AP Photo/Kike Calvo
Sarasota has been in the national spotlight of the conservative movement ever since Katherine Harris certified the controversial 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. We hit the political radar again in 2015 when Florida Sen. Joe Gruters endorsed dark horse candidate Donald Trump and predicted the new future for the Republican Party.
But recently, we’ve emerged as an even bigger hub for major players in the new conservative movement. These newcomers are more brazen and willing to criticize sacred conservative institutions like the FBI and CIA, and they’re casting out old guard conservatives like bad milk. (Meanwhile, those old Republicans—Bush-era Iraq War architects like David Frum, Bill Kristol and even Dick Cheney, one of the very few Republicans to attend and speak in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—are now being adopted by the Democrats.)
It’s too early to know what this conservative movement means for Sarasota, but here are nine of the new right’s heavy hitters who are our neighbors.
A retired U.S. lieutenant general and briefly the Trump administration’s national security adviser, Flynn is the great martyr of the new conservative movement. He pled guilty to lying to the FBI, but was pardoned by Trump and maintains his innocence, claiming he was a victim of nefarious and covert state actors. Beset with nearly $5 million in legal fees from special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation, Flynn appears to have bounced back and now owns two homes in Englewood worth roughly $1 million and runs the Venice-headquartered nonprofit The America Project with his brother and the former CEO of Overstock, Patrick Byrne (more on him later). Flynn is sometimes seen at local political events that get national attention, such as the event where a Sarasota chiropractor signed mask exemptions for more than 1,200 people. He also headlined a rally with celebrity conservative consultant Roger Stone, warning the 1,000 attendees in the parking lot of the shuttered DeSoto Square Mall of the dangers of big tech overreach and the weakened state of our democracy.
Cyber Ninjas, a Sarasota-based computer security company, was paid more than $5.7 million to audit Arizona’s 2020 election results despite having no experience in elections or auditing. It was founded by Logan, a Trump supporter. After the investigation, Cyber Ninjas concluded there was no fraud and confirmed President Biden’s victory. Still, the embarrassing audit has meant the company is shutting down. Logan may file for bankruptcy, but the former ninja warrior has said he plans to start another company with the same employees. The father of 11, who lives in Old Myakka, isn’t saying what that new company will do.
One financier of Cyber Ninjas is Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock, the internet furniture retail company. Through The America Project (Flynn’s nonprofit), which lists a UPS store on South Tamiami Trail in Sarasota as its mailing address, Byrne gave $3.25 million to Cyber Ninjas’ Arizona audit. Bryne, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Stanford University, currently owns six properties here worth millions through a company called Manatee Investments. Like Flynn, Bryne has had a troubled relationship with the FBI. He resigned as CEO of Overstock when it was revealed he had a romance with a Russian agent named Maria Butina, an affair he claims was set up by the FBI.
Kirk is one of the young rising stars of the new conservative movement. The 28-year-old is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Turning Point USA. Along with other young conservative firebrands, Kirk aims to recruit millennials into the Republican Party and educate “students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets and capitalism.” Born and raised in Illinois, Kirk now lives on Longboat Key in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom Gulf-front condo he bought for $855,000.
Not far from Kirk’s Longboat condo is the headquarters of Rumble, the conservative video platform meant to unseat YouTube’s video streaming monopoly. Big tech censorship has been a conservative cri de coeur, especially after Donald Trump was banned from Facebook and Twitter. CEO Pavloski moved the company from Toronto to set up shop here after the Sarasota County Commission voted to give an $825,000 economic development incentive grant to the video platform. “This move positions us to continue providing a platform to content creators without the threats from big tech monopolies,” Pavloski said in a press release. “We are excited to invest in Florida in the coming years while we continue to grow Rumble.”
Wetherington moved to Sarasota eight years ago from California after marrying local luxury homebuilder Lee Wetherington. She’s now a company executive (as well as a certified beekeeper). She hit the radar after founding Women for Trump Sarasota Manatee Inc. in 2019. Then, in 2021, she co-founded Defend Florida, a “grassroots” organization that claims it has evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 elections (law enforcement and the Manatee County supervisor of elections dismiss her claims). Nonetheless, Wetherington reportedly has an “army of volunteers” in Florida and access to top state officials as she pushes for changes to election laws.
Steve Bannon and Andy Badolato
The ür-conservative of the new brand of the Republican Party, Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist, once claimed residency on Casey Key. He lived with Badolato, a friend and business partner, who grew up in the area. Bannon and Badolato were with Trump on election night in 2016, and since then both men have been for indicted for the Build the Wall scandal. Bannon was pardoned by Trump and has a show that you can hear—where else?—on Rumble. Badolato still lives in the area and is awaiting trial.
Julie Jenkins Fancelli
Fancelli, the daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain, reportedly gave $650,000 to organizers of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. Fancelli later distanced herself from the violence that day, and then Publix distanced itself from Fancelli after her donations became public, with a statement that said she is not an employee and that the company was “deeply troubled” by her involvement. Described as reclusive by the media, Fancelli has a condo at The Players Club on Longboat Key.