Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia Thomas at funeral services for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.
Editor’s note: This essay by David Corn first appeared in his newsletter, Our Land. But we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to see it. Our Land is written by David twice a week and provides behind-the-scenes stories about politics and media; his unvarnished take on the events of the day; film, book, television, podcast, and music recommendations; interactive audience features; and more. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here. Please check it out.
Imagine a Supreme Court justice influenced by QAnon. We’re not there yet—as far as we know—but the recent revelations about Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, notable far-right agitator, tea partier, and spouse of Justice Clarence Thomas, do render that possibility not too far a stretch.
Last week, the Washington Post and CBS News published text messages exchanged between Ginni Thomas and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the wake of the November 2020 election, in which Thomas fervently urged Meadows to overturn the results to keep Donald Trump in power. The disclosure of these texts has revived a long-running debate over Justice Thomas’ potential conflicts of interest related to his wife’s political work and his steadfast refusal to recuse himself from cases to which she might possess a connection. One recent example: in January Clarence Thomas was the only justice to dissent in a case in which the Supreme Court declined to support Donald Trump’s effort to block the House committee investigating the January 6 assault from obtaining White House documents related to his attempt to undermine the election. Given his wife’s role in the so-called Stop the Steal movement and her communications with the Trump White House about this matter, Justice Thomas might not have been an impartial arbiter in this dispute. Legal ethics experts have plenty to dissect here. But as serious as that topic is, the texts raise another troubling prospect: Ginni Thomas is absolutely bonkers.
The texts show that she was a true-blue believer in Trump’s Big Lie conspiracy theory about the election. “The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” she texted Meadows a few days after the election, when there was no proof of any such theft (as there would never be) and when no opinion polls showed most Americans concluding the election had been rigged against Trump. In another text, she claimed the dispute over the election (which Trump and his cult had ginned up) was a “a fight of good versus evil.” Her texts indicated she believed the nonsense grifter-attorney Sidney Powell was peddling about foreign states (China! Venezuela!) manipulating voting machines to change the vote count.
One Thomas text to Meadows shared a video promoting a QAnonish conspiracy theory claiming watermarks on ballots would show that Biden received millions of fraudulently cast votes. This baseless assertion was being pushed on InfoWars, the conspiracy theory site of blowhard nutter Alex Jones, by a fellow named Steve Pieczenik, a longtime disinformation purveyor who claimed the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, was a staged “false flag” operation. Related to this particular BS, Thomas texted Meadows a quote she had pulled off a right-wing website: “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators (elected officials, bureaucrats, social media censorship mongers, fake stream media reporters, etc) are being arrested & detained for ballot fraud right now & over coming days, & will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition.” Uh, no.
Ginni Thomas has long been one of the leaders of the right, and it turns out she’s a loon. This is not entirely a newsflash. Nine years ago, I revealed the existence of a new and secretive conservative outfit that Thomas had helped pull together. Called Groundswell, it assembled a collection of right-wingers in Washington, DC, for weekly meetings to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for “a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation,” according to a trove of its documents I obtained. The group included a host of far-right extremists, including Frank Gaffney (who had claimed Barack Obama was a secret Muslim); Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; tea party fanatic Allen West, a former member of Congress; Steve Bannon, then the executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who would become a Fox News presence; Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the influential Federalist Society; a handful of conservative journalists; and others. A top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz was a Groundsweller.
Groundswell appeared to be set up as competition to the well-known Wednesday morning gatherings of conservative advocates hosted by Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform. That collective included a broad spectrum of Republicans, including conservatives opposed to gay rights and abortion rights and those who favor them, as well as GOPers on different sides of the immigration reform debate. Groundswell, which met at the same time as Norquist’s group, was a more ideologically pure and extreme version of the Norquist confab. The group devised strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. On a Google group page, Groundswellers often griped that the GOP’s inside-the-Beltway crowd was trying to marginalize the conservative die-hards and recruit, promote, and support political candidates deemed less strident and more electable. Their Number One enemy in this regard was Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Groundswell mounted an effort to discredit him.
The documents indicated that Ginni Thomas was a guiding force for Groundswell, setting agendas for its meetings and actively coordinating messaging among its participants, and that the group had a dark, paranoid, and Manichean view of American politics. One Groundswell memo stated that an “active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them” with “vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight.” At one meeting a participant claimed that many government agencies (the State Department, the CIA, the Pentagon, the EPA, and others) were conspiring with “far left wing groups” to undermine conservatives in the media.
In a post on a Google group page, Ginni Thomas encouraged Groundswell members to watch Agenda: Grinding America Down, a purported documentary that claims progressives (including Obama) seek “a brave new world” based on the “failed policies and ideologies of communism” and that an evil left is purposefully “destroying the greatest country in all of world history.” This film could have been produced by the John Birch Society. Dredging up the Alger Hiss and Rosenberg atomic spying cases, it compares liberalism to communism and Hitler’s Nazism. The film alleges that the left is deliberately seeking to impose communism on the United States and to eradicate the “American family.” It’s that old bugaboo of the subversive foe within: “America has an enemy that is getting very close to accomplishing its plan of destroying the greatest country in all world history.” The website for the film features a wire diagram of the leftist conspiracy to exterminate the United States that is worthy of a tinfoil hat award.
Ginni Thomas was endorsing this claptrap. To see this film as an accurate depiction of reality, one would have to be a paranoid nutcase incapable of effectively and somberly evaluating the world. And there’s this: a person who believes that such a sinister plot is afoot could likely justify almost anything. As that one Groundswell memo suggests, this is a war, yet only Groundswellers are prepared for this battle. In such circumstances—if you were combatting an evil force bent on annihilating the land you love—would you really care about such niceties as avoiding judicial conflicts of interest?
In one of her texts to Meadows, Thomas sent a dire message: “the most important thing you can realize right now is that there are no rules in war.” That text also said, “This war is psychological. PSYOP.” That means that the fight is over defining reality—something to which Ginni Thomas is not strongly tethered—and that in this clash she feels no need to abide by rules or, perhaps, even laws.
There’s much to the Ginni Thomas story. The House 1/6 committee has requested she come by for a chat. And for so many years now, she and her husband have created the appearance of a serious conflict of interest. (A decade ago she was lobbying against Obamacare when her spouse was clearly going to have to rule on the constitutionality of the healthcare law.) But she has now certainly demonstrated she’s a conspiratorial crackpot. What does it say about the tea party and the far right that they have been steered by a zealous lunatic? No doubt, many Stop-the-Stealers do not drink Trump’s Kool-Aid. They use the false claims of a fraudulent election as a cudgel against Joe Biden and the libs. Or perhaps they suspect there was some chicanery, but they do not buy the full My Pillow Guy nuttiness. (The CIA used Italian military satellites to swipe votes from Tump!) Ginni Thomas, though, is all in. She is unhinged. Though it may be unfair to judge a judge by his or her spouse, it is hardly reassuring that a Supreme Court justice is literally in bed with a quasi-QAnon conspiracist—and ruling on cases related to her passions.
“We are living through what feels like the end of America,” Thomas texted Meadows. In the Thomas household, it’s more like the end of rationality.