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Two months after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to help President Donald Trump stay in office, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, attended a gathering of right-wing activists where a speaker declared to roaring applause that Trump was still the “legitimate president,” a video recording of the event shows.
“There is a robbery that is going on in this country right now,” pastor and conservative radio personality C.L. Bryant told the crowd, according to video posted to Facebook by an attendee. “In fact, I say it to you and I’ll say it loud and clear, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I won’t bite my tongue. I do believe that Donald John Trump is the only legitimate president.”
The event on March 6, 2021, was a meeting of Frontliners for Liberty. The group vaulted from obscurity to national attention last week with the disclosure that Thomas had invited pro-Trump lawyer John Eastman to speak to its members in December 2020.
The revelation, originating from emails that a judge ordered Eastman to turn over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, showed that Thomas was in contact with Eastman, a key legal architect of the attempt to subvert the election. The judge, David O. Carter of the Central District of California, wrote in a June 7 opinion that the emails, including two in which the group’s “high-profile leader” invited Eastman to speak — were relevant to the committee’s work.
While text messages and emails unearthed in recent weeks have shown that Thomas was involved in those efforts before Jan. 6, her attendance at the Orlando gathering indicates that her alliance with election deniers continued even after Joe Biden was inaugurated. Frontliners has hosted hard-right lawmakers, insisted on strict secrecy and proclaimed that the nation’s top enemy is the “radical fascist left,” according to social media posts, court filings and interviews with several people involved in the group.
One photograph from the Orlando event shows Bryant posing with Thomas. Others show Thomas wearing a name tag decorated with a yellow ribbon she and others wore saying “Trouble Maker.”
Thomas did not respond to messages seeking comment. Bryant also did not respond to a request for comment.
Thomas’s role in Frontliners was confirmed Thursday, when Eastman published an email in which she invited him to speak to the group on Dec. 8, 2020. The email was one of many Eastman had sought to shield related to the group, which was not identified in court filings. Eastman argued that releasing them to the committee would violate participants’ First Amendment rights.
The group said it operated in what was understood to be a “cone of silence,’” Eastman wrote in a May filing. He quoted an email he had received from the group as saying, “We are careful about who is on the phone and who is in the room and we do not leak what happens, what is said or who is in the meeting — ever!”
Eastman on Thursday downplayed the significance of the invitation, writing that Thomas had asked him to give an “update about election litigation to a group she met with periodically.” He wrote that he did not discuss “any matters pending or likely to come before the court” with Thomas or her husband.
The committee has not released any Frontliners emails. It has requested an interview with Thomas and asked her to turn over communications with a range of people, including pro-Trump lawyers, members of Congress and Justice Department employees. Thomas told the conservative Daily Caller last week that she looks forward to meeting with the committee and “can’t wait to clear up misconceptions.”
Revelations about Thomas’s activities have highlighted potential conflicts of interest that her husband faces in deciding cases about the 2020 election and attempts to subvert it. Clarence Thomas has not recused himself from any of those cases — including one in January in which he was the lone justice to back a request from Trump to block the release of White House documents related to Jan. 6.
A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court did not respond to questions for Clarence Thomas.
Ginni Thomas has said she keeps her work separate from her husband’s.
Members described Frontliners for Liberty as a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists. The conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks provides significant institutional support, including briefing the group’s members and hosting “fly-ins,” when members convene in person, according to former New Mexico lawmaker Janice Arnold-Jones and a second person familiar with Frontliners’ operations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the group.
FreedomWorks “partners with” Frontliners, but the two are separate entities, FreedomWorks spokesman Peter Vicenzi wrote in emails to The Washington Post.
“Ginni Thomas, for years, has been an invaluable ally to our activist community when it comes to engaging on shared issues,” Vicenzi wrote. “Thomas herself has been a steadfast conservative activist and FreedomWorks is proud to work with her.”
In her email invitation to Eastman, Thomas copied another recipient and said that person — whose name was redacted — was assisting with meeting arrangements because “I am on sabbatical until this election stuff is resolved.” It is not clear how her role on sabbatical differed from what it had been previously.
Arnold-Jones told the The Post that Thomas was not the group’s sole leader. “It is more spread out than that,” she said in an interview. “She’s part of it. Occasionally, we see Ginni.”
Arnold-Jones said the group maintains strict confidentiality, “so people can say what they need to say.” She said the group serves a critical networking function, connecting activists across states to lawmakers and other decision-makers. But such details are shared discreetly, she said. “When the information is shared, they don’t send out a big old letter that says, ‘Here’s their phone number.’ ”
Frontliners for Liberty does not have a web presence except for a private Facebook group of about 50 people that was established in August 2020 and administered by Ginni Thomas and Stephanie Miller Coleman, the widow of one of Clarence Thomas’s former clerks. Coleman did not respond to a request seeking comment.
The Post viewed the public-facing description of the Facebook group last week. It has since been removed from public view. The group was described as “a new collaborative, liberty-focused, action-oriented group of state leaders representing grassroots armies to CONNECT, INFORM and ACTIVATE each other weekly to preserve constitutional governance.”
The banner at the top of the page read: “The enemy of America … is the radical fascist left.”
Coleman’s personal Facebook page featured pictures of herself with Ginni and Clarence Thomas and other high-profile Washington figures, including Trump’s former White House strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. In a 2015 photo, Coleman poses with Ginni Thomas, who is wearing a pin that says “I [heart] my husband” and a name tag identifying the event they were attending as “Thomas Clerk World Retreat.”
Clarence Thomas’s former clerks communicate on an email list known as Thomas Clerk World, The Post has previously reported. In the weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Ginni Thomas apologized to those on the email list for a rift that developed among them after her pro-Trump advocacy and endorsement of his Jan. 6 rally. Eastman is a former Thomas clerk.
Since The Post viewed Coleman’s photographs last week, she made most of her Facebook page private.
During his speech at the March gathering in Orlando, Bryant said the nation is embroiled in “spiritual warfare” and urged attendees to “stand and defend this republic.” He decried changing definitions of marriage, family and gender, and he returned repeatedly to the notion that the presidency had been stolen.
“It was a theft, I tell you. It was the greatest theft that America has ever experienced. But yet here we sit, with a person in the White House who is fraudulently there,” Bryant said. “My friends, you must not be afraid to say it. You must not be afraid to speak it.”
Bryant, urging the crowd to action, asked: “What are you prepared to do?” He added: “I believe Ginni asked this question. Are we just going to leave here with the rah rah, go on about our business? … When you leave here tonight, what are you prepared to do?”
It is not clear whether he was referring to Ginni Thomas. Photographs from the event show her speaking with a microphone at an outdoor gathering.
The video was posted on the Facebook account belonging to John Di Lemme, a podcast host and founder of the Conservative Business Journal.
Di Lemme told The Post that he is not associated with Frontliners but heard Bryant’s speech after he and his wife dropped by to have lunch and dinner with a friend who was attending the meeting.
Attendees at the Orlando gathering included a wide range of FreedomWorks staff, from a grass-roots organizer who later pleaded guilty to unlawfully demonstrating in the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot to senior economist Stephen Moore, who was tapped by Trump for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board but withdrew from consideration following bipartisan criticism of his comments about women.
Other attendees included former state lawmakers, political candidates and conservative activists such as Ron Armstrong, a Michigan businessman who rose to national prominence for leading protests against coronavirus restrictions, and Brian Camenker, president of MassResistance, which has been designated as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Moore said he delivers remarks at many such events and didn’t remember details about the group.
Armstrong told The Post he recalled Thomas giving welcome remarks in Orlando because she’s “obviously someone people care about and would want to say hello or welcome.” He said Frontliners brings together activists on a range of issues and has no central organizational structure. The Post located no corporate records for the group.
“Frontliners isn’t anything,” he said. “All that is is a group of people that coalesce around messages and causes and make sure we’re working together.”
Camenker did not respond to a request for comment.
Susan Voyles, a longtime conservative activist in Georgia, said she attended the March conference in her capacity as president of the Georgia chapter of the conservative Eagle Forum and saw Thomas there. Voyles said the meeting was focused primarily on education issues highlighted by the pandemic.
In August, several months after the Orlando gathering, Armstrong posted to Facebook a letter from the Michigan Frontliners for Freedom Group to state legislators demanding a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election. Armstrong said the state group is distinct from the national collective.
A Frontliners event in October featured an appearance by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), one of the leading election deniers in Congress, according to a photograph he posted to Twitter. Merissa Hamilton, identified as a FreedomWorks grass-roots director on LinkedIn, tweeted another photo on the same day, apparently from the same event. It included an image of three other Republican members of Congress who played key roles in pushing falsehoods about the 2020 election: Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.).
“Congressman @replouiegohmert, Congresswoman @mtgreenee, and Congresswoman @laurenboebert at @FreedomWorks Frontliners for Liberty,” the tweet read, according to a version preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment, and neither did spokespeople for Gosar, Gohmert, Greene and Boebert.
Alice Crites, Amy Gardner and Carol Leonnig contributed to this report.