Intimate Conversations with America’s Change-Makers

Burn the Boats is an award-winning podcast featuring intimate conversations with change-makers from every walk of life. Host Ken Harbaugh interviews politicians, authors, activists, and others about the most important issues of our time.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Spotify

Denver Riggleman: Leaving the Republican Party

| S:1 E:93
Denver Riggleman: Leaving the Republican Party

Former Representative Denver Riggleman discusses the January 6th committee, his experiences as a Republican during the Trump Administration, and his new book, The Breach.

Denver Riggleman served in the Air Force for 15 years. Most of that time was spent as an intelligence officer and NSA advisor. From 2019 to 2021, Riggleman represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District in the House of Representatives as a republican, but received extreme backlash from the far right for things like officiating a same-sex marriage, and joining the climate change caucus. These experiences pushed him away from the party, and he now no longer considers himself a republican.

Denver discusses this period of his life in the interview:

“I think Ken, really the same sex wedding was the beginning of opening my eyes to a bigger world of what was going on in the conspiracy world. And then that's when I really got involved and became the first Republican to go against QAnon and the first that Republican to do the QAnon resolution. And then nobody really gave a hell, I was completely alone until January 6th. I tried to tell people violence was coming, but there were a lot of people doing that. People just did listen. But Ken, it just got to the point that I just couldn't stand living in a facts challenged political party anymore.”



To hear about all of this and more, check out Denver’s book, The Breach. You can learn more about him by visiting denverleeriggleman.com.

Denver is on Twitter at @RepRigglman, and on instagram at @DenverRiggleman.


Ken Harbaugh:

Hi everyone, it’s Ken. Before we start, I want to share some exciting news: We’ve paired with Meidas Touch, so you can now watch these interviews on YouTube. Just search for the Meidas Touch YouTube channel, or click the link in the show description. Thanks, and enjoy the episode.

Denver Riggleman:

If you sense a little bit of, not exhaustion, but a sense a little bit of mellowness or sobriety in this interview, is that it's been… These last four years have really been something on us… And it's very personal because when you're attacked personally by people in the QAnon space, your family, your friends, and then you have stuff like this happen where you have people saying they want to gang rape your family or things like that, it gets to you after a bit.

Ken Harbaugh:

I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Denver Riggleman, a former representative for Virginia's Fifth Congressional District and an ex-Republican. His new book, The Breach, details what he learned as the technical advisor to the January 6th committee, as well as his experiences as a Republican during the Trump administration. Denver, thanks for joining me on Burn the Boats.

Denver Riggleman:

Hey, thank you for having me buddy.

Ken Harbaugh:

I don't know if you remember this, but the first time we met in person, it was your first morning on the job with the committee. We had an interview scheduled about domestic violent extremism with General McCrystal, you, and a few others. I'm wondering if you had any sense on that first day on the job that your efforts would uncover as much as they did.

Denver Riggleman:

I thought it might. I had been doing this open-source look at QAnon for some time. I was attached to the Network Contagion Research Institute. Ken, I remember us talking about me looking at Twitter and all the data that we had on these individuals. I think I have 57,000 Trump tweets. You know what I mean, Ken? So we had a lot of data. So I thought we might see some connections that were surprising, but I think for me it was just how vast the link connections were, whether you're looking at telephony or you're looking at text messages because how could we have ever foreseen the Meadows text messages, Ken? I mean, it's very difficult to see into the future like that. So really, once the Meadows text messages landed, things got very interesting. I think I did not foresee that buddy. I could tell you that.

Ken Harbaugh:

Why do you think Mark Meadows shared those texts? I know you're not a lawyer, but you've got a long history in Air Force Intel and data collection, synthesis analysis. How does somebody as supposedly politically savvy as Mark Meadows do what he did?

Denver Riggleman:

Well, he fought us so hard later on with this call detail records Ken, and fought us with other types of documentation. The fact is, it's not only the text, but he also delivered the Phil Waldron briefing, the crazy foreign interference briefing that went to other congressional representatives and senators and other people that were trying to overturn the election. So the fact that he actually dumped those texts.

Now there's some that he said were privileged, we haven't seen those yet. And I don't know if we actually even have all the text messages because we don't have his call detail records. I can't actually compare apples to apples there, but 2,319 is absolutely amazing. And the fact is, I'm wondering and Ken, I'm not an attorney, but I'm wondering if maybe those working on this case didn't know what they had. Because when we received the text messages, a lot of them weren't identified name to number. So it could be that when you dump them off your phone, which I know how to do, you can dump off your phone or you go up into the iCloud or do a copy paste from an Excel spreadsheet, it could be that it just got lost in translation. You had people who weren't understanding what they were giving. But the fact that Meadows had kept all those texts, data is perishable, whatever people say, it's very... You can delete things that can never be gotten. The fact is he kept them on. That maybe is one of the biggest mysteries, I touched on it in the book, is that if he's going to fight all the other data downloads, the fact that he actually gave content with context and then we got the timeline after that where he could actually hook the timeline to the content and the content with sitting congressmen, sitting senators, former congressman, former senators, cabinet members, activists, it's just stunning to me that was given up so easy.

And then later on, he fights things that he'd already given up the ghost by the time that he had started fighting those things. So I do think he was the most important wicket to get through initially, and I think he set the stage for what the committee was able to do.

Ken Harbaugh:

You have said that you're not sure you got everything relevant and incriminating from Mark Meadows, which suggests that given how damning the stuff he provided was, it's hard to conceive of how bad the stuff he held back might have been.

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, you know with… and I mentioned this in the book, authorities in Congress are a little different than law enforcement. They're not as extensive. We can subpoena anybody, but that subpoena is not a criminal subpoena. We can't actually put warrants out there for data. So what's interesting is, I believe the DOJ might have the Meadows right call records, but we didn't get them, he fought them, but we don't get geolocation or tower data and stuff like that. So everything that we have is really too from and what type of devices or what type of communication medium they use.

So with Mark Meadows, if I had his call detail records, I could actually cross reference and see if he actually sent us all the text messages. Now, he didn't, right? We could actually see what the real number is, but he certainly held back a lot that he said were privileged. And my gosh, Ken, if I could get a hold of those and look at that content mixed with the content we already have, it could be that there's more Ginni Thomas texts or could be there's more texts from people that belong to certain groups like the Council for National Policy or the Claremont Institute, or even more text messages from people on the ground like Phil Waldron or some of those individuals that were also in the text messages. I mean, Mark Meadows really was the hub and spoke for pretty much the whole plan. Even the crazy QAnon stuff on there was just interleaved almost seamlessly. The crazy was in there.

Ken Harbaugh:

You've talked about this hub and spoke representation, and you did a lot of work to help visualize the network effect of all of these communications. Can you talk about the monster, that presentation that you delivered to the committee and how all three branches of government were wrapped up in the conspiracy to overthrow the government and not respect the results of the 2020 election?

Denver Riggleman:

The hardest thing for me is that last tactical mile on the judicial side, right Ken? When you see the Ginni Thomas stuff like that, but we know the legislative and executive branch because they self-identified. They self-identified in the text and said what they were doing. It's really no mystery. But they self-identified even in their own tweets, their own videos, in their own legislation, supporting the legal challenges, briefings that came out of the Republican study group. I mean, my gosh, Ken, it's vast, right?

So there was definitely three strategies. You had an executive, a legislative, and a legal strategy. And I think when you look at the monster, when you look at how many people were connected, that legal strategy at least was certainly connected to Meadows because there were people who were working with Jenna Ellis and working with Rudy Giuliani, and Rudy Giuliani was directly working specifically with the chief of staff. So we definitely had that legal strategy. That last tactical mile is really- if you have a Ginni Thomas figure on there, sending the craziest texts you could imagine, and also emailing states like Arizona or Wisconsin or whatnot, it's hard to get around the common sense peg, the common sense meter that maybe husbands or spouses aren't aware of that activity.

So yeah, we've got two locked down with the executive legislative, but I do think there's a lot more work that needs to be done on ‘Was there a direct connection to the Supreme Court?’ Obviously, where I'm at, Ken, because common sense is usually a pretty big thing when you combine that with analytics. But just the monster itself and how many groups were connected through either directly or through one or two levels of separation is absolutely astounding.

And I think it's something that, again, you said at the beginning, Ken, not just the Meadows text, but seeing that amount of data and how we connected that data and how we technically, the acumen of the team was incredible seeing it and seeing how many people were connected. It looked just like, to me, the centers of gravity I saw on network charts when I was tracking bad actors in the Middle East or in other areas around the world. I mean, just amazing to see it look just like that.

Ken Harbaugh:

For those who haven't read the book yet, and especially for our podcast listeners, can you describe what we're talking about when you refer to the monster?

Denver Riggleman:

The monster is all the call detail records with text messages, whether they're SMS, I'll even make this simpler, whether they're pictures, whether they're regular text on text messages, if they're phone calls or voice calls. So the monster actually shows who or what, or who individually within each group had the most connections with other groups. So the monster is this massive link map. It looks like little blooms, you have one person with all the lines coming out from it. So it looks like I'm going to say, it looks like it's a massive chia pet, but you certainly have certain groups or individuals that are really centers of gravity. They're connecting hubs. They're the coordinators. And so you can see the coordinators in all the links coming out of those coordinated areas. So you have these massive fur balls connected by links to another fur ball or a person who's very involved.

So if you're looking at an Enrique Tarrio or you're looking at some of these members on rightwing extremist groups or you're looking at rally planners, you can see which ones were the most active with the other groups. And that really gives you insight into who you need to call, what questions you can ask, or why would somebody be connected that way?

Just lately, NBC followed up on a part of the book where I said there were indications that Kelly Sorrell, an oath keeper, tried to text the White House. Well, we find out that's Andrew Giuliani. So even though we didn't know who she was trying to text specifically, we know that the fact of happened and we can ask the appropriate questions. And that's why something like the monster when you're saying who is connected to who, is so valuable in an investigation.

Ken Harbaugh:

I love your Chia Pet reference. It's probably generational though. We may need to include an extreme explanation.

How did your background in Air Force Intel prepare you for this?

Denver Riggleman:

It was a combination of Air Force Intel going into the intelligence community and then being fortunate enough to know enough about tactical platforms, jets, and how they collect data or use data for targeting. And then going into places like OSD, the Office of Secretary Defense, or NSA, and learning how you get data, and how that data is applied with other types of data. And you blend that all in and you have a holistic look of how people are actually acting or groups or platforms, surface to air missile systems or airplanes or whatnot.

So I did that for 20 years, man. I deployed. I did this in 9/11. I did it in Operation Allied Force in '99. I was in NSA from 2002 off and on for 16 years. And I even helped build counter IED cells to go after groups like Shia militia groups and things like that and have to break them down. So my goodness, Ken. I think congressman and distiller is just my cover. I was only in politics a few years, been distilling eight, but since '92 I've been in the military and since '98, I was deep into intelligence work. So I've been very fortunate.

By the way, when I was enlisted, I was trained in radars and communications avionics, and also I put some of the first GPS on airplanes back in '94. So I've been very fortunate. I think I just got lucky that not only was I technically trained and I can apply that technology and that operational acumen to intelligence. And then to be able to do it now to come into Congress, get my butt kicked anyway, Ken, as you know, because I got a little bit too independent.

But I think being able to see that, to have the political, the intelligence, the operational, the targeting and the personal experience in my life, to be able to blend all of that has just been a blessing. Really, not even a blessing; it's just been fricking lucky that I was able to get all that in.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, the other reason besides that technical acumen that you were added as the technical advisor to the committee was your brief career-

Denver Riggleman:

I know where this is going Ken.

Ken Harbaugh:

... as a member of the Tea Party Caucus with the R behind your name. That didn't last very long because you did something about-

Denver Riggleman:

Nine months.

Ken Harbaugh:

... principled and you got clobbered for it. Give us the summary of that and then I'd love to know what the turning points were for you because you are now an ex-Republican?

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, so I had a couple of staffers or individuals who helped me in my election and two amazing guys, and they just happened to be in love and wanted to get married. So I think I was the first sitting Republican if I think, which is a bit historic, I think, to officiate a same sex wedding. It was about nine months in, I guess August of 2019. Ken, for being an intelligence guy, I might have been a little naive about what the blow back would look like if you officiate a gay wedding. Not only after nine months did I get censored for it by multiple committees, I might have been the first Republican really attacked by QAnon adherence or that type of conspiracy theory.

So a turning points start to happen when you're in a committee meeting and somebody says you're a groomer or you're trying to change the sexual orientation of children or on the tool of the antichrist. I had a guy scream at me at a public meeting that I was the general of the Sodomy armies.

Ken Harbaugh:

That's a promotion, right?

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, I mean, well, I tell people this and it's just such a dumb joke, but I guess somebody called my wife the spawn of Satan because they accused us of laundering money through our distilleries for George Soros. So I said, "If I'm the tool of the Antichrist and she's a spawn of Satan, we're the world's power couple, right? We win. So we could pretty much control the events on earth, but…

Listen, I was very alone and I think that's really what it came down to is after that I also did something even I think dumber in the eyes of the fifth district. I joined the climate change caucus. My God. And then I was one of the eight that voted to keep pre-existing conditions and with a district bigger than New Jersey and with the most federally funded community health centers, most of the Republicans in the southern part of my district really relied on the ACA and in pre-existing conditions.

So I thought I was this policy guy that was down the middle, even though I was in the Freedom Caucus, I pulled myself out about three or four months after that. I just went to a few meetings, went on some trips where I just really didn't feel like I belonged. And then I figured out pretty quickly that my political leanings might have been very fiscally conservative, but I guess I was too socially liberal. And I think those things really came into conflict.

And then once people picked fights with me instead of Mea culpa in apologizing, I treated them as bullies and I kicked back pretty hard. And I think Ken really the same sex wedding was the beginning of opening my eyes to a bigger world of what was going on in the conspiracy world. And then that's when I really got involved and became the first Republican to go against QAnon and the first that Republican to do the QAnon resolution. And then nobody really gave a hell, I was completely alone until January 6th. I tried to tell people violence was coming, but there were a lot of people doing that. People just did listen. But Ken, it just got to the point that I just couldn't stand living in a facts challenged political party anymore.

Ken Harbaugh:

Why aren't there more of you? You talk in the book about encounters with so many former colleagues who in private say one thing, but publicly they adopt this reactionary persona. I am thinking about your experience with officiating that gay wedding and comparing it to... I believe a republican Pennsylvania member of Congress who voted against marriage protections for gay couples three days before he attended his gay son's wedding. Why are there not? You probably know who I'm talking about. Why are there not-

Denver Riggleman:

Exactly.

Ken Harbaugh:

... Republicans? All right, run with it.

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, it wasn't really that shocking. I know that individual and the thing to me is he always was almost moderate, very soft spoken. And the fact that he voted against it and then attended one is, I think what you're saying with how the base is sort of driving, how you have to vote? And if you want to win... Winning and integrity most times I think in this environment are mutually exclusive now. And that is something that bothered me.

So as somebody who wasn't in politics before Congress, I had a 10-week run for governor when I was 47. I'm 52, Ken. I mean, I did all this Intel and I actually had a real life and real jobs before politics. And then I come into this morass of shite, right? Where it is all about the polling and the fundraising and winning is everything. Winners make history.

So that was really, I think the mindset of a lot of these people, this is all they have, this is the penultimate. They've already got the brass ring, they're in Congress for God's sakes. For me, Congress is just another thing I wanted to serve, but it wasn't the ultimate goal or objective for me. And you can see that with the people that are of walking in there like, "Oh, I thought this was actually a policy driven debate on some intellectual plane with a shared basis in reality."

And you find out that you're actually, gosh, in some fantasy-based community where reality is completely suspended, if you think you can win, and people that I really like and I had respected when I saw that they went the way of just making the mob happy, it terrified me, right? Because I don't have that DNA, I don't have that gene, and I could be a center, I could be conservative, what the freak ever. But I do think we have to have a reality-based conversation and there is things that are facts and truth. And if people want to live in this fantasy world, and there's more of them than you. Their perception of their fantasy will actually overwhelm reality in facts. And I think that's the thing, that's why I wrote the book is I just wanted to push back against this ridiculousness, this apocalyptic good against evil, messianic conspiracy where you're arguing with people who think they have a direct link to the supernatural. And that is a really dangerous place to be in the United States of America.

Ken Harbaugh:

Let's get back to that. The data, the facts you wrote about seeing messages from colleagues that you once respected, you worked alongside, you considered them friends, and you're seeing them in writing espousing the craziest ideas, buying into the craziest conspiracy theories. I think a lot of folks assume that in the halls of Congress, that is all performative. But when you talk about perceptions of that fantasy, it's not just the hardcore QAnon conspiracy theorists. I mean there are members of Congress, there are senior people in the executive branch who are well, and the wife of the Supreme Court justice, who were every bit as, who were just as on this train as the radicals in their party.

Denver Riggleman:

Ken, I mean that I think is why I had to sit back a couple times when I first went through the text messages, especially when you see people you know, right? And saying things in text messages or links, right? Ken, I think what I broke out, seven pages of single space links that were attached to those text messages from Twitter or YouTube videos. And I think a lot of those videos were foreign based, and I think they were talking about foreign interference in a way that was coming from other sources outside of our domestic space, right? Where it's a Ukrainian and Romanian joint video about digital mules coming across the border and paying people for their IDs. Are you kidding me? Jesus, you're reading this and you're like, "Oh, that's a sitting member of Congress that just said that.” And then when you see how many, there are dozens of sitting members and you see sitting senators and you see cabinet members and you see the wife of Supreme Court Justice and you see people that have run for office, former members, freedom Caucus founders, all of those people are in those 2,319 text messages.

And then you see some of the crazy stuff. You see the blooming of false flag theories like Antifa from Jason Miller or Marjorie Taylor Greene, You see the blooming of all this ridiculousness as they're trying to message their way out on January 6th. And if people just read what was publicly released on the text messages, I don't know how you vote for individuals or a president that surrounded himself or believe that kind of stuff or just weaponized it. They don't have to believe it. Just the fact that you weaponized it and you were able to radicalize that many people to see who's the capital that day. I just don't know where people's heads are if they think that's where they want America to go, but I'm losing, right? I think America is losing that battle on the fact space front. I think you're going to see that in the midterms coming up, Ken, and I think 2023 and 2024, I think you're going to see a GOP conference that really concentrates on retaliation and not legislation. And I think all that has to do from what's happened over the last couple years since November 3rd, and then on to January 6th.

Ken Harbaugh:

Can you talk about the religious and spiritual element of this conspiracy minded thinking? And I'm drawn to, I'm looking for it in the book, it's not jumping out at me, but there's this one particular text from Mark Meadows where he talks about the ultimate victory of the King of Kings and drawing a link between, it appears Jesus and Donald Trump. I mean it is zealous stuff.

Denver Riggleman:

Well, and that's in his text back and forth with Ginni Thomas, if you remember Ken, right? And so that's why... And Ginni Thomas had started with QFS blockchain watermarked ballots and putting the Biden family in GITMO with the National Guard secret operation, all the way down to the fact that you have this spiritual warfare component throughout the text messages.

But really throughout the whole QAnon chapter of this, which I think that's what I wanted to really get across to people, is that data proves that rightwing extremists Qanon, this Christian good against evil thing. And by the way, how I was raised, I put that in the book, right? Is that, you have this thing where, gosh, it's hard to even interleave this correctly, but a lot of people believe, I think Jesus can bully his way to make sure that their belief systems have primacy over everybody else. Even in the text messages, the first thing you notice is that it's all about God-spiritual warfare. All about this Christian-based way of looking at the Constitution. And the fact is that I think that if you're religious, where you do believe you have a direct link to supernatural things, like QAnon, on whether it's a democratic, a ball of Satanist harvesting babies for adrenochrome, right? Or this globalist takeover of the world, or stop the steel, which is just Qanon based buffoonery that really bloom from Roger Stone in 2016.

All that stuff, is this good against evil messianic thing that we're doing, that we’re at the apocalypse now. ‘And if you're not us, you are evil.’ And I think Mike Flynn said on an interview yesterday that if you're not a Christian nationalist, you're an atheist globalist. That is it, right? If Ken, you're not telling me right now, you're a Christian nationalist, you're obviously an atheist globalist. It is a ‘either or’, right? And that's how you radicalize people. You dehumanize the other individuals, you put a lot of money behind it, and then the grifters and the charismatic leaders actually control the base. And right now I think it's flipped. I think the base is controlling the leaders right now because they have completely bought in, I think more than 60% of the Republicans still want Trump to run Ken. And that should be a concern to people.

Ken Harbaugh:

I found the text from Mark Meadows to Ginni Thomas, he wrote, “This is a fight of good versus evil. Evil always looks like the victor until the king of king triumphs. And I got to believe that his heart is split there between thinking the king of kings is the Messiah and is Donald Trump himself.” I mean, it's nutty stuff.

Denver Riggleman:

It really is. And I think when you look at this. Ken, I've been around the world, I've seen awful things, I've seen great things. And what I want to tell people, is that whether you think it's good or bad, whether you think you're right or wrong, it doesn't matter if that group is larger, has more resources, and they're more committed.

I always use the analogy of a bar fight, right? I was a bouncer and I thought I was a pretty good one until there was me against three guys that might have all been bigger than me. And all of a sudden you're like, "You know what? I'm the right guy here." These people are yelling and they're abusing individuals and they're throwing stuff and they're kicking over tables. But I could lose this, right? It's about numbers, it's about organization, but it's really about money. And when you talk about Meadow's text message to Ginni there when he's responding to just her rant, where you can see that this queue ideology had saturated the highest levels of the GOP.

I hate to tell people this, but if you go into a committee meeting and there's 70 people there and all 70 of them think you're evil, that could be a dangerous environment or an environment where facts don't really matter. And so that's what I'm just trying to tell folks is that what do you want? We're to the point that a fantasy-based community is what you'd rather belong to. How do we actually, as if you want to be a facts-based individual, how do you break through that? And I thought I could Ken with just reason and empathy, but right now I'm just seeing the January 6th was just a practice, run, or a warmup or a way to learn lessons. And I don't think it's any better than it was before January 6th. I would humbly submit that this good against evil ideology of you're evil, Ken, or I'm evil because I'm not voting Republican. I think it's actually escalated in the last, I would say, even in the last few months.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, I agree. I'm trying to contextualize the moment we're in learning from history. And a lot of people have pointed out that we have experienced broad-based conspiracy minded movements in this country before we've experienced terroristic movements, we've experienced insurrectionist threats. But one of the things that's different is the amplification that social media provides and the speed at which that operates. You refer to a digital outrage cycle. I don't know if you coined that phrase, but I'm stealing it because it describes exactly how this works. And I'm going to read that quote back to you and would love your thoughts.

Denver Riggleman:

Sure.

Ken Harbaugh:

“This digital outrage cycle represents an opportunity for all kinds of hustlers who fueled the fire while generating cash through clicks and selling all manner of merchandise from T-shirts to questionable vitamin supplements.” I mean, there is a clear economic component to this. When you look at how this digital outrage cycle works, it's cynical to its core.

Denver Riggleman:

To its core. Hundreds of millions of dollars, just saw the Alex Jones thing happening and how much Trump's pack raised from stop to steal specifically, and also RNC. Hyperbole, outrage, and this radicalizing element really sells. But the thing is, buddy, I believe what I said there. That there's digital profits that make digital profits. You have the profits with the pH that are making profits with an F. And so when you have profits making profits and you're able to spread that digitally and self-select your platform, the power of social media is the ability to go Unicast.

And I'm going to explain this right, when you're sitting as a kid, I remember, and Ken, I don't know how old you are, but I actually had to manually turn channels at one time and you had ABC, NBC, and CBS and I was in Manassas. So you had Channel 20 with Captain Kangaroo. So you know had what, four channels pretty much? And now you can pick from a variety of radicalizing agents and YouTube channels that some of these YouTube channels have much more viewers than a CNN show. So my God, and I don't think people still understand how powerful the far-right ecosystem is, when it comes to digital. It's just unbelievable. They perfected it, they're doing a great job with it.

And then you combine that with mailers that are so outrageous and hyperbolic. You have a massive mailing list, you got money flying in. It's so fricking awesome when you think about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are flowing through these fantasy lands and they're making money off of it. I mean, so much money. And so it's funny that I've been trying to tell people they're being defrauded, but they don't want to listen because I've turned, right? I'm now endorsing Abigail Spanberger. Oh my god, I endorsed a Democrat over Republican, right? I've become almost this weird evil turncoat, I've been called a traitor. Death threats happen five minutes after my 60 minutes hit, but I'm getting used to it. There's a lot of people who like to throw around death threats. And I think digital and social media, as you said, is the largest metastasizing agent we have right now.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, they haven't just gone after you. They've gone after your family, right?

Denver Riggleman:

Oh, they certainly have. And sorry I'm trying to keep our dog away from the door here. But yeah, they have gone after our family and I think sometimes there's some... That's the biggest problem that I have is, if somebody's coming after me, yeah, I can take that, right? I got that a bit. There's still times I'm a little nervous, but I got it right. No biggie. But when your family gets involved or they say that, you get emails saying that they want your family to be gang raped or they start missing with your vehicle by taking lug nuts off and then replacing the caps and you get to the point you're like, "Is it worth it, Ken?" And if you sense a little bit of, not exhaustion, but a sense a little bit of mellowness or sobriety in this, no pun intended that I'm a distiller, but some sobriety in this interview, is that it's been...

These last four years have really been something on us and it's been a bit brutal and it's very personal because when you're attacked personally by people in the Qanon space, your family, your friends, and then you have stuff like this happen where you have people saying they want to gang rape your family or things like that, it gets to you after a bit.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah, I can imagine. And I sympathize as well because it is certainly worth it on a personal level knowing that you've done what you could. But when you look at the impact, do you ever ask yourself, are Americans going to care? I mean there was this recent poll, there are two back to back, one that showed that Americans for the first time are ranking threats to democracy high on their list of concerns. But just in the last week, I think Siena did a poll showing that they're not willing to vote yet based on that-

Denver Riggleman:

Nope.

Ken Harbaugh:

... fear. How do you process that given, how much you have personally risked to bring to light these threats?

Denver Riggleman:

It's easy to say Americans have a short memory, but I think if you look at the top five topics in our plus districts, if you look at PVI, right? I would say January 6th doesn't even rate in the top five, sometimes not the top 10. Nobody cares. You get outside the DC bubble or the New York bubble or the media bubbles out west. You're out here with me where you're working a real job with real people and you're looking at it that way. It's been two years, man. It's been almost two years.January 6th to a lot of people is way in the rear view.

One of my biggest critiques of anything, it's not just the committee and I haven't even said that, is speed. We're in the information warfare space now. That's the new forever war. And if we don't combine speed with technology and acumen or analytic acumen, we're in big trouble. The traditional how we look at problems or go through congressional committees might have worked 20, 30 years ago, but it doesn't work now because speed is of the essence. Because when you're looking at individuals that are using digital media or social media, they're already down the road. They've already painted the picture. It's already...

There's a great book on conspiracy theories. It talks about folklore. This is already folklore. The fact that the election was stolen is still going to be believed by a majority of those voting and nominating contests around the country in Republican areas. So I just shake my head if we're like, "Oh, an indictment of Trump's going to change something or we got them, it's down the road." And I think Americans are like, well the only thing I hear on my channel is that inflation and globalists are trying to mess with the food supply, which is the new conspiracy theory, Ken.

So you have all these other things happening and I think buddy, they moved on. Your number one thing should be, you don't want these people ever in a position of power, right? Ever. Because they're using you, they don't care about America, they're all about themselves. And you have a lot of incredulous idiots or people that want to take advantage of you.”

But I think right now, I had a person say this, Ken, and I just want you to try to absorb this my friend. I mean a smart person said right now “I would vote for crazy over incompetent.” And I'm like, "Wow." And that is where we're at as a country right now. And a lot of these individuals, not all, but there's enough to where we're in deep kimchi if we have individuals talking that are normally sensible.

Ken Harbaugh:

Do you think there is value in your contribution with this book in the committee's work, just in setting a historical marker around this event and creating a fact library for posterity, even if it's not changing enough hearts and minds in the moment?

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, I think what I wanted this book to show is that the data shows the committees on the right track, but I also wanted a book that was before the committee and after the committee, because the committee ends, it's over. I mean, everybody's like, "Oh, if the report drops after the midterms, people might read it, but it's OBE, right? Overcome by events. So the thing is, you need to get out there with people who aren't going to read the reporter, not watch the committee hearings. And what I've tried to tell individuals is the committee hearings, they've done a great job interleaving the stories of all these individuals, almost making it to a show themselves, slick production, great videos, that's what they had to do. But the thing that we've lost is that how did it actually happen? The command and control elements, those individuals, and that right there without proper resources would take years, with proper resources another year-to-year and a half to break down all these links. And I don't know where the DOJ or FBI actually is, in their investigative process with all these individuals, but it's so huge, buddy. You're talking about tens of millions of lines of data.

So again, it's back to you, I guess full circle, Ken, right? You talk about social media, but also all the links that we found, God, I bet it's not three to five, maybe 7% of what we actually need to look at, but it's enough. And that's what I want to tell people, is that the sample of data we have from the DOJ. Charge defendants from people that have tried to organize this. The legal interviews that you had with the Rosen's raid and the Cipollones. That's enough to show that we really were living in an insane time with Donald Trump, especially near the end there.

But I think that as we go forward, if we don't make this bigger than Trump, because it is, we don't understand that this is metastasized. And everybody said, "Well, if Trump leaves, he doesn't have the same following." Well, maybe not all the way, but if we don't think this is baked in, these type of conspiracies, in this deep state of metaverse that they live in, we're in trouble, man. We're in big trouble. And that's all I tried to do as a book that everybody would read.

Ken Harbaugh:

Yeah. There was some friction with the committee upon the publication of the book. I'd like you to speak to that, just to clear the air or get your side on the record. I'm going to take your word that it was a coincidence that the book was published literally the day before the final hearing.

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, we had already shipped. And the thing is we listen, when I did this hearing, should have... I thought the final report was September when we started this back in the day. So near the end of the year, a bit of a coincidence. I think the committee overreacted a bit until they read the book and you saw they got very quiet, right? The book. You've read the book, Ken, it's not, there's no... I am not a Chatty-cathy. It's not a chatterbox kind of book or throwing spaghetti against the wall or any things that happen behind the scenes that's all BS, right? What I wanted to show is that we have to move faster. There's sometimes going to be complicated decisions you have to make between analysis and politics or data and optics, but that's hardly a 10th of the book if people read it, and I hope they do. The book is about how data can structure an investigation in a way that's much faster than we do today. And it's because I have 20 years of this, there's nobody in Congress who knows more about this than I do. It's just the way it is.

The military and government trained me to do this. And I thought I could take all that history since I was working this well before the committee. I saw this long enough not to vote for Trump. Other people did. I was against QAnon when it wasn't cool. So for the Republicans and people actually thought I should be committed. But the data is what the data is, and the data belongs to the American people. These facts belong to the American people. That's what I've been trained to do. That's what I'm good at. And I'm to the point that I respect a lot of folks, but feelings, I'm just not really… don't care. But I also know that this book is dead on, square on what needs to be said about data in a way simplified.

Can I recreate this in the future? I don't know. I don't think I'd ever do this again, man.I tried to do the right thing, but when the book had already been shipped to the stores and I saw the September 28th date, I said, "Oh, this is going to be a crap show, man." But I'm okay. It is what it is. But I'm very happy with the book. And then when people read it, you should see my DMs. "Oh, Denver, this isn't what the press said." I said, "Yeah." Some of the press wanted access. They didn't really want to look for truth or facts and they didn't read the book and they wanted to report what their masters told them to report at that time. And there's some press that's fantastic. And they waited to see what was up and there's some who just wanted to make sure they continue to have access with the committee and I know who they are and they know who they are. So the press has their own issues. But that's okay. My book’s out there and if people like it, they can read it and if people don't, don't.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, I noticed right before the interview that it is now at number one in the nationalism category on Amazon. I didn't know there was a nationalism category on Amazon. I don't know if you did, that raises its own flags, but congratulations.

Denver Riggleman:

Well, it's weird. I never thought I'd be a New York Times best selling author. To make the top 10 is just amazing. And I think now I hope this book has a little bit of staying power. Listen, it's not about Trump. And I think that's what it was a little different from the other books that were bestsellers and people who want to just talk about what Trump says. That's not how I'm wired.

So I hope, Ken, that people read this book just for the data and then when they read it they're like, "Oh, wait a minute, he's supporting the committee here. Oh, shit." So that's really, I think what's happening and data does support the committee's direction and I just want people to know that, and I hope they read it and see that there's some crazy people out there that self-identified as crazy and they were running the government.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to end with a final quote from the book and get your final thoughts. You wrote, “There is a growing militant, far-right Christian nationalist movement that is being fueled by online disinformation. That movement now constitutes an extremist wing of the Republican party, the party that I once belonged to, and it poses a serious danger to our democracy.”

Denver Riggleman:

Yeah, I mean, honestly Ken, I wouldn't have written it if I didn't mean it. And I think if we continue down the road where disinformation is actually pushed by leaders, people, elected officials, and they use that to financially enhance their bottom line or to get more donations or fundraisings for higher office, or they're willing to belly-crawl to Mar-a-Lago just to lick the boots of that individual there in order to get reelected.

I think we're in deep danger. I think the danger is that we start to lose what makes us Americans, which is a shared reality that is not there right now. And I am telling people '23 and '24, 2023 and 2024, when you look at this in a predictive way, it is going to be absolutely insane and just hang on. Because if the Republicans take between 20 and 30 seats, I don't think it's long after that that Trump announces his candidacy and there's nobody who can beat him for the nomination for the GOP. And if we see a long-term recession or we see inflation continuing to rise, or we see other things happening in the foreign geopolitical space that Americans don't like, I don't think it's that big of a stretch to say in 2024 that we have Trump is president again or a GOP candidate like him. So that's what scares me and that's why I wrote what I wrote there.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, thanks Denver for coming on. The book is, The Breach. We'll put a link in the show notes. I’m sure we'll be talking again

Denver Riggleman:

Thank you so much, Ken. You take care and thank you for having me, sir.

Ken Harbaugh:

Thanks again to Denver for joining me. Make sure to check out his new book, The Breach. The link is in the show description.

To learn more about Denver, visit denverleeriggleman.com.

You can follow him on Twitter @RepRigglman, and on instagram @DenverRiggleman.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more follow us on Twitter @Team_harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

View Less

Recent Episodes

View All

Tim Alberta: Evangelical Extremism

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:160
Journalist Tim Alberta discusses his book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, and his personal experiences with the evangelical movement....
Listen to Tim Alberta: Evangelical Extremism

Dr. Steven Hassan: MAGA is a Cult

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:159
Dr. Hassan explains how cults indoctrinate members, and how the radical right has copied these strategies....
Listen to Dr. Steven Hassan: MAGA is a Cult

Dr. Bandy Lee: A Duty to Warn

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:158
Psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee discusses Trump’s mental state, and the danger he poses to the country....
Listen to Dr. Bandy Lee: A Duty to Warn

Tristan Snell: Trump’s Legal Strategy

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:157
Tristan, who prosecuted Trump as the Assistant Attorney General of New York, talks about Trump’s legal strategy, our current judicial system, and ...
Listen to Tristan Snell: Trump’s Legal Strategy