But Lindell was in a corner. He had continued to string people together for months, promising a big reveal. Whether he knew he had nothing or not, someone knew. And that’s how the downsides work: the stakes keep rising until it all comes crashing down.
This episode immediately came to mind when I started watching “The Pit,” a symposium held in Arizona this weekend by the hottest 2022 election conspiracy theorists, leaders of the group True the Vote . Same hype rise. Even collapse of what was promised.
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If you’re somewhat familiar with True the Vote, this won’t surprise you.
In his book “Everything Trump Touches Dies”, former GOP consultant Rick Wilson describes being hired by the group at some point before the 2016 election. Wilson and his team prepared to help True the Vote get their message – “millions and millions of illegal votes are cast in every election” – to the public.
“[T]there was only one problem,” Wilson writes. “As the nation’s leading voter fraud prevention group, True the Vote could not provide enough data to make a compelling case, even for welet alone paint the picture of a massive conspiracy to drive illegal voters to the polls.
He tells this story as context for disparaging Donald Trump’s post-2016 insistence that millions of votes were cast illegally – a claim Trump broadly adopted from a tweet by True’s Gregg Phillips. the Vote. Phillips never provided any evidence to support this claim, which he tried to explain on Saturday as his extrapolation from data on how many non-citizens vote in the United States (which happens extremely rarely ).
In 2020, True the Vote’s reputation wasn’t great. At a roundtable in August 2020, a group of conservatives were asked about True the Vote, drawing heavy criticism. Among those warning listeners was attorney Cleta Mitchell, who would become a leading figure in Trump’s efforts to void the election. But true the vote? Pass.
Then the group lucked out and convinced filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza that they had data showing a widespread effort to collect and vote in swing states. The result was “2000 Mules,” a film that caused a stir on the right this year because it offered what had long been missing: apparent evidence of fraud sufficient to affect election results.
In reality, of course, the film shows no such thing. It doesn’t show any examples of people voting in more than one drop box, as claimed, and it doesn’t show any of the purported data Phillips collected to cobble together his estimates of the number of “mules” at work. The one card purporting to show someone visiting multiple drop boxes was fictional, as Phillips admitted to the Washington Post.
D’Souza, like Trump and Wilson, was dependent on True the Vote and Phillips in particular for claims made in the film. The film documents the downside of this gullibility: a filmed interaction in which Phillips suggests that their data analysis solved a murder (much to D’Souza’s astonishment) is later found not to have happened.
After the publication of “2000 Mules”, True the Vote, like Lindell before them, promised to release all data underlying their alleged investigation. In May, they said they would soon be “pulling the cord”, making all of their information public within weeks.
Then it didn’t happen. There was no “tear” pulled. In interviews, Phillips promised that new information would be “ten times” greater than what they uncovered in “Mules.” But the actual evidence they claimed to have found in the film remained under wraps. (They had presented him to some law enforcement agencies, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which found no reason to initiate a criminal investigation.)
Finally, True the Vote announced “The Pit”. Phillips said what would be featured would be “devastating” and would include “the part that was left out in the movie”. The media, he insisted, feared how devastating the stories would be.
The event aired on Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN), a streaming channel focused on right-wing content. But it was hardly something that happened on the fringes.
RSBN opened with two hosts, including Donald Trump’s attorney Christina Bobb. Bobb was in the news earlier in the week as approving the FBI’s removal of material from Mar-a-Lago, but Saturday’s role was familiar to her: she was a host on One America News. Bobb and the other RSBN host interviewed two prominent Arizona elected officials before “The Pit” even began: Republican Secretary of State Mark Finchem and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.
Lake was also the first speaker at the event. Well, after the man who offered the summons. He expressed his hope that “the communist spirit that is trying to destroy our nation…will hang on the gallows they have built.”
Finally, it was time for Phillips and his colleague Catherine Engelbrecht to prove the doubters wrong. The result? The announcement of an Open.ink website, on which they promised to empty the dropbox surveillance video they obtained from the states and documents from various election trials.
“The ‘cord pull’ is Open.ink,” Phillips said. There was no announcement that Open.ink would also include cell phone geolocation data which Phillips said showed the existence of all the mules in the first place. It’s hard to see what’s there, because if you visit at this point, you’re quickly taken to a sign-up sheet that asks you to create an account that must be approved before you can move forward. But you can preview the underlying site, which includes this call.
After revealing the site, the True the Vote team put a coda to this annoying 2020 stuff.
“And I really think that’s…” Engelbrecht said, looking at Phillips – his demeanor indicating uncertainty about what to do next.
“… the end of the ‘mules’, it’s over!” Phillips responded with affected enthusiasm.
“The end of ‘mules!’ added Engelbrecht. “Final scene. Were done.”
No doubt realizing that’s not what audiences expected — RSBN’s bottom third reads “The Pit reveals ‘devastating 2020 news'” at several points in the program — she tried to contextualize the development.
“Honestly, guys,” she said, “…it’s time to move on. Not to move on to what happened in 2020, because you still have to figure out what happened. It’s essential. We have to understand that. But we’re 90 days away from half term” – and so on.
Sure enough, after Open.ink’s announcement, the event itself moved away from the claims that made True the Vote famous. A parade of people gave presentations on the products they had developed (an artificial intelligence lie detector, a kind of telephone that prevents being tracked, etc.). A New York woman has described her discovery of a nefarious pattern in voter ID numbers in the state that she says gave Democrats an unfair advantage in elections, allowing them to indoctrinate children. That sort of thing.
Phillips also gave a presentation loaded with military-style counterintelligence discussions focused on “protecting” elections in the future. It was a central focus of the day: they brought everyone together promising to finally demonstrate their 2020 claims…and then used the day to move on to the next spot.
Lindell too. Shortly before “The Pit” began, RSBN parted ways with Bobb and his co-host for a short commercial break. And there was the infamous pillow salesman. But he didn’t sell pillows; instead, he wanted people to buy MyCoffee, an infusion that takes advantage of Honduras’ “volcanic soil and humid climate” for the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.
The commotion is constantly changing.