L. Lin Wood had a message to bring from God.
“Don’t believe the media. They are liars,” said the prominent defamation attorney declared in October at a meeting of evangelicals in Atlanta.
Then he swore, “We’ll take care of them,” and got the crowd on their feet.
Mr. Wood’s speech in a crowded ballroom at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference was a preview of the role he would soon play as one of the most relentless proponents of President Trump’s conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud.
It’s a twist that has taken many former theater attorneys by surprise, whom Dan Rather once referred to as “the lawyer of the damned” for his list of high profile clients including Richard A. Jewell, falsely suspected of having a bombshell at the Atlanta Olympics and the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old whose murder turned into tabloid madness.
But Mr. Wood has reinvented himself into an extreme Trump attorney who rose to prominence among Mr. Trump’s supporters, not because he’s good at winning victories for the president, but because he reinforces and supports Mr. Trump’s wildest accusations The culture wars will dive head first.
Mr Wood’s lawsuits aimed at reversing the elections in Georgia and asking the Supreme Court to overturn votes in other key states have been firmly dismissed and flawed by judges, including a misspelling of his own name.
Still, many Republicans have become concerned that Mr. Wood is affecting the party’s chances of holding the Senate. Newt Gingrich cited his repeated suggestion that the people of Georgia suspend the runoff election in order to punish Republicans who did not support Mr Trump adequately condemn Mr. Wood as “totally destructive”. The editor of National Review described him as an “exceptionally talented demagogue”.
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a veteran of Georgian politics, said control of the Senate was too important to waste.
“I like Lin. I think he’s a very brilliant guy and a great litigator, ”said Reed. “But the stakes in the Senate races are too high to be used as a platform to express outrage over the results of the presidential election.”
Former colleagues described Mr. Wood as someone who shares many qualities with Mr. Trump. He claims to abhor the mainstream media but has used it effectively to build his brand. He intimidates opponents with lawsuits. And he lives from shocking the people around him.
Mr. Wood’s recent clients included highly polarizing personalities like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who supports the QAnon hoax and was recently elected to Congress. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished guns in front of protesters outside their home; and Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen accused of fatally shooting two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is also representing Nicholas Sandmann, a student whose encounter with a Native American protester in his defamation lawsuit against the New York Times drew national news.
Before former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn raised the possibility of declaring martial law with Mr Trump, the thought of engaging the military to oversee an election review was an idea Mr Wood rightly floated in interviews -wing media.
Legal experts said that knowing exactly what the law says about defamation and libel appears to be betting that the goals of his most unfounded claims will not sue him because he is protected by the first amendment and they do not. I don’t want the trouble. For example, he has suggested that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. may have been linked to the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
And at a rally in Atlanta that month where Mr. Wood joined Mr. Flynn and another pro-Trump attorney, Sidney Powell, who was known for promoting conspiracy theories, he accused Governor Brian Kemp of corruption and led the crowd in chants of “Lock him up! “
His antics earned him an audience with Mr. Trump. Mr Wood said in an email that they spoke about “fraud and illegality” more than once in the election, despite not being an official member of the president’s legal team.
Lawyers who have worked with Mr. Wood, 68, described him as lively and aggressive in and out of the courtroom – someone known for showing up uninvited at his opponents’ press conferences and disparaging witnesses in testimony.
But few who know him professionally said they expected him to dive into the miasmic swamp of right-wing conspiracy theories.
“The Lin Wood I see today bears no fundamental resemblance to the Lin Wood I knew then,” said Timothy Terrell, a law professor at Emory.
Mr. Wood’s biggest break came in 1996 when he was standing in for Mr. Jewell, a security officer falsely suspected of planting a pipe bomb during the Atlanta Summer Olympics that killed one person and injured more than 100 others.
Over the next 20 years, he built a reputation as an attorney for a pit bull plaintiff suing the news media over a pantheon of aggrieved clients. He represented John and Patsy Ramsey in their battle to clear their names in the murder of their daughter and former Congressman Gary Condit after the death of his intern Chandra Levy.
Although the defamation cases made headlines, his more lucrative legal work was in areas such as medical fraud and wrongdoing.
James Rawls, an Atlanta-based attorney who helped Mr. Wood with some Ramsey family affairs, said he was easy to work with “when we were all on the same team.” But their relationship became untenable, Mr. Rawls said because his firm, Powell Goldstein, had a great practice in defending media companies and Mr. Wood didn’t want to stop attacking the media.
Mr. Wood grew up in Macon and experienced tragedy as a teenager. Return home one day to discover that his father – an abusive alcoholic – beat his mother to death. Watching the murder trial that followed inspired him to become a lawyer.
His professional life was chaotic. His former legal partners are suing him for unpaid compensation, claims he exhibited bizarre, messianic behavior. They claim he described himself as “Almighty Lin” and stated that, according to a “prophecy” he saw on YouTube, he expected to be appointed Chief Justice of the United States.
“I have assessed my sanity,” he wrote in an email to his partner quoted in the lawsuit. “I’m a little bit crazy, but I’m mostly sane and sane.”
Mr. Wood claims that the lawsuit “is littered with false statements and completely irrelevant allegations of fact.”
After speaking at the Faith and Freedom event, Mr. Wood returned to his place on the podium and his date, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, jumped up to give him a hug.
Mr. Reed, the M.C., raised his voice to be heard over the applause.
“Thank you for bringing the thunder, Lin,” said Mr. Reed.