L. Lin Wood had a message from God to deliver.
“Don’t believe the media. They are liars, ”the famous libel lawyer said in October at an evangelical rally in Atlanta.
Then he swore, “We will shoot them,” bringing the crowd to his feet.
Mr Wood’s speech to a crowded ballroom at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference was a glimpse of the role he would soon play as one of the most relentless promoters of the President’s conspiracy theories. Trump and baseless allegations of voter fraud.
It was a turning point that surprised many former associates of the theatrical lawyer, whom Dan Rather once described as “lawyer for the damned” for his list of high profile clients like Richard A. Jewell, suspected of wrong for setting off a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics, and the parents of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old whose murder has turned into a tabloid frenzy.
But Mr. Wood has reinvented himself to become an extreme supporter of Trump, who has found fame among Mr. Trump’s supporters not because he is good at winning victories for the president, but because he will amplify Mr. Trump’s wildest accusations and plunge headfirst into culture wars.
Mr Wood’s lawsuits to quash the election in Georgia and ask the Supreme Court to overturn votes in other key states were strongly rejected by judges and riddled with errors, including misconduct spelling his own name.
Still, many Republicans feared Mr. Wood would hurt the party’s chances of holding the Senate. His repeated suggestion that people should be absent from the second round of elections in Georgia to punish Republicans who did not sufficiently support Mr. Trump led Newt Gingrich condemn Mr. Wood as “totally destructive”. The editor of National Review described him as “an exceptionally talented demagogue.”
Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and veteran of Georgian politics, said Senate control was too important to waste.
“I love Lin. I think he’s a very bright guy and a top class lawyer, ”Mr. Reed said. “But the stakes in the Senate races are too high to use them as a platform to express their outrage at the results of the presidential election.”
Former colleagues have described Mr. Wood as someone who shares many traits with Mr. Trump. He claims to hate mainstream media but has used it effectively to build his brand. He intimidates opponents with legal action. And he thrives on shocking those around him.
Mr. Wood’s recent clients have included highly polarizing figures 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 at protesters outside their home; and Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He also represents Nicholas Sandmann, a student whose encounter with a Native American protester made national news, in his defamation lawsuit against the New York Times.
Before former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn raised the possibility with Mr. Trump of declaring martial law, the idea of enlisting the military to oversee a resumed election was an idea Mr. Wood had. launched in interviews with the right-wing media.
Legal experts have said that Mr Wood, who is well aware of what the law says about libel and libel, seems to bet that the targets of his most baseless allegations will not pursue him because he is protected by the First Amendment and they don’t. I don’t want the hassle. He hinted, for example, that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. could have partnered with now-deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
And at a rally this month in Atlanta, where Mr. Wood appeared alongside Mr. Flynn and another pro-Trump lawyer known to push conspiracy theories, Sidney Powell, he accused the Governor Brian Kemp of corruption and led the crowd in chants of “Lock him!”
His antics earned him an audience with Mr. Trump. Mr Wood said in an email that they had spoken of “fraud and illegality” in the election on more than one occasion, although he was not an official member of the President’s legal team. .
Lawyers who worked with Mr Wood, 68, described him as lively and aggressive in and out of the courtroom – someone known to show up uninvited at conferences of his opponents and belittle witnesses in their testimony.
But few people who know him professionally have said they expect him to descend into the miasmic swamp of right-wing conspiracy theories.
“The Lin wood I see today is nothing like the Lin wood I knew back then,” said Timothy Terrell, professor of law at Emory.
Mr Wood’s biggest breakup came in 1996 when he represented Mr Jewell, a security guard falsely suspected of planting a homemade bomb in Atlanta during the Summer Olympics that killed one person and injured more than 100 others.
Over the next 20 years, he built a reputation as a pit bull plaintiff lawyer who sued the media for a pantheon of aggrieved clients. He represented John and Patsy Ramsey in their struggle to clear their names in the murder of their daughter and former Congressman Gary Condit after the death of his intern Chandra Levy.
Although libel cases grabbed the headlines, his most lucrative legal work has been in areas such as medical fraud and malpractice.
James Rawls, an Atlanta-based attorney who has assisted Mr. Wood with some Ramsey family matters, said working with him was easy “when we were all on the same team.” But their relationship became untenable, Mr Rawls said, as his company, Powell Goldstein, had a great practice in defending media companies and Mr Wood was unwilling to stop attacking the media.
Mr Wood was raised in Macon and experienced a tragedy as a teenager, returning home one day to find that his father – a violent alcoholic – had beaten his mother to death. Watching the murder trial that followed inspired him to become a lawyer.
His professional life has been messy. His former legal partners are suing him for unpaid compensation, alleging that he exhibited bizarre and messianic behavior. They claim he called himself “Almighty Lin” and indicated that according to a “prophecy” he saw on YouTube, he expected to be appointed Chief Justice of the United States.
“I assessed my mental health,” he wrote in an email to his partners that is cited in the lawsuit. “I’m a little bit crazy, but I’m also mostly sane and have a sane mind.”
Mr. Wood maintains that the lawsuit is “littered with false statements and completely irrelevant factual allegations.”
After his speech at the Faith and Freedom event, Mr Wood returned to his seat on the stage and on his date, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro jumped in to give him a hug.
Mr. Reed, the MC, raised his voice to be heard to the applause.
“Thanks for bringing the thunder, Lin,” Mr. Reed said.