Conspiracy theorists, led by former Trump aide Flynn, to descend on Las Vegas

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Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

In this May 14, 2020, photo, a person carries a sign supporting QAnon at a protest rally in Olympia, Wash., against Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington state stay-at-home orders made in efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. QAnon is a wide-ranging conspiracy fiction spread largely through the internet, centered on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. It is based on cryptic postings by the anonymous “Q,” purportedly a government insider.

Tue, Aug 24, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Las Vegas could be at risk of being used as a platform for spreading misinformation by far-right extremists who have openly called for the insurrection and participated in the failed coup in Washington.

A group linked to QAnon — a purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories labeled by the FBI as a potential source of domestic violence — will meet for three days this fall at a Las Vegas Strip convention center.

Followers of QAnon could seek to harm perceived members of what they refer to as “the cabal,” which includes Democratic politicians and celebrities they believe are engaged in nefarious activities, according to an FBI report.

Today’s political and cultural environment could “act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the report said.

The Las Vegas event, dubbed the For God & Country Patriot Double Down, is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 at the Caesars Forum convention center behind the Linq. It will feature retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, along with a host of QAnon sympathizers and far-right figureheads, according to the event’s webpage.

Other scheduled speakers include Jim and Ron Watkins, the father-son duo behind a website that for years featured postings from Q, an anonymous figure linked to a range of bizarre conspiracy theories, many of which involve former President Donald Trump. Some QAnon observers believe the Watkinses post as Q themselves.

The event appears to be both a for-profit effort to enrich people promulgating conspiracies as well as a recruiting effort.

Attendees also include some current and former conservative lawmakers, such as Sonny Borrelli, a Republican Arizona state senator from Lake Havasu City.

Former Republican Nevada Assemblyman Jim Marchant, who is running to be the GOP nominee in 2022 for secretary of state, is also listed as a “special guest.”

Marchant “wasn’t aware of all the other speakers or attendees but is keeping his commitment to speak, as he speaks in front of as many Nevadans as possible,” spokesman Rory McShane said, adding Marchant was not being paid to speak.

Kristen Doerer, managing editor of Right Wing Watch, said the lineup for the conference represented a “who’s who of the far-right movement, particularly the QAnon movement.”

The inclusion of elected officials, however, offers the conference a tinge of legitimacy some QAnon-related gatherings don’t have, Doerer said.

“This lineup kind of shows how QAnon has infiltrated the Republican Party,” she said. “What you can expect at this event is a lot of talk about the false claims that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and a lot of anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiment.”

The event will be presented by a group called the Patriot Voice, according to its website. An event with a similar name was put on by Patriot Voice over Memorial Day weekend in Texas.

At that event, Flynn, a former Trump adviser, made headlines when he said there was “no reason” why the United States should not have a coup to overthrow the federal government.

It’s that kind of incendiary rhetoric that has critics worried about what will happen in Las Vegas.

“Part of the danger here is the potential to spread disinformation on various levels,” said Rachel Goldwasser, a research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in the United States. “QAnon is kind of a choose-your-own-adventure conspiracy theory. There’s a level of paranoia there that is based largely on the belief that there is a ‘deep state’ operating in the shadows of our government. What does happen at these types of events is that people become radicalized.”

As with the Texas event, Patriot Voice is bringing in a “security team” from 1st Amendment Praetorian, a group created to deal with would-be protesters at conservative rallies and events.

On its website, 1st Amendment Praetorian says its volunteers work to “ensure the American people are protected to say and defend what they believe in.”

1st Amendment Praetorian, with members dressed in black shirts imprinted with the group’s Roman-helmet logo, were first spotted in May at a QAnon convention in Dallas. They booted a few members of the media from the event, including someone from the Daily Beast, who described them as a ”tough-talking new volunteer group devoted to running security at MAGA events, assembling ‘intelligence’ dossiers on perceived Trumpist foes, and foiling threats from ‘antifa’ protesters, real or imagined.”

And not just anyone can join.

1st Amendment Praetorian has an application on its website to screen volunteers, asking whether potential members have served in the military or law enforcement and whether they hold any security clearances. The group also wants to know if applicants have any “special training or skills.”

The application states, “You have found us because you know, as do we all, there are enemies, both foreign and domestic, who are determined to destroy it. As you can guess, they have already tried, and continue to try, to infiltrate this organization. For this reason, we are vetting every patriot who wants to join our cause.”

Followers of QAnon have been accused and convicted of kidnappings and killings and have shown an obsession for conspiracies about powerful people and pedophilia, voter fraud and false-flag operations. A December poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos revealed that about 17% of Americans believed parts of the bizarre set of theories are true.

In 2018, a Henderson man who said he was on a QAnon mission blocked traffic at the Hoover Dam while demanding the FBI release a report into the investigation of the Hillary Clinton email server case. Matthew Phillip Wright was subsequently arrested and sentenced to seven years on a terrorism charge.

More recently, a number of people affiliated with the QAnon movement were implicated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Among them were Jake Angeli, the so-called QAnon shaman, and Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by police inside the Capitol.

It is unknown how many people will attend the October gathering in Las Vegas. The cheapest pass for the conference is advertised at $650, with a “high roller VIP all weekend pass” listed at $3,000.

The Patriot Double Down website lists the Flamingo, Linq and Harrah’s as “host hotels.” It also advertises a “patriot pool party” at the Flamingo the night of Oct. 24.

Caesars, which did not answer questions about how or if it vets the groups it welcomes, said “events that take place in our facilities are not indicative of the company’s views, nor are they an endorsement of any group or organization.”

Robert Futrell, a UNLV sociology professor who studies political extremism, said businesses often steered clear of getting involved in political controversies, but he questioned if that was the right move in this case.

“I would hope that the Caesars board and its event bookers would consider what types of events they’re booking,” Futrell said. “In this instance, it’s a group that … is behind a lot of fabrications. I think there are ethical concerns there. They could make the decision to simply not write the contract for this event.”

Laura Martin, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said she was worried about the safety of Strip workers. She cited the potential for violence, as well as compliance with coronavirus mask mandates.

“It’s shameful that we have to host people like this,” Martin said. “I’d like to know what the process is that Caesars uses to book their conventions. I know I’ll be staying away from the Strip that weekend.”

Metro Police have not yet determined if any kind of stepped up presence surrounding the event will be warranted, a spokesman said.

The FBI office in Las Vegas said it could not open an investigation “based on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

“We don’t investigate ideologies or conspiracy theories,” the statement said. “The FBI always encourages members of the public to be vigilant and report anything they consider suspicious to law enforcement.”

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