Roxanne Cooper

GOP trying to throw out 2022 primary votes in a test drive of TrumpWorld's 2024 plot

TrumpWorld figures have spent months recruiting Big Lie conspiracy theorists to seek local election offices ahead of the next presidential race after failing to overturn Donald Trump's defeat in 2020. A failed effort in New Mexico this month offered a preview of what is likely to come in local election offices run by Trump loyalists.

Trump has spent months campaigning to install loyal supporters in state-level offices to oversee upcoming elections, and now his allies are increasingly focused on taking over local offices as well. Former Trump campaign manager and White House strategist Steve Bannon, one of the loudest voices backing the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol riot, has dubbed this the "precinct strategy," urging his podcast audience to "take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."

"We're taking over all the elections," Bannon said last November. "We're going to get to the bottom of [the 2020 election] and we're going to decertify the electors. And you're going to have a constitutional crisis."

That specific scenario is unlikely, but other Trump allies, like onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, who effectively called for a military coup to undo Trump's loss, have also pushed supporters to get involved in local races. MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, one of the biggest proponents of the voter fraud myth, even recruited sitting county election officials to help prove his claims of election rigging — though he has come up with exactly no evidence 19 months later. The Republican National Committee also appears to have embraced the strategy, recruiting and training an "army" of supporters to become poll workers in contested states like Michigan.

The RNC has already signed up thousands of people to be poll workers, according to Politico. And Republican leaders in dozens of key counties told ProPublica they have seen a surge of thousands of new Republican precinct officers since Bannon's campaign began. "I've never seen anything like this, people are coming out of the woodwork," J.C. Martin, the GOP chair in Polk County, Florida, told the outlet.

Amid ongoing investigations into TrumpWorld's failed effort to overturn the 2020 election, culminated in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, his supporters are already working hard to install themselves into the process in upcoming races.

"The lie hasn't gone away. It's corrupting our Democratic institutions," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, said at Tuesday's hearing. "People who believe that lie are now seeking positions of public trust. And as seen in New Mexico, their oath to the people they serve will take a backseat to their commitment to the big lie."

Thompson was referring to Republicans on the Otero County commission, including Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was convicted of entering the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.

The Republican-led commission voted earlier this month not to certify any of the deep-red county's 7,123 votes in the state's June 7 gubernatorial primaries, citing unspecified concerns about Dominion voting machines. Dominion has been at the heart of repeatedly-debunked and increasingly fanciful conspiracy theories pushed by TrumpWorld, which have variously alleged a plot involving Chinese and/or German officials, along with former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (who died in 2013), to flip Trump votes to Joe Biden. Dominion has filed multiple billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against numerous individuals over these claims.

"I have huge concerns with these voting machines," Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said at a recent meeting, according to the Associated Press, without specifying any actual issues with the machines.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and force the commission to certify the results, accusing its members of "appeasing unfounded conspiracy theories and potentially nullifying the votes of every Otero County voter who participated in the primary." New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas also threatened legal action. County Clerk Robyn Holmes, a Republican, similarly rejected the commission's demand for a hand recount of ballots because it is prohibited by state law.

"The primary went off without a hitch," she told the AP. "It was a great election."

Marquardt initially mocked the idea that a court could intervene. "And so then what? They're going to send us to the pokey?" she questioned.

But after the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered the county to certify its election results last week, Marquardt and fellow Republican commissioner Gerald Matherly relented and voted to certify the votes.

"I will be no use to the people of Otero County while in jail," Marquardt said, according to the Alamogordo Daily News, adding that the commission would instead launch a committee to investigate "tough questions" about voter fraud.

Griffin, however, refused to vote to certify the election, hours after he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to time served and community service for his role in the Capitol riot. He acknowledged that he had no proof of election fraud but said his "gut feeling" was that the process was untrustworthy.

"My vote to remain a 'no' isn't based on any evidence. It's not based on any facts," Griffin said, according to the AP. "It's only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition."

His vote not to certify election results, said the founder of Cowboys for Trump, "isn't based on any evidence. It's not based on any facts. It's only based on my gut feeling and my own intuition."

Oliver said in a statement after the vote that she was "relieved" that the commission "finally did the right thing and followed their duty" under state law. But she criticizing commissioners who "admitted that they did not have any facts to support not certifying the election results."

Oliver also referred the commission members to the state attorney general's office. "All county officials take an oath to uphold the constitution and laws of New Mexico," she said. "The Commissioners in Otero County have violated the public's trust and our state laws through their recent actions and must be held accountable."

In fact, Otero was not the only New Mexico county that encountered unexpected drama over seemingly uncontroversial party primary results. In Torrance County, commissioners certified the vote despite fury from conservatives who called the members "cowards and traitors" for certifying the election, according to the AP. In Sandoval County, protesters had to be cleared from the room after Commissioner Jay Block, a failed Republican gubernatorial primary candidate, cast a sole vote to block the certification to no avail.

But Otero County, which Trump carried with 62% of the vote, has emerged as ground zero for the ongoing Republican efforts to stoke the Big Lie about nonexistent election fraud. The county previously launched a so-called audit of the 2020 election after lobbying from David and Erin Clements, who have become key figures in election conspiracy theory.

David Clements, a former New Mexico prosecutor who now describes himself as a "traveling audit salesman," has been pushing a theory that all voting machines "have been skewing results for years" in "every county" on his popular Telegram channel, according to Vice News.

"Traveling audit salesman" David Clements is pushing the theory that all voting machines everywhere in the country "have been skewing results for years."

The Otero County Commission paid $50,000 in taxpayer funds for an audit encouraged by Clements and awarded the contract to a company called EchoMail, which is run by conspiracy theorist Shiva Ayyadurai and also took part in the failed election "audit" in Arizona's Maricopa County. EchoMail contracted a group called the "New Mexico Audit Force," which went door-to-door to question residents about how they voted. EchoMail ultimately admitted it had "found No Election Fraud" but the effort came under fire over concerns about voter intimidation.

Oliver described this effort as a "vigilante audit" and Brian Colón, the state auditor, said the county commissioners "may have abused their power" in approving the contract, calling it a "careless and extravagant waste of public funds, which does not appear to serve any useful purpose to the taxpayers of Otero County."

The House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the audit over concerns that it illegally interfered with Americans' right to vote by "spreading disinformation about elections and intimidating voters" and potentially resulting in "intimidation directed at minority voters."

But Clements has continued to lobby the county to embrace his conspiracy theories, urging them to ban all voting machines. Along with their refusal to certify the results, county commissioners also voted to remove all voting machines.

Clements, who has appeared at events alongside Bannon, Flynn and Lindell, is pushing conspiracy theorists in other counties to seek positions in county election offices to approve so-called forensic audits and bans on voting machines, which could lead to long delays in vote counting.

"The opportunity to get three votes from MAGA-friendly county commissioners to get rid of machines is staggering," he wrote on Telegram in January. "No more bottlenecks."

Bush ethics lawyer: The Jan. 6 committee needs to follow the money

In an opinion piece for MSNBC, Richard Painter -- the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration from 2005 to 2007 -- brings up what many see as a 'critical' question about the aims of the House Select Committee's public hearings regarding the events of January 6, 2021, as well as identifies "several key areas where the Jan. 6 committee should be directing their focus."

"Where did the money come from? Who paid for this over two-month effort to reverse the results of an election that President Joe Biden won by over eight million votes? And who paid for what almost became a military coup as well as a violent insurrection?," Painter writes. "It is also illegal to use campaign funds to pay for an insurrection or any other illegal conduct."

As Painter further points out, "Many of the insurrectionists came to Washington on bus trips organized and paid for by political organizations in their states of origin, in many cases with funds from state Republican Party organizations, campaigns or related political entities. Political funds can be used for legal challenges to the results of an election when a legitimate challenge can be made. Likewise, campaign funds can be used to stage a rally to support the election of a candidate before the election or a rally to claim victory or concede defeat after the election."

"But campaign funds cannot legally be used to attempt to overturn an election by anti-democratic means. Moreover, campaign funds cannot legally be used to encourage political supporters to break the law. Both the Trump campaign and state GOP organizations should have known as much," Painter writes.

Painter also points a finger both at conservative media and social media platforms.

"The second source of funding that should be considered wasn’t cash, but the in-kind donations that came from the conservative media outlets that spread the Big Lie. Fox News of course comes to mind, but there were many others, including talk radio stations, blogs and more ...the Jan. 6 committee should expose the actions of the largest media companies, including not just cable television and radio stations but social media giants like Facebook as well. Congress already has heard from the Facebook “whistleblower” Frances Haugen about how Facebook was adjusting its rules to accommodate false statements posted by Trump, his campaign and his supporters up to Jan. 6. Likewise, these companies were happy to take campaign money to post and air ads that spread these lies after the election."

Many of the organizations that helped spread Trump's "Big Lie" are publicly traded companies that owe an explanation to their shareholders and other investors, as Painter indicates.

The former Bush administration official also identifies another important funder of Jan. 6 -- the US taxpayer.

You can read all of Richard Painter's commentary here.

More than 15 Republicans are testing the waters for 2024 -- 'even if Trump runs': report

Mike Pence, Tom Cotton and Ron DeSantis are already dipping their toes into the race for the Republican Party's 2024 presidential nomination, according to a new report in the Washington Post. But, they're not the only ones.

"With months to go before the midterm elections, the shadow campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination is well underway, with at least 15 potential candidates traveling the country, drawing up plans, huddling with donors or testing out messages at various levels of preparation. The quadrennial circus — described by more than 20 people with direct knowledge who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private machinations — has kicked into gear despite the public hints from Trump that he too plans to join the scrum 'a third time,' says the report.

"Interviews with over a dozen GOP operatives indicate he is not clearing the field, and a range of candidates plan to take him on from different angles."

Included in the list of prominent Republicans making the rounds through Iowa and New Hampshire are Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Mike Pompeo, Larry Hogan, Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott and would-be Trump nemesis Liz Cheney.

The Post notes, that 'they have been encouraged by growing concern among deep-pocketed Republican donors that another Trump run — especially an announcement before the midterms — would help Democrats."

But, as the report also observes, Trump challengers are in for a hard slog, as the former president still dominates both internal and external polls "by a country mile."

Campaign experts cited in the report see hitting Trump hard from the right is the only hope a challenger has to defeat the former president.

“If you come at Trump from the left — say a Mitt Romney approach — I don’t think that would ever work. If you came at Trump from the right — more like a Pence or a Pompeo or a Ted Cruz or a DeSantis — then I think people would be willing to listen.”

You can read the full report here.

Staff Bio: Meaghan Ellis

Meghan Ellis is a 2009 graduate of Southern University A&M College and has held reporting stints at The Inquisitor and The Independent Journal Review, as well as copywriting assignments at Kinetic Koncepts and Dagney Media and Publishing.

Staff Bio: Brandon Gage

Brandon Gage is a 2007 graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington and has held political reporting stints at The Hill Reporter and George Takei's Comic Sands. He lives in New York, where he also produces nightlife events.

Why the Jack the Ripper story endures

The message finally landed with my husband how much of a serial killer buff he had married after 12 years as we were watching "Mindhunter," the Netflix drama series based on the book by the same name about the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit. I was able to call out the serial killers before they were named on screen, then give a summary of their crimes; the types of victims they pursued, where and when they operated. I can't be sure if he was impressed or petrified. Perhaps both.

I'm certainly not alone in harboring a fascination with murder. Over 70 million people downloaded the 2014 podcast "Serial," about the 1999 murder of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee. And true crime has been a thriving economy for years: books, documentaries, tours — not to mention the crime-inspired TV dramas, movies, novels and more. Harold Schechter, an American true crime writer, referred to the specific fascination with serial killers as "cultural hysteria," and it doesn't look to be fading anytime soon.

I can remember the exact moment my obsession began. I was around six or seven years old and at home with my mother. She specifically told me that I was under no circumstances to open a book she had brought home from the library, which she then left on the floor by her handbag. Of course, as soon as I had an opportunity I reached for the book, looked along the edge of the pages where it was darker which told me where the pictures were, and flicked open to see what it was I should never see. I opened the book on the mortuary photographs of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. The grainy black and white photographs of a wretched woman with her nose cut off and her stomach sagging like a burst balloon from where she had been mutilated. A nightmarish picture was scarred on the back of my eyelids forever.

Jack was my "gateway drug" into serial killers. He hardly needs an introduction, but he committed the mutilation murders of five women assumed to be sex workers in and around Whitechapel, London, from August to November in 1888, at which point the murders stopped. By then he had, quite literally, etched his way into the zeitgeist. His name conjures up images of dark and misty alleyways and blood curdling screams, and is synonymous with the poverty of Victorian England — much to the embarrassment of the British Empire.

But what is it about Jack that has such enduring appeal? It wasn't as if violence in 1888 was rare. The life expectancy for a man from the East End of London was 26 years old, kept low by the diminished life expectancy of casual laborers, who took on unsecure and often deadly work. Infant mortality rates were high as well, and childhood diseases were rife. Simply being alive was risky enough, not taking murders — most of which were of the domestic violence variety or gang related — into account. It doesn't explain why this one murderer has lingered on. Personally, I think Jack endured because of a perfect storm of events — a combination of technology, social and political unrest, wealth inequality and public anger.

Today we are used to news traveling the world in a matter of seconds. There's an insatiable thirst for content and we expect it for free. Traditionally printed newspaper sales may have declined, but in 1888 the newspaper was king and the only source of information. Looking back is like looking at a dress rehearsal of how we are learning to cope with social media — drowning in notifications, clickbait and 24-hour news coverage, bewildered by the effects this technology is having on our world.

I propose that it's fair to compare the two eras. The telegraph was invented in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s the laying of telegraph cables underground and across the seabed started, and this connected continents and led to the creation of news agencies. Before the telegraph, messages had to be sent the same way people and goods traveled — by road or water — but by 1888 news could be sent from nearly anywhere in the world and be printed in The Times the next day. Not only did the murders shock the people of London, they shocked the world. And as circulation increased, so did the appetite for more news — and this encouraged an increase in sensationalist reporting.

Victorian culture was notoriously class-ridden, and tensions were already high on Sunday, November 13, 1887, when Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner of Police, banned all meetings in Trafalgar Square. Demonstrations by the unemployed had been taking place every day since the summer and homeless people slept in the square and washed in the fountain. The police were under pressure to end such an embarrassing situation. The resulting event, which became known as Bloody Sunday, saw around 150 people treated at local hospitals. Up to 300 rioters were arrested.

A common feature of the press coverage of these class tensions was the dramatization of Whitechapel itself — the cliché of the slum ghetto, a trap of misery and hunger. The truth, as it always is, was more nuanced. But that's not what people saw in the daily newspaper. It is worth mentioning that London was the richest city in the world at the time. Jack the Ripper, simply put, was an embarrassment. Jack unwittingly shone a light on a system rigged towards the upper classes and a government policy of conscious neglect. Jack brought age-old arguments to the surface. But this time, the world watched.

His ongoing anonymity remains a key part of his appeal. The monster in any horror movie is always scarier before you see it. Once his or her identity is revealed, the fear disappears. As with most serial killers, they're likely to be ordinary and underwhelming on the surface. It's almost disappointing, so perhaps it has a lot to do with the faceless figure in the dark who can exist as a bespoke monster. A shared concept, but entirely different in each person's imagination.

It's true that the murders didn't evoke much sympathy for victims. They were referred to in newspapers as "unfortunates," code for prostitute. But when Catherine Eddowes was murdered beyond Aldgate and within the boundary of the City it whipped up more hysteria. Jack was commuting, and that meant women of a higher class — respectable, less disposable — might become victims. If people gawked before, now they were frightened … and it was a thrill.

Put in simple terms, the brain doesn't differentiate much between fear or excitement, so anyone who has experienced terror at the thought of public speaking and been on any presentation course or sought therapy for social anxiety will have encountered the theory of reframing fear as nervous anticipation. We know the hysteria and news was lapped up by the general population, but especially young middle-class women. Imagine you were a cosseted Victorian woman stuck indoors with little or no mental stimulation or likelihood of any adventure. The fear the Ripper produced was as close to a thrill you were likely to get. And Jack was also making people angry — at the women, at the poor, at the police, at the government. Anger hits the amygdala and pumps chemicals around the brain. We can get hooked on these chemicals, with the brain looking for the next anger-stoking piece of news to get that luscious hit again.

Speaking for myself, it's clear the obsession started with my mother's questionable '80s parenting and seeing those autopsy photographs. I remember being shocked and unable to look away, like rubbernecking at a car accident. When I was older, I learned about the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who buried their child victims on the Yorkshire moors. My mother came from Yorkshire, although we lived in London, and I'd overheard her tell people that her sister had worked as a cleaner in the coroners' office and somehow seen photographs of the children she never recovered from. The mugshots of their defiant faces eyeballing the camera still haunts most of the UK.

The same with the Yorkshire Ripper, who targeted women walking alone after dark. Again, the connection with Yorkshire and my mother's origins made it relatable. As in the case of the Ripper murders, the police conducted the investigation with a huge complimentary dose of sexism and ego, enabling Peter Sutcliffe to evade capture and go onto murder at least 13 women.

In 1994 came Fred and Rose West, the horror couple who abducted vulnerable girls, torturing them in their own private dungeon as their children played. They lived in Gloucester, which was miles away, but Fred West had worked on an industrial estate near where we lived. The police even searched the site looking for other victims. I was 16 at the time, a similar age to some of the victims, and we all talked about the murders. It spread fear through us — or was it a thrill? These were high-profile cases with a slither of intimacy that could penetrate my bubble and feed my fascination and intrigue.

This is why Jack the Ripper endures — he's the embodiment of anonymity, fear, anger and media hype. He's less of a person and more part of our culture. When I set out to write a story during the Whitechapel murders it was because I wanted to explore the hysteria of the time. What was it like to live during such uncertainty with an unseen monster holding everyone to ransom? I didn't expect to find myself living through something not altogether dissimilar with COVID-19.

The privileged of us will likely survive the pandemic. But we have still fed off the fear and devoured the sensationalized news. We've needed the emails, calls, notifications, podcasts, movies, Netflix, Facebook, trolls, Twitter, binary tribal choices about masks and vaccines. Humans can reduce complex fears to a single shot to the amygdala, and feed it daily. Be angry and be afraid: It's an economy and we are all at its mercy. A bit like a serial killer, waiting for the next strike so we can all get our fix.

Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano accused of sexually abusing man in 1980s who faced arson charge in his court

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