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Speaking to a crowd at a Holiday Inn in Clearwater, Florida, QAnon influencer Juan O. Savin described his weekly routine.
“On Friday mornings, I have a call with all my candidates from around the country,” Savin told attendees of the Truth Tour 2 on Oct. 14. “Some people aren’t aware, I actually have the largest candidates group in the country: candidates coalition, secretaries of state, governors, attorney generals, all that.”
Then he set off on a meandering narrative about election fraud, his plan to wage a “Fallujah”-like military operation on D.C., and his claims to “actually have more Trump Points than any other living person on the planet.”
Savin, real name Wayne Willott, is a longtime conspiracy theorist who rebranded as his current moniker (a QAnon reference) with the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Some followers of the theory falsely believe Savin to be JFK Jr.
But another right-wing group also takes cues from Savin. He’s the founder of the America First Secretary of State Coalition (AFSOSC), an organization working to place election-denying candidates in charge of states’ elections. Just weeks out from the midterms, some AFSOS-backed candidates have remained in lockstep with Savin and his allies, even as other Republicans draw away from the QAnon-aligned figures.
Secretaries of state help run elections and certify their states’ election results. Following Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his 2020 loss, election deniers on the right have eyed secretary of state roles as a possible way to force Republican victories.
Jim Marchant, a secretary of state candidate in Nevada, appeared to preview the plan in a speech this month, claiming without evidence to have discovered a “rigged election” against Trump.
“When I’m secretary of state of Nevada, we are going to fix it, and when my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected we’re going to fix the whole country, and President Trump is going to be president again in 2024,” Marchant said.
Marchant’s coalition is AFSOSC, which he founded with Savin. Marchant describes the partnership as forming after he lost a congressional bid, which he blamed on voter fraud.
“I won election day, I won mail-in voting,” Marchant said in a speech at the QAnon-associated Patriot Double Down conference last October. “Only after two weeks of fraudulent mail-in ballots did I lose. So, November 4 I got to work. I got a suite in the Venetian hotel across the hall from the Trump attorneys and the Trump people that came in to start investigating the election fraud here in Nevada. Guess who showed up at my suite? It will blow you away. You saw him Saturday, you saw him yesterday. Juan O. Savin.”
Savin, in his Oct. 14 speech, said he and Marchant tried to overturn Marchant’s loss. But when they failed, they turned their eyes on secretary of state roles—not just in Nevada, but nationally.
“The very first candidate I brought into this was Jim Marchant,” Savin said. “I was helping him on the legal side. He’d run in Las Vegas for U.S. representative and his election he lost. We fought it on the legal stuff because we said, well, something wasn’t right. The clerks didn’t see it that way. So we weren’t able to reverse the situation on the vote and get it looked at, so I said, ‘The secretary of state’s doing all sorts of weird stuff here. We really need to be going after that position.’”
Though Savin’s origins are on the fringes (he’s a QAnon influencer whom a court once deemed not “credible” enough to investigate insurance claimants), his partnership with Marchant is anything but small.
The AFSOSC site solicits donations through another Marchant-run group, Conservatives for Election Integrity. That PAC has raised more than $400,000 since the beginning of the year, recent finance filings show. One of CFEI’s largest donors is the America Project, a group co-founded by election deniers and Trump pals Michael Flynn and Patrick Byrne. (CFEI has spent nearly $170,000 on a Las Vegas contractor that previously made headlines for recruiting Proud Boys to attend a rally outside a Nevada election center just days after the 2020 vote, OpenSecrets reported.)
Meanwhile, AFSOSC is backing candidates in multiple close races, in swing states where a partisan secretary of state could change the shape of future elections. Some of those candidates are active participants in events with Savin and other conspiracy theorists.
The day after his speech in Florida, Savin attended a “New Mexico Election Integrity Forum” hosted by Lara Logan. Also in attendance (in person or virtually) were Marchant, New Mexico secretary of state candidate Audrey Trujillo, Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem, and Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo. All are AFSOSC candidates who have peddled conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
All four candidates promoted election denialism in their speeches at the event, with Trujillo endorsing camp-outs at ballot boxes and Finchem, who backed a bogus 2020 election “audit” in his state, suggesting that “perhaps it’s time to see a bunch of one-way trips to Gitmo.”
Finchem credited AFSOSC with a new strategy to stop discussing “election fraud” and start using the term “election tampering” “because we’ve got to prove fraud. This is about election tampering.” At that moment, the audio on his video call cut out. “The deep state does not want to hear us talk,” he said, laughing when the audio returned.
Candidates also praised AFSOSC, Savin, and Logan, who has spent recent weeks moving into more explicit QAnon promotion. Less than a week after the forum, Logan was dropped and condemned by the far-right news channel Newsmax after she went on a conspiratorial rant claiming that “the open border is Satan’s way of controlling the world.” She later described opponents “who want us eating insects, cockroaches and that, while they dine on the blood of children.” The comments were reminiscent of claims common in QAnon and antisemitic conspiracy circles.
But Savin, the AFSOSC founder, routinely goes further in his promotion of conspiracy theories. During his Truth Tour speech, the day before the candidate forum, Savin described a plan for Trump in which the erstwhile president works out of Air Force One and walls off D.C. with concertina wire “like they did in Fallujah.” After ordering people to evacuate and submit to screening, “anybody that’s still left in the city after three days, you’re an enemy combatant. We’re gonna come get ya. You can come out or we can blow you out, we can drag you out, you’re coming out of there one way or another, and that’s the way it’s gonna be in D.C., right [...] Divert the Potomac, flood the city. It’s the swamp.”
Savin also hinted at a conspiracy theory, growing in popularity among QAnon circles, that a national shutdown would postpone the 2022 elections, in which case Trump fans would have to take militant action.
Despite the reluctance even of hard-right outlets like Newsmax to platform certain conspiracy theories, several Savin-backed candidates still stand strong chances in their elections next month. Marchant has consistently polled ahead of his Democratic opponent Cisco Aguilar. A survey from Arizona’s Family and HighGround in mid-October found Finchem polling one point ahead of the state’s Democratic candidate.
After Savin concluded a rant about George Soros at the Oct. 15 candidate forum, Trujillo took the microphone back.
“Let’s hear it for Juan O. Savin,” she told the crowd. “Is he awesome?”