Person in a "Stop the Steal" cowboy hat at the Protect Our Elections Rally at the Arizona Federal Theater in Phoenix, AZ July 24, 2021. (Cassidy Araiza for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
David Clements never made a secret of his plans to corrupt American democracy.“Fraud exists in every county. The [voting] machines have been skewing results for years, and skimming from candidates,” Clements wrote on his hugely popular Telegram channel in January. “The opportunity to get three votes from MAGA-friendly county commissioners to get rid of machines is staggering. No more bottlenecks.”Six months later, Clements got his wish: Last week, the GOP-led Otero County commission in New Mexico voted to remove Dominion voting machines, get rid of ballot dropboxes, and mandate hand-counting of votes in future elections.
On Monday, Clements’ efforts reaped even greater rewards when the commission—led by Cowboys for Trump founder and Capitol insurrectionist Couy Griffin—refused to certify the results of a statewide primary vote.Clements, a former district attorney-turned-election conspiracy theory superstar, is evidence that the strategy many in the Republican Party have espoused for months really can work. “Local action has national impact,” is the mantra of disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, while former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has espoused what he calls “the precinct committee strategy.” Clements has rubbed shoulders with both Flynn and Bannon at pro-Trump events in the last six months. Critics now worry he has laid the foundations for a nationwide attempt by those pushing Trump’s Big Lie to disrupt the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election. It’s unclear what’s going to happen next in Otero County. On Tuesday, the New Mexico secretary of state sued the commission to verify the primary results, and on Wednesday the state Supreme Court ordered the commission to do so.
The three-person commission has until this Friday to verify the vote, though Griffin did not respond to VICE News’ question about whether he plans to comply with the ruling. (Griffin might be preoccupied, however, as Friday is also when he’ll be sentenced for his role in the Capitol riot.)David Clements advertises himself as a “traveling audit salesman,” and has become a celebrity in the world of election conspiracists. He’s leveraged his background as a former deputy district attorney in New Mexico's 12th Judicial District, and a teaching position at New Mexico State University, into a veneer of credibility–while pushing widely debunked lies.Clements’ journey to becoming one of the main drivers of election conspiracies in the U.S. began just under a year ago, when he was suspended from his teaching position at New Mexico State University–for espousing an entirely different conspiracy theory.“As you can see, I am not wearing a mask,” Clements told his students, according to a video recording of his speech posted to his own channel on the video-sharing site Rumble. “Why is that? Because I haven’t lost my mind, that’s why. I will not wear a mask.”His refusal to comply with the university’s COVID-19 policies saw him initially suspended with pay before being fired months later. This gave him time to focus on boosting Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, which he did by pursuing a non-stop schedule of in-person appearances at events large and small across the country, and a never-ending list of podcast slots with an increasingly extreme slate of hosts.
But it’s in Otero County where Clements has had the most success.The first breakthrough came in January 2022, when Clements and his wife Erin successfully lobbied for the county to conduct an audit of the results of the November 2020 election, when Trump won the county with almost 62 percent of the vote.Targeting pro-Trump MAGA counties is explicitly part of Clements’ plan. He outlined everything on this Telegram channel, where he cited maps produced by fellow election conspiracist Seth Keshel, and said that if they targeted counties with commissions friendly to their way of thinking, they would find success.
“Our enemy has always been the establishment politicians, where we run into a bottleneck,” Clements wrote in January. “Case in point, Maricopa county. Convincing a RINO legislature to decertify an entire state election is an all but impossible task. But getting 2 to 3 votes from MAGA-loving commissioners? Good bye bottlenecks.”As a result of his lobbying, the Otero County commission agreed to pay $50,000 for the audit, and appointed a company called EchoMail to conduct the review. EchoMail is run by conspiracy promoter and aspiring lawmaker Shiva Ayyadurai, and is best known for also taking part in the bogus Arizona recount last year.EchoMail contracted a group known as “New Mexico’s Audit Force” to knock on doors and demand answers from the electorate about how they voted. This Audit Force was Clements’ creation, and consisted of people he found on his Telegram channel with no experience of election reviews.
Labeled a “vigilante audit” by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the effort fell apart within weeks. The House Oversight Committee weighed in, questioning the canvassers’ tactics as “intimidation directed at minority voters” and soon EchoMail pulled out of the effort– though not before admitting it “found No Election Fraud as a result of their services.”But Clements was undeterred, and at a heated Otero County commission meeting last month, he denied the canvassing efforts had been faulty and described the county as “a potential crime scene.” Citing the Bible, Clements urged Griffin and his fellow commissioners to ban all voting machines—something the commission ratified last week before refusing to certify the primary results.Griffin has yet to signal if he will comply with the Supreme Court ruling to verify the results, but in a video posted on Telegram on Wednesday night, Clements asked: “What if they hold the line? What if they don’t certify? I know what I would do, I’d risk saying no. I hope that our commissioners stand up and assert their power at the local level.”
“The post-election canvassing process is a key component of how we maintain our high levels of election integrity in New Mexico,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement, “and the Otero County Commission is flaunting [sic] that process by appeasing unfounded conspiracy theories and potentially nullifying the votes of every Otero County voter who participated in the Primary.”In parallel with his efforts in Otero County, Clements has been conducting an exhaustive tour of the U.S. over the last 10 months to bring his unique brand of election conspiracies to as many people as possible. He has appeared on panels with Bannon and spoken at the same events as Flynn. He has spoken at the massive evangelical Christian-centric ReAwaken America tour in Michigan alongside a host of anti-vax celebrities, QAnon influencers, and extreme pastors including Greg Locke. He appeared at the bogus Cyber Symposium in South Dakota organized by pillow salesman and uber conspiracist Mike Lindell. He has also appeared on Fox News’ top-rated show Tucker Carlson Tonight.Some of his appearances have been in front of crowds of thousands of people, and others have been in front of tiny crowds of no more than a few dozen, such as an event entitled “Fix 2020 or Bust” in Tennessee last March.
Clements has complained about how his work to undermine democracy has led to personal hardships and financial insecurity–but he’s also asked his supporters to donate to several online fundraisers, one of which has earned him over $300,000.He has at one time or another been linked to almost all of the major players in the election conspiracy world, including Joe Oltmann of FEC United in Colorado; former army colonel Phil Waldron, who shared a Powerpoint filled with election lies ahead of the 2020 election with members of Congress; and Lin Wood, the former Trump lawyer-turned-QAnon influencer who hosted Flynn and other election-denying figures at his home in South Carolina in the weeks after the 2020 election. Online, Clements has been even more prolific. He appears on an endless stream of podcasts and fringe internet TV shows every week, appearing to turn down very few requests (he did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment). Earlier this month he even appeared on a podcast hosted by one of the main members of the QAnon offshoot in Dallas who are awaiting JFK’s return.Unlike most of his peers in the conspiracy world, Clements remains on mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook, though he rarely uses either. His preferred method of communication is Telegram, where his primary channel has amassed over 117,000 followers. As well as a main “America’s Audit Force” Telegram channel, dozens of state-specific audit force channels have been set up, some of them with thousands of followers who share and promote Clements’ work. He also publishes his own podcasts and videos, including in-depth guides on how to conduct audits like the one he helped carry out in Otero County, which has led many experts to worry that what has happened there could be replicated across the country. “We are in scary territory,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former election official in Colorado and Utah who now advises federal, state, and local officials, told CBS. “If this can happen here, where next? It’s like a cancer, a virus. It’s metastasizing and growing.”Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.