Appearing haggard and hoarse, Donald Trump Jr. stared down the camera and began recruiting soldiers.
“We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” he said, the words “ENLIST NOW!” plastered next to his face.
“We need you to help us watch them.”
Trump Jr. wasn’t talking about an armed security force, at least not yet: No, he was recruiting volunteers for Trump’s Election Day Operations team, according to a website he boosted in the video.
Campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine, in another video on the site, warned that Democrats “will be up to their old dirty tricks on Election Day to make sure that President Trump doesn’t win. Therefore, she said, the campaign wanted to “cover every polling place in the country with people like you.”
Trump took it a step further, accusing the “radical left” of “laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father.”
“They are planting stories that President Trump will have a landslide lead on election night but will lose when they finish counting the mail-in ballots,” he said. “Their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election. We cannot let that happen.”
The President himself has pushed these same false theories, in what appears to be an effort to undermine confidence in election results: After all, it’s no secret that the United States is experiencing a massive uptick in mail-in voting, which will likely result in delayed election tallies.
It’s also true that, perhaps in part due to Trump’s vilification of mail-in voting, Democrats have so far shown an edge among voters requesting mail-in ballots in key swing states.
But the President, and his campaign, have twisted those realities into a call to arms. Only he can be the legitimate winner, he said at a rally last month: “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
Volunteer election lawyers and poll watchers aren’t unusual, but the Trump campaign has taken it a step further, including by suing in Pennsylvania to allow poll watchers to volunteer in counties other than their own. The state’s supreme court recently upheld the law requiring poll watchers to live where they volunteer.
In light of a federal judge’s 2018 decision that a 35-year-old restriction on Republican Party “ballot security” efforts would be lifted — a consent decree was instituted in 1982 after Democrats sued over racist voter intimidation practices — the GOP has aimed to recruit thousands of volunteers in key swing states.
One group, True the Vote, floated recruiting veterans as poll watchers, according to audio obtained by The Intercept in April.
The idea seems to have percolated to the top: In August, Trump mused about using law enforcement as poll watchers. Earlier this month, Trump told rally goers in North Carolina to become poll watchers.
“Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do,” he said.
A week and a half later, on Saturday, a group of flag-waving Trump supporters showed up at a polling site in Virginia where early voting was taking place, intimidating some voters and poll workers, according to the general registrar of Fairfax County.
“Citizens coming into and leaving the building did have to go by them,” Gary Scott, the general registrar, said. “Those voters who were in line outside of the building were moved inside and we continued operations. Some voters, and elections staff, did feel intimidated by the crowd and we did provide escorts past the group. One of the escorts was the county executive.”