communications director for the Republican Leadership Conference - a smaller, Southern version of CPAC that is now called the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The event was in New Orleans that year. Cruz was headlining. But another speaker captured Alexander's attention: Donald Trump. The crooked Manhattan oligarch's popularity had soared among conservative voters after his racist "birther" attacks on Obama.

In New Orleans, Alexander and the future president met for the first time. Alexander at first claimed they hung out for 45 minutes ― later, he upped it to four hours ― and that his resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. left an impression on Trump. Alexander has often used the meeting to impress followers and potential donors, circulating a photo of himself with Trump from that day.

Donald Trump with Ali Alexander at a GOP gathering.
Donald Trump with Ali Alexander at a GOP gathering.  

But a senior conference official said the encounter happened in a busy holding room for VIPs where several others also interacted with Trump. "I wouldn't doubt that the president called him Sammy Davis Jr., but nobody cleared the room for him to visit," the conference official said.

Dirty Tricks Down South

A few months after his Trump encounter, Alexander resurfaced in Baton Rouge as a senior adviser to the Black Conservatives Fund, which received more than $150,000 that year from Mercer. As detailed by progressive journalist Lamar White Jr., the mysterious PAC had begun meddling in Louisiana politics in 2014. The group's stated aim was to support Black Republican candidates, but it devoted considerable energy to tactics that could disenfranchise Black voters, including making baseless allegations of voter fraud.

Anita MonCrief, a driving force behind the Black Conservatives Fund, was a veteran of one of the GOP's most notorious "voter fraud" disinformation campaigns: the fake ACORN scandal of 2008, when prominent media figures, including Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs, made the community organization for lower-income families the centerpiece of a massive propaganda attack on Obama.

The campaign was supercharged by O'Keefe and Breitbart, who released "severely edited" undercover videos that created the appearance that a handful of ACORN employees were willing to aid seemingly criminal activity. Breitbart's legion of bloggers amplified the "sting" online. Even though multiple investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing at ACORN, more than 50% of Republicans came to believe the group had stolen the election for Obama.

MonCrief, who had been fired by ACORN for using a business credit card for personal expenses, tried to feed the press smears about the group's ties to Obama. The barrage crescendoed at the final presidential debate, when Republican candidate McCain falsely accused Obama of "maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

The ACORN campaign marked the GOP's open embrace of white grievance politics and a venomous brand of dirty tricks tailored for a post-truth digital age. It also brought MonCrief, who did not respond to a request for comment sent to her personal email, together with O'Keefe, whose voter fraud disinformation she has promoted on Twitter. And she'd soon join forces with Alexander. In 2012, she attended his Blog Bash with O'Keefe. In Louisiana two years later, they all zeroed in on Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a three-term incumbent entering a runoff with a strong Republican challenger in Bill Cassidy.

Sen.
Sen.  

O'Keefe had gone after Landrieu before, in 2010, when he illegally entered her office in what appeared to be an attempt to tamper with her phone system. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses. In late 2014, O'Keefe returned to Louisiana. He was, he said, "working on a big story." He wasn't alone. Gavin McInnes, who two years later would found the Proud Boys, was also there, doing "undercover work" for O'Keefe. McInnes claimed to have infiltrated Landrieu campaign headquarters.

The Black Conservatives Fund soon released an undercover "sting" video that the group claimed showed the father of Landrieu's chief of staff, a Black mayor of a small city in Louisiana, encouraging voter fraud. The speaker, who did not appear on camera, was making an obvious joke at a Landrieu event about voting twice, a harmless crack on the campaign trail. But Alexander and the Black Conservatives Fund spun it into a voter fraud conspiracy focused on the mayor. Alexander, who went by Ali Akbar at the time, and the Black Conservatives Fund emailed a press release to local journalists and political bloggers, accusing the mayor of undermining the "integrity of our voting process."

"Immediately after" the release went out, according to a local political blogger, the Republican Party of Louisiana emailed its own statement condemning the mayor, an original copy of which HuffPost obtained. The party and Alexander appeared to be coordinating.

"The Democrat machine has once again been exposed for its efforts to mislead, cheat and steal when it comes to elections," wrote Jeff Landry, who at the time was the head of the Republican Party of Louisiana's "Voter Integrity Program."

Landry, a former tea party congressman running for state attorney general, was a notable participant in the effort to smear Landrieu and a fitting person to apply the GOP's imprimatur to voter fraud disinformation. The climate change denialist was financed by the fossil fuel industry and the Koch brothers.

Roger Villere, the chairman of Republican Party of Louisiana at the time, issued a similar condemnation a few hours later. Alexander, who had also targeted Black voters with a misleading robocall about Landrieu, posted a picture on Facebook around this time of himself with Villere in the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge. Villere and the Republican Party of Louisiana did not return requests for comment.

Three days after the sting, Alexander posted another picture ― a celebratory one on Instagram of himself with O'Keefe in Baton Rouge's Crowne Plaza Hotel, where Cassidy would soon have his election night party after beating Landrieu.

"Provocateurs at large," Alexander wrote.

James O
James O'Keefe with Ali Alexander in Baton Rouge.  

In 2015, Landry won his race for Louisiana attorney general, and Alexander found work as the digital director for Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne's gubernatorial campaign. Dardenne lost his primary, but that hardly slowed Alexander's ascent. With his network, experience and aptitude for dirty tricks, he was well-positioned for the calamitous next phase of Republican politics.

Twitter-Enabled Authoritarianism

In 2016, Trump ushered the GOP into a new era of social media-fueled extremism. Alexander, who had already started to shed his Muslim last name, adapted quickly. He joined a ring of propagandists and white nationalists orbiting Steve Bannon, chief executive of Trump's campaign. The Mercer-funded Milo Yiannopoulos became a friend. So did Breitbart writer Mike Mahoney, the founder of an eco-fascist organization now deemed a potential domestic terrorism threat. At some point, Alexander also fell in with Marcus Epstein, an ethno-nationalist reactionary with a violent past who collaborates closely with prominent white nationalists and has high-level Republican contacts, and Jeff Giesea, an understudy to billionaire Peter Thiel who has funded white nationalists in the past.

But his closest colleague at the time was Lucian Wintrich, who would soon become the White House correspondent for The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump disinformation outlet that has pushed voter fraud lies, promoted Stop the Steal and published propaganda from the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia group whose members were involved in the storming of the Capitol. (In January, an Oath Keeper and two people associated with the militia were charged with criminal conspiracy for participating in the attack.)

With Wintrich, Alexander launched a dead-end media startup and staged a pro-Trump anti-immigrant art show in New York where the British Yiannopoulos gave a speech about "American values" and bathed in a tub of pig's blood. McInnes arrived in his gang's black-and-yellow uniform and recruited attendees into his organization.

In 2017, Wintrich and Alexander again caught the eye of extremism researchers when they hosted a podcast with Matt Colligan, who had marched with a tiki torch at the Charlottesville rally. During the podcast, Alexander jokingly threw up a "sieg heil." Colligan hoisted a Nazi flag behind him on screen, which prompted laughter from Alexander. When a woman who claimed to be Jewish called into the podcast to complain, Alexander mocked her.

Lucian Wintrich and Ali Alexander host alt-right member Matt Colligan on Wintrich
Lucian Wintrich and Ali Alexander host alt-right member Matt Colligan on Wintrich's podcast.  

A month later, Alexander and Cernovich attended the wedding of neo-Nazi collaborator Posobiec, a protégé of convicted felon and Trump consigliere Roger Stone. As HuffPost first reported in December, Posobiec was also a confidant of Donald Trump Jr. Amplified heavily on Twitter by an infamous Kremlin-directed account, Posobiec has repeatedly promoted a book by Russian neo-fascist Aleksandr Dugin that lays out a plan to topple American democracy through racial tension and disinformation. In October, HuffPost emailed, called and texted Posobiec to ask about his promotion of Dugin's book and whether he had ever "taken any money from Russia, any foreign government or a cut-out." Posobiec did not respond.

In the summer of 2017, Alexander teamed up with the far-right propagandist to speak at a "Rally for Peace" in front of the White House that kicked off with a Trump supporter shouting, "It's time to put George Soros in the gas chamber!" The rally, which also featured Wintrich and Cernovich, attracted a contingent of Proud Boys, one of whom gave a spit-flying speech about the media that had an audience member screaming about "communist scum!" Handling security were the 211 Bootboys, an ultranationalist skinhead crew that has engaged in gang assaults, sometimes with the Proud Boys. Stone called in over Posobiec's phone to address the crowd.

By the end of that year, Alexander and Stone were hanging out together. The two posed for a photo at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where Alexander turned up for a quarterly meeting of the Young Republican National Federation, acting as the chairman of the organization's Louisiana chapter. A few days later, as part of a secret retreat with top donors, the Republican Attorneys General Association booked Mar-a-Lago's Teahouse dining room for an event that Louisiana's Jeff Landry reportedly attended.

Ali Alexander and Roger Stone meet at Donald Trump
Ali Alexander and Roger Stone meet at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.  

Alexander's social media star was on the rise. In 2018, Kanye West promoted him on Twitter, where Alexander had taken to singling out Jewish members of the media in a way that he insisted couldn't be anti-Semitic, given his own claims of Semitic heritage. He also tweeted what appeared to be a lynching threat at former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic. Like Trump, Alexander abused Twitter blatantly. But Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey nevertheless sought out the views of the extremist influencer.

In February 2018, Alexander revealed on Instagram that he and Dorsey had been "talking for the past several months" about how people with "different beliefs" could coexist on Twitter. Alexander meant conservatives. Specifically, he meant far-right influencers like himself and Stone, who'd been booted from Twitter in 2017 for abusive and menacing tweets about CNN news anchors and contributors. Bad actors on the political right often use false claims of "conservative censorship" to pressure social media companies to take a hands-off approach to disinformation and extremism, and Alexander indicated that he brought up Stone's suspension with Dorsey. In a Breitbart interview, Alexander claimed that he and Dorsey discussed problems "disproportionately affecting conservatives" on the platform and that the Twitter CEO "stressed that mistakes had been made and Twitter needs to serve everyone going forward." In August 2018, Dorsey quietly sought Alexander's advice about whether to ban bigoted far-right conspiracist Alex Jones from the site.

"I was introduced to him by a friend, and you know, he's got interesting points," Dorsey would later say of Alexander. "I don't obviously agree with most. But I think the perspective is interesting."

It's unclear how Alexander met Dorsey, and Twitter declined to answer any of HuffPost's questions. A year before his photo with Dorsey, however, Alexander claimed in a private meeting with White Jr., the journalist from Louisiana, that he knew influential higher-ups at the social media company. "He told me he had friends in Twitter corporate," White told HuffPost. "He didn't give me any specific names."

Jack Dorsey and Ali Alexander (Photo: Instagram/Ali Alexander)
Jack Dorsey and Ali Alexander (Photo: Instagram/Ali Alexander)  

Alexander's next piece of subversion drew on Stone for inspiration. In 2016, Stone, who would carve out a role for himself that year as a backchannel for WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter account that American intelligence investigators and cybersecurity experts had already accurately assessed was run by Russian military intelligence, had created a "Stop the Steal" slogan, fundraising website and 527 advocacy group. The apparent objective: erode voter trust in a Republican primary in which Trump looked like a long shot. Later, in a general election Trump also seemed fated to lose, Stop the Steal played up fabricated claims of a rigged election and morphed into a project to send Republicans to "monitor" polling places in communities that Democratic leaders in battleground states who sued over "voter intimidation" tactics pointed out had large populations of marginalized group.

But Stone's effort paled in comparison to what Alexander would eventually pull off. First, though, the young Republican had to field test the idea for himself. In 2018, at Posobiec's urging, according to Alexander, he decided to marry the Stop the Steal slogan to his own on-the-ground activism.

Alexander saw an opportunity in Florida, where a tight U.S. Senate race between Democrat incumbent Bill Nelson and the state's Republican governor, Rick Scott, had gone to a mandatory recount after absentee and provisional ballots narrowed Scott's lead. Republicans were apoplectic. Scott talked about "unethical liberals" trying to "steal this election." Trump alleged "election fraud." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) circulated a conspiracy theory about unmarked vehicles moving fake ballots in the dead of night.

Alexander took to the street. He gathered angry Trump supporters outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections to protest the recount. The Proud Boys turned out. So did Stone, who'd participated in and claimed to have orchestrated a similar spectacle in 2000 ― the "Brooks Brothers riot," during which a mob of white Republican operatives tried to force their way into Miami-Dade County polling headquarters and put a halt to the recount in that year's presidential election.

Alexander's far-right network also showed up. Pearson, the young conservative activist from Alexander's past, tweeted to promote the protest and commended Posobiec, Proud Boys influencer Joe Biggs, and Republican operative Scott Presler, formerly the lead activism strategist for anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America, for "descending onto Florida." With his logistical know-how, Presler was an important ally for Alexander. A year earlier, Presler - who, according to his Facebook, later became a regional field director for the Republican Party of Virginia - had organized a nationwide "March Against Sharia" that attracted neo-Nazis, other racist extremists and anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and Proud Boys.

Alexander's Broward County Stop the Steal event also proved irresistible to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who appeared outside the election center to cause a ruckus and spread disinformation on Twitter about "fraudulent ballots." Even the Republican National Committee got involved, tweeting, "We cannot let lawyers and special interests from Washington steal this election." When Scott emerged victorious, Alexander took credit.

In early 2019, Alexander launched a MAGA influencer site, Culttture, with Trump's favorite meme-smith, Logan "Carpe Donktum" Cook, who has glorified violence against the media. Alexander said the idea came to him after LSD "rewired" his brain. The site made an initial splash by sending Alexander, Islamophobic Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer and far-right subversive Jacob Wohl, who was arrested last October for running a robocall scheme targeting Black voters with false election information, to Minneapolis to generate fodder for an Alexander-directed propaganda reel about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). In Periscope videos, they falsely depicted parts of the city as being under sharia law and claimed to need a "massive" security team in order to travel safely. The best way to support them, Alexander told followers, was through "money, money, money, money, money and then prayer."

Alexander caused another stir that year during a birther smear campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris. "She's not an American Black. Period," he tweeted, echoing his description of Obama a decade earlier. The racist message got a boost on Twitter from Trump Jr., who later deleted his retweet.

A month later, Alexander scored an invite to the White House for Trump's "social media summit." The gathering of digital extremists was a murderers' row of pro-Trump trolls and propagandists. Alexander had finally arrived.

Ali Alexander at the White House for Trump
Ali Alexander at the White House for Trump's social media summit in 2019.  

Alexander was also building his own coalition. In October, he traveled to the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort for the American Priority Conference, which brought together figures ranging from GOP heavyweights like Trump Jr. and Gaetz to the usual crew of henchmen: Posobiec, O'Keefe, Cook, Presler and others. In the Trump resort, Alexander gathered some of his fellow travelers for a photo-op.

These were Trump's digital soldiers. But next to Alexander in his trademark sunglasses was a real one: Tarrio. A bullet-headed felon who'd attended the Unite the Right rally, the Cuban-American Tarrio was a street fighter who'd gone on to succeed McInnes as national chairman of the Proud Boys. Under Tarrio's command, the neo-fascist gang has acted as a personal security force for Stone. The Proud Boys were seemingly at Alexander's disposal as well. And the Republican operative had big plans.

"Goebbels and Lenin, smart men, evil men," Alexander said that year. "But they have nothing on me in terms of social engineering."

Ali Alexander with Scott Presler, Enrique Tarrio, Mike Cernovich, Logan Cook and several Stop the Steal accomplices at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort for the American Priority Conference in 2019.
Ali Alexander with Scott Presler, Enrique Tarrio, Mike Cernovich, Logan Cook and several Stop the Steal accomplices at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort for the American Priority Conference in 2019.  

Stop The Steal 2020

On Sept. 7, 2020, Alexander and Posobiec primed their social media followers for a new Stop the Steal campaign. In a Periscope broadcast, Alexander declared his intention to build the digital "infrastructure" for the anti-democratic movement and talked about sending Trump supporters to election centers in case a "physical presence is needed," according to Right Wing Watch. That same afternoon, Posobiec, who has over 1 million followers on Twitter, posted that "#StopTheSteal 2020 is coming" in a since-deleted tweet uncovered in an investigation by the Atlantic Council's DFRLab.

As soon as it became clear on Nov. 4 that Trump would likely lose the election, Alexander swung into action on social media, claiming that his young political mentees had convinced him: "They said, 'Ali, if you could change the world ― or save the world ― and you had that opportunity to do it, why wouldn't you?' And I felt this rush of conviction, you know, because I'm a Christian."

The daughter of Amy Kremer, a tea party organizer, launched a Stop the Steal Facebook page. Posobiec and other far-right friends of Alexander promoted it. The page quickly gained over 360,000 members, some of whom talked about murdering Democrats and starting a civil war. Within days, Facebook had shut it down.

Twitter, however, permitted Alexander's extremism, which he didn't camouflage. He called the platform his "public diary" and his "call to action." On Nov. 9, he tweeted, "Republicans choose who wins the Electoral College. We don't have to lie down." Alexander urged GOP state legislatures to "only send Republican Electors to the College," seemingly advocating that they defy the popular vote and overturn the most secure election in American history. Mocking Alexander with the Proud Boys slogan, another Twitter user pointed out that, "Such a fascist coup would provoke a civil war. Why don't you fuck around and find out?" Alexander retweeted the ominous prediction with his own message: "Thanks for the invite, bitch."

Several other Twitter users, presumably followers of Alexander, replied to the message with what appeared to be endorsements of insurrection and civil war. One promoted a logo of Anticom, a far-right group whose members espouse fascism and guerrilla warfare against the political left and have shared detailed bomb-making instructions online.

For the next two months, Dorsey and Twitter executives did next to nothing to prevent Alexander from growing his movement on their platform, aside from temporarily blocking the link to his Stop the Steal website. But that didn't last long, according to Alexander.

"I used my relationships with Twitter to get that reversed," he told the Epoch Times, a far-right conspiracy and propaganda outlet that promoted Stop the Steal and false claims of voter fraud. (Twitter declined to respond.)

Stop the Steal was scary from the start. The first rally took place on Nov. 4 in Phoenix outside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office. Alexander organized t

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