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Lin Wood Is Just Asking Questions

Inside the most insane Republican state party fight in America.
May 3, 2021
Lin Wood Is Just Asking Questions
(Photos: GettyImages)

Columbia, South Carolina

On a late pandemic Friday night, the Richland County Republican Party held its convention in a drab, windowless conference room, with the AC blowing full blast.

Among the overwhelmingly maskless congregants was Lin Wood, candidate for state party chairman and the Trump ally who managed to out-kraken Sidney Powell in the competition for the most preposterous legal challenges to last November’s election.

This gathering of anosognosiacs took place in the heart of South Carolina’s GOP establishment swamp—which in turn makes it hostile territory for Wood’s wackadoodle insurgent campaign that is based primarily on his conviction that every major player in the state and national Republican party (besides The Former Guy) is possibly complicit in the real pandemic—child-sex trafficking.

The room was dotted with lobbyists and Republican campaign consultants who had descended on this Hilton Garden Inn in order to be named as delegates to the statewide convention where they will cheerfully back the incumbent chairman, Drew McKissick. So when Wood arrived with his traveling circus of bodyguards and flunkies carrying “Win With Lin” swag, he was not greeted by Q-groupies, as he had been in the more rural parts of the state. Instead, he sat alone on the far flank of the room waiting to speak, wearing a Tommy Bahama homburg and blue blazer with an American flag cross pin.

As he twiddled his thumbs and fumed over a “Friends of McKissick” handout that attacked his conservative bona fides, I figured he might be up for a chat.

When you approach Lin Wood you get the palpable sense that he is considering the likelihood that he’s about to be in the presence of a pedophile sex trafficker and concluding that the answer is very high.

Wood sized me up, asking first who I was and then whom I had voted for in the last election. Displeased by both answers, his tone turned ominous.

“Big changes are coming and they aren’t going to be good for you,” he said.

Now that seems like a weird thing to say. But I was ready for it. This is how he talks.

Lin Wood in Columbia, S.C.: Not the center of attention. (Photo by Tim Miller)

Over the past week of campaign stops in South Carolina, Wood has suggested that Donald Trump is still secretly in charge of the military and that a day of reckoning is coming for those who are perpetrators of the pedo pandemic.

In other words, he’s still flogging the whole QAnon program, months after the guy who is (probably) Q publicly gave up the ghost.

I tried to set him at ease, send some sort of signal that I was not a frazzledripper. (I just moisturize.) He wasn’t buying it.

Wood told me that he was a busy man and didn’t have time to talk, at least right then.

The thing is he didn’t look very busy, sitting there with his “executive assistant” while the rest of the RINOs ignored him.

But in the broader sense there is no disputing that Wood has been a very busy man. Busy trying to upend the South Carolina GOP establishment, yes. But chiefly he has been busy in his crusade to save the country from the pedophiles, the sex traffickers, and the devil worshipers in our midst.

Because without Wood no spook, specter, or haunt will ever be safe from them again.

Lin Wood is almost certainly not going to be the next South Carolina GOP chairman, so if you’ve come solely for the horse-race political analysis, I’ll give you the tl;dr to get that part out of the way.

For starters, I can’t imagine a campaign that would be less suited for a populist outsider with a slapdash organization than the race for South Carolina Republican Party chairman. Over the past decade or two, the state parties have weakened across the country. In some places, the completely hollowed-out infrastructure might make it ripe for a takeover from someone like Wood.

But that ain’t the case in South Carolina, with its vibrant and vicious political class and outsized role in the presidential nominating calendar. Here, the chair’s race is a time-honored inside game, with victory determined by 870 party regulars who are chosen through a precinct and county committee process juiced by party pros.

In Richland County alone there were multiple former state party chairs in the house, a nominating speech given by Lindsey Graham’s political point man in the state, and I bumped into a colleague from a long-past campaign who told me he hadn’t been to a county committee meeting in a while but wanted to put his name in the mix to help make sure Wood’s crazies didn’t take things over. This is a stacked deck if there ever was one.

When asked to handicap the race, these party insiders seemed to think Wood is poised to get about 25 percent of the vote in the convention that takes place later this month.

Yet while the establishment powerhouse dominates state party politics, South Carolina also has a longstanding anti-establishment crank contingent—based in the Greenville/Spartanburg region—that consistently stirs up dust. (I’m told that these long-time activists played a role in coaxing Wood into the race.) His base of support at the convention will come from that area, as well as Horry County in the southeastern part of the state.

In past state chair elections, this group would drum up a 15 percent protest vote to stick it to the pro-Grahamnesty cucks, even if the race was largely non-competitive. So if the prognosticators are correct, 25 percent is a bit of growth and a sign that the storm may have some gusts—but is still far from being a Cat 5.

One way of looking at that might be to consider Wood’s run a big nothingburger, no different than countless kooky politicians who run for office solely for the attention, with no real hope of success.

On the other hand, what Lin Wood is selling is a category difference from your standard-issue crank. If a quarter of the state’s dominant political party is nodding along to claims about Trump’s secret presidency that are so batshit insane you are forced to contemplate whether or not it’s an Ali G-style hoax, then it might be time to rethink some things.

Drew McKissick, the current party chair, has his money on “nothingburger.”

If I asked you to picture in your mind’s eye what a 52-year-old South Carolina Republican operative-turned-committee-chair looks like, that’s Drew. When I met him outside a Starbucks in downtown Columbia, he was joshing about how his manhood may be in question because he was asked to purchase a coffee with almond milk for a staffer—which in turn gave him flashbacks to a memorable time when he was forced to order a girly Zima with grenadine for his wife. (Refreshing!)

McKissick is skeptical that the extent of the Wood crazy is as big as it may seem to us outsiders. He acknowledged that there are pockets in the grassroots and pointed out that “Facebook has made it easier [for them to] find one another.” But in general, his sense is that this is still a fringe faction.

But his confidence in his position doesn’t make the challenge from the MAGA right less exasperating. After all, the party has had overwhelming success during his tenure, not just holding their big statewide advantage at the presidential and Senate level, but picking up additional state legislative seats and local offices while rebuffing the absurdly wasteful nine-figure television buy that pounded the state in support of Jaime Harrison’s losing Senate campaign.

Keep in mind, McKissick is in no sense of the word a moderate Republican. He is a staunch Trump supporter who is proficient in the MAGA election-fraud two-step—not quite saying that the election was stolen, but offering concerns about the way the elections were conducted and leaving the door open to the possibility that these concerns cost Trump the White House.

So while he’s willing to dabble in a little light election conspiracy to stay on the right side of the orange fella, I was intrigued that he was willing to take a somewhat refreshingly hard line against QAnon and Wood. (I know, low bar.)

When it comes to Wood and the associated crowd—which he described as “QAnon or whatever”—McKissick told me, “They are going to be—to whatever degree they are there—flushed out of the party in South Carolina. Because they do not represent the party and they will not represent the party.”

It’s a nice sentiment from a current red-state Republican leader.

But is it true?

Before arriving in Columbia, Wood had been on a whirlwind tour of the Iodine State, where he has recently purchased three plantations for a total of $16 million. Having been banned from Twitter and other social-media sites, Wood keeps his followers abreast of his travels through his own personal bullshit factory, a Telegram feed which has 846,531 (!!) subscribers at the time of this writing. The feed is a wheels-off potpourri of town-hall-meeting videos, “just asking questions” missives, foreboding promises of comeuppance for MAGA foes, apophasis, anti-media harangues, reflections on finding Christ, and pictures of sunsets. (Celebrity demagogues: They’re just like us!)

While Wood dabbles in a wide range of ruses and flimflam, his bread and butter is sex-crime accusations, in particular the QAnon-inspired conspiracy about the country’s “real pandemic”—the sex trafficking of underage boys and girls.

On Monday, after the Hampton County GOP meeting, Wood posted a video of himself chasing down McKissick as he was leaving the event. In the video, a gimlet-eyed Wood, a few inches from McKissick’s face, unleashes a veiled threat: “I know about you and Lindsey. You need to get out of the race now. Nothing can stop what’s going to come.”

Wood (left) chases after McKissick. (Via Telegram)

In another speech, while vamping about McKissick’s supposed unwillingness to answer questions from delegates, Wood offers a rhetorical question of his own: “Whatchu running from Mr. McKissick, I know. It’ll come out soon. He needs to run further and further. But you can’t hide [evil laugh]. You can run. They’re gonna get him.”

At an event in Fort Mill—a Charlotte suburb I would not have thought would be Wood country, but where he attracted an audience of raucous supporters—he expanded the circle of conspirators, j’accusing everyone from the state’s two Republican senators to Governor Henry McMaster to McKissick as being potentially complicit. It was a tour-de-force performance that managed to get his audience to take evidence that contradicted his claims as proof of their likelihood:

Drew, you didn’t fight for Trump, for the fraudulent election. Gov. McMaster, you didn’t fight for Trump when there was a fraudulent election. Lindsey Graham, you didn’t fight for Donald Trump when there was a fraudulent election. And Tim Scott, you voted to certify a fraudulent election, you didn’t fight for Trump either.

Now here’s what I want you to do. . . . Go out and look at the records of your governor, your two senators, your chairman, soon to be ex-chairman, Drew McKissick. Not one of those people have aggressively sought to deal with the real pandemic, child sex trafficking. And pedophilia. You’re gonna learn a lot about some of these people in due time. Maybe we’re all gonna figure out why President Trump, who didn’t fall off the truck yesterday, allegedly endorsed him [McKissick]. Go look up The Art of War. Keep your friends close—

Wood and Audience: Keep your enemies closer!!!!

When posting the video of this exchange on Telegram, Wood wrote, “Do the research. Connect the dots.”

Lin Wood (right), connecting the dots. (Via Telegram)

Put another way: You unlock this door with the key of imagination.

Charleston Post and Courier reporter Jamie Lovegrove said that Wood spent the preponderence of their interview pivoting the conversation back to the issue of child sex trafficking. He has identified an actual thoroughfare for the traffickers—I-73, which is a proposed extension that hasn’t been built yet. Wood suggested that leaders in the state were pushing the highway extension as part of the plot. The only non-Trump Republican politician I heard Wood compliment was the state’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, for understanding the threat of sex trafficking.

But just because Wood can’t get this epidemic of child sex out of his mind doesn’t mean he isn’t posting other fanciful material to his followers. In other clips he has:

  • Claimed Trump was still the president, which he dismissed as humor to Lovegrove. Even though, in a separate video that he described on his Telegram as a “special moment,” he said that Trump still has the nuclear codes.
  • Argued that Mike Pence and the deep state let in Antifa rioters on January 6, making them “traitors” who should die by firing squad.
  • Offered a counter-NWO-type theory based on symbolism from Trump’s first inaugural address that might mean that the military is actually in charge of the country right now.
  • Said it’s common sense that Joe Biden didn’t even get 2 percent of the vote in 2020.

To the detriment of future historians and sex-trafficking investigators, many of Wood’s ideas disappear into the ether. As I toured around South Carolina, I met people who alleged that Wood had said lots of other crazy stuff. They allege to have heard Wood say that Michael Jackson and Jeffrey Epstein are still alive, while the pope is dead and is being impersonated by a hologram. Others told me that Wood once said he was the second coming of Jesus, citing an old lawsuit.

Did he really say all this stuff?

Who can say. And to be honest, Epstein and MJ moonwalking with a holo holy father is more plausible than the idea that Joe Biden only got a couple million votes and Donald Trump still has the nuclear football.

But my point is: This is not your standard conspiracy-mongering.

It is a mass delusion, the creation of a warped, evil, comically absurd alternate universe meant to convince people that their leaders and their neighbors are actually enemies who are committing the most debased crimes imaginable. It’s the type of delusion that could lead people to storm the Capitol. Or worse.

And a full quarter of the Republican party is signing up.

Lin Wood told an audience in Aiken, “If you do not live a life of truth, you will not see the kingdom of God.”

Was that a confession? A satanic death wish?

Has he gone completely mad? Is he merely an eccentric rich guy who loves the attention and wants to see how far he can take the bit? Somewhere in between?

It’s hard to know what’s in any man’s heart. Wood, who as a 16-year-old child lived through the unspeakable tragedy of returning home from a date to discover that his father had murdered his mother, has surely suffered trauma.

McKissick says, “the guys in the little white coats need to grab him with a butterfly net and take him back to Georgia.”

But I’m not so sure.

I took one more swing at Wood on the way out of the event in Columbia. He seemed to be in a more pleasant mood. He had a handful of fans around him.

Wood wanted to expand on his ominous prediction from earlier. With the puckish glimmer of a bullshitting teen, he spun me a yarn about how Biden’s inauguration was fake. How Biden was sworn in at the wrong time. How the light was coming from in front of him rather than overhead. How the weather was wrong. How it was all a stage. In the coming months the swamp would be drained, just like Trump promised, he said.

Wood offered me a chance to get in front of the story.

His fans were smiling, nodding in rapt attention.

And Wood was basking in it. Smirking at me. Then nodding at them as he spoke the “truth” they needed to hear.

I headed out, but according to his Telegram he wasn’t too busy to stay and regale the dozen or so gathered for quite a while longer. “I Love We The People,” he wrote.

Lin Wood had his stage and he wasn’t going to get off.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.