President Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure Georgia’s top elections official into stealing the state for him also served as a helpful illustration of the sort of disinformation that the President regularly consumes — and creates.
Look no further than Trump’s obsession with Ruby Freeman, who was a private individual until a few weeks ago, when fever swamp conspiracy-mongers (and the Trump campaign itself) decided they would target her with the false claim that she had illegally swung the Georgia election for Joe Biden.
Trump’s obsession with Freeman is evident: He referenced her, by name, a dozen times at three separate points during his hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump referred to Freeman as “a professional vote scammer and hustler” and later as “a known political operative, balloteer.”
Trump also singled out Freeman’s “lovely daughter.”
“A very lovely young lady, I’m sure,” the President said, before noting that he was willing to “take on” Freeman.
“Do you know that every single ballot she did went to Biden?” he said. “You know that, right?”
How does Trump know? As he explained: “They watched it, certified, in slow motion — instant replay if you can believe it — and it was magnified many times over. And the minimum it was was 18,000 ballots, all for Biden.”
“You know the internet?” he added separately. “You know what was trending on the internet? ‘Where’s Ruby,’ because they thought she would be in jail. ‘Where’s Ruby.’ It’s crazy.”
It is crazy. But despite Trump’s assertion, Freeman wasn’t trending on the web at the time of his call. She was only trending in the echo chamber of disinformation that Trump has inhabited for years.
How an elections worker became a target
Freeman entered the conspiracy theory lexicon in early December, when video started circulating of a ballot processing center at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani showed selectively edited footage from the video to Georgia legislators on Dec. 3. Fox News’ Sean Hannity invited Giuliani on that night to discuss the footage, calling it a “bombshell.”
The campaign promoted the footage on Twitter the same day, featuring a voiceover from the attorney volunteer and Republican donor Jacki Pick, who falsely claimed that it showed elections workers committing voter fraud.
WATCH: Video footage from Georgia shows suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under a table AFTER supervisors told poll workers to leave room and 4 people stayed behind to keep counting votes pic.twitter.com/AcbTI1pxn4
— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) December 3, 2020
The video does not show fraud. As Raffensperger told Trump, his office walked WSB-TV frame-by-frame through the video on Dec. 4, demonstrating that it showed the normal ballot-counting process.
“The President’s team is intentionally misleading the public about what happened at State Farm Arena on election night,” Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling said at the time.
Raffensperger largely echoed that sentiment on the phone with Trump. “I think it’s extremely unfortunate that Rudy Giuliani or his people, they sliced and diced that video and took it out of context,” he said Saturday.
Trump has milked the footage for all it’s worth. At a rally a couple days after his campaign released the footage, he featured Newsmax’s coverage of the tape on the big screen.
The President’s allies on the web and certain television networks ran with it.
Within hours of the video’s release, websites like Gateway Pundit and Natural News identified Freeman as the woman wearing a purple shirt in the footage. “The lady with the blonde braids” mentioned in the video is, various right-wing websites and social media users have asserted, Freeman’s daughter. After her identity was revealed, Freeman was instantly bombarded with threats and has avoided speaking to the media.
It wasn’t long before a fake Instagram post from an account falsely purported to belong to Freeman began circulating, in which “Freeman” claimed that she had fraudulently tilted the Georgia results to Biden.
Among those fooled: Lin Wood, the pro-Trump attorney who’s very publicly gone off the deep end recently, foretelling public executions of his political enemies including Vice President Mike Pence.
I have been saying that it is very difficult to know who can be trusted. I am now told by one I trust that Ruby Freeman Instagram post has NOT been authenticated. I am told that the video has been AUTHENTICATED.
I do NOT want to mislead you. I will continue to tell entire truth. https://t.co/6hv0Tro4RA
— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) December 6, 2020
The conspiracy theory network InfoWars, of course, took the Freeman chum with gusto, publishing article after article theorizing about the elections worker and her daughter.
The Epoch Times published a minute-by-minute infographic of the surveillance video featuring a section on Freeman. Referring to the table “covered with a black cloth” under which a ballot container was kept, the publication noted, “The table would later become the center of national attention.”
No, the table and its black tablecloth did not become the center of national attention. But it did become the obsession of the right-wing fever swamps, and therefore, of the President of the United States. As he complained on Saturday’s phone call, “They went to the table with the black robe, the black shield, and they pulled out the votes.”
Just as with the President’s effort to cast aside Democratic votes in several large urban centers — Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta — his campaign’s grudge against Freeman and other elections workers carries unmistakably racist undertones.
“They look like they’re passing out dope,” Giulani said of elections workers in the State Farm Arena, adding later that the surveillance camera video showed workers “surreptitiously passing around USB ports like they were vials of heroin or cocaine.”
Trump, on his call with Raffensperger, referred to Freeman as a kingpin of sorts, just after telling the secretary and his staff, “Fellas, I need 11,000 votes, give me a break.”
“I mean, I’ll take on anybody you want with regard to Ruby Freeman and her lovely daughter — a very lovely young lady, I’m sure,” he added.
“But Ruby Freeman — I will take Freeman,” Trump said. “I will take on anybody you want.”