President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser is the latest indication that he intends to govern the same way he campaigned. With Flynn’s appointment, Trump has added another hardline, blustery loyalist to his core team of advisers.
Flynn’s position does not require Senate confirmation.
The outspoken retired intelligence officer, who served as a close adviser to Trump throughout the 2016 election, believes that Islamic extremism poses an existential threat to the United States. He has called Islam a “malignant cancer” and a “sick” ideology, while his active Twitter feed is full of posts assuring his followers that fearing Muslims is “rational.”
Like his boss, Flynn has a loose relationship with the truth and his policy positions. He is a registered Democrat with a hawkish view toward national security who has encouraged Trump to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic State militants. He has a habit of tweeting fake news stories, and the New York Times reported that his former subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency coined the term “Flynn facts” to refer to the fishy statements he often would made.
Both men share a deep-seated belief in American exceptionalism: While Trump campaigned on a promise to “Make America great again,” Flynn’s Twitter bio reads, “Believe in #AmericanExceptionalism – it’s for real.”
Here’s what you need to know about the man who will play a decisive role in shaping Trump’s military and foreign policy.
Flynn served in the U.S. military for three decades and was appointed the director of the DIA in 2012 before being abruptly fired two years later. He wrote in his 2016 book “The Field of Fight” and in a New York Post op-ed over the summer that he was fired for his stance on Islamic extremism, including his insistence that America’s enemies be referred to as “radical jihadis.” Flynn called for the war on terror to be “waged both militarily and politically” and to convince the Islamic world of the “superiority of our own political vision.”
U.S. officials tell a very different story, however. CNN reported that Flynn was let go because of his domineering, combative management style. One former U.S. official who worked closely with Flynn told Reuters that he “telegraphed his intent for radical change in a way that immediately created resistance to his ideas.” Sarah Chayes, who worked with Flynn during his tenure running military intelligence in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, told The New York Times that “his thinking process is not sufficiently analytical to test some streams against others and make sense of it, or draw consistent conclusions.”
Under his tenure, the DIA also pushed outdated, patriarchal staff policies. One official told Reuters that Flynn was held responsible for a 2013 “Dress for Success” seminar that offered women advice like “makeup makes you more attractive” and “don’t be a plain Jane.” Flynn later apologized for the presentation, saying he did not “condone” it.
On his Twitter feed, in interviews, and in public speeches, Flynn has made a number of blatantly Islamophobic statements that fail to differentiate between Islam and Islamic extremism. In August, Flynn gave a speech at a gathering of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center deems “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.” In that address, he called Islam a “political ideology” masquerading as a religion and argued that the faith, held by 1.6 billion followers worldwide, was a “malignant cancer.”
Flynn has gone after Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for declining to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” and shared a post on Twitter claiming that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” The night of the terrorist attack that killed dozens of people watching Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, France, Flynn challenged “Arab & Persian world ‘leaders’” to “declare their Islamic ideology sick.”
Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… https://t.co/NLIfKFD9lU
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) February 27, 2016
In next 24 hours, I dare Arab & Persian world “leaders” to step up to the plate and declare their Islamic ideology sick and must B healed.
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) July 15, 2016
Flynn was forced to apologize this summer after targeting another religion in a tweet. After Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, said that Russian intelligence agencies were behind a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee, Flynn wrote a tweet blaming the “corrupt Democratic machine” for going to extreme lengths to get Clinton elected. He shared a link to a tweet from user who wrote, “>Cnn implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ … Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”
Flynn later said he only intended to share the video that user tweeted.
Flynn’s view on national security has a single-minded focus on the threat posed by Islamic extremism. The Times reported that during the campaign, he pushed Trump to believe that the United States needed to ally itself with Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who took power in a coup, in order to fight ISIL. Despite Putin’s abysmal record on human rights and Russia’s coordination with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in bombing Syrian civilians, Flynn told RT in October that he believes, “Russia and the United States working together and trying to work with the other partners that we all have in this region can come up with some other solutions.”
Flynn has also laid out a long list of countries he views as “enemies” of the United States.
“Those countries include, certainly, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, countries like Cuba, certainly China. And their national security [strategies], if you will; how they view the world,” he told NPR this summer.
Flynn has been an active participant in Trump’s national security briefings since the then-candidate first began receiving them in August. According to an NBC report, Flynn interrupted intelligence officials so many times that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had to intervene, putting his arm on Flynn to calm him down.
While the retired general was sitting in on those classified briefings, his consulting firm, the Flynn Intel Group, was providing foreign clients with “all-source intelligence support,” Yahoo News reported Friday.
That arrangement raises conflict of interest concerns. According to Yahoo, the Flynn Intel Group was hired in September to lobby on behalf of Holland-based firm Innova BV, which is owned by a Turkish businessman. Flynn did not disclose this relationship despite publishing an op-ed in The Hill on Election Day advocating for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in exile in Pennsylvania who President Tayyup Erdogan blames for pushing July’s failed military coup against his government. Erdogan has called on the U.S. to arrest or extradite Gulen.
As Yahoo notes, Flynn was also paid to attend the 10th anniversary of the Kremlin-backed news outfit RT.
Flynn Intel Group’s chief counsel told Yahoo that Flynn would sever ties with his company if he took a White House role.
Flynn’s son, Michael, who serves as his chief of staff and worked for the Flynn Intel Group, has a rather inflammatory social media presence. A Thursday CNN review of his Twitter and Facebook feeds revealed that the younger Flynn is a big fan of Alex Jones’ conspiracy site InfoWars and frequently pushes unfounded conspiracies himself.
Among the wild conspiracies Michael G. Flynn promoted: Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a closeted homosexual with a cocaine addiction, and Hillary Clinton would be tried for treason in a Trump administration.
The younger Flynn appears to be a fan of the alt-right, a loosely defined online community of white nationalists, men’s right activists and conspiracy theorists. He frequently retweets posts from prominent members of the alt-right and believes that minorities only voted for Obama because of “the color of his skin.”