How a spook and right-wing journalists helped mobilize the 'MAGA counterstrike' election-denial network

How a spook and right-wing journalists helped mobilize the 'MAGA counterstrike' election-denial network
Lara Logan in 2013, Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Bergy rode his Harley-Davidson to Austin, Texas, and was waiting for an interview with conspiracy-theory honcho Alex Jones in mid-August of 2020 when he learned about the arrest of Millie Weaver, who also happened to be a correspondent for Jones’ outfit InfoWars.'

The details were vague, but Weaver and her partner and producer Gavin Wince, along with her brother, had been arrested at their home in Ohio while Weaver was uploading the final cut of a documentary called ShadowGate, in which Bergy was featured as a “whistleblower” who spoke about his experience as a military contractor following his discharge from the Army in 2007. Given the urgency of the moment, Bergy looked up the address for InfoWars and walked into the studio without an appointment. Jones quickly recorded an interview for a breaking-news segment about the arrest of one of his contributors.

“I’m the pioneer of [Interactive Internet Activities], basically social media/fake news,” Bergy said, remarking on the irony that he was sitting in the guest chair at InfoWars. “The last place that I’m going to go is an organization called ‘Information Warfare,’ right?”

Following Weaver’s arrest and while he was still in Texas, Bergy said he also spoke to a man named Robert Caron, a shadowy figure who claimed to have a background in intelligence. Bergy had met him before when Caron convened a meeting of his group Joint Task Force MAGA, or JTF MAGA — a self-described “MAGA counterstrike supergroup of American patriots to help expose illegal government surveillance and support President Donald Trump in Making America Great Again” — at a restaurant in the Tampa, Fla. area two years earlier, according to Bergy’s recollection. Bergy turned down an offer to join JTF MAGA, concluding that it wasn’t geared to his specific interest. But he had stayed in touch with Caron.

Caron then offered Bergy a $5,000 retainer to stay in Texas and work on a project, according to Bergy. As much as Bergy could discern based on the details offered by Caron, the job entailed setting up a website to promote JTF MAGA’s content. Bergy said he declined the offer, telling Caron he needed to get to Ohio to help Weaver and Wince.

Shortly after Weaver’s arrest, according to Bergy, he was contacted by Lara Logan — a former correspondent for CBS’ "60 Minutes" who had been widely praised for her coverage of Iraq and other conflict zones in the Middle East. At the time she was working for the Fox Nation streaming service. The claim was first outlined in an affidavit that Bergy executed in early December 2020 and that he provided to attorney Sidney Powell for use in her lawsuits seeking to overturn the presidential election.

Bergy did not disclose the identity of the “person that arranged the conversation,” but has since said that it was Caron. During a conference call with Weaver, Wince, Bergy, Caron, Logan and Logan’s husband, Joseph W. Burkett, Bergy wrote in his affidavit that “we were asked if we would meet them at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to discuss further; I declined and so did Millie and Gavin.”

Upon its release, the ShadowGate documentary took hits from all sides, with legacy media assailing it as being “filled with false claims and insinuations,” and others on the far right questioning Weaver’s credibility because she was charged with domestic violence. The charges reportedly stemmed from an incident in April when Weaver, her brother and Wince attempted to wrest a phone away from Weaver’s mother, prompting her to flee to a neighbor’s house and called 911. Shortly after the documentary’s release, Alex Jones — never shy about making outlandish claims himself — fired Weaver from InfoWars.

But Logan came to Weaver’s defense, tweeting on Aug. 22: “By now this is a familiar pattern — another tactic of information warfare that has proved so effective. I know many Americans are looking forward to getting the whole truth on this. It’s on all of our interests given the significance of what was done just to hold onto power.”

Logan’s endorsement carried some weight. On one hand, her credibility had sustained damage from a story about the 2012 Benghazi attack that “60 Minutes” was forced to retract (and much later would be pushed out of Fox Nation for comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele). On the other hand, unlike Jones who built a career around promoting conspiracy theories, Logan had worked at the highest levels in journalism and was widely admired for her courageous reporting in Iraq and decades of experience.

Later, Bergy said Wince told him that Logan had Burkett reach "out to them with information that exposed the arrest of Millie Weaver was orchestrated” by military contractors in a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Bergy noted that Burkett had previously worked as a military contractor himself employed by the public relations firm Lincoln Group, which was hired by the Defense Department to plant positive stories geared towards Iraqi audiences during the Iraq war. Bergy faulted Logan in his affidavit for not investigating information that she privately shared with Weaver and Wince, especially considering her track record as an investigative journalist.

“It is extremely concerning to all involved the claims made by the Logans [sic] and warrant further investigation,” Bergy wrote in his affidavit. “The arrest of a US journalist, orchestrated on a US military base, cannot be dismissed without a thorough investigation into the Logan’s [sic] claims.”

While Logan has not reported on the mysterious connection between Weaver’s arrest and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, her journalistic instincts would prove to be attuned to the behind-the-scenes efforts to overturn the election. On Jan. 5, 2021, one day before the assault on the US Capitol, Logan tweeted out a link to a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN.” The document had been used in presentations by Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel with a background in information warfare, as he briefed members of Congress on Jan. 4 and 5. The PowerPoint called on Trump to order the National Guard, with support from the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, to conduct a recount of the 2020 election. On Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled to meet to accept the presidential elections, the PowerPoint proposed three options for Vice President Mike Pence, all of which would have either delayed or prevented Joe Biden from becoming the next president.

“This is what is being briefed on the Hill today re election fraud — for those of you who want to go to the source rather than get it second-hand,” Logan wrote.

Logan and Burkett could not be reached for comment for this story.

The charges against Weaver and Wince were eventually dropped. Whether there is any truth to the explosive claim that Weaver’s arrest was secretly orchestrated from a military base remains unclear. Regardless, it reinforced Weaver’s paranoid view of a Deep State intent on silencing Trump supporters.

“From what I hear, we’re in the jurisdiction for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” Weaver told her followers during a Periscope livestream in late 2020. “And apparently it would have been really easy to have us at this jail here and then transferred to an espionage jail. What’s going on right now is insane, guys. It’s very creepy.”

‘They were setting all these scams up’

The ShadowGate documentary had been quickly debunked by USA Today and PolitiFact, and although it reportedly drew millions of views, it receded from public discussion as just one more QAnon-inspired conspiracy vehicle, as violence in Kenosha, Wis. and Portland, Ore. set the stage for the final tumultuous months of the 2020 presidential election campaign. While the documentary might have seemed obscure even for the far-right audience to which it was geared, its four principals would find roles in the network of conspiracy theorists and operatives that sprung into action to delegitimize the 2020 election and aid Donald Trump in his quest to hold onto power.

In addition to Weaver, the producer and writer of ShadowGate, Wince, credited as its director, and the documentary’s two featured “whistleblowers” — Bergy and pro-Trump podcaster Terpsehore “Tore” Maras — all wound up in Washington, DC in mid-November 2020.

The ShadowGate documentary had a particular utility in the effort to delegitimize the 2020 election, as Bergy himself would come to recognize. More than three months before attorney Sidney Powell told radio host Glenn Beck on Nov. 20 that “our forces” confiscated servers held by an election technology company named Scytl in Germany, Weaver had narrated a similar scenario in ShadowGate.

“Scytl is one of the most notorious outsource companies for elections, with regular electronic voting machine problems, who also tabulate our election results and cloud services in Europe, aka servers outside the United States,” Weaver said. The claim was false.

Weaver could not be reached for this story.

Spurned by Alex Jones — who heavily promoted the Jan. 6 rally in DC and took to a bullhorn to address rioters at the Capitol that day — Weaver found a new patron in Patrick Byrne. After Jan. 6, Weaver collected and analyzed video for Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, in support of his effort to cast the attack as the work of “antifa” agent provocateurs.

Bergy told Raw Story that he also later learned that Logan was responsible for arranging for Weaver and Wince to come to Washington, DC after the 2020 election. Bergy said he was asked to come to DC by Weaver and Wince, and they were already there when he arrived around Nov. 15, 2020. Byrne, the former Overstock.com CEO and significant financier for the election denial efforts, confirmed in a text message to Raw Story that he covered the cost of hotel rooms for Weaver, Wince, Bergy and Maras at the Westin Arlington Gateway Hotel in late 2020. But Byrne said he had no knowledge of Logan encouraging Weaver and Wince to come to DC and did not make any arrangements with her.

Byrne also footed the bill for a reporting trip to California by Weaver and Wince in late November 2020, according to Bergy. In a text provided by Bergy, Wince warned that alienating Byrne “could cost us our trip to CA.” Byrne did not dispute the claim that he covered the cost of the trip.

“No, I don’t have a specific recollection of this, it sounds plausible,” Byrne told Raw Story. “I’ll go farther: vaguely rings a bell. That is to say, I’m vaguely remembering that I did pay for a trip or two for them. Along with many dozens of others, incidentally.”

The catalyst for Maras to show up in DC in November 2020 is somewhat murkier. In a conversation on the Stereo app in July 2021, Maras told Bergy that she had known Byrne “before everyone else.” Byrne gave a different account, telling Raw Story that he had “never met or heard of her until” he met her around Nov. 16, 2020. But Joshua Merritt, an IT consultant who provided a declaration to support Powell’s lawsuits attempting to overturn the election, has made statements in the past that predate the relationship between Byrne and Maras long before November 2020. In a reply to an April 30 Twitter thread, Merritt said Maras had been “brought in with Byrne” to work on investigating alleged election fraud after the 2019 election in Kentucky.

In retrospect, Bergy said he has come to see that the claims put forward in ShadowGate performed a valuable service in preparing the ground for the broad election denial narrative that Trump’s supporters worked to build in November.

“That was two or three months before the election,” Bergy said. “That was right after ShadowGate was released. What else was in ShadowGate? Scytl. They knew November 3rd was going to happen, let alone January 6th. They were setting all these scams up. It sure seems like they were putting these things in place at least three months ahead of time to be able to prepare for Trump’s loss.

“It was useful,” Bergy added. “If they didn’t plan it, they should have.”

Bergy said he learned later that Waldron, the retired Army colonel, praised ShadowGate to Weaver and Wince at a party at Trump International Hotel on Nov. 14, 2020.

“Phil Waldron approached Millie and Gavin, and said he was the biggest fan of ShadowGate,” Bergy told Raw Story. “He identified himself as Phil Waldron and said he believed everything in ShadowGate because he replaced the IIA chief after I left. He said he knew who I was, and he understood my background in ShadowGate.”

Waldron could not be reached for comment for this story, while Byrne denied that the content of ShadowGate played any role in shaping his initial impressions of Weaver, Wince, Maras and Bergy.

“No, never heard of them or that movie until mid-November 2020,” he told Raw Story. “They were on their own path when I met them, and they have continued so. None of them have ever taken any direction from me.”

‘Calling out too many people… will backfire’

Lara Logan’s behind-the-scenes role would prove to be a source of ongoing tension among the principals in the ShadowGate film during the period they were working out of the Westin hotel to aid the effort to overturn the election.

“Calling out too many people (Logan, Burns [sic]) will backfire,” Wince told Bergy in November 2020, according to a text obtained by Raw Story. “It could compromise things we have in the works.

“Pissing off Burns [sic] could cost us our trip to CA we have planned that are important, and pissing off Logan while mentioning Millie could piss off Millie and/or cost her ability to use that channel,” he added.

Wince could not be reached for this story.

In Bergy’s view, his duty as a whistleblower obligated him to tell the whole truth, no matter whose sensibilities might be offended.

“When you say we need to be putting this s*** out because nothing’s getting done,” he told Wince, “I didn’t link to Millie, and I’m posting my affidavit tomorrow online which literally includes Lara’s/Joe’s involvement.”

The central focus of Bergy’s 70-page affidavit was the development of “social media psychological warfare weapons and techniques'' that he had observed as a military contractor, and his position that they were being applied on domestic targets in the United States. The affidavit traced a history from a complaint filed by Bergy to the Department of Defense Inspector General in 2015, and then name-dropped a wide array of prominent figures with whom he interacted in his quest to bring the information to light, including Logan and her husband, Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro, InfoWars host Alex Jones, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander and Trump confidant Roger Stone.

Bergy has said his sole objective during his time in DC was to get his information to Trump.

In August 2021, Bergy asked Byrne to explain what happened to his affidavit once he submitted it to the legal team led by Sidney Powell so that he could include his response in a book. Byrne obliged.

“Your affidavit was read and absorbed,” Byrne confirmed. “The whistleblowers were met with and debriefed. Everything they and you had to say got put into a larger picture we were forming. The information from the whistleblowers in Arizona could immediately inform what we were doing; your bigger picture information, while accepted as truthful, did not have a precise application, though it was valuable for our situational awareness.”

In contrast to Bergy’s affidavit, Powell filed a 37-page anonymized declaration submitted by his fellow ShadowGate “whistleblower” Terpsehore “Tore” Maras in support of her lawsuits in Wisconsin and Arizona.

Maras’ declaration mentioned Scytl, the Spain-based election technology company, a total of 23 times, echoing the claim made by Weaver three and a half months earlier in ShadowGate. In her declaration, Maras claimed that votes cast in the 2020 election were put through a “mixing phase” while an “algorithm redistributes votes.” Her declaration also claimed that “Scytl re-encrypts ballot data” and has the ability to access the vote through “backdoors” that could “alter the range of the algorithm deployed to satisfy the outcome sought in the case of algorithm failure.”

Maras’ claims represented a fundamental misunderstanding of Scytl’s role in US elections. The company provides election-night reporting services that offer a visual representation of votes tabulated by local election officials, but as it noted in a fact-checking statement issued more than two weeks before Maras executed her declaration, Scytl does not tabulate votes.

“On election night, each election office tabulates the vote using their tabulation vendor’s physical machines and uploads those results to Scytl’s [election-night reporting program],” the company explained. All ENR servers being used for the US elections are physically located in the United States. Scytl does NOT tabulate, tally or count votes.” Scytl’s statement was cited by a fact-check published by Reuters, which rated as “false” a claim by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that the US Army had seized Scytl’s servers in Germany.

Seth Keshel, a former Army military intelligence captain who assisted Powell’s team in preparing the lawsuits, cautioned another election denier in a private Telegram message in August 2021 that Maras’ claims shouldn’t be taken at face value.

“Tore is not credible,” Keshel wrote. “I was on the initial teams drafting lawsuits over the states with Sidney and Flynn. Our teams researched her heavily and found many problems.” He added that “unfortunately she wound up as a key witness in one of our cases.”

Byrne told Raw Story in an email that he “had no hand” in preparing the lawsuits, “and was not aware until much later that Tore had provided the affidavit.”

But Byrne was sufficiently concerned about Maras’ credibility that he tasked a team with interviewing her a couple of weeks after the declaration was filed in federal court.

“Tore was taken out and interviewed by some people I know in the intelligence community who are absolutely on our side,” Byrne told Bergy in his August 2021 email. “They came back telling me: ‘She knows some things and has been behind the curtain, but she also lies, exaggerates, deflects, changes subjects rapidly trying to throw people off, and we cannot rely on her for anything factual because we caught her in too many lies and exaggerations over three hours (precisely as I warned her they would do if she did not heed a little coaching from me).”

Maras defended her qualifications in an email to Raw Story.

"If you read my affidavit, you would know that I am an amateur cryptographer," she said. "Therefore, I am very familiar with cryptography, ethics and research surrounding it. I participate in attending such conferences and seminars when I can."

Robert Caron, who had initially put Bergy, Weaver and Wince in touch with Lara Logan, was in and around DC from November 2020 through January 2021, according to Bergy.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Maras perceived him as a threat. Speaking with Bergy on the Stereo app in July 2021, Maras fumed about a host of obscure operators vying for Powell and Flynn’s attention in late 2020.

“And you have this motherf***er standing there, bidding to help you?” she said. “They’re there to destroy you. And they are seeing everything we are giving you. And they are dismantling it. Like, that other guy, f***ing, you know, Caron, right, popped out of nowhere.”

While Maras distrusted Caron, she felt differently about Lara Logan.

“You know who hooked me up to Logan?” Bergy asked. “Because I introduced Logan to Millie and Gavin. You know who hooked me up with Logan? Our friend, Robert. She’s got interesting friends. If known contractors and CIA assets are arranging your introductions to journalists that are married to military-industrial complex psy-op contractors, am I wrong in thinking possibly a lot of people that are passed along or networked through Lara are basically…?”

Maras interrupted Bergy.

“Well, you and me are going to disagree on Lara,” she said. “I like Lara…. If it came down to it, and I had to trust someone with something, I would actually trust her.”

A plan to order the National Guard to shut down Congress

Caron’s background remains murky. In one of the few public interviews with him that is available, Caron was identified in a March 2018 story that aired on the far-right network One America News as “the spokesman for JTF MAGA, the collection of veteran members of the intelligence, law enforcement and military communities dedicated to exposing the dark secrets of the Deep State.” The “team” page for a website that houses reports by JTF MAGA, including one proclaiming retired Lt. General Michael Flynn’s innocence and another that disputes claims about collusion between the Trump campaign — has at various times included photos of Caron and Veterans for America First co-founders Joshua Macias and Vlad Lemets.

When Caron arrived in DC, Wince and Bergy viewed him as a replacement for Dennis Nathan Cain, a cybersecurity expert brought in to analyze the results of the 2020 election.

Cain told Raw Story that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon recommended him to White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, who published a series of reports claiming without evidence that the election had been stolen. Cain said he worked on a three-man team that included another man named Harry Haury and a third person whom he declined to identify. Cain said he primarily worked with Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general who reportedly promoted a scheme to submit pro-Trump electors in the six swing states carried by Joe Biden.

Cain filed an expert report in a civil suit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona to challenge the election results. Cain opined that based on his assessment that the election error rate in Arizona during the 2020 election failed to meet the standard set under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, the election result should not have been certified.

“I was specifically looking at the certification and accreditation of the system,” Cain told Raw Story. “I had no interest in looking at any of the technical aspects from the standpoint of whether they were hacked, because you can’t do that unless you have access to the machines.”

Cain told Raw Story that he and Caron met in DC at Caron’s request, and that Caron wanted to join his team. Cain said he declined Caron’s request because he had been working without compensation in DC for two months. Cain had set up a GoFundMe page, but it only covered about half the cost of their hotel bill at the Westin. By the time Caron approached him, Cain said he considered his work to be complete. He disbanded the team, and went home after Christmas.

Cain said he came to regret his meeting with Caron.

“He went out and wrote some emails; some of the people that were associated with me didn’t like that,” Cain said. “It kind of did some damage with some people that I was working with that didn’t care for him.”

After Cain left DC, his name appeared on a document arguing, among other things, that the states were not in compliance with the Help America Vote Act and concluding bizarrely that Trump had a “mandatory duty to immediately declare the 2020 election in violation” of the Constitution and declare Congress “illegitimate” as a prelude to ordering the National Guard to shut down Congress.

“President Donald J. Trump, to preserve our sovereign form of government, has the mandatory duty to immediately declare the 2020 election in violation of our United States Constitution and declare the 117th Congress illegitimate, then access and direct the National Guard already sent by the mayor, to prevent entry into their offices and the Capitol,” the document declared.

Entitled “Invincible Argument, the document was dated Jan. 4 and featured a dozen names, beginning with Caron and also including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle, Veterans for America First co-founder Joshua Macias and Latinos for Trump President Bianca Gracia. Eleven members of the Oath Keepers, including Rhodes, have been indicted for seditious conspiracy. Macias was arrested on weapons charges outside the Philadelphia Convention Center, where votes were being tabulated, on Nov. 5, 2020, and was present at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

Jerome Corsi, who heavily promoted the false claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore was not qualified to serve as president, was also named on the document, and Corsi published it on his website on Jan. 5, the eve of the assault on the US Capitol.

Cain said he did not authorize his name to be used on the document.

“I am familiar with my name being on there,” he told Raw Story. “It was done without my permission. I don’t have any comment to give on what the legal ramifications of the system not being compliant with HAVA might be.”

Caron’s name also appeared at the bottom of the document’s Forward, and another section was credited to Caron and SoRelle.

On the same day Corsi published the “Invincible Argument” document, Caron was quoted in a story published by Vision Times News headlined, “Over 400 ex-intelligence officers have started investigating election fraud.” The story quoted Caron as saying, “The fraud was so massive and so blatant, despite what the mainstream media said, that we need to get this information out to the public.”

Caron could not be reached for this story, but he has told CNN that he was approached by two FBI agents at a hotel in Toronto last December. According to CNN, Caron said the agents told him they were investigating events that led up to the violence on Jan. 6 and that he sat down to speak with them about “key people” involved in the effort to overturn the election.

Rhodes, SoRelle, Macias and Gracia were all filmed in a meeting in a hotel parking garage with Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio on Jan. 5, 2021. Tarrio has been charged with conspiracy, along with five other Proud Boys leaders, for his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

The “Invincible Argument” document” would form the basis of another lawsuit seeking to overturn the election, this one filed not by Powell and her team, but by SoRelle, the Oath Keepers’ general counsel.

A transcript of an Oath Keepers teleconference that took place on Nov. 9, 2020, shows that the militia group was working on a legal track even as they prepared to mobilize a tactical force at the US Capitol. Asked by Rhodes to update members on the “legal fight,” SoRelle mentioned Giuliani as heading up one of several legal teams working to overturn the election.

“And then you have the Giuliani pals, I guess, previewing the Campaign pod that’s trying to solve the mystery of the ballots,” SoRelle said. “So, I’ve been in communication. I obviously work the RNC version of it, and then I’m in — I like the Q crowd, they’re kind of fun, and then I’ve been meeting with the Campaign crowd.”

The lawsuit sputtered almost immediately when friction arose between SoRelle and her co-counsel, Paul M. Davis, over Caron’s involvement in the litigation.

In a February 2021 filing, Davis reported that he had “expressed concern to SoRelle that Bob seemed to have some sort of undue influence over the plaintiffs and was poisoning their thinking about the case strategy with suggestions of inclusion of what the whole team had previously agreed were frivolous legal claims (this has always been a case strictly about violations of election law and NOT a case about election fraud).”

Davis went on to suggest SoRelle was disclosing confidential attorney-client communications to Caron, who was not a plaintiff.

SoRelle responded, Davis reported with incredulity, that Caron had been “listening in on our comms.”

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