As Philadelphians celebrate in the streets as news agencies announce that Joe Biden has won enough electoral delegates to defeat President Trump in the Presidential election, a small gathering of Trump supporters protest that the election was stolen, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (PhoAndrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
A Pennsylvania state senator who bussed people to the Jan. 6 Washington, D.C. rally to overturn the results of the presidential election is now among a group of Trump acolytes calling for an audit of votes in Pennsylvania.Sen. Doug Mastriano made the call after he got a tour of the conspiracy-driven audit underway in Arizona’s Maricopa County on Wednesday. Just like the Arizona recount, Mastriano’s demand for an audit appears to be based on little more than conspiracy theories and rumors.
As well as having the support of the former president—who has told Mastriano to run for governor next year—the Republican lawmaker’s call for an audit is being backed by an army of pro-Trump and QAnon supporters on platforms like Telegram. These groups have spread conspiracy theories about election fraud, mobilized tens of thousands of people to sign petitions, and shared the phone numbers of state lawmakers and urged supporters to call and demand an audit.On Wednesday Mastriano was joined at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix by fellow Pennslyvanian lawmakers Sen. Cris Dush and Rep. Rob Kauffman, where they were given a tour of the facilities by Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, which is running the audit despite having no prior experience of election audits.Among the things Logan may have shown the Pennsylvanian lawmakers is how the auditors are looking for non-existent watermarks that QAnon supporters believe Trump put on the ballots to expose fraud. Or perhaps they showed him the 5K camera being used to check if the paper ballots contain bamboo fibers, a process happening because of a baseless rumor that boxes of fake ballots were flown into Arizona on election night from Asia.
Or maybe Logan was informing the lawmakers about how far behind schedule the recount is, or telling them who exactly is paying for this absurd exercise, given that he has so far refused to publicly declare who is footing the bill—though a group of QAnon-linked millionaires are heavily involved.Whatever Logan told them, he convinced them that they should have an audit of their own state’s election.“I’m not about overturning anything,” Mastriano told the Wall Street Journal, suggesting audits in one county that voted Democrat and one that voted Republican. “I’m just trying to find out what went right, what went wrong? And how do we have better elections in the future?”Dush was even more forthright. “Forty-seven percent of the people in this country don’t have faith in the electoral—electoral integrity right now,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “And my constituents are very much up in arms, with the lack of any movement on trying to find out what happened.”
Meanwhile, spurred on by reports that former President Donald Trump has become increasingly consumed with ballot audits, Trump supporters and QAnon groups online are relentlessly pushing for audits in more states, boosting the baseless narrative that the November election was somehow stolen or fraudulent.The “Big Lie” has consumed the Republican Party for months now, pushed from the top by Trump himself and from the bottom by social media campaigns orchestrated by diehard Trump supporters.Among those supporters are Toni Shuppe, Karen Taylor, and Jamie Sheffield, who launched the “Audit the Vote PA” campaign, which includes a website and a very active Telegram channel.The channel was created back in February but has only gained significant traction in recent days, as the calls for a forensic audit akin to the one happening in Maricopa County have grown.The groups says the petition, which is meant for residents of Pennsylvania only, has now amassed over 67,000 signatures, and a recent post on Telegram urging followers to jam the phones of Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler and House Majority leader Kerry Benninghoff and ask them to call a vote on a full forensic audit, has been viewed over 20,000 times. The group did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
On pro-Trump message boards and QAnon channels online, discussion about the possibility of a Pennsylvania audit has ramped up significantly in recent days. On Telegram, Ron Watkins, the former administrator of 8kun, the message board where QAnon flourished, asked his 240,000 followers: “I wonder if the Pennsylvania forensic audit will figure out what happened to those missing USB devices.” Watkins was referring to the theft in October of USB devices used to program Philadelphia voting machines, something election officials said would not interfere with the integrity of the election.On Thursday morning he posted another message hinting at possible audits beyond Arizona and Pennsylvania.Several media outlets have reported in recent days that Trump has become obsessed with ballot audits, and has even suggested he could be back in the White House by August.
Such delusions are fed not only by conspiracies emanating from the QAnon fever swamp, but also from high profile figures like Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell, who filed more than 60 election fraud lawsuits in the weeks after November’s election.On Saturday, during a question-and-answer session at a QAnon conference in Dallas, Powell said that there was nothing standing in the way of Trump returning to the White House.“It should be that he can simply be reinstated, that a new Inauguration Day is set,” Powell said, even though such a suggestion is complete nonsense.Powell’s fellow conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, subsequently told the Daily Beast that he believes Trump is talking about being reinstated in August because Lindell has been telling him that.Boosting the baseless allegation about widespread election fraud has become part of the Republican Party orthodoxy in recent months, and some on the extreme fringes of the right have begun to even advocate for violence.At the same conference in Dallas that Powell made her comments, disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn advocated for a military coup in front of hundreds of QAnon supporters.