Question: How did a campaign rally near Richmond, Va., attended by approximately 450 people, generate nearly a week’s worth of national media attention and potentially impact a closely watched gubernatorial race?
Answer: The Oct. 13 rally in the town of Glen Allen had offered MAGA political red meat starring Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. They energized Trump-loyal voters about Virginia’s Nov. 2 bellwether election between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The candidates are in a statistical dead heat with the outcome having implications for the 2022 midterm elections.
But capturing most of the press attention was the flag used at the gathering’s Pledge of Allegiance, a banner the emcee told the audience had been “carried at the peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on Jan. 6.”
Who had the clout to sponsor and organize this convergence of simmering national hot-button issues and featuring the two leading MAGA provocateurs — causing such a media uproar?
The answer is John Fredericks, a central Virginia radio talk-show host who owns and operates five stations. He bills himself as a “conservative talk radio host, media guru, and patriotic voice for America.”
Having known John since 2011, I wrote last year about his growing influence as a longtime Trump cheerleader and station owner. Thus, I was not surprised to hear that he hosted the newsmaking rally; this week, I emailed him several questions about it.
Topic A was the controversial Pledge of Allegiance to the Jan. 6 flag, which McAuliffe had been quick to denounce. John replied with a viewpoint that differed substantially from the event video, writing that he “stands by” the following statement from emcee Martha Boneta: “The American Flag at last night’s rally was in a bus tour and was never at a rally or never near the Capitol on January 6. Anyone saying anything differently is LYING. Terry McAuliffe is a stone-cold liar — desperate because he is losing — and he is LYING about the American Flag, just like he lies about his dismal record.”
I responded, “But Martha clearly said the flag was ‘carried” at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally.’ ”
After several email volleys, John called. He was agitated about the controversy and admitted that Martha misspoke at his Oct. 13 event. Referring to the U.S. Capitol protest and Trump’s rally that preceded it, he said, “The truth is that the flag was not at any rally, ever.”
Nonetheless, Glenn Youngkin — who did not attend the Glen Allen rally — had felt the media heat. The day after the event, he issued a statement:
“It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6. As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong.”
Youngkin is a successful businessman who has never held elective office. However, he has yet to invite Trump to join him on the campaign trail even though the former president heartily endorsed Youngkin when Trump phoned in to address the rally.
McAuliffe turned Trump’s “gift” endorsement into a TV spot. Previously, while hammering his anti-Trump theme, McAuliffe had sent an email blast with the subject line: “Terry McAuliffe Needs You to Stop Trumpism in Virginia.”
Overall, Fredericks was pleased with the media attention his rally generated under the invitation to “Take Back Virginia” — even though the national press gleefully reported that the Republican gubernatorial nominee wasn’t present.
“This event was never about Glenn Youngkin — he didn’t need to attend. This was our event about rallying the Trump base who did not show up in Virginia in 2017, 2018, or 2019. They need to show up in 2021 to win,” John wrote in an email.
Some speakers, such as state Sen. Amanda Chase, had warned earlier on John’s show, “I know how they’re stealing elections, and we’re not gonna let that happen this year.”
Rally attendees also heard the usual repeated claims that Trump won in 2020 (including by the former president himself), while Bannon predicted that Trump would return to the White House in 2024. In fact, the latest Quinnipiac poll found 78% of Republicans want him to run again.
Bannon — a big name draw at the rally — is a business associate of Fredericks, whose radio network founded and hosts his popular show, “War Room.” Since that program often makes news, I asked John about its success.
“Steve Bannon’s War Room is the most-watched and listened to live broadcast in America today,” he replied. “His total audience has surpassed 100 million downloads worldwide. I had the opportunity to be the founder of Steve’s War Room show two years ago. I was Trump’s chairman of his Virginia campaigns in 2016 and 2020 and got to know [Bannon] when he was chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016. He inspired me.”
On Thursday, Bannon was found in criminal contempt of Congress by a vote of 229-202. He had refused to comply with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — guaranteeing even higher ratings and more downloads as “War Room” wages war over that legal battle.
How did Fredericks’ once fledging talk-radio career pull him into the orbit of two mega-MAGA figures?
The trajectory started on June 1, 2015, when Fredericks predicted on air that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States. Then, two weeks later, Trump famously descended that gold escalator, launching his campaign and changing America’s political landscape.
Fredericks had, and continues to have, the former president on his show. And, as mentioned earlier, he held leadership roles in Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Doing so, Fredericks broke new ground as a regional media figure who openly engages in high-level partisan politics outside of the studio.
But sometimes, Trump does not make life easy for even his most ardent supporters. For example, on the day of Glen Allen rally, Trump released the following controversial statement:
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
In John’s email to me, he wrote what sounded like pushback against that sentiment, at least as it pertains to Virginia’s election on Nov. 2: “We want our MAGA supporters to turn out in record numbers to vote and to get involved as poll watchers, election officials, door knockers, phone callers, and everything else they can do to help Youngkin win in Virginia.”
He also reiterated his support for the GOP candidate:
“Glenn Youngkin is generating tremendous excitement in our Trump base because he is organizing the greatest game-day election integrity operation in history. This is also being coordinated with the RNC, and it will ensure a free and fair election where every legitimate and legal vote is counted, and illegal votes are not counted. This voter integrity model will serve as a state-by-state blueprint for the midterms.”
Then I asked, “If Youngkin loses to McAuliffe, does that mean the election was stolen?”
“It depends on what the Glenn Youngkin campaign and the RNC says. Let’s see what happens — Youngkin has done everything humanly possible to ensure that the election is not stolen,” he replied.
John Fredericks is a unique talk show talent/media owner/activist who believes that Trumpism will outlast Trump. “It’s a movement, not a personality,” he explained. “It will endure with new leaders who authentically embrace the core tenets of America First and put America’s workers first.”
When I asked John about his own future, he insisted that he “outworks everyone,” provides “excellent return on investment to his advertisers,” and “plans for future station acquisition.”
“My audience,” he continued, “is growing exponentially because good, bad or ugly, I tell the truth and the truth will set you free. I am the Godzilla of Truth in America.”