Exclusive: Meet @ReaganBattalion, the anonymous squadron that destroyed Milo's career

Exclusive: Meet @ReaganBattalion, the anonymous squadron that destroyed Milo's career
Source: AP
Source: AP

Standing in front of a brick wall in downtown New York on Tuesday, alt-right provocateur and internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos had just experienced the worst couple days of his short career, and now he was having a contrite press conference about it. It was a stunning fall from conservative grace: He lost a lucrative book deal, a speaking slot at the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference and his editor role at Breitbart News.

It was all thanks to an anonymous group calling itself the Reagan Battalion, which unearthed video of Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia and published the now-viral clip to its Twitter account, setting off a domino effect that led to Yiannopoulos' downfall.

But the Reagan Battalion kept its identity under wraps.

Speculation was rife as to who was behind the blog, Facebook page and Twitter account. Yiannopoulos said the group was run by a contingent of "Never Trump" Republican consultants who, during the 2016 campaign, supported Evan McMullin, an independent candidate who ran as the conservative alternative to now-President Donald Trump.

Reagan Battalion, though, says it has no ties to McMullin — nor to any of a number of other prominent #NeverTrump Republicans and pundits who have railed against Trump.

In an exclusive interview with Mic following Yiannopoulos' canceled book deal, CPAC speech and Breitbart resignation, the group's co-founder sought to set the record straight about who the Battalion is — and to make clear their objectives in the American political scene.

Who is the Reagan Battalion?

The Reagan Battalion is a group of four people, spread across multiple states, who are involved in political activism, according to one of the group's co-founders, a man who declined to give his name or full-time occupation in an interview with Mic, citing fear of threats against his family. 

The co-founder said the group launched during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, initially with the Twitter handle @ConAgainstTrump before quickly changing its name to @StopTrumpPAC — hoping that a more conservative candidate such as Sens. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz would defeat Trump.

"Our goal was from the beginning was to give a voice to original conservatism," the co-founder said. "This is why we took a stand. We were planning to build this up, build this movement up to finally be a source of information for original conservatives."

Once the primary wrapped, and Trump came out victorious, the group changed its name to the Reagan Battalion, because stopping Trump was no longer the group's primary focus.

"At that time, our mission was not to stop Trump, we were opposed to Hillary," the group's co-founder said.

It was then that the group decided to back McMullin, hoping that he would push Trump to uphold conservative values.

When Trump won, the group changed its mission again, congratulating Trump on his win but vowing to fight him when they felt he did not uphold conservative principles. The Battalion said in a tweet the morning after Trump won that they would "support him as much as our principles demand, & when they don't, we'll proudly take a stand."

"The goal of this platform is to keep the conservative movement sane, and to keep the Trump administration on the conservative track," the Battalion co-founder said, adding that the group has praised Trump for keeping his promise to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice in Neil Gorsuch.

"Now our mission is to try to persuade him and try to apply pressure that he should champion conservative principles and conservative policies," the co-founder said. "When he does we are going to be the first ones to commend him for it."

Why Milo?

The Battalion's goal to "keep the conservative movement sane" proved harder than they initially expected. With Trump's victory behind them, the group decided that the conservative movement had gone off the rails in its efforts to defend Trump. Part of that was to maintain a feud with the "mainstream media" — and that's where Yiannopoulos fit in.

The Battalion co-founder said conservatives were sticking up for Yiannopoulos, hailing him as a "conservative hero" because of the internet provocateur's attacks on the media. The group found that attitude to be "destructive to the conservative movement."

CPAC's invitation for Yiannopoulos to give a speech was a bridge too far. Yiannopoulos did not represent "big tent conservatism," they decided. The Battalion had had enough.

"Let me stress this, Reagan Battalion as a group has no issue with Milo publishing a book, being on Twitter, being on Facebook or being the keynote speaker at a free speech event," said Yossi Gestetner, who is handling public relations for the Battalion since the Yiannopoulos blow-up, in a statement to Mic. "Free speech is the bedrock of a democracy, but Milo does not fit into being the keynote speaker at a conservative event. He does not represent conservatism."

Just as Yiannopoulos was riding high this weekend — he got the kid glove treatment on Real Time With Bill Maher just ahead of the CPAC invite announcement — the Battalion found an online video of Yiannopoulos. In the tape, taken from an obscure podcast, Yiannopoulos seemed to defend pedophilia.  

The Battalion tweeted the video from its account and set in motion perhaps the most dramatic media downfall in a half-dozen years.

Neither #NeverTrumpers nor George Soros

Since flagging the Yiannopoulos tape, a number of outlets wrote exposés trying to tie the Reagan Battalion to McMullin, the #NeverTrump operatives who backed McMullin and even a Democratic group that once went by the name Stop Trump PAC. 

The Daily Dot did some internet sleuthing and linked the Battalion to a Democratic operative named Nathan Lerner, who registered a Stop Trump PAC with the Federal Election Commission.

The Reagan Battalion, though, never registered its would-be PAC with the FEC. The Dot had followed the wrong PAC's filing because the @ReaganBattalion Twitter handle used to be @StopTrumpPAC. 

An FEC filing for Stop Trump PAC lists Nathan Lerner as its treasurer. However, the name of the Reagan Battalion's PAC was Stop Donald Trump PAC — including the now-president's first name. Adding to the confusion was that the Battalion, not only in their Twitter handle but also on their site, used Stop Trump PAC and Stop Donald Trump PAC interchangeably. 

Lerner, the treasurer listed on the FEC filings for the Stop Trump PAC — which, again, is not associated with the Reagan Battalion said in an interview that he was in no way affiliated with the conservative blog.

"We were initially Stop Trump PAC but we changed because it violates FEC rules," Lerner said. "We've been confused before."

Initially, the Battalion did dabble in raising money. But they brought in less than $1,000 — below the $1,000 threshold that requires a PAC to file with the FEC — before its members decided they did not want to have to publicly associate their names with the group. They ceased fundraising operations.

"When Stop Trump PAC was founded, we didn't file with the FEC, so we never searched that name," the co-founder said, confirming the the group had no connection to Lerner. "We have no idea who that guy is. He has some affiliations with the Democratic Party, but we have no affiliation whatsoever with that guy."

Gateway Pundit, a far-right, pro-Trump blog, also accused the Reagan Battalion of being connected to McMullin's campaign and other #NeverTrump Republicans who have been outspoken critics of Trump.

"The Reagan Battalion is an obscure group with a limited following that was set up to promote Evan McMullin, Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol's candidate," said a breathless piece in Gateway Pundit, naming Kristol, a prominent neoconservative Trump critic who backed McMullin.

"The Never Trumpers who are involved with Evan McMullin saw this Twitter account and this movement as a platform," the Battalion co-founder said. "But this is clearly not a Never Trump operation."

At the press conference Tuesday on his resignation from Breitbart, Yiannopoulos took a question from Gateway Pundit's new White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich. "We have discovered," Wintrich exclaimed, "that the original attacks on you came from two key sources: Democratic activists with deep ties to George Soros and Never Trump candidate Evan McMullin."

The Battalion emphatically denied any links to Soros. "It is a baseless assumption," said Gestetner, the PR manager working for the group. "The Reagan Battalion called on Hillary to concede 2 a.m. on election night, and the group supports Trump on conservative positions that he has; issues that no Soros group would support."

Yiannopoulos, it appears, wasn't taken down by a grand liberal conspiracy or the Deep State. All it took was a team of four with little more than Google and some free time.

Celeste Katz and Anthony Smith contributed to this report.