NOUN: government by the mob; mob rule. ORIGIN: Fr ochlocratie < Gr ochlokratia < ochlos, a mob, populace + -kratia, -cracy.
In the immediate hours after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested inside of the Texas Theater in Dallas, the FBI began knocking on doors in Louisiana. Dealey Plaza is 508 miles away from Jackson Square, but agents knew that the man suspected of killing the president had been born and partly raised in New Orleans.
After spending a few years away, Oswald returned to the city in the late spring of 1963, living there for five months before winding up back in Dallas. He’d even managed to get himself arrested in August for disturbing the peace following a physical altercation with Carlos Bringuie, an anti-Castro activist, in front of the Ward Discount House at the intersection of Canal and St. Charles. A week later, he had appeared on a pair of local radio shows, first in a segment on WDSU’s “Latin Listening Post,” and four days later, for a live debate on the station’s “Conversation Carte Blanche.”
So when the rest of the world learned the name of the suspected assassin for the first time, there were plenty of people in New Orleans already familiar with the 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a conspiracy theory about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that doesn’t at least make a pit stop in the Crescent City.
Four days after the November election, when The Advocate reported on a “Stop the Steal” protest of around 200 people earlier that day at the steps of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge, the paper, I thought, had missed the real story. The night before, I’d read a tweet from Ali Alexander, who I knew as the Baton Rouge-based political operative Ali Akbar, announcing that someone else would be serving as his proxy at the Baton Rouge protest. Ali sent his regrets; he’d be at a similar protest in Austin, alongside Alex Jones of Infowars infamy. These weren’t the first post-election protests organized by Ali. He had also claimed credit for putting together an armed protest outside of a vote-counting center in Maricopa County, Arizona on Nov. 5.
The nation now knows Ali as the chief organizer of the “March to Save America,” the pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6 that devolved into a violent insurrection that resulted in five deaths, including the horrific murder of a Capitol Police officer, caused extensive property damage, and left more than 60 officers injured. These weren’t protestors hoping to persuade lawmakers to vote against seating electors for the president’s opponent, even if they lacked the authority to do so; these were domestic terrorists who came prepared for battle, hoping to kidnap and kill those who stood in the way of a second term for the defeated demagogue, including the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, a man who had spent the past four years carefully avoiding even accidentally breaking the fragile ego of a volatile and vindictive Commander-in-Chief.
Trump is directly responsible for inciting a violent mob to do his bidding. His ambivalence about calling in the National Guard wasn’t because he didn’t understand the situation; it was because he thought, for much longer than a passing second, that the mob of his supporters may actually win. By the time he was finally pressured into ordering his battalion to retreat, he hardly sounded like someone outraged by the attack on the Citadel of American democracy. “We love you,” he told the marauders. “You’re very special.”
Like Trump, Ali vehemently denies inciting violence, but as someone who followed his online antics for several years and who both publicly and privately expressed concern about his descent into extremism, the events of Jan. 6 seemed tragically inevitable. Ali routinely broadcasted his associations with well-known white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, QAnon zealots, and militia leaders. As Media Matters has extensively documented, he frequently used “violent rhetoric to rile up his followers to action” in advance of Jan 6, “(telling) right-wing media audiences that they should be afraid because their enemies want to enslave them, put them in ‘gulags,’ or ‘kill’ them (and offering) purported solutions, telling followers that they have ‘to punch the left in the nose,’ ‘do brave acts,’ ‘fight’ and ‘have vengeance if we have traitors.’” This is nothing new, though. What’s infuriating is how nearly all of this was right out in the open.
While Ali told me back in November that the protests in Baton Rouge and Austin and as many as a dozen other state capitals that day had come together in only 23 hours, there was plenty of evidence that he had been planning the events for at least two months, well before the election. He said he intended, eventually, to stage protests in the capitals of all 50 states, something the FBI is now warning state officials to prepare for on Jan. 20.
“(It is) impossible not to be alarmed and deeply concerned by the very real chance that Ali endangers himself and others with his reckless hyperbole,” I warned at the time, noting that he had recently started wearing a bulletproof vest when he appeared in public.
Not long after my profile of Ali appeared online, he texted me. “I didn’t know the piece was about me,” he wrote. “That hit piece was so thorough and spicy. I hope your readers enjoy! I’m not really doing much media while organizing. Exclusive!”
Despite his claims to the contrary, Ali had been spending practically all of his time on building up his media presence; he just preferred broadcasting his message on his own online platforms. But it wasn’t as if he was difficult to find. He was particularly prolific on Twitter, where he had a following of over 170,000 people, often sending out hundreds of tweets in a single day. It was sometimes difficult to discern when, if ever, he caught up on sleep.
On Nov. 14, a week after the first round of “Stop the Steal” protests, standing alongside Marjorie Taylor Greene, the newly-elected Georgia congresswoman and QAnon enthusiast, and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, on the stage of a rally in support of President Donald Trump in Washington D.C., Ali had an ominous warning for those watching. “We’re going to terrify this town,” he roared.
Ali’s inflammatory rhetoric online had earned him an army of intense and delusional followers. He worked closely with other right-wing provocateurs, most notably James O’Keefe of Project Veritas, who visited him in Louisiana on at least two occasions, and he boasted about his access to Steve Bannon, who he first met in 2014, and Roger Stone, who created the first “Stop the Steal” campaign in advance of the 2016 election.
On Facebook, he shared dozens of photos of him standing beside powerful politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz, who was linked to Ali through his personal account, and Donald Trump himself. Ali claimed that he’d spent 45 minutes alone with Trump in December of 2014 after the future president grilled Rob Maness, a Louisiana Senate candidate seeking Trump’s endorsement during the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Trump, he said, remarked on Ali’s uncanny resemblance to Sammy Davis, Jr., and years later, when they saw one another again at a social media summit Trump hosted at the White House, the president greeted him warmly. “Sammy Davis, Jr.!” Trump exclaimed.
“Sammy Davis Hitler,” Stephen Colbert recently joked.
A person familiar with Trump’s visit to New Orleans in 2014 disputes Ali’s characterization of the encounter. “He was never with Trump alone,“ the person told me. “I was with him and a handful of staff (and others) the whole time. When Rob Maness sought Trump’s support and Trump yelled at him, there was probably 15 other people in the room.”
Today, Ali is reportedly in hiding, and it is important to note that he has not yet been charged with any specific crime (he watched the insurrection from the rooftop of a building across the street). Ali also claims that he planned the “March to Save America” with three Republican members of Congress, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona. Brooks and Biggs deny they had any role in organizing the event, but Gosar, a dentist originally from Wyoming who recently breezed into a sixth term after winning nearly 70% of the vote against Democrat Delina DiSanto, left his fingerprints everywhere, tagging Ali in dozens of tweets during the past three months.
In the aftermath of the insurrection on Jan. 6, Ali has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and he’s now prevented from raising money through Venmo and PayPal. The man whose presidency he had been trying to save is also in the midst of a remarkably swift and long overdue reckoning: Impeached for the second time, banished from Twitter, Facebook, and a number of other social media platforms, cut off by Deutsche Bank and Signature Bank, and denied the second biggest prize of his career. The 2022 PGA Open Championship will no longer be held at the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The fallout has only just begun, and we are certain to learn much more about Ali and those who collaborated with him in organizing the march that turned into a violent mob.
When I wrote about Ali in November, I largely focused on his connections to Louisiana. Although he is a native of Fort Worth and is currently in the Dallas metroplex, Ali had been living in Louisiana for at least five of the past six years, renting a small home in Baton Rouge’s Garden District. During the past week, as the national media has dug into Ali’s background and his associations, I’ve also been able to piece together some of what I’d missed before.
Ali first arrived in Louisiana in late 2014, presenting himself as a “senior advisor” for a new PAC, Black Conservatives Fund. The truth, however, is that Ali effectively ran the whole operation. Indeed, when Twitter permanently suspended Ali’s account, it also banned the PAC’s account, which was controlled by Ali, as well. After receiving $155,000 from Robert Mercer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who was the principal investor in the now-defunct data mining company Cambridge Analytica and whose daughter Rebekah co-founded Parler, the conservative social media network, Black Conservatives Fund announced it was launching its first-ever “state chapter” in Louisiana.
I had previously reported that the PAC, at least here in Louisiana, appeared to be nothing more than a proxy for state Sen. Elbert Guillory, a Black Republican from Opelousas who would later run unsuccessful campaigns for Lieutenant Governor and the U.S. Senate, but after taking a more thorough look at its FEC filings, I realize Guillory merely fostered that perception after the PAC launched an attack ad against Sen. Mary Landrieu that used a deceptively-edited and secretly-recorded video clip of Guillory’s arch-nemesis, Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins, Sr.
On the night before the 2014 jungle primary, Cravins, whose son was then serving as Landrieu’s chief of staff, mocked Landrieu’s Republican opponent Bill Cassidy for attempting to scare voters by claiming Landrieu voted with President Obama “97% of the time.” While Black Conservatives Fund did contribute around $3,500 to Guillory’s own PAC, Free at Last, it was involved in other elections, including, most notably, Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Ali’s name does not appear anywhere in the PAC’s filings. Instead, the PAC only lists its treasurer, Patrick Krason, who also just so happens to be the treasurer of Stop the Steal, in its statement of organization, which was filed on March 31, 2014. Its largest beneficiary was Active Engagement, a political fundraising agency led by Richard Norman. But there was at least one sizable expenditure made out to Vice & Victory, the consulting company under which Ali conducted business.
All told, Ali earned more than $60,000 from the PAC, in payments that were typically itemized simply as “Direct Voter Contact.” Incidentally, Vice & Victory was also the company Ali used when he worked as the Digital Director for then-Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s 2015 gubernatorial campaign.
There’s one aspect of Ali’s political career in Louisiana that I neglected to mention in my previous reporting. After Dardenne, a decidedly moderate Republican whose politics are markedly different than the man he hired to run his campaign’s online operation, finished in fourth place in the 2015 Louisiana governor’s race, Ali began searching for his next act. He figured that it was a forgone conclusion that John Bel Edwards, the Democrat, would win a runoff election against Republican David Vitter. That meant the next battle would be over the speakership in the state House. Traditionally, the House deferred to the governor’s selected candidate for Speaker, but Ali saw an opportunity to create some disruption.
With the help of a $25,000 contribution from controversial Lafayette real estate developer Glenn Stewart, Ali launched Louisiana Victory Fund.
He quickly managed to gain access to an email database of more than 60,000 Louisiana Republicans, and in the run-up to the election for Speaker, which had been seen as favoring Edwards’ preferred candidate, Democrat Walt Leger of New Orleans, Ali sent a series of urgent warnings, purposely designed to instill anxiety and worry, asking people to contact their representatives and pressure them to vote against Leger. The gambit worked, though it’s worth noting that Leger’s loss to Republican Taylor Barras of New Iberia is also partially attributable to Democrat Neil Abramson’s quixotic decision to enter the contest. Ali would later collect more than $7,500 from the PAC, which effectively dissolved after the Speaker’s race, according to reports filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration.
If there is any silver lining to Ali’s Louisiana connections, it is this: In September of 2015, while still working for Jay Dardenne’s gubernatorial campaign, Ali managed to acquire the Twitter handle @louisiana. I mentioned this in my previous story. It was my understanding that he had been gifted the lucrative online real estate through his connections with Twitter executives.
Years ago, when I first launched the Bayou Brief, I tried my damndest to convince him to hand over the keys, but I got the impression that he either wanted more money than I could or would be willing to pay or that he liked the idea of holding onto the account, just in case he ever had the opportunity to put it to use. (It’s been dormant since 2017).
I’ve already called attention to Ali’s control over @louisiana to Jack Dorsey and company, but as of this writing, the account is still online. To be clear, I don’t have much use for the account today. In my opinion, its highest and best use would be as property of the State of Louisiana, which would also be fitting. There’s a good chance the government will be looking to collect a few more things from him as well.