How stupid do you have to be to believe any of the GOP/Q-Anon conspiracy theories that sound more like warped entertainment than warped politics? Pretty stupid. Lauren Boebert stupid. Still in defense of Republicans who aren't quite as stupid as Lauren Boebert-- like maybe, unlike CO-03's congresswoman, they actually earned a high school diploma, they are being fed a steady diet of lies and gaslighting on their preferred media outlets and by their "respected" elected officials. Take an average Waukesha County commuter. She was listening to News/Talk 1130 WISN on Thursday when host Vicki McKenna brings on Wisconsin's senior senator, Ron Johnson. Johnson, referring to what amounts to unregulated gossip on the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, claimed that "we’re over 3000 deaths after within 30 days of taking the vaccine, pretending the COVID vaccine has caused those deaths. McKenna didn't correct him or tell her listeners the senator was lying to them. Some must have believed it-- and passed it along to their own network as verifiable fact. Johnson has a long history of lying ins personal life, in business career and in politics. But if the Waukesha County commuters knew that, they may not have given his reelection campaign a 161,347 (67.9%) to 71,778 (30.2%) countywide boost over Russ Feingold in 2016.
This morning, Vice reported that in Arizona, a group of citizens "including one Republican Congressional candidate, is asking the state’s Supreme Court to invalidate all election results since 2018 and remove all elected officials from their offices immediately," replacing them with the petitioners. "The legal petition claims all officials elected in Arizona since 2018 are “inadvertent usurpers” because the elections they won were conducted by vote-counting equipment that was not properly certified."
Insane? Sure. But not to brainwashed or brain-dead Republicans who have been listening to Hate Talk Radio on their commutes and to Fox News when they get home... for decades now. Last week, The Economist released a new poll by YouGov showing that 37% of respondents have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, not much worse than the 42% who have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party-- and absolutely not enough of a disparity to overcome severe gerrymandering on congressional districts. Polling also shows that as many as 70% of Republicans feel Trump was reelected and the election was stolen.
One of yesterday's most interesting news reports that I read came from the Washington Post's Emma Brown, Aaron Davis, John Swaine and Josh Dawsey, Making Of A Myth. They traced down how Trump's Big Lie was concotted. Key elements of the baseless claim, they wrote took shape in an airplane hangar in-- of all places-- Dallas two years earlier, "promoted by a Republican businessman who has sold everything from Tex-Mex food in London to a wellness technology that beams light into the human bloodstream. At meetings beginning late in 2018, as Republicans were smarting from midterm losses in Texas and across the country, Russell Ramsland Jr. and his associates delivered alarming presentations on electronic voting to a procession of conservative lawmakers, activists and donors. Briefings in the hangar had a clandestine air. Guests were asked to leave their cellphones outside before assembling in a windowless room. A member of Ramsland’s team purporting to be a 'white-hat hacker' identified himself only by a code name. Ramsland, a [a long time GOP campaign contributor to the tune of tens of thousands dollars and] failed congressional candidate with a Harvard MBA, pitched a claim that seemed rooted in evidence: Voting-machine audit logs-- lines of codes and time stamps that document the machines’ activities-- contained indications of vote manipulation. In the retrofitted hangar that served as his company’s offices at the edge of a municipal airstrip outside Dallas, Ramsland attempted to persuade failed Republican candidates to challenge their election results and force the release of additional data that might prove manipulation. 'We had to find the right candidate,' said Laura Pressley, a former Ramsland ally whose own claim that audit logs showed fraud had been rejected in court two years earlier. 'We had to find one who knew they won.'"
Defeated Republicans like state Sen Don Huffines and defeated congressman Pete Sessions declined. Everyone they approached declined "and the idea of widespread vote manipulation remained on the political fringe-- until 2020, when Ramsland’s assertions were seized upon by influential allies of Trump." Señor T. himself, who abhors the idea of being a loser, "accelerated the spread of those claims into the GOP mainstream as he latched onto an array of baseless ideas to explain his loss in November. The enduring myth that the 2020 election was rigged was not one claim by one person. It was many claims stacked one atop the other, repeated by a phalanx of Trump allies." The Post report, they explained "is the previously unreported origin story of a core set of those claims, ideas that were advanced not by renowned experts or by insiders who had knowledge of flawed voting systems but by Ramsland and fellow conservative activists as they pushed a fledgling company, Allied Security Operations Group [ASOP], into a quixotic attempt to find evidence of widespread fraud where none existed." Ramsland's efforts were funded by other crackpot GOP oil, gas and fracking industry donors, which is where his own family's fortune came from.
By late 2019... Ramsland was repeating the ominous idea that election software used in the United States originated in Venezuela and saying nefarious actors could surreptitiously manipulate votes on a massive scale. As the 2020 election approached, he privately briefed GOP lawmakers in Washington and met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security, documents and interviews show.
...After the Nov. 3 election, to an extent not widely recognized, Ramsland and others associated with ASOG played key roles in spreading the claims of fraud, The Post found. They were circulated by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a staunch Trump ally who had been briefed by ASOG. And Ramsland’s assertions were incorporated in the “kraken” lawsuits filed by conservative lawyer Sidney Powell-- who The Post learned had also been briefed two years earlier by ASOG-- and aired publicly by Rudy Giuliani, then Trump’s personal attorney, as they tried to overturn Joe Biden’s victories in key states.
During that period, Trump was hyper-focused on making the case that the election had been rigged, former White House aides said. He would listen to “literally anyone” who had a theory about it, in the words of one former senior administration official.
Among those voices were the people in Ramsland’s network.
In the aftermath of the election, Trump was surrounded by those repeating claims Ramsland had made... and in seeking to overturn the election, Trump himself embraced some of those ideas.
The idea that the election was stolen took root and remains persuasive to millions of Americans. Although Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security called the election the “most secure in American history,” polls have consistently shown that about one-third of Americans-- including a majority of Republicans-- believe that Trump lost because of fraud. An internal poll by the National Republican Senatorial Committee in March found that among Republicans who believed the election was stolen, nearly half said hacked machines were partly to blame and an additional 8 percent said they were the main source of fraud.
The fraud claims have undermined faith in the electoral process, been cited as a motivation for legislation to curtail access to polls in dozens of states and spurred the companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic to file billion-dollar lawsuits. Ultimately, the conspiracy-mongering helped inspire the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In an email exchange with The Post, Ramsland, 68, confirmed that ASOG provided research for Powell and Giuliani but said that he had never spoken to Trump himself and that the company was “one of many voices” that expressed concerns about election-system vulnerabilities. He noted that election security has been a long-standing concern across the political spectrum and said that many others had “reached similar conclusions regarding irregularities in the election system.”
...Pressley, 58, said she and Ramsland had a falling out in part over his use of her analysis of election data and her suspicions that his motives were financial or partisan. She said she believes he has not provided evidence for his claims about the 2020 election and fears those claims could undercut legitimate questions about the integrity of U.S. voting. “I’m heartbroken by it,” Pressley said recently, speaking in detail about ASOG for the first time, during a three-hour interview near Austin.
...Repeatedly and at key moments, [former senior U.S. cybersecurity official who led a team tracking the integrity of the 2020 election for DHS Matt] Masterson said, ASOG was the source of morsels of inaccurate information that shaped public perception. Some of the ideas it pushed had circulated previously, he said, but they were supercharged by the influence and connections of Ramsland and the people around him-- and by the air of authority the company provided.
“It wasn’t just that the president would tweet about their stuff. It was all these little nuggets and grist that they provided or that were cited to them in testimony or in the ‘kraken’ cases. It provided the appearance of substance and fact to something that had no substance or fact,” said Masterson, who has not previously discussed ASOG publicly. “It was like: ‘Look, these are professionals… They have former military experience. And look at what they found.’ They gave those who wanted to push and believe in the lie something to hold on to."
...Weeks before he joined ASOG, Ramsland spoke to a conservative association, delivering remarks rife with outlandish claims, according to video reviewed by The Post. Ramsland called the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, a “deep-state operation,” and he traced the origin of the “deep state” to a World War II-era collaboration involving Prescott Bush, the father of former president George H.W. Bush; the Muslim Brotherhood; and liberal financier George Soros-- who was born in 1930 and was not yet an adult.
ASOG’s early work included hunting for intelligence about a group of Chinese nationals for an exiled Chinese billionaire, an associate of former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, and providing VIP protection details in the United States and abroad, a specialty Neely brought from the Secret Service.
...In November 2018, Texas Republicans were reeling from a battering at the polls. Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke had lost only narrowly to Cruz, and strong Democratic turnout had cost Sessions his longtime seat representing a swath of Dallas and its fast-growing suburbs as the party picked up seats in both chambers of the state legislature. Some Republicans were looking for explanations beyond the apparent purpling of Dallas.
...Among [Ramsland's] claims was that source code initially written by the company Smartmatic formed the basis of much of the election software used in the United States. Ramsland often pointed out, as other critics had, that Smartmatic’s founders were Venezuelan.
Representatives of ES&S, Dominion and Hart InterCivic, the nation’s three largest voting-machine companies, told The Post they do not use or license Smartmatic software. They all said their companies’ software code is not in any way based on Smartmatic code, and Smartmatic said its code is not incorporated in other companies’ software.
Ramsland told The Post that “many cyber groups” have reported that different companies share software code similarities. He did not respond to questions asking that he name any cyber groups that support his claims about Smartmatic code.
In his media appearances, Ramsland also resurfaced an old baseless claim about Scytl, a Spain-based election technology firm that he described as a “somewhat disturbing company” in one appearance on Freeman’s show. “They’re housing all of our votes, and they’re doing it in an insecure fashion,” he said in a September appearance.
The following month, Ramsland added a twist, claiming on an online talk show hosted by conservative Debbie Georgatos that American votes were “being held on a server in Frankfurt, Germany.”
Scytl has said that it has no servers in Frankfurt and that its systems are not used to count or “house” votes in U.S. elections. Ramsland told The Post in an email that “any 8th grader with a reasonable background in white hat cyber investigation tools” could trace votes to a Scytl server in Frankfurt.
One of Scytl’s products is a platform used by some counties to publicly display unofficial vote tallies online on election night, according to the company. After polls close, as results begin trickling in, they are published online by media outlets and state and local governments. Those unofficial election-night reports depend on tallies that are transmitted by local officials to a publishing system. In some counties, that publishing system is made by Scytl.
Ramsland claimed to The Post that Dallas County’s use of such a Scytl platform showed votes were sent overseas.
But Harri Hursti, a data-security expert who has spent years highlighting vulnerabilities in electronic voting technology, said that Ramsland’s claims about vote-fixing overseas were nonsensical. Even if a hacker could manipulate the numbers that are posted online, the underlying votes would not be affected, Hursti said. Those are kept separately, sequestered from the Internet, and they are-- once tallied and checked for discrepancies-- the official results of any election.
ASOG paid Hursti’s company, Nordic Innovation Labs, $2,500 in November for an 18-page memo explaining the history of Dominion, its business acquisitions and the many systems and machines Dominion now supports, according to Nordic’s managing partner, Dan Webber.
Hursti said he believes ASOG ignored information he provided, in an effort to shape a sensational narrative about election fraud. Such baseless claims are now distracting time and attention from actual election-security problems, he said.
“This is counterproductive,” he said. “There is so much that needs to be fixed.”
Over this same period, in 2019 and 2020, Ramsland was attempting to win the attention of Washington insiders, an effort Gohmert was also engaged in.
Gohmert has said that a year before the election he gave Trump information from a group of “former intelligence people that were monitoring the election in Dallas County”-- a description that closely resembles the way ASOG portrays itself-- and that the president considered it “a real problem.” Speaking on a podcast in November, Gohmert said his own reaction to the information was, “Holy cow.”
In July 2020, ASOG gave a two-hour briefing to seven members of the House Freedom Caucus, Ramsland told MyPillow founder Mike Lindell for his movie about alleged election fraud. Ramsland said members were “horrified” at what ASOG presented.
ASOG also reached out that summer to the Senate Homeland Security Committee and was referred to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of DHS. CISA reviewed a packet of information from ASOG that included the document saying the cost of the company’s investigation had surpassed $1 million. Also included was an affidavit from Pressley and over 40 pages dedicated to her and her poll-watchers’ observations of the vote in Dallas County in 2018. The Post obtained the documents.
Ramsland said that DHS officials in Texas found ASOG’s information compelling but that CISA officials in Washington were “too busy to take a briefing” and agreed to only a short call.
In a statement, DHS confirmed that its officials had spoken with Ramsland and his associates, “reviewed the information provided and determined that it was speculative and not actionable.”
...Hours after the final votes were cast on Nov. 3, Trump doubled down on the claims he had been making for months. “This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”
Over the next several weeks, Ramsland and others tied to ASOG played key roles in the full-court press to persuade Americans that the 2020 election had been rigged.
Ramsland and Lewis appeared on Lou Dobbs’s show on Fox Business Network, claiming there was evidence of widespread fraud. The claim that all U.S. voting machines secretly harbored Venezuelan software was repeated by Giuliani and Powell in numerous media appearances. The claim that Scytl servers in Frankfurt could be used to flip votes went viral on the right after it was repeated by Gohmert.
On Nov. 12, Gohmert said he had told Trump that data on these servers was critical to getting to the bottom of the fraud.
“I had suggested that the president might get information from Scytl,” Gohmert said on Newsmax, “and I sent him specifics that he needed to get that would show a lot of fraud.”
The next day, Gohmert told a virtual prayer group that the Scytl data would show “how many votes were switched from Republican to Democrat,” claiming that he had learned all this from “some of our former intel people.”
Scytl strongly denied the allegations. In a statement, the company said its products were not used to tally votes in U.S. elections and that it “does not even have offices in Frankfurt and does not have servers or computers in the German city.”
But Trump fanned the theory, according to archives of his deleted tweets. Late on Nov. 15, he retweeted to his millions of online followers a video clip of Ramsland saying in a pre-election interview that votes from 29 states were routed through “a server in Frankfurt, Germany” and that Scytl “controls and reports your vote.”
Ramsland also contributed material to Powell’s lawsuits and to one brought by L. Lin Wood Jr., another pro-Trump lawyer, seeking to overturn Biden’s victory. On Nov. 18, a nine-page affidavit from Ramsland filed to a federal court in Wood’s Georgia case made an explosive allegation: Multiple precincts in Michigan had recorded more votes for president than what he said was the estimated number of voters.
Ramsland’s claim was amplified the following day by Giuliani and Powell at a news conference at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. Like Ramsland, Powell said that excess votes in some jurisdictions were as high as 350 percent.
The claim in Ramsland’s affidavit soon collapsed under scrutiny. The precincts he cited were actually in Minnesota, a mistake Ramsland blamed on “my guys” in his exchanges with The Post. Ramsland said the Minnesota numbers also showed excess votes, a claim contradicted by official results.
...Another of Ramsland’s affidavits claimed a 139 percent voter turnout in Detroit-- meaning the number of votes cast exceeded the number of voters. Detroit’s official election results show that about 258,000 of its 506,000 registered voters cast ballots-- a turnout of just under 51 percent. Ramsland later filed an affidavit saying his original figures were based on data that was online but that “no longer exists [f]or some unexplained reason.”
Two Ramsland affidavits filed in Arizona purported to expose more than 100,000 illegal votes in the state, again based on high turnout rates, and suggested forensic testing to determine whether batches of fake ballots had been cast for Biden. Ramsland attached the résumés of six “key team members” he said had been involved in the preparation of his material. The only one identified by name was a former ASOG computer scientist who had died a year earlier.
Ramsland and one of his associates also played starring roles in the election-integrity “hearings” that Giuliani and GOP state legislators held in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Georgia. The events were intended to persuade legislators to wrest control of the election certification process and demand further investigation.
Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel who specialized in psychological operations and is now chief executive of a cybersecurity firm, appeared as a witness at each of those hearings. He said he was working with ASOG to examine the 2020 election.
“Your vote is not as secure as your Venmo account,” Waldron concluded in a hotel ballroom in Phoenix on Nov. 30, provoking murmurs from the audience.
“Pardon me? Say that one more time,” Giuliani said.
Waldron obliged. A video clip of the exchange was posted to Trump’s official YouTube page.
...During this period, some White House lawyers heard Trump make claims that made no sense or seemed “bat-shit insane,” one former senior administration official said, later learning they came from a network that The Post found included Byrne, Powell and Ramsland.
According to a document obtained by The Post, skeptical Trump advisers developed a list of pointed questions aimed at determining whether there was evidence for the claims, many of which by then revolved around Dominion. The evidence never surfaced, the people close to the former president said.
...Three days after the court released the report, a hand recount of [Antrim, Michigan] county’s ballots showed that the presidential election results were correct, off from the previously reported results by only 12 votes out of some 16,000 cast. Dominion’s machines had counted accurately.
“The tabulators did what they were supposed to do, and they did it very accurately, and there’s absolutely no evidence that there was some reverse cyberattack that manipulated them,” said Michigan state Sen. Ed McBroom, a Republican who led a state Senate investigation of fraud claims. The ASOG report, he said, was “probably more harmful to the discussion” than anything else happening in Michigan at the time.
“I don’t see how anybody can take Mr. Ramsland and his group seriously as genuine purveyors of fact,” he said. “It’s very clear they’re beyond mistaken and misrepresenting what actually happened, either out of carelessness or with some sort of purpose.”
At his “Save America” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, Trump made reference to Antrim County and “the troubling matter of Dominion Voting Systems” as an example of how he had been wronged.
“In one Michigan county alone, 6,000 votes were switched from Trump to Biden,” he said. He also repeated Ramsland’s claim that there were more votes than voters in Detroit. “In Detroit, turnout was 139 percent of registered voters,” he said. “Think of that.”
He called the Nov. 3 vote “the most corrupt election in the history, maybe, of the world,” and then urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. By the thousands, they complied.