“Hunting for Voter Fraud, Conspiracy Theorists Organize ‘Stakeouts’”


One night last month, on the recommendation of a man known online as Captain K, a small group gathered in an Arizona parking lot and waited in folding chairs, hoping to catch the people they believed were trying to destroy American democracy by submitting fake early voting ballots.

Captain K — which is what Seth Keshel, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who espouses voting fraud conspiracy theories, calls himself — had set the plan in motion. In July, as states like Arizona were preparing for their primary elections, he posted a proposal on the messaging app Telegram: “All-night patriot tailgate parties for EVERY DROP BOX IN AMERICA.” The post received more than 70,000 views.

Similar calls were galvanizing people in at least nine other states, signaling the latest outgrowth from rampant election fraud conspiracy theories coursing through the Republican Party.

n the nearly two years since former President Donald J. Trump catapulted false claims of widespread voter fraud from the political fringes to the conservative mainstream, a constellation of his supporters have drifted from one theory to another in a frantic but unsuccessful search for evidence.

Many are now focused on ballot drop boxes — where people can deposit their votes into secure and locked containers — under the unfounded belief that mysterious operatives, or so-called ballot mules, are stuffing them with fake ballots or otherwise tampering with them. And they are recruiting observers to monitor countless drop boxes across the country, tapping the millions of Americans who have been swayed by bogus election claims.

In most cases, organizing efforts are nascent, with supporters posting unconfirmed plans to watch local drop boxes. But some small-scale “stakeouts” have been advertised using Craigslist, Telegram, Twitter, Gab and Truth Social, the social media platform backed by Mr. Trump. Several websites dedicated to the cause went online this year, including at least one meant to coordinate volunteers.

Some high-profile politicians have embraced the idea. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor in Arizona, asked followers on Twitter whether they would “be willing to take a shift watching a drop box to catch potential Ballot Mules.”

Supporters have compared the events to harmless neighborhood watches or tailgate parties fueled by pizza and beer. But some online commenters discussed bringing AR-15s and other firearms, and have voiced their desire to make citizens’ arrests and log license plates. That has set off concerns among election officials and law enforcement that what supporters describe as legal patriotic oversight could easily slip into illegal voter intimidation, privacy violations, electioneering or confrontations.

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“After Mar-a-Lago search, users on pro-Trump forums agitate for ‘civil war’ — including a Jan. 6 rioter”

NBC News:

Some users on pro-Trump internet forums told users to “lock and load,” agitated for civil war and urged protesters to head to Mar-a-Lago in the hours after news broke that the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida compound on Monday.

One user posting about the “civil war” shortly after the search was Tyler Welsh Slaeker, a Washington state man awaiting sentencing for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to previous research and statements posted online. A report in December by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative group, found that Slaeker posted to the pro-Trump internet forum TheDonald under the username “bananaguard62.”

On Monday night, the username “bananaguard62” posted the top reply to the “lock and load” post.

“Are we not in a cold civil war at this point?” the account asked. Another user responded, “several points ago.” Another top reply to Slaeker quoted a notorious antisemitic Nazi rallying cry.

In the months before Jan. 6, Slaeker had posted selfies to his bananaguard62 account, and he would later appear in photos from the Capitol riot and arrest records. On Jan. 6, he uploaded a photo of himself watching Trump’s speech from a tree on the Ellipse. Metadata from that photo confirms it was taken by Slaeker, according to the Advance Democracy Report. NBC News has also seen the photo and its metadata.

In the minutes after news of the search broke, users on pro-Trump forums like TheDonald, a Reddit-like website that was used to provide logistics before the Capitol riot, urged immediate violence, asking questions like “When does the shooting start?” and calling upon Trump to summon militias.

The most popular comment responding to the news, upvoted over 1,200 times, was simply the words “lock and load.”

Later on in the night, Slaeker clarified in a reply that he could not be more specific about his civil war post.

“I am awaiting sentencing for trespassing into the Capitol,” he wrote. “I am only being careful with my words.”

Slaeker’s recent posts illustrate that some of the same people on extremist forums talking about “civil war” or angling for more violence have taken real-life action in the past.

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“Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler concedes in Washington state”


Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, would be the third such House Republican to lose in a primary this year, joining Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.), who was defeated last week and, Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.), who lost last month. Two Republicans have advanced — both from all-party primaries: Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and Rep. David G. Valadao (Calif.). Four others decided not to seek reelection.

The final House Republican to face a primary is Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who will go before voters Aug. 16. She faces a challenger running to her right who is backed by Trump.

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“Wisconsin primary election 2022 coverage: Vos calls Gableman ‘an embarrassment’, democratic socialist elected in Milwaukee suburb”

Journal Sentinel:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who narrowly won a primary Tuesday night, called Michael Gableman, the man he hired to investigate the 2020 presidential election, “an embarrassment.”

Despite Vos hiring Gableman well over a year ago and paying him over $11,000 a month, the former Wisconsin Supreme Court judge endorsed Vos’ primary challenger Adam Steen in the District 63 assembly race just as former President Donald Trump did. 

Gableman turned on Vos and backed Steen and not Vos, who said he wouldn’t decertify the results of the 2020 election.

Vos said Tuesday that the Republican-led assembly will meet soon to decide whether Gableman will continue with the investigation. 

Vos has continued to renew Gableman’s contract even though the review has not revealed any evidence of significant fraud or new facts related to the election not previously known. 

The probe has surpassed $1 million in costs. 

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“Court Upholds N.C. Statute That Criminalizes Knowingly/Recklessly Libelous Statements About Candidates”

Eugene Volokh blogs:

Grimmett v. Costa, decided today by Judge Catherine Eagles (M.D.N.C.), refused to issue a preliminary injunction against a N.C. statute that makes it a misdemeanor

[f]or any person to publish or cause to be circulated derogatory reports with reference to any candidate in any primary or election, knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, when such report is calculated or intended to affect the chances of such candidate for nomination or election.

From the opinion, which I think is likely correct as to such narrow statutes focused on libels of candidates (because [1] narrowly crafted criminal libel statutes are generally constitutional under Supreme Court precedents, even though [2] broader laws banning lies in election campaigns, including ones that aren’t libelous of particular individuals, are likely unconstitutional)…

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Election Law Academics Update

Here’s my yearly roundup of election law academic hires, promotions moves, visits, accolades:

Tabatha Abu-el Haj will be visiting at Penn in Spring 2023.

Ellen Aprill has retired and is now the John E. Anderson Chair in Tax Law Emerita at Loyola Law School.

Yasmin Dawood has been promoted to full professor at the University of Toronto.

Josh Douglas, Leah Litman, and Franita Tolson have been elected to the American Law Institute.

Rebecca Green has been promoted to Associate Professor of Law at William & Mary Law School.

Sarah Haan been named the Class of 1958 Uncas and Anne McThenia Professor of Law at Washington and Lee.

Rick Hasen joined UCLA Law and became the founding director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project.

Brian Svoboda became Director of the Law and Public Policy Program at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America, during the middle of the semester last fall. He serves also as an adjunct professor while remaining in private practice at Perkins Coie LLP.

Donald Tobin, after completing a deanship at the University of Maryland, will be visiting at Georgetown in the Fall, taking a leave in the spring and on the faculty at Maryland full-time in the fall of 2023.

Congratulations all!

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Donald Trump Is Not Going to Be Disqualified from Running for Office Even If He’s Been Found to Have Illegally Taken Classified Documents, But Congress Could Still Disqualify Him from Running for His 2020 Election Subversion Activities

Today in a remarkable development FBI agents raided Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago. The search may be related to classified documents that Trump allegedly took from the White House illegally. (The search could have been about something else, like January… Continue reading