Remember the Benghazi Select Committee that ended up making Hillary Clinton look presidential? Or the contrived IRS ‘targeting scandal’ that turned out to be a nothingburger? Or the way that Congressional Republicans were ready with legislation and talking points the moment the ‘baby parts for cash’ hoax exploded all over Planned Parenthood? All of these stories were brought to you by Groundswell, the right wing lobbying group which gathered grassroots conservatives, Breitbart News, professional fringe activists, and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas together under the auspices of gadfly institute Judicial Watch in 2013. They’re still organizing together, yet the presidential nominating race is currently splitting Groundswell and the Breitbart world into two camps.
On one side, the participants most driven by religious zeal are leaning towards Ted Cruz. They are led by retired General William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin, who endorsed Cruz last week. On the other side are ideological conservatives and anti-establishment types who lean more towards Donald Trump’s outsider candidacy. Both factions have a presence at Breitbart News, which reportedly has payola arrangements with both candidates’ campaigns.
Boykin is a perfect leadership figure for the ‘zealot faction.’ Most famous for his Bush-era declaration that America is ‘at war with Islam,’ his civilian career has been marked by religious chauvinism, militant disregard for the human rights of non-Christians, and a series of increasingly-dubious claims that he is in personal danger from Islamic extremists. His personal form of Christianity is oddly violent: Boykin says that Jesus Christ, the ‘Prince of Peace,’ will return bearing an AR-15; he also calls on fellow Christians to imitate ISIS and be more willing to die; he has called on “God’s army” to fight the “evil” of gay rights, and during the Bush administration he created a program that turned Christian missionaries into unwitting spies, endangering religious aid workers around the world. Occupying the number two post at anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, Boykin’s boss is the infamous Tony Perkins, who has already endorsed Cruz.
Of course, the Cruz campaign was quick to tout Boykin’s endorsement in a press release.
“I am honored to have the support of Lt. General Boykin,” Cruz said. “He has served our nation faithfully, first as a soldier, ultimately as a commanding general, and also as a family man. Our nation needs more service members like Lt. General Boykin: tenacious, focused, and eager to defend innocent human life regardless of the cost.”
But Boykin is not so eager to “defend human life” regardless of religious beliefs. He has said that Muslims do not deserve First Amendment protection, for example, because “Islam is not a religion.” His embrace of Dominionism, a movement dedicated to erasing the boundaries of church and state in order to empower the most right wing Christians in America at the expense of everyone else, is a very good fit with Ted Cruz, whose campaign is rife with Dominionist ideology.
Nor is Boykin alone among Groundswellers in supporting Cruz. Former congressman and alleged serial sexual harasser Allen West seems to be supporting Cruz over Trump. Although he has recently scrubbed his social media presence, Breitbart writer and anti-gay hate organizer Austin Ruse is also on board with the Texas Senator’s campaign; at times, he almost behaves like a surrogate. When rival Ben Carson called on the forced-birth community to “tone down” their violent rhetoric after Robert Dear attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three innocent people, Ruse swiftly denounced Carson for “condemning pro-lifers” at Breitbart.
On the other side we find Danielle Cutrona, an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions who was one of the most active participants in the Groundswell email list during 2013. Sessions has since become Donald Trump’s immigration policy adviser, which makes perfect sense given his vocal opposition even to legal immigration as well as his long and sordid history of opposing civil rights laws. Even though Cruz counts Sessions as a key Senate ally, Sessions and his office are important partners to the Trump campaign.
Then there’s Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle, who carries a torch for Trump as an ‘anti-establishment’ figure. As David Corn explained in his exposé of the Groundswell email group, Boyle was a prominent partner in their efforts to stoke hysteria and blast out conspiracy theories.
(Boyle) has attended Groundswell meetings, used the group as a source for tips and a mechanism to promote his stories, and joined in its efforts to whip up coordinated bullet points to be deployed by conservative advocacy shops. In February, he tried to enlist the group to push a story he had written the year before at the Daily Caller, in which he maintained the Justice Department was in cahoots with the liberal group Media Matters to smear conservative whistleblowers and journalists.
[…] Boyle sent a message to Groundswell members seeking tips and offering to help shape stories Groundswellers wanted to disseminate: “I’m saying we can get pieces out fast on Breitbart. Whenever you have an idea, email or call me with a pitch and I’ll do my best to get the story out there. Keep us on offense, them on defense. Even if the idea isn’t perfect, I can help massage it to get there.”
Now the website’s Washington political editor, Boyle has been something of a personal concierge to Trump at Breitbart. More than a year before the reality show star officially declared his candidacy, Boyle was smearing BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins for writing an unflattering profile of Trump’s political aspirations. Since then, his obsequious fawning over Trump has only gotten worse and his writing is even more sycophantic, which I had not thought possible.
Of course, this primary-season divide has little chance of breaking up Groundswell or changing the staff at Breitbart. Modern conservatism is marked by an ability to march in lockstep at the end of the day, setting aside such petty differences to act in solidarity. Chances are that when the nomination process is over, the Cruz and Trump factions will unite again — and BU will stay on top of the story.