True believers in Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election gathered in Arizona this weekend to examine what was promised to be a mountain of evidence showing a sophisticated, elaborate, and successful plot to steal the presidency.
What they got was: A mostly empty website.
Some context: The event, dubbed “The Pit” by its organizers, was headlined by the stars of this year’s break-out conspiracy theory hit, “2,000 Mules.” The Dinesh D’Souza film chronicles the efforts of True The Vote, the right-wing organization that has asserted, falsely, that a network of “mules” deposited fraudulent ballots for Joe Biden in drop boxes across the country.
D’Souza’s film infamously… didn’t actually show this. Despite promising incontrovertible evidence that drop box surveillance videos and cell phone tracking data would prove the existence of this extensive mule network, the film itself showed just a few isolated videos of people dropping regular-degular ballots off at drop boxes: Nothing illegal. Even a snazzy graphic of a map included in the film — which internet sleuths identified as, apparently, a map of Moscow — didn’t prove anything.
Cue Saturday’s event. The movie’s stars — True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, who pushed the lie that millions of undocumented people voted in 2016 — have hyped the gathering for months. It would be the moment when, finally, they would reveal the raw data purportedly behind their claims. Or, as a promotional video in May put it, the moment they would “pull the ripcord” and share their evidence.
“The part that was left out of the movie, we have available,” Phillips told Right Side Broadcasting Network ahead of the event. The media, he added, was afraid of the summit because “they have no idea how devastating some of these stories actually are.”
Yet when the big reveal came Saturday, it was a flop.
The Washington Post first noted the awkward course events: The ripcord, as it turns out, is actually an apparently unfinished website called “open.ink.” The site was said to have all of the footage D’Souza and True The Vote cited in “2000 Mules,” as well as related documentation and other evidence.
But, rather than having all of the evidence easily available for “2,000 Mules” heads to peruse, visitors to the site are prompted to sign up to be approved as users.
Only once they are approved by the site’s organizers can they sift through the supposed evidence.
What’s more, Phillips on Saturday had an unfortunate disclaimer about what those lucky individuals would find: “It is junk. It is trash. They didn’t do a good job,” he said of the footage, adding later: “Once you get into that video, it’s nonsense, complete nonsense.”
Here’s Phillips saying the video they did purportedly manage to upload is “junk, it is trash.” pic.twitter.com/rd6X9Yb3oB— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) August 16, 2022
So what happened? Phillips and Engelbrecht had a few excuses: The video is obscured or chopped up, they said. Also, when they attempted to launch their online repository of evidence, something “basically wiped it clean” — the work, they assumed, of Chinese hackers.
Here’s Gregg Phillips and True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, the stars of Dinesh D’Souza’s voter fraud conspiracy theory film “2000 Mules,” claiming Chinese hackers deleted their purported evidence when they initially tried to upload it online: “It was cleaned out.” pic.twitter.com/lcVLTsI44f— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) August 16, 2022
“We had to make a decision,” he said. “The volume of bandwidth was so significant here that if we just published this thing, the bad guys are going to take it down.”
So instead, they showed the crowd a sampling of what they claimed their new website did contain, namely public documents related to consent decrees between various states and plaintiffs, as well as documentation describing states’ relationship with ERIC, the voter registration and anti-fraud tool used by dozens of states across the country, which has become a right-wing bugaboo of late.
Engelbrecht claimed “every single last frame of drop box video” had been loaded onto the site, but on Tuesday, it appeared the site contained just a couple functioning pages and no new information: Visitors are prompted to submit their email addresses to sign up, and “we will let you know whenever we make additions to the repository.” Under a heading called “Latest Documents,” there is simply the notice, “No posts were found.” Under “Repository”: “No knowledge base categories to display.”
“And that really, I think, is the end of Mules!” she said after the excuse parade Saturday. “We’re done,” Phillips added. “End scene,” Engelbrecht said.
Cue near silence from the audience at The Pit.
“Hold your applause for one more second,” Engelbrecht urged the crowd, before admonishing them about the upcoming midterm elections.
“It’s time to move on,” she said. “Not to move on to what happened in 2020, because we still have to understand what happened. That is critical. We have to understand that. But we are 88 days out from midterms.”
“We have to find that balance,” Engelbrecht added. “You have to understand the past is prologue, we have to understand what happened. But we also have to be positioned to move forward.”
Later, he and Engelbrecht declare this to be “the end of Mules!”— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) August 16, 2022
“Hold your applause,” Engelbrecht tells the silent room, before urging them to “move on” and focus on the midterms. pic.twitter.com/AX8D350ahN