Trump’s Plan to Steal the 2020 Election Included QAnon’s Ron Watkins

As Jan. 6 approached, the plan also called for mobilizing an army of MAGA Twitter trolls and organizing protests outside lawmakers’ homes.

Jan 4 2022, 2:23pm
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.

As the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election loomed, former President Donald Trump and his team came up with a plan to stoke anger and seed disinformation in the hope of getting lawmakers to reject the election results.

The plan included recruiting known conspiracy theorist and QAnon influencer Ron Watkins, mobilizing an army of MAGA Twitter trolls, and organizing protests outside lawmakers’ homes.

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The effort—titled "STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLAN - GIULIANI PRESIDENTIAL LEGAL DEFENSE TEAM"—was revealed in a submission to the Jan. 6 select committee by former New York City police commissioner and close Trump ally Bernie Kerik.

The plan was to create a 10-day media blitz, beginning on Dec. 27 and ending on Jan. 6, to urge Republican lawmakers to vote against certifying the results of the 2020 election.

The document lists Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as heading up the campaign, aided by Trump’s former trade adviser Peter Navarro, and members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus.

The 22-page document outlines a plan to seed the baseless election fraud allegations that had been dreamt up by conspiracy theorists and use them in messaging on TV, radio, and social media.

The document also outlines plans to organize “protests at weak members’ homes,” “protests at local officials homes/offices” and “protests in DC - rally for key House and Senate members.” 

The plan called for prewritten tweets to be disseminated to right-wing influencers repeating a range of the most popular election fraud conspiracies, including ones about mail-in ballots, faulty Dominion voting machines, dead people voting, and suitcases full of ballots being brought into processing centers.

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The plan categorizes the conservative influencers into four categories: big, medium, small and micro. Among the “big” names listed in the document are Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, Mark Levin, and Candace Owens.

Listed among the “medium” names is Watkins, who is currently running for Congress in Arizona. He is referred to simply as “Ron,” alongside the fact that at the time he had almost 500,000 Twitter followers.

By late December 2020, Watkins had become an unlikely hero in MAGA world in the wake of the election. He had transformed himself from the guy who helped facilitate the growth of QAnon on the fringe platform 8chan to one of the most widely shared voices on the baseless conspiracy theory that the election was somehow rigged to elect President Joe Biden.

This led to appearances on right-wing stations like One America News, and having his tweets shared by Trump. He also wrote an affidavit for one of Sidney Powell’s wildly unhinged “Kraken” lawsuits.

Another document submitted by Kerik was an email sent by Watkins to an associate of Giuliani, in which he offers to “volunteer time to help identify avenues of voter fraud and audit the Dominion Voting System[s] with the mindset of a penetration tester with the goal of finding any vulnerabilities or ‘features’ in the software which may have been utilized by bad actors to facilitate voter fraud.”

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So by the time Giuliani and his team came to draw up a list of names of those best placed to sow anger and distrust on social media, Watkins’ name was sure to be included.

Also listed among those Trump’s team hoped to recruit were several members of a domestic pro-MAGA troll group known as “The Mighty 200” who use private online chat rooms to organize their campaigns to influence online social media conversations about Trump.

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The plan also alerted Trump’s team to the need to use TikTok in order to reach younger audiences and recommended that Trump himself open an account.

“WE have to use TIKTOK!! Content goes VIRAL here like no other platform!!!!! And there are MILLIONS of Trump supporters! It would be amazing if POTUS would use the platform actually—he’d have the biggest account EVER,” the document states.

While Trump never joined TikTok, the baseless claims about widespread election fraud certainly were shared. It’s unclear if the Strategic Communications Plan was ever acted upon, but many of the influencers named in the document repeated the lies during the 10-day period that culminated on Jan. 6 with the violent attack on the Capitol.

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Tagged:

Donald Trump, Ben Shapiro, rudy giuliani, Peter Navarro, candace owens, capitol protests, Disinfo Dispatch, Ron Watkins, January 6

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