Meet the protesters who tricked conference attendees into waving Russian flags.
Two men made trouble — and stirred up a social-media frenzy — on the third day of the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference by conducting a literal false-flag operation.
Jason Charter, 22, and Ryan Clayton, 36, passed out roughly 1,000 red, white, and blue flags, each bearing a gold-emblazoned “TRUMP” in the center, to an auditorium full of attendees waiting for President Trump to address the conference. Audience members waved the pennants — and took pictures with them — until CPAC staffers realized the trick: They were Russian flags.
The stunt made waves on social media, as journalists covering CPAC noticed the scramble to confiscate the insignia.
Clayton himself was photographed outside, holding up a larger version of the flag.
“Most people didn’t realize it was a Russian flag, or they didn’t care,” Charter told me in a phone interview. He and Clayton had purchased tickets to CPAC for the day the president was scheduled to speak, and managed to disperse the flags with surprising ease among the crowd.
But the two wouldn’t call it a “false-flag” operation. “It’s true-flag operation,” Clayton told me over the phone, in a thick, mock Russian accent. “It show how Trump and Russia are so connected, they like peas in pod!” The CPAC stunt comes after a report from February 14, 2017, suggesting that Trump aides were in contact with Russian intelligence officials in the year before the U.S. presidential election. Trump himself has also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on a number of occasions.
After the flag trick, Clayton was escorted from the premises, but Charter wasn’t booted until he stood up during Trump’s official remarks to accuse him of being a “fascist” and “Putin’s puppet”.
“And, I was banned from CPAC,” Charter said, sounding pleased. “I think there are multiple ways you can resist against Trump, and I think this is one way that’s extremely effective,” Charter said. In other words, he said, “It’s fun to have a joke sometimes in a very serious situation.”
“We will continue doing these actions until Trump is impeached.”
The two are members of Americans Take Action, a self-proclaimed “resistance organization” whose website features a petition to impeach Trump and lists three priorities: restoring free and fair elections, creating a purpose-driven economy, and maintaining an open Internet.
The group is relatively new, but it’s already been busy. In late January 2017, Clayton, the organization’s president, and Charter infiltrated and attempted to film a private event held by James O’Keefe, a conservative provocateur and [then] leader of Project Veritas, Charter told me. The group also attempted to disrupt Trump’s inauguration by shouting lines from the Constitution during his inaugural address.
Its choice of O’Keefe as a target is a reminder that groups on both sides of the political spectrum frequently stage stunts like these in an effort to attract media coverage for their agendas, as Charter and Clayton successfully did on Friday.
“We will continue doing these actions until Trump is impeached,” an unrepentant Charter said.
“Remember,” Clayton added, still committed to the fake accent, “In Trump’s America, flag wave you!”
Elaine Godfrey is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
(link to archival copy of article)