stop the steal

Off the Conspiracy Coast With Patrick Byrne

“I’m gonna be shocked if I’m not dead or arrested before this is over.”

Photo: Will Oliver/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Photo: Will Oliver/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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Sarasota is a circus town, winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers, the site of massive, opulent, slaphappy mansions built with money drawn from dark spectacle. Sarasota is where George W. Bush heard a plane had hit a skyscraper and kept on reading The Pet Goat to a class of second-graders. It’s near where the Saudi hijackers trained and lived, in an 858-square-foot house with French doors and an avocado tree. It’s where a German tiger trainer died and local police arrested a PETA activist attempting to dance on his grave. Sarasota is where Patrick Byrne, the founder of, recently bought not one but six houses. Charlie Kirk is nearby, and Mike Flynn and his brother Joe. It is the new headquarters of Truth Social, Donald Trump’s Twitter; Rumble, right-wing Youtube, is 11 miles away. Byrne and Flynn’s brother run a nearby nonprofit called the America Project, which is mostly funded by Byrne, is devoted to “election security,” and does not disclose its address. The gentleman on the right-wingers-moving-to-Sarasota beat is a columnist named Chris Anderson, who once pissed off the entire town by suggesting that their beloved 26-foot statue of a WWII soldier kissing a nurse was based on a sexual assault. “Sarasota County,” he writes, “has somehow become the Conspiracy Capital of the World.”

Once upon a time, Byrne was the CEO of, a nice, normal, middle-American website where you might buy your 3-year-old an animal-print bed set your husband said was too babyish at the time but that you thought worked well with the room’s palette and which somehow your son still has five years and a cross-country move later. He was heir to many millions in new money, highly educated — graduate work in mathematical logic, a Stanford Ph.D. in philosophy — and frequently very sick. He had contracted a troublesome case of hepatitis in Western China in 1983 (he is six-foot-five, stood up on a Chinese bus, gashed his head open), developed a devastating testicular cancer soon thereafter, survived five heart ablations, a tumor taken off his spine, years of his life laid up in bed. He was given to tirades. In the early 2000s he became convinced that various people were colluding to destroy the value of Overstock’s stock. He gave wild press conferences in which he referred to the leader of this conspiracy as a “Sith lord” who was a “master criminal from the ’80s.” He launched a quixotic legal campaign against naked short selling, was called insane, and maybe was, but in 2008, the market crashed and the SEC began to rein in short sellers, and in a certain reading of things, he had been right all along. By that time, he told me, as we lunched outside one of his homes and a soft breeze blew in from the Sarasota coast, there was no sense of vindication in it. He had tried so hard to convince people for so long that he had no emotional energy left for joy. He was mostly just disappointed in all of us.

More recently, Byrne, now 59 and gravel-voiced, surfaced as a dramatic protagonist in the January 6 hearings, a narrator of questionable reliability called upon to report potential acts of sedition. “I’m gonna be shocked if I’m not dead or arrested before this is over,” Byrne told me, but then he’s always a little surprised to be not dead. His health is such that he has never had a long-term relationship. He does fall for people. There was for instance the unregistered foreign agent and gun enthusiast Maria Butina, who approached him in Vegas in 2015, right after he gave a speech at FreedomFest. He found her stimulating, brilliant, “extraordinarily well read,” and eventually suspicious; in his version of events, in the midst of their affair, he reported her to the FBI, though he also sent a bunch of bitcoin to her Russian political campaign when she was out of prison. After the affair became public, in 2019, shares of Overstock tanked. He resigned. Shares went back up.

After he left Overstock, Byrne fell very ill once again, and in his recovery he found a new cause and a new crush. “There is a strange connection between us,” he writes in his recent book, The Deep Rig. “We finish each other’s sentences.” The object of this affection is General Mike Flynn, who shares with Maria Butina a reluctance to register as a foreign agent, and for whom Byrne apparently moved to Sarasota. “He’s my Yoda,” Byrne told one reporter, “so I wanted to be near him.”

It’s not entirely clear what initially convinced Byrne that Donald Trump, a man for whom he had not voted, had been swindled out of an election. “After blowing up his career at Overstock by having an affair with a Russian spy, Patrick Byrne soon found himself a new pet project: promoting the false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen,” begins the 106-page lawsuit against him brought by Dominion, the voting machine company that he had accused of tilting the election for Biden. He has always voted for the Libertarian candidate, gave big money to both conservatives and liberals in Utah, where Overstock is based. But when he was in, he was in, with all the energy he had shown years before. Yes, yes, everyone serious said he was wrong. But he had been here before, fighting for truth against a derisive press full of journalists too busy to listen. He is a true believer in the idea that a powerful cabal colluded to steal the 2020 election from Trump, an argument he wishes to make methodically, with bullet points detailing various cyberespionage capabilities.

Religions that allow for direct testimony have a way of descending into chaos; if anyone at all can receive prophecy, an ordering hierarchy becomes difficult to manage. So it is too with conspiracy theories, both true and false. If all the normal routes of communication are discredited, the path to truth is littered with grifters. This is the problem Patrick Byrne believes he is having. He claims to have assembled a team of “cyberguys, quants, witnesses, and affiants.” But his partners in this fight have been less than ideal. There are all the “witnesses” to voter fraud whose stories don’t check out. There’s the generally pathetic state of the Republican party, raising many millions to “Stop the steal” and sitting on it rather than steal-stopping. There are the simple types who think election fraud is just a bunch of dead people voting. Worst of all, there is one lawyer, America’s Lawyer, or, in Byrne’s nomenclature, “Grandpa.”

“I feared overwhelming him,” Byrne writes of his first meeting with Rudy Giuliani, the man Trump put in charge of challenging the election, “so I tried to simplify.” In Byrne’s telling, Rudy spent the meeting “checking his multiple phones for texts, right in front of me, as we sat together,” instead of absorbing the vast scheme that Byrne’s quants had mapped out. After the meeting, Byrne says he heard Giuliani say to a staffer: “I don’t understand a goddamn thing this guy’s saying.”

“Rudy had not been processing any of it,” writes Byrne, none of the stuff the quants understood, but he wasn’t going to give up on Rudy; after all, the fate of the republic (not a democracy) was at stake. So when a Giuliani staffer asked for a “one-page summary,” Byrne dutifully wrote it up and brought it to a restaurant in Georgetown as requested. He says he waited at the bar for 45 minutes, “until someone called from the mayor’s private dining room to tell me that the mayor asked that I not come back to his table.” The man in charge of exposing the greatest fraud of our time, “the 76-year-old guy who had trouble sending an email and was doing podcasts and getting sloshed,” would not respond to Byrne’s multiple texts or calls.

Here were a bunch of slow-moving men fighting a stolen election as if they didn’t truly believe it was stolen at all. General Flynn had laid out “a beautiful plan” to recount the votes, but no one was paying attention. One of Byrne’s associates describes Rudy’s operation as akin to “watching a half-dozen monkeys trying to fuck a football.”

“The simile struck me as incredibly apt,” Byrne says in his book, and goes on, incredibly, to describe its aptness. “Imagine walking into a zoo seeing a cage with six monkeys in it, tossing a football inside, and watching them all try to fuck it. There’d be screeching and snarling and fighting and running around … and none of the monkeys would make any progress towards the goal.”

Byrne forbade me from describing his home; he has not had time to address the previous owner’s bad taste, which is admittedly pretty bad. His community strikes him as paranoid. Sometimes he tries to talk to his Chinese neighbors in Mandarin, in which he is fluent, but they don’t respond. He liked to tell me to turn off my recorder, but also to turn it on. A woman he described as “the wife of my boat captain” brought us green tea. A man with tattooed sleeves walked by and didn’t say hello. The man, he said, works for him and is “special forces.” It’s not clear to me why you’d need a special-forces guy at your election-security nonprofit, and also why no one at America Project headquarters will even consider letting a journalist into the building.

Byrne said he has spent $20 million trying to convince the world that the election was stolen. He helped pay for the $6 million Arizona audit that ultimately found Biden won. (“You don’t believe that, do you?” he asked me.) The experience of being a whistleblower is almost uniformly traumatic, and the identity itself is intoxicating. What has somehow survived, in Byrne, is the earnest conviction that he can eventually convince the rest of us if he just keeps talking. He is a doomsayer, open to the possibility that we’re about to descend into a civil war that will force him to retreat to his well-equipped bunker in the American West, but also an optimist, in that he remains convinced of his ability to persuade and of ours to listen. His life is one of knocking on slammed doors, though the most relevant door turned out to be open.

In the days prior to the December 18 meeting generally agreed to be the most bonkers of the entire Trump presidency, Byrne said he and Flynn both felt sick about how Giuliani was screwing it all up. The country would slide into tyranny because of a person who, “six weeks into what might be the most sophisticated cyber-theft in all of history,” he writes, “still could not have a coherent conversation beyond did you hear that 211 dead people in Philadelphia voted?” They had to bypass Rudy, “by hook or by crook” and “with no invitation.” They had a plan, a beautiful plan, and Trump just needed to realize that he had the authority to enact it.

By all accounts, they pulled this off by simply … walking into the White House. They were accompanied by Sidney Powell and someone Byrne consistently refers to as a “female lawyer,” even after he gives her the pseudonym Alyssa. Their suggestion was to get rid of Giuliani, put Powell and Flynn in charge, and have the National Guard, or maybe DHS, recount ballots in six states by force. Alyssa the female lawyer, whose name is Emily Newman, explained why this was perfectly legal, despite appearances. Three of Trump’s lawyers “all started being bitches,” Byrne says, claiming they didn’t like the “optics” of using the National Guard to seize voting machines. After more bitching from Pat Cipollone, after Trump’s lawyers accused Alyssa/Emily the female lawyer of not even being a lawyer, Flynn sprung to his feet, “with a grace and ease that surprised me,” to ask whether anyone in the room believed Trump had lost the election. Byrne says he was ready to “bury knuckles” in Cipollone’s throat should the man come any closer to Flynn, himself, or Alyssa. Someone brought meatballs, and Byrne ate them, and they were good.

“In the course of that meeting,” Byrne writes, “I felt something much different than I had expected to feel, something that made me want to put an arm around the man and give him a long squeeze of reassurance. What was it I felt? I’m still not sure: Commiseration for a tired man? A kind of love?”

But there was no follow-up, no National Guard to take the machines, no appointment of Sidney Powell to a position of prominence. The lawyers had gotten to the man in charge. Byrne continued to try to deliver messages no one wanted. Summoned to Mar-a-Lago by a mysterious phone call, he showed up in his “best yoga clothes,” chatted up a federal “female agent” in Mandarin, hung around for three days, and never got to see the president. He was supposed to speak at the January 6 rally, but when he arrived there was no badge for him; his slot had been canceled. “Flynn and I sunk into our seats in despair,” Byrne recalls.

Byrne may have been the only person who begged to be invited to testify before the January 6 committee. On his blog, he declared they were “too pussified” to meet with him. They finally called in late July, and last week, he testified for eight hours.

Among the most bizarre elements of the rigged-election theory is the otherworldly competence it attributes to Democrats, but even Byrne can see that things are going his way. Forty percent of Americans believe the election was stolen. At most a quarter of Americans believe Biden to be their legitimately elected president. “Partisan audit” is now a familiar term, “election integrity” a euphemism for its opposite. “It turns out the bonds of civilization are much thinner than we know,” Byrne says, and he is right.

By the second day of my visit I’m having unusual difficulty generating new questions here in the Ringling retirement town. “Did I upset you?” he asked. Am I upset? Is that the word for it? I was thinking about my son sleeping under the animal bedspread he would not have if Patrick Byrne did not exist. I was wondering why a monkey would want to fuck a football. I was thinking about how we shared, in the end, the same expectation. Someday we would look back on what we had and remember the season when we lost it all, all at once, to a pack of clowns.

Off the Conspiracy Coast With Patrick Byrne