WASHINGTON (AP) – The architect of a protest in Washington planned for Saturday that aims to rewrite history about the violent January assault in the United States Capitol is not a household name.
Matt Braynard worked as an analyst for the Republican Party, collected data for a small election company, and then started a consulting business that attracted few federal clients, records show. He started a nonprofit after he was fired by the Donald Trump campaign in 2016 after several months on the job, but struggled to raise money. The group’s tax-exempt status was revoked last year.
But Braynard’s fortunes abruptly changed after Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election. He joined an aggrieved group of Trump allies seeking to reverse the election, and in the process reaped recognition, lucrative fees, and a windfall on the fundraiser that allowed him to rekindle his nonprofit organization.
Now, Braynard and his group, Look Ahead America, are using their new platform and resources to present an alternative history of the January 6 attack that was meant to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory, renaming the defendants “political prisoners.”
Although many members of Congress, including those who are allied with Braynard’s cause, have not said whether they will attend Saturday’s protest, the event has pushed police to the limit. led to reinforced security measures and it raised concerns that members of the same extremist groups that were present on January 6 may also be present.
How engaging his “Justice for J6” rally ends up being will test the scope and power of the emerging far-right movement, as well as the extent of Braynard’s own outreach.
Braynard, who is 40, did not respond to a request for comment for this story. The Associated Press previously refused to agree to his condition that an interview of him be broadcast live.
But a review of court records, campaign finance disclosures and social media posts, as well as Braynard’s past interviews with journalists he has posted online, document his efforts to build his influence over the past year, which culminated in the event on Saturday.
“At no time will I cancel this rally,” Braynard told WTOP radio in Washington. “This is happening even if I am there alone with a megaphone.”
The seeds of the rally were planted the day after the 2020 election when 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 may have been election fraud, 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 initial findings to the attention of the Trump campaign. The campaign, which had refused to rehire him early in the 2020 campaign as a low-level field staff member, initially agreed to listen to him. But after his arrival at the campaign headquarters, campaign officials changed their minds, he said.
“I stood on the sidewalk for an hour while they fought inside about whether they would let me in or not,” he said. “In the end, they told me they wouldn’t let me in and I went home.”
However, his online fundraising took off.After crowdfunding site GoFundMe.com scrapped an initial effort, citing misleading information, Braynard migrated to a conservative friendly site and quickly made more than $ 675,000.
A later report he wrote on his findings, which one expert called “riddled with errors” and violated “basic standards for scientific evidence,” was accepted by Trump allies and served as an evidentiary cornerstone in numerous court cases that later were dismissed.
His involvement also earned him at least $ 230,000 in consulting fees, court records show.
Braynard has since 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 includes 11 employees on its website.
The January 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 in the German parliament building, the Reichstag, which the Nazi party used as a pretext. to take power. Braynard’s caption: “The real blow is being carried out by Silicon Valley right now,” a reference to a widespread complaint from conservatives that they are being silenced on social media.
Since then, he has shared a link to a fundraiser for Ethan Nordean, a member of the extremist group Proud Boys, who was charged with the attack. “If you don’t share this post, I don’t want to hear you say you are fighting 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 the beliefs. white supremacists. .
But Braynard has also tried to make his way with the more mainstream conservatives.
Look Ahead America was this year’s sponsor Conservative Political Action Conference, a meeting that generally draws Republican presidential contenders. The group attracted considerable attention for a large gold statue of a “surfer” Trump, wearing red, white and blue shorts, that was part of their booth.
But they have also done things to irritate the conference organizers.
After Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has repeatedly trafficked in conspiracy theories and endorsed violence against Democrats, was not recognized at the event, Look Ahead America took credit for “nullifying” her by giving her space to speak on one of its sides. events.
At a post-CPAC event in Texas in July, Look Ahead America delivered a side event speech 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 having committed a crime.
After CPAC organizers released a statement saying that Look Ahead America’s Gaetz event was not part of the official schedule, Braynard tweeted that it was a “100% lie” because “the room / event was part of our sponsor package. “.
He has once again taken the limelight, this time with Saturday’s rally, and has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of violence there.
Trump has not endorsed the rally, but issued a statement Thursday saying that the people charged in the January 6 attack are “being so unfairly persecuted.”
Still, Republicans in Congress seem to be keeping their distance.
So far, the only guest speakers Braynard has announced are clients of his who oppose the Republican congressional representatives who voted to impeach Trump. And the permission granted for the rally allows it to have no more 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,” said Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when asked about the event.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who along with Cruz led the January 6 objections to Biden’s certification, also dismissed the idea.
“I’m not going,” Hawley said. “I am not following him at all.”
Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has expressed sympathy for the defendants in connection with the January 6 attack. But Johnson, who said he will not attend Saturday’s event, offered some advice to those who are.
“Don’t break any laws at all.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.