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Sat. Rally Head Looks to Rewrite Jan 6 09/17 06:22

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The architect of a Washington protest planned for 
Saturday that aims to rewrite history about the violent January assault on the 
U.S. Capitol is hardly a household name.

   Matt Braynard worked as an analyst for the Republican Party, crunched data 
for a small election firm and later started a consulting business that 
attracted few federal clients, records show. He started a nonprofit after he 
was dismissed by Donald Trump's 2016 campaign following several months on the 
job, but struggled to raise money. The group's tax-exempt status was revoked 
last year.

   But Braynard's fortunes changed abruptly after Trump's 2020 election loss. 
He joined an aggrieved group of Trump allies seeking to overturn the election 
-- and in the process reaped recognition, lucrative fees and a fundraising 
windfall that enabled him to rekindle his nonprofit.

   Now, Braynard and his group, Look Ahead America, are using his newfound 
platform and resources to present an alternate history of the Jan. 6 attack 
that was meant to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's victory, rebranding 
those who were charged as "political prisoners."

   Although many members of Congress, including those who are allied with 
Braynard's cause, have been mum on whether they will attend Saturday's protest, 
the event has put law enforcement on edge, led to stepped-up security measures 
and created worries that members of the same extremist groups that were present 
on Jan 6. could also be in attendance.

   How much of a draw his "Justice for J6" rally ends up being will test the 
reach and potency of the emerging far-right movement, as well as the extent of 
Braynard's own reach.

   Braynard, who is in his 40s, did not respond to a request for comment for 
this story. The Associated Press earlier declined to accept his condition that 
an interview of him be broadcast live.

   But a review of court records, campaign finance disclosures and social media 
postings, as well as Braynard's past interviews with journalists that he has 
posted online, document his efforts to build his influence over the past year, 
culminating in Saturday's event.

   "At no point will I cancel this rally," Braynard told WTOP radio in 
Washington. "This is happening even if I'm there by myself with a megaphone."

   The seeds of the rally were planted the day after the 2020 election as Trump 
made false claims of widespread voter fraud, which were later rejected by 
numerous courts, election officials and his own attorney general at the time, 
William Barr.

   Braynard suggested on Twitter that there could have been fraud in the 
election, while promoting an online fundraiser he created to defray the cost of 
analyzing voting data in states where the Trump campaign insisted it was 
winning.

   He told BuzzFeed News in a summer interview that he brought some early 
findings to the attention of the Trump campaign. The campaign, which had 
declined to rehire him earlier in the 2020 campaign as a low-level field 
staffer, initially agreed to hear him out. But after he arrived at campaign 
headquarters, campaign officials changed their minds, he said.

   "I stood on the sidewalk for an hour while they fought inside about whether 
or not to let me in," he said. "Ultimately, I was told I would not be let in 
and I went home."

   His online fundraising, however, took off. After the crowdfunding site 
GoFundMe.com took down an early effort, citing misleading information, Braynard 
migrated to an conservative friendly site and quickly took in over $675,000.

   A subsequent report he wrote on his findings -- which one expert excoriated 
as "riddled with errors" and violating "basic standards for scientific 
evidence" -- was embraced by Trump's allies and served as an evidentiary 
cornerstone in numerous court cases that were later dismissed.

   His participation also earned him at least $230,000 in consulting fees, 
court records show.

   Since then, Braynard has used the influx of resources to revive Look Ahead 
America and reapply for tax-exempt status, which has yet to be approved, 
according to an IRS database. The group now lists 11 staffers on its website.

   The Jan. 6 attack quickly became an organizing principle for Braynard's 
efforts.

   His first post after creating an account on the conservative-friendly social 
media site Telegram came days after the attack and featured a picture of the 
1933 fire at Germany's parliament building, the Reichstag, which the Nazi party 
used as a pretext to seize power. Braynard's caption: "The real coup is being 
conducted by Silicon Valley right now," a reference to a widespread complaint 
by conservatives that they are being silenced on social media.

   Since then, he's shared a link to a fundraiser for Ethan Nordean, a member 
of the Proud Boys extremist group, who was charged in the attack. "If you don't 
share this post I don't ever want to hear y'all say you're fighting back 
against this oppressive government," he wrote.

   Look Ahead America also tweeted from its account last February that the 
group would be present at the America First Political Action Conference in 
Orlando, which was a one-day event hosted by Nick Fuentes, a far-right internet 
personality who has promoted white supremacist beliefs.

   But Braynard has also sought to make inroads with more mainstream 
conservatives.

   Look Ahead America was a sponsor at this year's Conservative Political 
Action Conference, a gathering that typically draws Republican presidential 
contenders. The group garnered considerable attention for a large golden statue 
of a "surfer" Trump, complete with red, white and blue shorts, that was part of 
their booth.

   But they have also done things to irk organizers of the conference.

   After Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has repeatedly trafficked in 
conspiracy theories and endorsed violence against Democrats, wasn't recognized 
at the event, Look Ahead America claimed credit for "uncancelling" her by 
giving her a speaking slot at one of their side events.

   At a subsequent CPAC event in Texas in July, Look Ahead America billed a 
speech at a side event by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as an "official" CPAC event. 
Gaetz is a pro-Trump provocateur under federal investigation for sex 
trafficking allegations; he has denied wrongdoing.

   After CPAC organizers released a statement saying Look Ahead America's Gaetz 
event wasn't part of the official programming, Braynard tweeted that was a 
"100% Lie" because "the room/event was part of our sponsor package."

   He has once again thrust himself into the spotlight, this time with 
Saturday's rally, and has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of violence 
there.

   Trump has not endorsed the rally but did release a statement Thursday 
claiming people charged in the Jan. 6 attack are "being persecuted so unfairly."

   Still, Republicans in Congress appear to be keeping their distance.

   So far, the only guest speakers Braynard has announced are clients of his 
who are running against sitting GOP members of Congress who voted to impeach 
Trump. And the permit granted for the rally allows it to be no larger than 700 
people, according to a person who was briefed on the matter but spoke on 
condition of anonymity to discuss confidential details.

   "I don't know what it is," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said when asked about the 
event.

   Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who along with Cruz led the Jan. 6 objections to 
Biden's certification, also dismissed the idea.

   "I'm not going," Hawley said. "I'm not following it at all."

   Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has voiced sympathy for those 
charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. But Johnson, who said he would 
not be attending Saturday's event, offered some advice to those who are.

   "Don't break any laws whatsoever."

 
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