Last month, some members of Congress who have downplayed the significance of the Jan. 6 insurrection gathered outside the Justice Department to get answers, they said, about the treatment of people arrested for allegedly storming the Capitol.
Even though the press conference by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Louie Gohmert didn’t get very far — it was memorably ended by protesters and a persistent man with a whistle — Matt Braynard, who was not a part of the event, would still like to take credit for it.
Braynard, who worked for Trump for five months on the 2016 campaign before he was let go, has been Forrest Gumping his way through the postelection Trump universe. In December, he testified alongside Rudy Giuliani alleging mass voter fraud in Arizona. A week later, he told legislators in Georgia that he’d found 21,000 illegal ballots in the state (before his data was methodically torn apart by a Democratic legislator who tracked down several of the voters herself). He was a paid expert witness in three cases challenging the election results, none of which went anywhere. Long after Trump left office, he has continued releasing reports of “illegal ballots” in Wisconsin and Georgia and is working on one for Arizona, all states where pro-Trump Republicans have pushed for so-called audits of the election.
Now, he’s trying to position himself at the head of the Jan. 6 counternarrative, and he says he’s raising a lot of money doing it. Braynard has cast the Trump supporters who mobbed the Capitol as “political prisoners” and has spent months building up a protest movement that he hopes will culminate in a rally that he says he’ll host on Sept. 18 at the Capitol, “right where it started.” (Technically, it will be just across from where it started; Braynard says he’s working with Capitol Police on his permit to host a rally at Union Square, a small park on the other side of the Capitol reflecting pool from the actual building. Capitol Police declined to comment on permit details.)
Braynard has been hosting smaller protests on behalf of the Capitol rioters for two months, including one at the DOJ and another at the DC jail. He has written to DOJ and the FBI calling on them to release all of the nonviolent defendants, arguing that they were peacefully protesting in a public building. He has had supporters read letters from the incarcerated and has railed against the DC jail’s decision to keep the accused rioters in solitary confinement — something, he notes, prominent Democrats agree with him on. (The vast majority of the more than 560 people arrested in the aftermath of Jan. 6 have been allowed to go home pending trial.) He’s raised conspiracy theories about the government’s and “left-wing infiltrators’” involvement in the events of Jan. 6 and contributed to the right’s canonization of Ashli Babbitt, the Trump supporter who was shot and killed inside the Capitol.
“This is the modern civil rights struggle of our time,” he told BuzzFeed News in an email.
Braynard says he measures his success by the fact that some members of Congress are hosting similar protests and writing their own letters to DOJ now. In an interview Thursday, he also took credit for Trump’s focus on Babbitt in recent press statements. “You see President Trump now asking about Ashli Babbitt and what happened to her. We believe this is because of our organization’s efforts to bombard state legislators demanding answers by holding these events.”
Gaetz’s office declined to comment when asked if Braynard had inspired the press conference at DOJ; the offices of the other members who attended did not respond. Gosar has spoken at previous protests related to Jan. 6 that Braynard has hosted, however.
Braynard has big plans for his September Capitol protest. He says he’ll have the largest stage he is “allowed” along with a giant screen that will “present evidence that’s not been allowed to be presented in any of the hearings that have been held so far on Capitol Hill.” Members of Congress will speak, he says, but he won’t share names.
“That’s the thing, isn’t that funny? You talk about finding election fraud and the money flows in, but when you talk about registering voters, it kinda trickles.”
All of this, of course, is very expensive, as Braynard tells supporters over and over. And he’s successfully solicited donations. Between Dec. 10 and May 20, he raked in $675,000 for his voter fraud research on GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising website that has become popular among far-right figures and accused Capitol rioters raising money for their legal defense. Since then, he’s shifted to raising money through Look Ahead America, a group he and other former Trump campaign staffers started in 2017. He told BuzzFeed News that fundraising has been “robust,” but he would not give a dollar amount. The group lost its 501(c)(3) status last year after failing to file required tax forms, but Braynard said the group reapplied with the IRS in January and is awaiting approval. The IRS did not respond to a request for comment.
When Braynard first started Look Ahead America four years ago, which he branded as an “America First” organizing and voter registration campaign, it didn’t get much attention at all. He says they raised less than $50,000 over four years. He thought the Trump campaign would see the value in his organization, which he has compared to an ACORN for the right. “But nope, I was completely wrong. Nobody cared. Nobody gave a damn,” he said.
But after he started alleging that thousands of illegal ballots were cast in key states in 2020, Braynard says he’s raised enough money to hire 10–11 full-time staff and pay himself a $60,000 salary. That coupled with his protests on behalf of the Capitol riot defendants has him regularly appearing on OAN and Steve Bannon’s War Room show.
“That’s the thing, isn’t that funny? You talk about finding election fraud and the money flows in, but when you talk about registering voters, it kinda trickles,” he told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.
Braynard was the director of data and strategy for Trump’s campaign from October 2015 until March 2016. He says he was let go after he asked for more money. The conversation got “very heated,” he said, and afterward, he got a call saying he was out. Politico reported at the time that his departure was so sudden that the campaign was left “unable to access some of its files.”
Braynard says he wanted more money because he had a “family medical issue,” but repeatedly emphasized that he didn’t tell the campaign that at the time. “I kinda regret my departure,” he said Thursday. “I would have worked for free, to be honest with you, if I did not have family. If I had no family, I would have worked for them for free and slept in my office, but I couldn’t do that.”
A top staffer on Trump’s 2016 team told BuzzFeed News that Braynard was fired after he asked for more money. But the staffer also said “he wasn’t really qualified” for the job he had because he was hired at a point when recruitment was a huge struggle for the campaign.
“Nobody thought Trump was legitimate, or had any chance of winning, none of the establishment people would work for us. The main reason we hired him is because he lived in New York already and we wouldn't have to pay housing, which we had to do for tons of other people,” the staffer said.
Another key member of Trump’s 2016 team told BuzzFeed News via text that he thought Braynard “was not good at his job and saying he was running any strategy is a flat out lie. At most he was a glorified database admin.”
Braynard called their statements “demonstrable lies” from “bitter liars.” He sent BuzzFeed News a list of 12 contacts on the campaign, four of whom responded and defended his work. Braynard also sent a series of emails from the campaign in which senior leadership thanked him for his work. In one of those emails, Braynard noted that Michael Glassner, then the campaign’s national political director, referred to him as “lead[ing] our data strategy. He also sent a link to a FiveThirtyEight story about a strategy memo he wrote for the campaign recommending that they focus on “conventionally low-propensity voters” who supported Trump.
Since he was let go, Braynard has been trying to reenter Trump’s orbit and has been repeatedly rejected. Asked Thursday why he continues to center his work around a politician whose campaign let him go, Braynard rejected the question. “I’m not sure why that’s confusing. Why would it be?”
Braynard says he is “completely supportive” of Trump, calling him “the best president the country’s ever had.” It’s Trump’s campaign staff he blames for not recognizing his work.
Braynard said he applied to be a field organizer in Pennsylvania for the 2020 campaign, a job he calls “the bottom of the bottom.” It was well beneath his experience, he said, but he wanted to help out.
Still, he didn’t get the job. Braynard says “somebody at the RNC” stepped in to keep him from being hired. “But I never stopped trying to be involved,” he said.
After Trump lost the 2020 election, Braynard reached out to his campaign again, this time with a memo on how he thought they could find “illegal ballots.” He says he didn’t get a response, so he tweeted it out. Braynard says that his tweets caught the attention of Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who followed and DM’d him asking him if he was in touch with the campaign about his ideas. (A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Trump Jr. does still follow Braynard on Twitter.)
The next day, Braynard says he was invited to Trump campaign headquarters at 9 p.m. “I put on my best suit, I packed up my laptops in my backpack, I drove down to campaign headquarters in Arlington, and I stood on the sidewalk for an hour while they fought inside about whether or not to let me in. And then, ultimately, I was told I would not be let in and I went home,” he said.
“I was told later … there was actually one individual in there who said, ‘Ah, Matt’s difficult to work with, don’t let him in.’ And that was it. Despite several of the attorneys making a very strong case why they wanted me to come in, having at least a conversation. But that’s history,” he said with a sigh. “That’s history.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien declined to comment.
Absent recognition from Trump and his campaign, Braynard has devoted himself to Look Ahead America and says he is speaking with Capitol Police “daily” about plans for his September protest. In a video for potential attendees he posted last week, Braynard emphasized that he wants to have “a safe event” and called on people to “be respectful and kind to all police officers present” and to let volunteers know if they spot any trouble.
“There may be individuals in the crowd who are going to try to cause trouble, create drama, cause violence,” he said.
He’s also trying to make the event nonpartisan. He told BuzzFeed News that he invited Jesse Jackson to speak — “don’t know what they’re going to say” — and has asked attendees not to wear any campaign or election-related gear.
Outside of his protest-planning, Braynard says he’s working on a book proposal about his time on the Trump campaign and his work following the 2020 election. “I’m really trying to hopefully cash in on that with the nonfiction book because I think that’s what people want to read,” he said. ●
Kadia Goba contributed reporting to this story.