The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Matt Braynard, former Trump campaign aide, nabs spotlight with Capitol crusade

Matt Braynard was in a group hunting for voter fraud in the 2020 election. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The last time Matt Braynard held a rally in D.C. to defend those arrested for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, about 100 people showed up. But now Braynard is taking his protest outside the site of the insurrection, leading to heightened law enforcement and widespread media coverage.

He has the attention he has long sought, putting Washington on high alert for a rally he himself estimated hundreds, not thousands, would attend. But he doesn’t have the broad support of the far right as he seeks to position himself as one of its leaders.

Some of the members of Congress most outspoken in supporting Donald Trump and spreading false narratives around the Capitol attack are not attending. Trump himself told the Federalist the rally was a “setup,” adding people who showed up would “be harassed.” He didn’t mention Braynard, who briefly worked on his 2016 campaign.

Braynard, who as of last fall ran some of his efforts from a Northern Virginia apartment, has his own consulting firm and has worked for years in Republican polling and data analysis. But he has found a more public role supporting false narratives surrounding the 2020 election.

“He has taken it upon himself to try to embody the far right’s greater desire to rewrite the history of January 6 in a way that is more flattering to themselves,” said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s digital forensic research lab who researches domestic extremism.

After Trump lost reelection in 2020, Braynard began inserting himself into the former president’s universe, supporting both his false claims of election irregularities and those inspired to attack the Capitol to stop the supposed fraud. He has been paid and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, Braynard said in a hearing before Georgia state lawmakers. His once-obscure organization, Look Ahead America, has hosted events at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and rallies supporting those jailed for the events of Jan. 6.

“Already this rally is a success,” Braynard said in an interview on MSNBC Friday, citing the increased attention he has received because his “Justice for J6” rally on Saturday is outside the U.S. Capitol. The number of attendees doesn’t matter, he said, because “there’s going to be so much media.” To Braynard, “It’s not really a numbers game, it’s a message game.”

Capitol, D.C. police say city prepared in case of violence connected to Justice for J6 rally

Braynard, who grew up in South Carolina, says he got his start in politics volunteering for Pat Buchanan, a far-right, anti-immigrant presidential candidate. Over time, he has engaged with and praised far-right activists.

He worked for the Trump campaign from October 2015 to March 2016, long before Trump was a leading candidate, according to court documents. Braynard told BuzzFeed News he was fired by the Trump campaign after six months for demanding a raise and was rebuffed when he tried to get a job in 2020.

But he took on a prominent role in efforts to undo the former president’s defeat that year. A conservative nonprofit with ties to Trump’s legal team paid him $40,000 to serve as an “expert witness” in challenges to the election results in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin. He also raised $675,000 on the Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo for analyses that were used in legal challenges in Pennsylvania and Michigan, according to affidavits submitted in federal court and his testimony in Georgia.

At one hearing in Georgia, he testified in front of state lawmakers alongside former Trump campaign attorney Rudolph Giuliani. According to court records, Braynard does not have a scientific background, and experts dismissed his claims of voter fraud as based on sloppy biased surveys. Among other mistakes, a Georgia Democratic lawmaker noted during his testimony, Braynard assumed any apartment building that included a FedEx store in the lobby could not also have residents.

Look Ahead America, which calls itself an “America First Nonprofit” and solicits donations on its homepage as “tax-deductible,” lost its tax-exempt status in May 2020 for failing to file required tax forms, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The organization was launched in 2017 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and Braynard told the Washington Post over the summer that his organization has since filed those forms and is waiting for its tax-exempt status to be reinstated.

Braynard told The Post he was passionate about fighting for alleged rioters who he believes are being falsely prosecuted and “vilified because of their political viewpoints.” He says he is only supporting those who did not commit assault or destroy property, but falsely claims those actors were few and far between.

Roughly 600 people have been charged in the attack, making it one of the largest prosecutions in history. On Jan. 6, members of the mob assaulted police with bats, sticks and chemical spray in what prosecutors say are about a 1,000 separate attacks, injuring at least 130 officers. The chaos led to the deaths of five people. Over 100 people are charged with assaulting law enforcement.

Court hearings, guilty pleas belie right-wing recasting of Jan. 6 defendants as persecuted patriots

One day in June, Braynard stood on the bed of a truck outside the Justice Department, microphone in hand and addressed the crowd ready to defend the Jan. 6 insurrection. “Welcome to the great civil rights battle of our time,” he told them. “And you are all on the front lines.”

The next month, he appeared on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” with a surprise announcement: His next rally in support of the “political prisoners” of Jan. 6 would be “right where it started.” But almost immediately, users on far-right forums began pushing back.

“Why would any patriot go anywhere near the capital after what happened Jan 6th,” one user wrote in response to Braynard’s announcement on Telegram. “Sounds like a trap in my opinion.”

Braynard has been soliciting donations for the rally, posting a budget on Telegram that totaled $27,800. But others soon piled in across chat rooms, saying the event was “glowing,” a term referring to the event being a setup, and discouraging people from attending.

Law enforcement is taking no chances and police said they are prepared for violence by groups, lone actors or clashes between rally attendees and counterprotesters.

During a Friday press conference where authorities announced preparations, Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said officials had been in touch with riot organizers. Asked what he thought of their message, Manger said, “Everybody has got the right to free speech. They can believe what they want to believe. I’m there to uphold the rule of law and make sure everybody is safe.”

Karina Elwood and Alice Crites contributed to this report.