Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is author of the book “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos.” The views expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
(CNN)It’s hard to get a grip on what’s happened to one-time war hero, retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn.
Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, shockingly appeared to support a military coup in the United States during a Sunday keynote address to a Dallas conference organized by supporters of QAnon conspiracy theories.Peter Bergen To the extent that QAnon has a coherent worldview, it is that Trump will be returned to the White House following a military coup, similar to the one that happened in Myanmar in February. Read MoreAn audience member at the Dallas event asked Flynn: “I want to know why what happened in Minamar (sic) can’t happen here?” The audience raucously cheered this question. Flynn replied, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right.” Again, the audience cheered heartily. Those who served with Flynn in Afghanistan and Iraq are mystified why he has now embraced a QAnon worldview. But you don’t have to be a veteran to know it is a danger for the republic for a senior, retired officer to be undermining democracy in this fashion.Republicans appeased the extremists — and now they're paying the price Flynn is also playing with fire on a personal level. As a retired flag officer, he is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 94 of the code says that active duty and retired Armed Force members engaged in acts of sedition can face the death penalty. On Monday, Flynn seemed to be trying to dial back, saying on social media that he doesn’t support a military coup. Yet Flynn’s comments were made on video, which can be seen here by anyone who wants to judge Flynn’s response for themselves. And Flynn has more than flirted with such ideas before. After Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden, Flynn told a host on the conservative Newsmax channel that Trump “could take military capabilities, and he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states.” Flynn added for good measure, “I mean, it’s not unprecedented. These people are out there talking about martial law like it’s something that we’ve never done. Martial law has been instituted 64 times.” (Then, as now, he seemed to back away from what he’d just said, stating “I’m not calling for that. We have a constitutional process,” and “that has to be followed.”) Flynn and his lawyer Sidney Powell also participated in a White House meeting in mid-December with Trump in which they discussed how they might reverse the purportedly “rigged” presidential election, which Biden had won by large margins both in the electoral college vote and in the popular vote. And state and federal courts around the country dismissed dozens of cases challenging Biden’s win.What to expect from Trump's summer grievance tour Flynn’s recent musings about coups, martial law and overturning legitimate presidential elections are all a very long way from the period after 9/11, when he served in the elite Joint Special Operations Command as a highly regarded intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Iraq. Flynn was so well thought of that he was eventually promoted to lieutenant general and to run the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), but Flynn’s overseers in the Obama administration thought he was an ineffective manager of DIA, a large agency with 17,000 employees, and in 2014 he was pushed out of his post. Flynn seemed embittered by his dismissal and a year later he was on the campaign trail with then-candidate Trump, with whom he shared similar views about the purported menace posed by Muslims. During the campaign, Trump said he had seen thousands of Arabs in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 attacks, while Flynn said that Democratic legislators in Florida were planning to install Sharia law. These claims were, of course, false.After Trump won the presidency in 2016, he appointed Flynn his national security adviser, a post in which he served for the record briefest amount of time; only 24 days. Get our free weekly newsletter
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Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the same issue.Trump pardoned Flynn, but the eradication of his conviction doesn’t seem to have impacted Flynn’s continuing lack of good judgment: Calling for the overturning of a legitimate presidential election; floating the imposition of martial law and appearing to approve of a coup in the United States. Like so many who have entered into Trump’s orbit, Flynn’s once-sterling reputation is ever more seriously damaged.