The Big History Behind January 6th, Part 1: Anti-Communism, Domestic Surveillance, and the Russian Alliance
This is part one of a six part series. Listen to the audio version here.
The New York Times dubbed the year 1975 “the year of intelligence,” as Congress pursued a series of investigations in response to widespread allegations of abuse. From COINTELPRO to revelations about US Army intelligence, to concerns about covert CIA assassination efforts, there was a growing sense that the intelligence community (specificially FBI, the CIA, military intelligence, and other agencies) had gone rogue. Congress demanded answers.
The Church Committee, created in early 1975 and overseen by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, was perhaps the most influential of these investigations. It led to sweeping reforms in the form of executive orders and other legislation that curtailed the power of the CIA, and further clarified rules about what information could be collected about Americans.
At the time, Maj. Gen. John K. “Jack” Singlaub was U.S. chief of staff in South Korea, overseeing American troops stationed there. Singlaub saw his mission in South Korea as key to the containment and rollback of communism in the region. Singlaub, along with Chiang Kai-Shek of Taiwan and several other anti-communist leaders, had founded the group that would become the World Anti-Communist League in 1954. Singlaub was a committed anti-communist and believed strongly that continued presence of troops in Asia was a required element of any deterrence strategy.
In early 1977, fulfilling a campaign promise he had made as early as 1975, President Carter announced that he would seek to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula. In response, Singlaub told The Washington Post that Carter’s plan was a mistake that would lead to war. Carter promptly fired Singlaub for undermining his authority. It was the first time a general had been fired by a president since MacArthur was recalled from Korea by Truman. Singlaub cultivated this injustice as a badge of honor.
Larry McDonald was elected to Congress in 1974 and began his term in 1975, in the midst of the Congress’ crackdown on intelligence agencies. Shortly after, Singlaub and McDonald, who had both been active in the John Birch Society (where McDonald served as the group’s second president), came up with a new idea — something called “Western Goals.” Where the CIA and intelligence community was prohibited from collecting information on suspected communist influences in the United States, Western Goals, operating as an independent organization, felt it had no such restrictions.
Western Goals was squarely focused on the threat posed by communist infiltration within the United States — whether that threat was real or not. Roy Cohn, the infamous McCarthy era character who would later serve as mentor to Donald Trump, was on the Western Goals board, as was Larry McDonald’s first cousin, General George S. Patton III.
They took records from the Los Angeles Police Department and many other sources and transcribed them into a $100,000 computer system, where they could be indexed and accessed later. Western Goals was a full-fledged Stasi-like intelligence agency, spying on average Americans, with the express goal of fighting perceived socialist and communist bogeymen. (See this 1983 Western Goals-produced documentary, The Subversion Factor.)
When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, there was a rush to secure the fruits of power and to enact legislation that would advance the administration’s agenda. A variety of conservative leaders including Singlaub, McDonald, Phyllis Schlafly (who had earned fame for fighting the proposed Equal Rights Amendment), and others formed the Council for National Policy to serve as a counter to the successful left-leaning organization, the Council on Foreign Policy. The group aimed to operationalize their networks for tangible, immediate gains.
In a strange and tragic twist of fate, Larry McDonald was killed along with 268 others when his flight, Korean Airlines Flight 007, was shot down by the Soviet Union when it strayed into their airspace. This left Singlaub substantially in control of Western Goals, and he began to use it to continue his singular cause: fighting communism. With the passage of the 1982 Boland Amendment, the US government was explicitly prohibited from assisting the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua. Singlaub took matters into his own hands.
At the meeting of the Council for National Policy (CNP) in 1984 and at a 1985 Dallas meeting of Singlaub’s US Council for World Freedom (the US chapter of the World Anti-Communist League, which he also founded), he solicited funds from private donors such as Joseph Coors and heiress Ellen Garwood to fund the Contras. They were happy to oblige. Western Goals was used as the conduit for those funds.
Singlaub would eventually be called to testify before Congress to explain his role in the Iran-Contra affair, which was orchestrated by CNP bigwig (and later NRA president) Lt. Col. Oliver North, on orders from the executive branch. Iran-Contra was the biggest scandal of the Reagan presidency. A messy, complicated affair, it threatened to ruin his legacy and those of several others — among them Robert “Bud” McFarlane, Reagan’s National Security Advisor, who attempted suicide three hours before he was to testify about his involvement.
The total collapse of the Soviet Union on Christmas, 1991 presented an unprecedented opportunity for the United States, and the George H.W. Bush administration wasted no time in reorienting itself around this new geopolitical reality. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz worked with Lewis “Scooter” Libby to draft a document called “Defense Policy Guidance, 1992–1994.” In it, they outlined a vision of the United States presiding over a unipolar world, one in which it explicitly sought to prevent the emergence of any threat to its hegemony. A leaked early draft of the so-called “Wolfowitz Doctrine,” reached without input from Congress or the public, was widely ridiculed. A second and final draft, released in April 1992, softened some edges.
Dedicated anti-communists such as Singlaub had something of a dilemma. What now? With the Soviet Union consigned to the history books, their attention turned primarily to China. Falun Gong was also formed in 1992, in ostensible opposition to the Chinese Communist Party; Singlaub and his anti-communist friends felt some kinship with their cause.
Meanwhile in Russia, efforts were made to quickly privatize state-controlled industries. What resulted was a network of oligarchs who derived their power from proximity to the Kremlin. Vladimir V. Putin made a series of moves to wrest control away from Boris N. Yeltsin, who was widely perceived as ineffective, and a drunk.
Putin also gained control in 1999 in part by manufacturing a video of a sexual liaison between his chief rival, Yuri Skuratov, and some prostitutes. This “kompromat” served to discredit Skuratov and effectively ended his political career. (These techniques have since expanded to include planting child pornography onto devices of dissidents).
As power consolidated in Russia, the Orthodox church emerged as a new center of gravity, and a point of commonality between Russia and the United States. Allen Carlson, a religious conservative, traveled to Russia in 1995 on a trip to meet with people also interested in “traditional values.” While there, he had the idea to form the World Congress of Families (WCF), a group focused on international collaboration between Christian-aligned groups and predicated on opposition to gay marriage and LGBT rights.
Other religious groups such as The Family (documented by Jeff Sharlet) and the NRA also began to provide connective tissue that linked American conservative groups with their Russian counterparts. WCF, through powerful Kremlin-linked figures Alexey Komov, Vladimir Yakunin, and Konstantin Malofeev, developed a distinctly anti-LGBT and anti-women’s rights agenda.
Anti-abortion legislation modeled on US laws was advanced and passed in the Duma by conservative politician Elena Mizulina. Russia was learning from Phyllis Schlafly’s playbook. Malofeev began to argue for the creation of “conservative” versions of Google, Facebook, and other popular internet services — advice Rebekah Mercer would eventually take to heart when she funded social media upstart Parler.
By 2011, WCF had developed a distinct orientation towards Russia—holding the bulk of its meetings in Russia and other Kremlin-friendly countries.
Brian Brown, a WCF member, and Thomas Peters worked together at the US-based National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to gay marriage.
Thomas Peters joined up with a Russian-trained engineer, Vladislav Seryakov, to form the company uCampaign. Funded by an ardent anti-abortion advocate and associate of Rebekah Mercer’s named Sean Fieler, the company developed gamified apps for political candidates in Cyprus and a variety of ideologically-aligned campaigns around the world —including those of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
By 2014, the anti-communist fervor personified by Singlaub had, ironically, fully merged with the Kremlin agenda, one which was centered on consolidation of power by oligarchs as well as an alliance with the Orthodox church to consolidate their hold over the Russian public.
At the September 14, 2018 gathering of the Schlafly Eagles, Singlaub’s organization, “America’s Future,” presented General Michael T. Flynn with its inaugural “Singlaub Award,” to honor him as the first person deemed fit to carry on Singlaub’s legacy.
Singlaub, now aged 99, is still alive. On January 23, 2020, he penned a letter to then Attorney General William Barr asking him to “Free Mike Flynn and Drop the Charges.”
Flynn was pardoned by President Donald Trump on November 30, 2020. And in April 2021, Flynn was appointed as executive director of Singlaub’s group, America’s Future.
Continued in Part 2: Gold, Silver, and Cryptocurrency
This is part one of a six part series that aims to provide historical context for the events that took place on January 6th. Please follow me on Twitter for subsequent updates as they become available. Media inquiries for features, podcasts, and the like may be directed via email. For additional details on this research, please see this exhaustive documentation.