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Going Undercover at the GOP's Voter Vigilante Project to Disrupt the Nov. Election

The Republican True the Vote project is a well-funded scheme with training sessions for activists across the country. Will it work?

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In the eight years since Ohio, I’ve learned that what really happens in elections is more complicated than easily minted conspiracy theories. At worst, I thought most attendees were low-hanging fruit, ready to be molded by this movement’s disingenuous national leaders—like Fund, who knows the real facts and ignores them, or Christian Adams, an embittered ex-Justice Department civil rights attorney who felt he could not work for Eric Holder and quit, and now inveighs against the DOJ’s liberal biases. Later, when a handful of attendees started snickering at California’s gays and civil unions, and loudly applauded an Oliver North-like local Republican County chairman who cited the most deadly Nazi fighter pilot’s wartime survival credo in his powerpoint—as advice on beating Obama—I thought, wow, let’s hope this crew is all bark and no bite.

The summit began with a classic political attack video—dark imagery, brooding camera angles, dropping all the names of liberals that Republicans love to hate, such as ACORN and Project Vote (which helped run ACORN’s voter drives). The screen decried "dead people" on the rolls, duplicate registrations, double voting, registrations with addresses from empty lots, and other would-be horrors that scholars say are the vast exception not rule in voting. Anita MonCrief, an African American who worked at Project Vote before quitting and becoming a conservative celebrity, recounted how poor people were paid to register voters, often turning in faked names and multiple registrations. (These are easily caught by election offices). Then the founder of the King Street Patriots, out of which True the Vote emerged, took the stage. You may have seen Katherine Englebrecht on Fox News. She’s tall, trim, blonde, articulate and driven—a typical activist.

“How did we as an organization get from working at the polls a few years ago to feeling the need to put together a video like that?” she began. “That is a story I would like to open today’s event with and share with you, what we’ve seen, and I suspect many of you possibly have seen yourselves.” She paused and looked at the room—perhaps 60 people filled the tables. “How many of you have worked at the polls before?” A few hands went up. “Okay. As a general statement, if you work at the polls, it is hard to find volunteers?” More murmurs and yeses were heard. “Agree or disagree, the process might lend itself to manipulation?” "Yes," a woman shouted.

“I am just going to go way out here, agree or disagree,” she continued. “If you don’t have enough volunteers, and you have a process that is weak, can those weaknesses be exploited for political gain?” More fervent yeses replied. Englebrecht paused. “I think you’re right, and a lot of people across the country think you’re right.”

The way Englebrecht told her story, you would think she was another suburban mom whose faith-and-family moorings were upended during the 2008 presidential race and couldn’t stop shuddering at the way the mainstream media was not telling the truth—prompting sleepless nights, smeared glitter and glue on her kitchen floor as she made protest signs, her subsequent discovery of kindred spirits in the Tea Party, and a husband who asked her, “Have you lost your mind?” But according to Houston’s Maureen Haver, who ran a non-profit doing voter registration drives in Harris County’s poor and minority neighborhoods in 2008 and was among the first liberal registration groups to be attacked by Engelbrecht, there’s more to her story than what she shared in Denver.

Englebrecht didn’t say she and her husband live outside Harris County—where Houston is located and is more populous than 22 states. They run an oil services company worth millions. She has a record of disrupting public meetings going back to 2009, Haver said, when pre-Tea Party activists disrupted that summer’s congressional town hall meetings. Englebrecht didn’t say that she and her husband this year started a new company with the provocative name, Plan B Firearms. Acccording to Tea Party Web sites, "Plan B" refers to the steps "patriots" might have to take if Obama gets re-elected.