GOP lawmaker calls on ‘vigilantes’ to film and follow voters to combat unproven ‘ballot mules’

A Republican state senator called on “vigilantes” to spy on people who deposit early ballots in ballot drop boxes for elections later this year, imploring them to use hidden cameras and follow voters to their cars in an effort to stamp out unproven fraud alleged by a conservative group that aims to restrict voting.

“I have been so pleased to hear about all you vigilantes out there that want to camp out at these drop boxes,” Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, said at the end of a nearly two-hour legislative hearing by True the Vote, a conservative group that supports restrictive voting laws to combat what it says is massive voter fraud. 

“We’re going to have hidden trail cameras, we are going to have people parked out there watching you and they are going to follow you to your car and get your license plate, so don’t try it. Don’t try it anymore,” Townsend added. 

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True the Vote’s claims are at the center of “2000 Mules,” a flawed film by controversial conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza. In the legislative hearing Tuesday, the organization gave a lengthy presentation on its Arizona-based findings, claiming to have found alleged “mules” that had aided in alleged ballot collection or other unspecified nefarious acts. 

The allegations have become widely known due to D’Souza’s film “2000 Mules” which alleges that, by using geolocation data purchased from data brokers, the filmmakers were able to track “ballot mules” to drop boxes where they falsely allege the people were paid to stuff the boxes with completed ballots. The practice, pejoratively referred to as ballot harvesting, is illegal in Arizona and many other states. 

An analysis of the film’s claims by the Associated Press found numerous problems with the data analysis that D’Souza and True the Vote performed to reach their conclusions. For instance, there is no accounting for people with multiple mobile devices that could create pings in the geolocation data or people who are elections or campaign workers who would drive by areas where drop boxes are located on a regular basis. Other fact-checkers have also done independent analysis of the claims and found them to be fundamentally flawed

D’Souza and True the Vote have previously erroneously claimed that their work and the film had spurred real world action when it had not. The filmmakers had said the Yuma sheriff was investigating because of their film, but the sheriff has said that is unequivocally false. 

Townsend had also requested that anyone watching who was an alleged “ballot mule” come forward as a whistleblower to the Arizona Senate which would offer them protection for information. The Arizona Senate is not a law enforcement agency. 

Townsend’s call for vigilante action could lead to violence, as happened in 2020 when a private investigator and former police officer hired by a far-right activist to discover the source of supposed fraudulent ballots intentionally crashed his car into a van in Texas and then held the driver — an air conditioner repairman — at gunpoint, wrongly believing he was transporting boxes of ballots. 

The 2000 Mules hype is taking a predictable turn: discussions on Telegram indicate people may start monitoring drop boxes themselves, and plan to alert the sheriff (because they love sheriffs) if anyone shows up with more than 1 ballot – one even suggests gluing the box shut. pic.twitter.com/T5O0S8gaMP

— trapezoid of discovery (@get_innocuous) May 18, 2022

The hearing Tuesday was full of election fraud conspiracy theories and other conspiracy theories — even before the hearing formally began. 

Right Side Broadcasting Network, a pro-Trump network that constantly is dodging violations of YouTube’s Terms of Service for misinformation, interviewed a litany of prominent members of the Arizona GOP before live-streaming the hearing. 

“They were pumping fraudulent ballots in,” claimed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. There is no evidence of fraudulent ballots in the 2020 election. Lake also claimed that President Joe Biden was not the “legitimate president” due to the “stolen election,” an assertion that has no basis in fact and has been rejected by dozens of courts.  

Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward also echoed many of Lake’s sentiments, sharing multiple other unsubstantiated claims and went off on her fellow Republicans who did not share her beliefs. 

“They are liars, they are cheaters and they want to steal another election,” Ward told RBSN about fellow Republicans who believe Biden won the election. She added that the “mules” were members of “antifa” and “BLM,” presenting no evidence to prove her claim. 

The hearing itself started with a prayer for “election integrity” that mentioned a conspiracy theory rooted in antisemitism. 

“They seek to bring globalism, they seek to destroy our constitution,” Townsend said during the opening prayer for the hearing. “Shine a light on what has happened in Arizona and reveal the things that happened in Arizona.” 

The globalist conspiracy theory is a far-right conspiracy theory with roots in antisemitism and is also often connected to the idea of a “New World Order” and a one-world government, most often with the Jewish people at the center of the conspiracy. 

Among the crowd was a woman in an InfoWars shirt. The website is one of the biggest pushers of the globalist conspiracy theory and many other conspiracy theories, including hateful and antisemitic ones

True the Vote’s presentation was largely critical of fact-checkers who have pointed out the flaws in their data analysis and the holes in their own statements

The presentation also got basic information on elections in Arizona incorrect. 

Gregg Phillips, True the Vote’s election expert and a long-time Republican operative, claimed that Arizona counties only collect year of birth voter registration on forms, making it impossible to correctly identify voters. But this is not true: elections officials have every voter’s full date of birth, but only the year is made public. 

Phillips and True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, would not release the name of the non-profit organizations they claimed were paying “mules” to rig the election. Nor  would they say how they came to do their data analysis, claiming it was “proprietary.” 

Multiple attempts to contact the Attorney General’s Office to confirm claims made by websites that True the Vote has been “working” with the AG’s office and that data from the organization has been handed over to be used in prosecutions went unreturned. 

Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, asked the duo point blank if they had met with the AG or handed any information over. 

Phillips said they had met with the AG’s office about a year ago and said they are scheduled to meet with the office again Wednesday morning. Phillips also claimed to have handed the information over to the FBI. 

As the hearing wrapped up, more elected officials continued to spread unfounded accusations about the 2020 election, including some running for higher office. 

“We do know that the election officials colluded with the judicial officials in 2020,” Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, said, adding that they changed election procedures “under the guise” of COVID-19. Election procedures in Arizona were not changed during the pandemic.

Bolick, who is running for secretary of state, organized the hearing Tuesday and also encouraged Phillips to repeat himself earlier in the hearing when he called fact-checkers “journalistic terrorists.” 

Ward, the leader of the state GOP, seized on the comment, calling journalists covering the hearing “terrorists.” 

“The mainstream media is Domestic Terrorists,” the Arizona GOP Twitter account tweeted a few minutes later. That tweet was later deleted.

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