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Monday, January 8, 2024

Michael Flynn has a bad rep despite what Jim Mageau claims

Putting him on a pedestal tarnishes ours.

By Philip Eil, Rhode Island Current

Late December tends to be so sleepy for news, that at some point, the space between Christmas and New Years became known as “dead week.” But an uproar surged across Rhode Island screens and airwaves in recent days. And for those of you just returning to your desks, here’s a recap. 

The hubbub began on Dec. 20 when Boston Globe columnist Dan McGowan reported that the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame had voted to include former National Security Advisor – and Middletown native – Michael Flynn in its 2024 class. Outrage ensued. 

Six members of the hall’s 25-member board resigned (a number which, per Providence Journal reporting, later grew to eight). And others around the state voiced their disapproval in tweets, columns, and letters to the editor

On Dec. 26, the story made the New York Times, which is always an event in the smallest state. Then, on Friday Dec. 29, honorary state Historian Laureate Patrick Conley weighed in with this statement

Speaking as the hall’s past president and “Volunteer General Counsel” Conley talked about a lot of subjects: the hall’s history, its funding, its “extensive website,” the nine other inductees in the 2024 class, the barrage of letters it received about Flynn’s induction, the hall’s long history of induction ceremonies undisturbed by protest, and, eventually, the board’s decision to “defer Flynn’s induction to a more peaceful and rational time and a more secure place.”

What he did not talk about was Flynn’s conduct or say that the induction wouldn’t happen at all. In a single sentence, Conley dismissed concerns about Flynn’s felony conviction for lying to the FBI

The board “accepted as true the grant of clemency from the president of the United States asserting that no crime was actually committed and the fact that charges against Flynn were dropped by a weaponized Department of Justice,” he wrote, without mentioning that other Trump pardonees include murderers and war criminals

Conley’s statement was disappointing. But given his record of commentary – his eagerness to defend awful men, his tendency to fire back at critics, his apparent impatience for left-leaning protests – it wasn’t surprising. 

And if you do look closely at what Flynn has done, it becomes clear how colossally inappropriate the hall’s choice was, and how further misguided Conley’s efforts are to defend, defer, or do anything short of rescind it. (In 2022, the University of Rhode Island’s board of trustees wisely revoked an honorary degree Flynn received in 2014.) And if Conley and the hall aren’t willing to explore why Flynn is so unworthy of induction, I will. 

Flynn’s outrageous behavior falls into roughly three categories.

First, he has embraced conspiracy theories and used his platform to share them aggressively. In particular, he supports the QAnon conspiracy: selling Q-themed merchandise, appearing on Q-focused podcasts, and even sharing a video in which he reads a QAnon-inspired oath

He has helped launch a membership-based, anti-vaccine social network called 4thePURE. Two days before Conley published his statement standing by Flynn’s induction, the general appeared in a video with disgraced Infowars host Alex Jones.

Flynn has also made deeply troubling statements about religion. He has called Islam a “cancer” and tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” 

He has stated that Jews were complicit in their own mass murder during the Holocaust, which prompted the Jerusalem Post headline: “Former Trump adviser blames Jews for dying in Auschwitz.” 

He has called for the U.S. to have “one religion,” which is particularly offensive to Rhode Islanders, who take pride in our legacy of religious liberty

Perhaps most alarming – although with Flynn, it’s a challenge to pick a low point – are Flynn’s antidemocratic tendencies. On Jan. 5, 2021, the day before the insurrection, he delivered a speech in D.C. urging attendees not to accept the results of the election

A few months later, he said that a Myanmar-style military coup ought to happen here in the U.S. At other points, he has called for martial law and “basically rerun[ing] an election” in certain swing states, and when, under questioning from the January 6th Committee about whether he believed in a peaceful transition of power, he pleaded the fifth

In a 2021 op-ed for Military Times, two scholars wrote, “Flynn used his own rank and military status to lend credibility to ideas that are manifestly illegal and harmful to the Republic.” 

Any one of these activities – the conspiracy mongering, the religious intolerance, the antidemocratic rhetoric – should have disqualified him from the Heritage Hall of Fame. Taken together, the case is overwhelming for keeping him out of a place that aims to “raise Rhode Island’s collective image and self-esteem.” 

The irony of this situation is that the hall, per its mission statement, wants to “teach Rhode Island History to our students and the general public.” And Flynn genuinely is an important historical figure. His tumble from a three-week tenure as national security advisor to election-denying conspiracy theorist is dizzying and disturbing. 

When FRONTLINE and the Associated Press won a Peabody Award for their documentary, “Michael Flynn’s Holy War” (co-produced by Rhode Island-based reporter Michelle Smith), the awards committee noted, “The story of General Michael Flynn is a microcosm of the acceleration of political extremism in America.”   

This kind of scrutiny and coverage is well-deserved. But an induction to a “heritage hall of fame” is not. Our state historian laureate, and anyone else standing by the hall’s decision, should know the difference.

EDITOR'S NOTE: To read an incredibly different take on the controversy over traitor Flynn, see Charlestown resident curmudgeon Jim Mageau's letter to the Westerly Sun HERE.  - Will Collette

Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.