Disgraced General Michael Flynn Has Made a New Movie—About Himself

Trump’s former national security adviser is surprised the government hasn’t killed him.

Mother Jones; Olivier Douliery/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP

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To hear Michael Flynn tell it, he belongs in the pantheon of great American martyrs alongside President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leaders who spoke truth to power and paid for it with their lives. “I’m surprised they haven’t killed me,” the former Trump national security adviser says in his new eponymous film. “I’m surprised that they let me continue to live…we’ve gone from a physical assassination of a president of the United States to a character assassination of a national security adviser.”

Flynn: Deliver the Truth. Whatever the Cost. is a two-hour effort to rehabilitate the image of the three-star general who was once considered a brilliant military intelligence officer, but, since getting fired by President Obama in 2014 from his post as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has generated an endless string of scandalous headlines.

Among his greatest hits: accepting $45,000 to attend a 2015 dinner in Moscow, where he sat next to Vladimir Putin; leading anti-Clinton chants of “Lock her up!” at the 2016 Republican National Convention; working as an unregistered foreign agent for the authoritarian Turkish government while advising Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Then there was his guilty plea for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, his pardon by Trump, and his attempt to persuade Trump to use the military to overturn the 2020 election results. It’s quite a record, and the reason why a press release for the film describes Flynn as “the most maligned American General in modern US history.”

It’s quite a record, and the reason why a press release for the film describes Flynn as “the most maligned American General in modern US history.”

After the 2020 election, Flynn managed to convert his pariah status into a political movement through his remarkably successful ReAwaken America tour, a series of conferences that resemble a tent revival, only with a mishmash of anti-vaxxers, self-proclaimed prophets, election deniers like MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell, QAnon adherents, and an assortment of Trump family members. Several thousand people showed up for the one I attended in Pennsylvania in 2022.

Authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat told the AP in 2022 that Flynn is “one of the most dangerous individuals in America today.” She explained, “He is spearheading the attack on our democracy, which is coming from many quarters, and he is affiliated with many of these sectors, from the military to Christian nationalism to election denial to extremist groups. All of this comes together to present a very live threat. And he’s at the center.”

The ReAwaken tour seems to be winding down ahead of the election. For the past two months, Flynn has instead been traveling in a tour bus to churches and community centers in outposts like Branson, Missouri, and Fargo, North Dakota, to screen a film that promises to expose “the intricate web of political intrigue and the severe persecution General Flynn faced after exposing deep-seated corruption within the corridors of power.” His most devoted followers could even score $200 VIP tickets that offered photo ops with the general, plus a tote bag full of Flynn swag.

In early May, I drove to Charleston, West Virginia, to see how Flynn’s new film venture was faring without the extensive supporting cast of the ReAwaken America events. I also hoped it might reveal what’s next for a man Trump once considered as a possible running mate and who never seems far from the former president’s orbit.  

When I arrived, Flynn’s tour bus was parked outside a West Virginia State University auditorium. The historically Black university seemed an incongruous venue given Flynn’s popularity among white nationalists, but then I learned that today its student body is almost 80 percent white. Inside, Flynn’s famous murder boards lined a corridor. Photos, news clippings, printouts of Trump tweets, dates of notable events, and many highlights from special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation covered the huge panels, all crisscrossed with pinned-up strings like a serial killer investigation.

I felt as if I’d stumbled into the scene from A Beautiful Mind, when Alicia Nash enters her math genius husband’s office and discovers that instead of doing math, he had been spending his days plastering the walls with conspiratorial detritus, also connected by strings. John Nash suffered from schizophrenia; Flynn says two fans made his boards.

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn shows former Fox News host Tucker Carlson his murder boards.Courtesy Flynn Movie

I ducked into the auditorium just as someone from Flynn’s crew appeared to be rounding up the few members of the media—not for interviews, as I discovered later, but to chuck them out. Inside, most of the seats had been roped off to force the 50 or so attendees to cluster at the front thereby creating the illusion of a full house. A giant photo of Flynn in profile loomed over the stage, with a gun sight superimposed over his stern visage. Iraq war veteran Boone Cutler, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a 2005 mortar attack, served as MC for the night.

Cutler warmed up the room by asking where people had come from. “The People’s Republic of Fairfax County!” one Virginia man exclaimed. One of the few Black attendees volunteered that she’d flown in from Savanah, Georgia, where she’d seen the film once before. Many, if not most, of the audience seemed to have come at the urging of “special guest” Derrick Evans, a January 6 rioter who was running for a West Virginia congressional seat.

“How many of you think Gen. Flynn went to jail?” Cutler asked the audience members. About two-thirds of them raised their hands. “You’ve all been the subject of an intelligence operation!” Cutler told them with a laugh, before informing them that Flynn never went to jail. There was the requisite singing of the national anthem, a plug for the tour sponsor, Beverly Hills Precious Metals Exchange—Flynn’s “gold buyer of choice”—and finally, the film.

Early images in Flynn harken back to the general’s childhood, much of which he spent on the beach in Rhode Island, surfing in the cold water off the Atlantic coast, a passion he still pursues. Copious footage of the shirtless, 65-year-old paddling out to sea evokes a waterborne version of Putin’s horseback riding portraits.

Courtesy Flynn Movie

The film is a family affair. Flynn is the sixth of nine siblings from a Democratic working-class family, and four of them appear in the film, along with Flynn’s wife Lori, son Michael Jr., and a weepy niece who helped run his legal defense fund.

On screen, Flynn narrates his personal history from what looks like a home situation room, surrounded by walls covered in maps, a classroom-size whiteboard, and tables big enough to accommodate plans to sack the US Capitol or kidnap Turkish religious leaders. From this retirement command post, the former Army paratrooper recounts an early, formative experience, one in which, he says, “I really learned about being steady.”

Shortly after taking command of a battalion of several hundred people, he was summoned to the site of a fatal helicopter crash. “The smell of the fuel that was burning, the bodies that were burned, you’re standing right there going ‘holy crap,’” he says ruefully. “Nine people.” Flynn doesn’t specify the location of the crash, but his despair over all the senseless deaths he’s witnessed—and participated in—permeates the film.

It’s hard not to wonder whether battlefield trauma lies at the root of whatever set him on his current path. His critique of the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan radiates bitterness. He takes some legitimate potshots at the late Secretary of State Colin Powell, who played a key role in justifying the Iraq invasion. Then again, Flynn just may have been nursing a grudge against Powell, who once referred to him as a “jerk” and “right-wing nutty” in emails leaked in 2016.

The whole film is like that. Just when I thought one of his earnest rants might lead to a genuine insight into Flynn’s psyche, a Google search would expose it as simply a variation on long-simmering and frequently aired grievances by someone who has never forgiven Barack Obama for warning Trump not to hire him.

Likewise, the film makes his claims of being the victim of an abusive Justice Department seem almost plausible. But then someone like Tracy Beanz pops up to provide color commentary. Identified as an “investigative journalist” in the film, Beanz, whose real name is Tracy Diaz, was an early promoter of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that an elite Democratic cabal has been running a global pedophile ring. Flynn embraced the cult-like movement a few years ago, going so far as to post a video of himself in 2020 reciting the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

“I think it’s fair to expect that they will try to kill you—maybe not shoot you in Dealy Plaza, but put you in prison, impoverish your family, silence you, dismiss you in the eyes of most as ridiculous.”

So many fringe players populate the film that I had to look up the backstory of almost everyone who appeared on screen for a refresher. One character I didn’t have to look up was Tucker Carlson, who calls Flynn’s story “inspiring.” The former Fox News host sees parallels between the general and JFK, who he suggests was killed by the government. If you’re Flynn, he says, “I think it’s fair to expect that they will try to kill you—maybe not shoot you in Dealy Plaza, but put you in prison, impoverish your family, silence you, dismiss you in the eyes of most as ridiculous.”

A triumph of revisionist history, Flynn is another example of just how good right-wing filmmakers have gotten at making these sorts of propaganda films. Producer Scott Wiper does a masterful job of presenting a man who once suggested that Covid vaccines were being secretly distributed through salad dressing as eminently reasonable. Flynn reminded me of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest epic, Police State, which I saw in a theater last year.

Like Flynn, D’Souza was pardoned by Trump, in his case, for a felony conviction for organizing straw donations to a New York Senate candidate. Police State dramatically reimagined D’Souza’s prosecution as retaliation for his truth-telling, complete with the gun-sight imagery. I came away from it momentarily convinced that the rioters who attacked the US Capitol on January 6 were in fact “nonviolent protesters” and victims of corrupt jack-booted FBI agents. Police State was utterly impossible to fact-check in real-time.

I was similarly disoriented watching Flynn, which tries to recast all his many tribulations as the product of a rogue state bent on silencing a brave dissident, rather than as the consequences of his own misdeeds. It’s so convincing that when I returned home from Charleston, I suggested to my media-critic husband that perhaps Flynn really was getting a bad rap from reporters.

After coming to my senses, it took me days in the archives, reading through mountains of old legal filings and profiles of Flynn, to untangle the facts from fiction. For example, in the film, Flynn repeatedly insists that he never discussed easing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergev Kislyak in the intercepted call that led to his criminal prosecution. Well, here’s the declassified transcript of the call showing that he did indeed discuss sanctions. (In the film, Flynn claims that this public version of the transcript, which was provided to members of Congress, is fake.)

Or how about Flynn’s portrayal of the “pardon of innocence” he says he neither wanted nor needed from Trump? As one of the film’s leading villains, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan, observed, the pardon “does not, standing alone, render (Mr. Flynn) innocent of the alleged violation.” And the pardon Trump gave Flynn, which can be found here, says nothing about innocence.

Skillfully deployed omissions are one of Flynn’s specialties. Lawyer Sidney Powell is lionized for helping the retired general try to withdraw his guilty plea in the Russia case, but she’s not interviewed in the movie—probably for good reason. After playing a central role in the “Stop the Steal” campaign, she pleaded guilty in October to six misdemeanor counts for conspiring to help Trump overturn the election.

Flynn was subpoenaed to appear before the special grand jury in that case because, among other things, he appeared on Newsmax in December 2020 and proposed that Trump dispatch the military to swing states “and basically re-run an election in each of those states.” He also had joined Powell at the White House to lobby for invoking martial law and seizing voting machines. The special grand jury recommended indicting him, too, but Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declined to bring charges. None of this is covered in the film, which draws to a jubilant close not long after the general secures the pardon he says he didn’t need.

As I watched happy scenes of the shirtless retiree shooting hoops with his brother in the pool—he played water polo in college—I asked myself why I was wasting so much time on a movie about a guy I’m not sure anyone still cares about. I realized I had wanted the film to answer the greatest mystery that still makes Flynn so interesting: How did he get here? Why did a decorated military general known for his brilliance in military intelligence wake up one day and decide to take the QAnon oath? Why did such a renowned straight talker plead the Fifth dozens of times when he was deposed by the House January 6 committee?

People have been asking these questions for years, but as yet, no one has discovered the unifying theory of Michael Flynn that explains his transformation. His film doesn’t provide one either. If Flynn the movie fails to shed much light on the unraveling of Flynn the man, it does succeed as a painful reminder of what the Trump years were like—with all the chaos and corruption—and a foreshadowing of what might happen should he be elected again.

In Charleston, I overheard people chattering about how much they’d like to see Trump pick Flynn as his 2024 running mate now that he’d dumped that traitor, Mike Pence, whose appearance in the film prompted a hail of boos from the audience. During the Q&A, an audience member asked Flynn directly whether he would return to public service. In response, he turned, raised his eyebrows, and tilted his head sadly towards his photo with the gun target on it, before hinting that he very well might do so should Trump get elected.

He hasn’t completely eschewed politics. In September 2022, he was elected to the GOP executive board in Sarasota County, Florida. That same year, the AP calculated that Flynn endorsed 99 candidates for various offices. In Charleston, two West Virginia candidates he’d endorsed joined him on stage: Evans, the January 6 rioter, and Mac Warner, who was running for governor. (A few days later, they were both crushed in the GOP primary.)

Last year, Trump was speaking regularly about Flynn serving in a second administration. “You just have to stay healthy because we’re bringing you back,” Trump told Flynn in May 2023, when he called a ReAwaken event at the Trump Doral in Miami. “We’re going to bring you back.”

Trump’s campaign team seems to have tamped down his public promises of a Flynn return, but that hasn’t kept the controversial general away from the former president. When his nonprofit group America’s Future held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in March 2024, Trump appeared on stage with Flynn. “You’re a great guy,” Trump said. “I just want to thank you for all you’ve done for the country.” 

During the Q&A in Charleston, Flynn warned that a Trump victory in the fall “is not a given.” If history is any guide, he added, “we will have about 30 million Christians who won’t vote” in the presidential election. “We just cannot have that.”

He urged attendees to organize their churches, cast a ballot, and of course, buy some of his books. Then Flynn asked people to stand for a closing prayer. MC Boone Cutler did the honors, on behalf of people “who want this country cleaned and cleansed.” He asked for the Lord’s help in persuading those skeptical of Flynn’s message. It was nearly 10 pm when the tour bus pulled up to the door, ready to help Flynn deliver the truth, whatever the cost, in Blakely, Pennsylvania, his next stop.


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Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

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