Ryan Clayton, 36, is the president of Americans Take Action, a progressive political group that has amped up its efforts against Trump since he took office. According to its website, the group is “a populist network formed to restore free and fair elections in America, create a purpose driven economy, and save the free and open internet.” The flags, which flew through the air and landed near the president, also had “TRUMP” written in gold on both sides.
Trump and McConnell were walking into a lunch with Senate Republicans when the flags were tossed at them. Clayton, who was among members of the press and posing as a journalist, was arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police after the protest. Trump and McConnell did not flinch, walking into the lunch.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Clayton Was Taken Into Custody & Charged With Unlawful Conduct
Ryan Clayton was taken away from the scene by U.S. Capitol Police after throwing the flags about 1:30 p.m. You can watch video of the incident above.
“This president has conspired with agents of the Russian government,” Clayton shouted as he was taken into custody. “We should be talking about treason in Congress, not about tax cuts!”‘
He was charged with unlawful conduct, Capitol Police said in a press release. They said the investigation is still ongoing. Unlawful conduct is a misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of up to 6 months in prison and/or a fine.
The U.S. House Administration Committee, which oversees the Capitol Police, was briefed on the incident, according to NBC Washington.
Fox News reports that Clayton used a “bad ID badge” to get to the area where he threw the flags. According to Fox, officers who didn’t detect Clayton could face discipline. He was in an area that is considered to be “super secure.”
“This was a failure on multiple levels..There is egg on people’s faces,” a source told Fox News.
Clayton did not respond to a request for comment from Heavy. It is not clear if he has hired an attorney or if he remains in custody.
In a Facebook post, Americans Take Action wrote, “Ryan Clayton. Fearless hero. Willing to put himself at risk for the lives of others, once again acting on one of America’s most integral rights as Protected by the First Amendment. Ryan Clayton is more dedicated to protecting the First Amendment than Donald Trump. Captain America? We think so.”
2. He Says Americans Take Action Is Planning on ‘Resisting the Trump Regime Every Day & Every Step of the Way’
Clayton and Americans Take Action say on their website, “Currently, our top priority is resisting the Trump regime, every day and every step of the way.” The group explains:
We are just regular everyday Americans – engineers and teachers, activists and lawyers, trade unionists and professionals, scientists and nurses – who believe in making a difference, having an impact, and leaving the planet a little better off than how we found it. As practical people, whenever we face a challenge, Americans take action to fix it.
Whether through legislation or an amendment, through the states or through Congress, Americans Take Action is working every day to restore free and fair elections in America so that every citizen has the freedom to vote and votes matter more than dollars in elections once again. We also are working to create a purpose-driven economy where all work is respected and rewarded, as well as ensuring that the internet remains free and open for generations to come.
Clayton, the group says, has “previous experience working in political advertising, for progressive non-profit organizations, for political candidates, and for elected officials, his background gives him a broad understanding of how campaigns, non-profits, and government institutions fit together to shape American public policy.”
On their website, Americans Take Action lists three goals:
1. Restore free and fair elections in America by creating a separation of wealth and state,
guaranteeing the freedom to vote, and ensuring every vote cast gets counted.
2. Create a purpose-driven economy where the work of all people is respected, where every person can serve a productive purpose in our society, and where your contribution to your community is recognized and rewarded.
3. Resist any and all threats to a free and open internet so that it can continue to be a tool
for communication and connection for all people in our country and around the world.
They also offer a chance for supporters to get their own Trump Russian flags for a contribution to their organization.
The group has also created “puppets” featuring the faces of Trump, Steve Bannon and other Trump allies. It helped organize Electoral College protests, including one held in Oregon, in December 2016.
“Russians hacking our democracy to elect Trump should tell you everything you need to know about him. If Putin picked our President, not We the People, then Trump must be rejected by the Electoral College,” Clayton told KTVZ-TV. “Trump is a clear and present danger to our country and the world. The men and women who died for our freedoms deserve better than this.”
3. He Trolled Trump by Handing Out Russian Flags at CPAC & Tried to Get Jared Kushner to Sign a Flag
Clayton made headlines in February when he and another Americans Take Action activist, Jason Charter, handed out Russian flags, with “TRUMP” emblazoned in gold on each side, to members of the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, according to The Atlantic. The duo handed out about 1,000 flags, and then took photos of members of the crowd waving them while waiting for Trump to come out and speak. The stunt went viral on social media, forcing CPAC organizers to rush through the crowd to confiscate the flags.
“Most people didn’t realize it was a Russian flag, or they didn’t care,” Charter told The Atlantic. He and Clayton were kicked out of CPAC after their actions were discovered.
In a piece written on HuffPost, Clayton explained, “The reason we trolled Trump with these flags is to draw attention to the Russian interference in our most recent American election, helping to decide the outcome in favor of the Trump campaign. Working with a foreign power to undermine our free and fair elections is treason. Let’s be clear, Putin picked Trump because it’s good for Russia, not because he’s great for America.”
Clayton was involved in another stunt on July 24, 2017, when he tried to give a Russian flag to Jared Kushner, and asked him to sign it. “Will you sign my Russian flag? Sign my Russian flag please!” Clayton yelled before security officials pushed him away, according to The Hill.
According to CNN’s Manu Raju, Clayton was also pretending to be a reporter during that exchange with Kushner, who was leaving a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing at the time.
“Kushner is the mastermind behind the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian agents in last year’s election,” Clayton said in a statement to The Hill. “Putin helped Trump win to make Russia great again, not America. Trump and Kushner in the White House are a clear and present danger to the US Constitution and the American people.”
4. Clayton Was Lawrence Lessig’s Campaign Manager & Has Worked as Director of Wolf PAC, Founded by The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur
Ryan Clayton, 36, lives in Washington, D.C. He grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and attended Pike High School on the city’s northwest side, according to his Facebook profile. He then graduated from Indiana University.
Clayton has appeared on The Young Turks network and worked as the executive director of Wolf PAC, since at least 2013. The “non-partisan political action committee” was founded in 2011 by The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur. He had previously worked for liberal nonprofits, including Media Matters for America and Emily’s List.
According to its website, Wolf PAC aims, “To save democracy in the United States by getting a much needed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will establish elections which are free of the corrupting influence of money in our political system and fair enough that any citizen can run for office, not just millionaires and their allies.”
Clayton was the campaign manager for Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, who explored a run for president in 2015 in a protest bid to win the Democratic nomination, according to the Washington Post. Lessig’s aim was to draw attention to issues in the political system and ethics laws, especially surrounding fundraising. Clayton helped him raise $1 million in commitments to get him into the race, before leaving the campaign in September 2015 and returning to Wolf PAC.
“It was an honor and privilege to manage the launch of the presidential campaign for my personal hero and friend, Larry Lessig,” Clayton said in a statement. “As I return to my work promoting a constitutional amendment to fix Citizens United and affiliated electoral work in 2016, the Lessig2016 campaign is now in the hands of some of the best in the political business.”
Lessig said in a statement, ““I can’t describe my gratitude to Ryan, both for his work and inspiration. He started this and had faith before anyone else.”
One of his first public ventures was taking on Andrew Breitbart in 2011. After Breitbart’s death, Clayton disrupted a screening of the “Hating Breitbart” documentary in 2012, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Me and a friend went to the Hating Breitbart premiere in Washington, D.C., and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I was laughing at parts that the right-wingers who are fans of Andrew Breitbart didn’t think were funny,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “It goes to show you they aren’t interested in facts, just false facts to justify whatever narrative they are pushing, and the person who taught them that lesson the best was Andrew Breitbart. In many ways, we’re better off now, and good riddance to Andrew Breitbart.”
He has also been a rival of conservative activist James O’Keefe, and O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. O’Keefe has claimed Clayton verbally harassed a Project Veritas staffer, and O’Keefe has been heavily critical of him on Twitter, including calling him out and leading to him being kicked out of CPAC in February.
Clayton also claimed he was assaulted at a Project Veritas event:
Clayton’s efforts in two political races in 2016, one in Portland, Oregon, and the other in Portland, Maine, led to controversies.
In Maine, Americans Take Action funded letters sent to women supporting state Rep. Ben Chipman in his state senate primary race against fellow Democrat state Rep. Diane Russell. According to the Portland Press-Herald, the hand-written letters addressed to “a fellow District 27 Democratic primary voter.” Chipman said at least 40 to 50 women received the letters, which he said were “designed to instill fear.” The letter pushed readers to a website that included court filings from an old dispute Chipman had with a tenant and called him a “threat to the American way of life,” according to the Bangor Daily News.
Russell gained national attention for her efforts to end the independence of superdelagates in the Democratic primary and was supported by Clayton and Ungur, according to reports. She was successful in amending the rule for Maine Democrats, meaning superdelegates were required to vote in line with caucus and primary results, according to the Press-Herald. Russell lost the race against Chipman, and is now running for governor.
“I’m a national figure. I have earned a reputation nationally,” Russell told the Press-Herald when asked why Americans Take Action would get involved in the state race. “I don’t think this is really what I would classify as helpful. This is not the type of campaigning we want in Maine.”
In Oregon, Americans Take Action and Wolf PAC spent more than $4,500 to fund three fake voter guides and a fake sample ballot that directed voters to support Democratic challenger Sharon Nasset in her primary race against incumbent House Speaker Tina Kotek, according to the Willamette Week.
“The literature attempts to paint Kotek as a right-leaning stooge for big money interests, and opposed to overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allowed unlimited independent expenditures by corporate and union donors,” according to Willamette Week. “Based on the similiarity of their concerns and the timing of their activity, it appears that Americans Take Action and Wolf PAC are coordinating their actions.”
Scott Moore, spokesman for the Oregon House Democrats, criticized the actions by the Clayton-affiliated groups, telling Willamette Week, “This is the height of hypocrisy. Here’s an organization that allegedly cares about campaign finance reform, yet they’ve run their campaign solely on dishonesty, deception, evasion, and an utter lack of transparency.”
Kotek easily defeated Nasset in the primary.
5. He Founded the Progressive Website US Uncut, Which Ended in a Legal Battle
Clayton was also a founder and admin of U.S. Uncut, a group of progressive activists that morphed into an online news organization known for its popular Facebook page in the run-up to the 2016 election, according to Reveal News.
The page and website have since been deleted following an internal battle between Clayton and other founders. He was sued by former partners Mark Provost and Carl Gibson in August, according to Reveal. They accused him of trademark infringement and cyberpiracy, claiming he took over U.S. Uncut and created a clone organization after they kicked him out of the group in 2014. They settled out of court, and the settlement included the end of the U.S. Uncut name.
According to Reveal, Clayton was inspired to help start U.S. Uncut as a progressive version of the Tea Party. Clayton did not comment about the website when approached by Reveal.
In a court filing, Clayton wrote, “Provost and Gibson concocted a false dispute with Clayton concerning a meme that Clayton had posted to his US Uncut Facebook site. Though there were established protocols on removing impermissible posts from the Facebook site, which administrators of the site were allowed to do, the removal of posting privileges and administrator access was impermissible. Accordingly, in essence, Provost and Gibson kicked Clayton out of the organization that he had started, and wrongfully took control of Clayton’s Facebook site.”
Clayton also said in court filings that at least one of his memes was shared more than 50,000 times.