WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal indictment and one in Georgia charging Donald Trump with lying about the 2020 election to overturn President Joe Biden’s win have done nothing to slow the geyser of election falsehoods flowing from the former president and his supporters.
Just two days after the Georgia indictment, one of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers took the stage at a conference in Missouri to again spread election misinformation. Mike Lindell, the owner of MyPillow who is a vocal promoter of the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, kicked off an event on purported election crimes with a video about fraud.
It included footage from November 2020 that purported to show a Fulton County, Georgia, election worker pulling a briefcase of ballots from under a desk to surreptitiously add them to the tally.
As evidence has since shown, the worker, Ruby Freeman, was simply doing her job — pulling out a standard government container full of real ballots that had to be counted. Three different counts of the Georgia vote, including one by hand, showed the ballots were tallied properly and the results were accurate.
But Freeman and her daughter, who also worked in the elections office that night, were targeted by Trump and his allies and accused of helping throw the election to Biden, compared to drug dealers and deluged with threats. The women testified before the congressional Jan. 6 committee about their ordeal and sued several Trump backers, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for libel. The lies about them are a central part of last week’s indictment of Trump and his allies for allegedly conspiring to spread misinformation to steal the Georgia election.
Yet they persisted. During his conference, Lindell prefaced the video by saying “it isn’t about evidence” and meant to evoke the atmosphere of December 2020, as Trump was challenging the election results and trying to find avenues to remain in power. The anonymously produced video, full of fevered reports of other ”anomalies” in the election, opens with the words “this video is pure data.”
“I never forgot this video,” Lindell said.
Nor has the Republican electorate. Although Trump’s allegations have repeatedly been disproven — often by his own advisers — they’ve taken a firm hold among his party. An Associated Press poll last week found 57% of Republicans said they didn’t view Biden as a legitimately elected president.
The 98-page Georgia indictment lists several false allegations made by Trump that were quickly disproven by fellow Republicans, Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and Gov. Brian Kemp. Still, Trump insists to this day that the election was stolen from him and continues to lie about it.
After the indictment, he promised a press conference this week revealing a report he claimed would show how the Georgia election was stolen from him — a pledge he rescinded on Thursday, saying his lawyers wanted to make his argument in a court filing instead.
“Does anybody really believe I lost Georgia?” Trump asked on his Truth Social network Saturday. “I DON’T.”
By repeating the lie over and over, even when it has been repeatedly exposed as baseless, Trump is not only ensuring that his loyal followers remain energized, but also dominating the discussion and forcing others to relitigate the 2020 election on his terms.
At the recent Iowa State Fair, where he was campaigning for that state’s presidential caucus next year, Trump again claimed the 2020 election was “rigged.” In anticipation of the Georgia indictment, Trump’s campaign issued a statement a week ago saying prosecutors were “taking away President Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech, and the right to challenge a rigged and stolen election that the Democrats do all the time.”
His attorneys have defended his actions by saying the former president sincerely believes fraud cost him reelection.
Lee McIntyre, a Boston University researcher, noted that many of Trump’s followers no longer see other Americans as legitimate opposition, but rather as an enemy. “This is strategic,” McIntyre said. “This is not a mistake. Somebody is profiting from this — politically, ideologically or financially — and we know it’s Trump.”
Known as “affective polarization,” that phenomenon has led to increased violence and political destablization in other nations. This month, FBI agents fatally shot an armed Utah man who had threatened to kill Biden and referred to himself online as a “MAGA Trumper.”
“It’s not just that the other side is wrong, it’s that the other side is evil, and they deserve to be punished, maybe even physically harmed,” McIntyre said. “It is no longer about facts, but about trust. It’s about teams, and which side you’re on.”
Still, the political danger to Trump of continuing his false claims of widespread fraud in 2020 also was underscored last week. The same poll finding that 57% of Republicans don’t believe Biden was legitimately elected also found that 7 out of 10 Americans overall saw his election as valid. Trump will need to convince some of those voters if he is to return to the White House in 2024.
By resurfacing his false claims about the 2020 election, Trump is reminding voters of how even some of his staunchest supporters opposed his scheme to stay in power.
Trump’s vow to prove Georgia was stolen drew a sharp rebuke from Kemp on the site formerly known as Twitter: “The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” Kemp wrote on Tuesday. “For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward – under oath – and prove anything in a court of law.”
Trump’s own vice president agreed.
“Despite what the President and his allies have now said for more than 2.5 years, and continue to insist at this very hour, the Georgia election was not stolen and I had no right to overturn the election on January 6th,” Mike Pence wrote on the web site now known as X.
Indeed, the indictment lists numerous charges about the election Trump and his allies made in public, before subcommittees of the Georgia Legislature in a last-ditch effort to persuade them to replace Biden’s electors with ones for Trump and even in a swiftly dismissed lawsuit they filed.
For example, Trump’s supporters repeatedly claimed in testimony to lawmakers that they found 10,315 dead people had voted in the election. Georgia officials investigated and found only four.
Trump and his backers also claimed that a large number of underaged people had registered to vote — 66,248, Trump attorney Ray Stallings told a legislative committee on Dec. 3, 2020. Raffensperger’s office said no such voters exist.
They also repeatedly cited the recordings of Freeman and her daughter, with Giuliani telling lawmakers that the women, who are Black, were passing one USB drive back and forth like “vials of heroin or cocaine.”
The baseless allegations continue. Trump has said he will use the movie “2000 Mules,” which was produced by a conservative filmmaker and has been widely debunked for using flawed analysis, in his defense at trial. It alleges a conspiracy in Georgia and other swing states to bring fake mail ballots to drop boxes.
Georgia authorities investigated one man who was recorded allegedly making an illegal ballot drop in the movie and found the votes he deposited were for his family and therefore legal. He has sued the filmmakers. Georgia authorities, after repeatedly asking for more evidence of the crimes alleged and getting nothing, also have filed suit.
Reporting by The Associated Press also revealed no widespread problems with the use of drop boxes during the 2020 election.
Three years after the election, Trump’s claims have been rejected by dozens of judges, including several he appointed, his own attorney general and dozens of reviews, audits and recounts in the battleground states, several overseen by Republican lawmakers.
Even if his gamble doesn’t pay off for him in 2024, Trump’s distortions have left a mark on the nation’s political system by increasing polarization and convincing a sizeable chunk of the American public that its elections and justice system can no longer be trusted, said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research and co-author of “The Big Truth,” a book warning of the dangers of Trump’s election lies.
“The scary thing is, those pushing these lies don’t need to get you to believe the loser won,” Becker said. “They just need to get you to believe that no one ever wins. All of our democratic institutions that we’ve built up over 250 years are at risk.”
Riccardi reported from Denver.