Garrett Ziegler, The Trump Staffer Who Let The Kraken Loose In The White House

TPM Illustration/Getty Images

Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and Patrick Byrne marched into the White House on Dec. 18, 2020 for what some have described as the most insane meeting of the Trump presidency.

They made it into the Oval Office in part thanks to a low-level White House staffer named Garrett Ziegler.

A right-wing opposition researcher, Ziegler, 26, at the time of the Kraken meeting held a job in Peter Navarro’s Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. But that doesn’t quite do him justice. Apart from helping Flynn, Powell, and Byrne, the former Overstock.com CEO, gain access to the White House, Ziegler has spent the past 18 months alternately trying to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election, spreading documents from Hunter Biden’s laptop, and boosting QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories. He’s created a website and a foundation that hosts the laptop’s contents, and runs a Telegram channel on which he frequently posts lurid excerpts from the computer.

Politico described Ziegler’s effort as a “holy war.” He approaches his crusade with remarkable zeal. Ziegler has spent months on Telegram surfacing emails, videos, and images out of an archive of more than 120,000 records, which he claims to have received from Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik.

It’s a combination of citizen journalism and right-wing shock jock extremism.

As with many people involved in the pro-Trump fringe, it can be difficult to discern what is a committed belief, and what’s raw spin. But unlike others in the White House or in the conservative movement’s communications apparatus, Ziegler himself has acted at times as if he believes what he’s selling.

Ziegler has said that Mark Meadows revoked his White House guest access privileges after the Dec. 18 meeting (he denies letting them in in the first place, but more on that later). In a subsequent interview, Ziegler recalled telling Trump one month later – on Jan. 18, 2021 – that the election had been illegal, advocating for unspecified “justifiable and commensurate actions.” In his book, Navarro praised Ziegler for traveling to a Native American reservation in Nevada to probe vote-buying claims – Ziegler has claimed that “gift cards” were given out to Native Americans in exchange for votes.

Ziegler also claimed in the weeks after Trump left office to have been in contact with Ron Watkins, administrator of the far-right messaging board 8Kun, a hub for the QAnon conspiracy theories.

“He’s safe right now but they’ll be targeting Ron because he’s too powerful,” Ziegler told one YouTuber in February 2021.

White House Staffer

Ziegler grew up in central Illinois, scoring an internship in 2016 with former Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), and interning in college with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) and at the White House in 2017.

He graduated in 2018, getting a job in Navarro’s office after.

Ziegler speaks frequently of his background in small town Illinois on his Telegram account and in interviews with local press, saying that only one family member of his was involved in politics: Richard Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, alternately referred to as a “cousin” or as Garrett Ziegler’s father’s second cousin.

In some ways, he’s a natural for his medium: a Gen Z-er completely committed to the conservative cause, and either fully believing in the information he spreads or uncaring about whether it’s true, and brimming with energy targeted at exposing and purifying what he regards as corruption that’s infected the core of American politics.

Take a report that Ziegler claimed on Telegram to have “tried to get to POTUS” on Nov. 5 – one day after the election.

The memo alleged “common cause” between the Chinese Communist Party and Mark Zuckerberg to overthrow Trump. Ziegler attached 73 pages of supposedly supporting evidence to get his point across.

“Both Zuck and Xi want Mr. Trump to lose,” Ziegler wrote in the document. “They’ll do anything for that to happen.”

He seems to have pushed beyond the boundaries of his role at the Office of Manufacturing and Trade Policy.

On the evening of Jan. 6, for example, he asked Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media coordinator, and then-press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to create an account for Trump on Gab. He offered Scavino what appears to be the phone number of Andrew Torba, Gab’s anti-semitic founder. Ziegler posted the email to his Telegram account.

Ziegler, who spells Trump in his messages as TRVMP in an apparent attempt to lend the former president the credibility conferred by ancient Roman fonts, discussed his actions around the 2020 election in a wide-ranging YouTube interview in February 2021.

At the time, Trump was fresh out of office, with his attempt to subvert the election having failed. Ziegler chose to speak with MonkeyWerx, a YouTuber who tracks airplane movements and Obama’s birth certificate, sells beard soaps, and has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Ron Guilmette, a researcher who focuses on the far-right, first identified the interview to TPM, and also directed TPM to Ziegler’s apparent involvement with 8kun.

MonkeyWerx added a WWG1WGA line to open his video with Ziegler – a phrase associated with QAnon that stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All.”

Monkey Werx appeared somewhat mystified as to why Ziegler had come on.

“I’ll be honest with you – at first I was a little spooked because I was like, oh no, man, I’m on White House radar – I need to figure, What did I do wrong?” Monkey Werx said.

“Once I saw your show and a buddy mentioned it to me and so I was like, ‘oh I want to meet him,'” Ziegler told Monkey Werx.

From there, Ziegler launched into a disquisition on his time in the Trump White House, focusing on its end: the effort to block what Ziegler described as a “coup,” and the rest of us recognize as an attempt to subvert the results of the 2020 election.

In Ziegler’s telling, Mark Meadows was a villain, the man who, Ziegler said, revoked his “guest privileges” after the Dec. 18 Kraken meeting. Ziegler has offered different accounts of his role in letting Flynn, Powell, and Byrne into the building for a meeting that would descend into a screaming match over how far the Trump administration should go in its efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election.

To friendly interviewers, he’s claimed that he “waved in” the group. To TPM, he downplayed it.

“I simply sent General Flynn’s representative a URL to a form to fill out, which allowed the Secret Service to clear him for entry,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler claimed to have been in touch with several figures on the pro-Trump fringe that were outside of the White House. He told Monkey Werx that he escorted Powell “over to the residence once to try to get the president a binder full of evidence,” before being “blocked.” RawStory reported that Ziegler also worked with Phil Waldron, an election denying conspiracy theorist and retired Army colonel who fed information to the White House.

One month after the Dec. 18 encounter and after Jan. 6, Ziegler said, he attended a White House meeting with Meadows, White House attorney Eric Herschmann, and Jared Kushner, “standing in the back.”

“Our elections are, by definition, illegally conducted and I told the President that directly,” Ziegler recalled telling Trump, adding that Native Americans had been “brib[ed] with gift cards” during the election.

Italygate Hunter

I tried to arrange a phone interview with Ziegler, sending him questions over email. Ziegler alternately replied, brushed me off, and referred me to the Secret Service, or just ignored me. At one point, I noticed that I could no longer access Ziegler’s Telegram account from a phone number at which I told him I could be reached.

Much of the former White House employee’s work occurs via a non-profit he formed called Marco Polo – an apparent reference to both Italy and China – to continue his investigations.

After being deposed by the Jan. 6 Committee last week, he posted audio in which he referred to the committee as a “Bolshevistic anti-White campaign” and called women that have appeared before the panel “total hoes and thots.”

In environments that are more welcoming to Ziegler, he’s offered some insight into how deeply he regards the left as an enemy and why.

He told Monkey Werx that he sees the left’s “ultimate goal” as “to basically deracinate the middle class,” an outcome that “the actual stock of the country – black, white, whatever – does not want.”

Like many other Americans who have fallen into online conspiracy-ridden rabbit holes, Ziegler exudes a mixture of anger and loneliness.

He’s a devout Christian who complained about being unable to connect with many others working in the Trump White House.

And, he’s mad. At Democrats, at government officials, at Fauci, at the Italian government, at Hunter Biden, at Deborah Birx, whose phone number he once posted on Telegram, and at Republicans who disagree with him.

That level of zeal has led Ziegler down some odd paths.

His group’s website links both to an archive of Hunter Biden’s laptop, but also to a “research board” hosted on 8kun, a hub for the QAnon movement. Cyber Scoop, a tech news website, first reported the link.

The board links to some of Ziegler’s supposed research targets, including a former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Rome who Italygate adherents suspect of helping steal the election. It also includes a line in quotations saying “PAID FOR BY DISARM THE DEEP STATE PAC.”

That PAC became known as QAnon’s Super PAC, in part because it was launched by the owners of 8kun, and in part because it backed Q-spouting candidates in 2020 like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Ziegler himself mentioned in an interview that, after the election, he was in touch with “Ron – Codemonkey Z.”

Ron Watkins, 8kun’s administration who is rumored to have played a role in creating “Q,” uses the handle Codemonkey Z. It’s not clear what the two have discussed.

Ziegler has also apparently lavished time on ItalyGate, the theory which posits that the CIA installed Biden as president after using military satellites controlled by an Italian defense contractor to zap voting machines.

The theory first made it to Mark Meadows via Maria Zack and Michele Ballarin in late 2020. Meadows, the Jan. 6 Committee found, ordered top DOJ and military officials to investigate.

Ziegler told an Italian blogger in 2021 that he, along with Michael Flynn’s son, were trying to investigate the case themselves in Italy, but that one potential witness had thwarted him by calling the “postal police” on him.

“Whoever started this – true or false – will answer for it,” Ziegler said.

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