Meet the Real “Deep State” — The Members of the Secretive Council on National Policy

by | Apr 16, 2022 | Money and Politics

Photo by jjmm888, iStockPhoto

Meet the Real “Deep State” — The Members of the Secretive Council on National Policy

by | Apr 16, 2022 | Money and Politics

Photo by jjmm888, iStockPhoto
The Council for National Policy (CNP) was formed in the early 1980s. It has operated largely under the radar, secretly operating an influential network of conservative think tanks, religious extremists, Republican operatives, elected officials and wealthy donors to advance their social and political agenda.

The membership list of the Council for National Policy is supposed to be a prized secret. A 2016 internal CNP policy obtained by Documented threatens expulsion for anyone that breaks the rules and names names. So anytime a list like this comes out, it’s a big deal for those trying to follow what is happening in right-wing circles.

CNP members range from the leaders of the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, to the Southern Poverty Law Center designated anti-LGBTQ hate groups Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom. The heads of major foundations on the right, including those of Donors Trust and the Bradley Foundation, are also members.

Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at CNP. His wife, the right-wing activist Ginni Thomas, is a leader within the group and a board member of CNP Action, the organization’s 501(c)(4) arm. Much has been written recently about Ginni Thomas’ role in CNP, including by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, and by Danny Hakim and Jo Becker for the New York Times Magazine.

The group was founded in 1981 by leaders in the so-called “new-right,” including Paul Weyrich (who also founded the Heritage Foundation and ALEC), and Rev. Tim LaHaye of the Moral Majority. For decades, the Council for National Policy managed successfully to keep the names of its members secret, as well as details of what went on at their closed-door meetings. Those meetings are almost always held at luxurious 5-star Ritz-Carlton resorts, because culture-war doesn’t come cheap.

In recent years, the veil of secrecy has been falling.

In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a leaked copy of CNP’s 2014 membership directory. Then Max Blumenthal published a 2018 CNP meeting packet, which included a membership list. Both of these were significant breakthroughs.

On November 1, 2020 Documented published a total of 14 membership directories spanning three years, which outlined hundreds of members, including some overlap from the 2014 and 2018 directories as well as many new members. This new list is now the most recent publicly available list of CNP memberships.

Documented has also published many other internal CNP documents, along with dozens of recordings from the private CNP meetings. These materials have resulted in significant increased press coverage of CNP in recent years. In October 2021, Robert O’Harrow published a major investigation of CNP, based on many of the internal materials obtained by Documented, for the Washington Post Magazine.

The new membership list was shared by a member of CNP in January 2022 and obtained by Documented. Although the list does not include a specific date, metadata of the file shows it was created on January 19, 2022.

The most recent CNP membership list includes dozens of new members since Documented published the September 2020 CNP membership directory, including former Vice President Mike Pence (his CNP membership was previously reported By Robert O’Harrow in the Washington Post Magazine in October 2021), former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis who wrote two memos outlining how then-Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the results of the 2020 election, and Florida Congressional Candidate Cory Mills.

A searchable list of names in the directory is below. The original directory (an excel spreadsheet) can be made available to reporters upon request

Noteworthy CNP Members


The Council for National Policy (CNP) is a 501(c)(3) organization formed at the beginning of the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s. For much of its existence, CNP has operated largely under the radar. CNP has been secretly convening an influential network of conservative think tanks, right-wing religious extremists, Republican operatives, elected officials, and wealthy GOP donors to advance their social and political agenda. The New York Times described CNP as a “little known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.”

CNP holds events for its members several times a year to strategize about their collective goals and discuss the latest policy issues. Speakers on the agenda often include the latest Republican presidential candidates or hopefuls, right-wing and conservative activists, and talking heads who regularly appear on Fox News.

From abortion, shaping the judiciary, religious extremism, to voter suppression, CNP members focus on nearly every major issue of importance on the right. Through its 501(c)(4) sister organization the CNP Action, members engage in a range of policy issues and at times drive the national agenda on a particular topic.

In 2008, at the beginning of the Obama Administration, CNP created the Conservative Action Project (CAP) to “facilitate conservative leaders working together on behalf of common goals. Participants include the CEO’s of over 100 organizations representing all major elements of the Conservative Movement-economic, social and national security,” according to an invitation obtained by Documented. CAP has published hundreds of memos since, including a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy calling for Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger to be removed from the Republican conference “due to their egregious actions as part of the House of Representative’s January 6th Select Committee.”

Numerous CNP members were tied to organizing the rally on January 6 in Washington, D.C. that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Post reported in January 2021 at least six current or former members of the Council for National Policy (CNP) played roles in promoting the rallies.

2017 – 2020 CNP Membership Directories

On November 1, 2020 Documented published 14 CNP membership directories spanning three years. Below is the list of these membership directories. Note redactions in the directories have been made to protect personal information.

Republished with permission from Documented.



Documented is an investigative watchdog and journalism project committed to holding the powerful interests that undermine our democracy accountable.

We believe that hard-hitting, investigative journalism is needed now more than ever.

Corporations and wealthy donors have far too much power and influence in our political and justice systems. Profits and shareholders are too often put ahead of everyday people. The very real and urgent dangers of climate change are being downplayed or ignored. Our democracy itself is under attack.


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