A mall parking lot in Bradenton offered a glimpse Saturday into the future of the MAGA movement, as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone – a pair of prominent figures on the right – rallied a large crowd still seething about the presidential election.
With many wondering how big of a force former President Donald Trump, his combative style of politics and his base will be on the political scene now that he is out of office, and how much he will drive the GOP’s agenda, the rally showcased the abiding enthusiasm among Trump’s most ardent supporters and their continued focus on his biggest issues, including unfounded election fraud complaints and Big Tech censorship.
Roughly 500 to 1,000 people came out for the event, which was organized by Trump Train Manatee in a parking lot at the DeSoto Square Mall, a staging point for Trump Train events before the election.
Rally organizers and speakers said they want to keep Trump’s supporters engaged. Both Flynn and Stone drove home that point.
“There’s no more just sitting around and talking,” Flynn said. “You have to now stand and do!”
Stone told the crowd that they may have lost the battle, but not the war.
“This is a fight between good and evil,” Stone said, adding: “There is a path forward.”
Michael Flynn moves to Florida: Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn buys property in Englewood, Florida
Beloved by many Trump fans who believe they were treated unfairly by the government, and infamous in other circles as two of the most controversial figures of the Trump era, Flynn and Stone were given a warm welcome by the Bradenton crowd.
Trump’s first national security adviser, Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador and Stone was convicted of multiple felony counts related to the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump pardoned them both, drawing howls from critics who said he was undermining the rule of law by pardoning political allies.
Now Stone and Flynn are two of the biggest MAGA stars. A “Fight like a Flynn” flag waved over the crowd Saturday and people chanted the slogan when he was done speaking. The crowd swarmed Flynn for autographs before and after his speech.
Stone highlighted a series of issues that he said Trump supporters need to engage on, including pushing back against tech companies that have banned Trump and other users for inflammatory comments, changing election laws to “guarantee that future elections are honest” and driving “the feckless, gutless, spineless, white-wine swilling RINO Republicans out of the Republican Party.”
Michael Flynn: ‘We have to stop complaining’
Flynn’s exhortation to stay engaged was more general.
“We have to stop complaining and we have to get involved,” Flynn said, calling for more rallies like the one in Bradenton across the nation and engagement in politics at the local level.
Yet complaining about the election was a prominent aspect of the rally, including from Flynn, who started his comments by saying the election was stolen.
Flynn invoked the American Revolution, the Civil War and both world wars to say the current moment in American politics is unprecedented.
“This is a ‘no kidding’ time for this country … this is not a time that we’ve ever been in before,” Flynn said. “You can compare it to 1775, 1776. You can compare to the Civil War. You can compare it to World War I, World War II – there is no comparison. We have not been here before, we have not experienced a presidential election that was stolen in the middle of the night, and it was and we know it.”
Courts repeatedly rejected the Trump campaign’s election fraud complaints for lacking evidence, but the sentiment that Trump was cheated was pervasive Saturday. Speaker after speaker repeated the false claim.
Bradenton resident Sue Baker, 67, said Trump “got robbed.”
“Everybody that watches anything besides the mainstream media knows a lot of the votes got flipped,” Baker said as she sat in the audience waving an American flag with a blue line through it, a symbol of support for the police.
Rapper, Proud Boys preceded Stone, Flynn
On the same week that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, rapper Forgiato Blow took the stage before Stone and Flynn and performed “Back the Blue” while a group of Proud Boys stood on stage behind him.
Multiple people associated with the far-right Proud Boys, a self-proclaimed “western chauvinist” group, were charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead. The leader of the Proud Boys was arrested in the run-up to the riot, which sought to halt the election certification.
Blow said the Proud Boys “get a bad rap.”
A number of speakers at the rally said Trump supporters have been unfairly maligned as racists, white supremacists and – after Jan. 6 – even terrorists.
“We’re not terrorists, we’re not secessionists, we’re patriots,” said Sarasota Republican Martin Hyde, who was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. “They can’t cancel us.”
Hyde is running in the GOP primary against U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.
Speakers urged others in the crowd to participate in local politics to help keep the MAGA movement alive.
“This is war for the survival of our country folks,” said speaker Cathi Chamberlain. “We’re not getting a second chance … you’ve got to get involved … stay active in your local politics.”
Even though Trump departed the White House nearly four months ago and now is living at his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Saturday’s event had the feel of a Trump rally, with dozens of Trump flags and many people wearing Trump shirts and hats.
A van parked near the stage had images of Trump on it and the slogan “Trump 2024.”
Whether or not Trump runs again, the rally shows that his supporters remain eager to channel their energy into politics as the 2022 midterm election approaches.
Palmetto grandmother Delores Thiers came to the event with her daughter and grandchildren. She worries about issues such as immigration and believes President Joe Biden is not up the job, saying “America is going in the wrong direction.”
Asked if Trump should run again, she said: “I want to see change, let’s put it that way.”
Stone said Flynn should run for president if Trump doesn’t.
Flynn purchased a house in Englewood in southern Sarasota County earlier this month. He appears eager to stay politically active, and rally Trump supporters to do the same.
“Figure out what you can do for your country, what you can do for your county, what you can do for your parish,” Flynn said. “And you’ve got to get involved.”
Please follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org