Inside the GOP’s Disinformation Playbook

They’re about to start “investigating the investigators." Here’s what you need to know.
Rep. Jim Jordan at a rally in support of the campaign of Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance at Wright Bros. Aero Inc. at Dayton International Airport on Nov. 7, 2022, in Vandalia, Ohio. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

This content comes from the latest installment of our weekly Breaking the Vote newsletter out of VICE News’ D.C. bureau, tracking the ongoing efforts to undermine the democratic process in America. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Friday.

Rep. Jim Jordan and House Republicans are eager to cloud the public’s understanding of Donald Trump’s evident wrongdoing at Mar-a-Lago, in the coup attempt and elsewhere. So they’re getting ready to use investigations and subpoenas to “investigate the investigators” and find anti-Trump conspiracies in the Justice Department and beyond. 


Before that dust flies into your eyes, make sure you read this piece. It paints a detailed picture of how MAGA propaganda is weaponized through institutional power. 

Read how former Attorney General Bill Barr and his hand-picked prosecutor, John Durham, spent years bending the DOJ to fit Trump’s lies about his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia and the Mueller investigation. Durham’s investigation of the investigators fell flat, but not before Barr used it to fabricate a public narrative about anti-Trump bias that persists to this day. 

The piece focuses on the DOJ and skips how important Jordan was to Barr's 2019 campaign to obfuscate the Mueller investigation on Trump’s behalf. Jordan attacked Robert Mueller and his investigation, feigning outrage from his perch on the House Judiciary Committee. 


Now we know that the outrage never amounted to anything that could stand up—or in most cases, even be argued—in court. Still, Fox News and other right wing outlets clipped Jordan’s fiery outbursts and used those performances to drive their coverage. Less partisan media outlets reported credulously on the controversy Jordan pantomimed, deemphasizing the significant evidence that the Trump campaign welcomed the help Russia was offering it in 2016. Barr used his authority to pretend to get to the bottom of House Republicans’ accusations, while Trump just tried out whatever superlative lies moved him in the moment. 

Unlike in 2019, Jordan now has the gavel of the House Judiciary Committee. And Trumpist Republicans’ grip on the agenda has only grown. This time he doesn’t just have Russian interference to obfuscate, but an attempted coup (that he’s never told the truth about) and possible charges for obstruction and mishandling documents at Mar-a-Lago. 


Fox News will surely play along, but discrediting accountability won’t be as easy for Jordan without an attorney general eager to operationalize the disinfo. At least this time around, the playbook is out there for all to read.   

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Semper Fie

Nearly 1,000 people have been charged for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. This week, in a high-profile trial you can read about below, four more Oath Keepers were convicted of plotting the armed overthrow of the government. But under the radar, three more Jan. 6 demonstrators were also arrested. What sets these guys apart is that they’re all active duty Marines. 

The arrests point to the problem of extremism in the U.S. military, an area that VICE News has spent a lot of time digging into. Check out this report tracking the indictment from Liz Landers and Ben Makuch, who’s done extensive reporting on extremism in the ranks, who’s done extensive reporting on extremism in the ranks.


None of the guys charged this week are accused of anything especially violent, though one of them was in his DMs talking about “the bugaloo” and the need for “Civil war 2”, according to an FBI affidavit. And they’re not the first Marines to be charged. Major Christopher Warnagiris was indicted on a bunch of Jan 6. charges in 2021, including assaulting a police officer. He’s the highest-ranking serviceman to be charged, and he’s still awaiting trial. 

The U.S. military still hasn’t decided what to do about extremism in its ranks. Last year Republicans blocked the military from even studying the problem. VICE News, I’m happy to say, is showing no such deference.


West coast diss-bar

We still don’t know if Trump’s small army of coup-plotting lawyers will face criminal charges. But California’s Bar Association has seen enough. They’re moving to disbar John Eastman and yank his license to practice. A federal judge in California already found that Eastman likely conspired with Trump to commit crimes around Jan. 6. Now the state bar is pointing to Eastman’s false statements during his Jan. 6 speech on the Ellipse, and to two memos he authored mapping out how Trump could steal the election, as evidence that Eastman shouldn’t lawyer anymore. 


T.W.I.S.™ Notes

Trumpworld figures keep going on trial. And This Week in Subpoenas™, one of America’s most famous prosecutors says charges for one of the main scenes in the coup attempt could be just around the corner.

- The “imminent” show 

Fulton County DA Fani Willis tossed chum in the Breaking the Vote waters when she told a judge that she’s about to decide whether to charge people for the coup attempt in Georgia. Willis was trying to convince Judge Robert McBurney not to grant news organizations’ request to disclose the findings of the special grand jury that sat for months hearing testimony on the plot to overturn Georgia’s election. She told McBurney that charging decisions were “imminent” and that disclosing the report could make things unfair for “future defendants.” 

Willis didn’t mention Trump. But, as VICE News’ Greg Walters points out, there’s reason to believe that Trump’s criminal nightmare in Georgia is looking very real


- Almost defamous 

News organizations are in court to get that Fulton County special grand jury report, and they also want a look at the details of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation suits against Fox News. 

Inside sedition

Another group of Oath Keepers was convicted of seditious conspiracy this week. Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo joined founder Stuart Rhodes, who was convicted of sedition along with another member in late November. Minuta and his three friends were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and other charges. 


That makes a total of six Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the plot to amass weapons outside of DC and storm the Capitol on behalf of Donald Trump. 

Meanwhile, the prosecution’s sedition case is fully underway against five Proud Boys, including former leader Enrique Tarrio and the shield-wielding Dominic “Spazz” Pezzola. Witnesses testified this week to the group’s culture of violence, misogyny and…er…carefully titrated masturbation. Keep in mind former Proud Boys leader Jeremy Bertino already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, so expect to hear from him later in the prosecution’s case. 


Peter griftin’ 

Donald Trump once again tried to swoop in last-minute and disrupt the criminal trial of one of his lieutenants this week. Former Trump trade advisory Peter Navarro—known for begging online lest he be left 401(k)-less—is about to face contempt charges for ignoring subpoenas from the January 6 committee. Just before go time, Trump’s lawyer wrote in to back up Navarro’s claim that his testimony was protected by executive privilege. BTW, Trump tried a similar tactic when Steve Bannon was going on trial for identical charges. It didn’t work. 

Former Trump White House advisor Peter Navarro speaks to the media as he leaves federal court in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Former Trump White House advisor Peter Navarro speaks to the media as he leaves federal court in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Anti-social posts

Meta is finally making its move to reinstate Trump to Facebook and Instagram. Trump was kicked off after inciting the Jan. 6 riot, but not before he used Facebook to ingrain election lies in the country's political consciousness and incite a coup, nor before Russian operatives used it to influence the 2016 election on his behalf. Getting some of his social media privileges taken away was, ironically, the only punishment he’s ever really faced for any of it. Now Meta says it has a plan to prevent Trump from using its platform to spread lies and insurrection again. 

But the bottom line, VICE News’ David Gilbert writes, is that Meta is allowing Trump to keep spreading election lies and toxic QAnon conspiracies with some new restrictions on how widely the latter can be shared. Now that he’s back on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Trump can ramp up his disinformation—and the fundraising it supports—for 2024.


Con, Jr.

Read the twisted tale of how a 23-year-old account manager and failed state house candidate managed to take over as mayor of tiny Goddard, Kansas, in what can only be described as a coup. Hunter Larkin, a Republican who’s got the look of a Bavarian Boy Scout, took over a city council meeting last week and manipulated arcane rules to install himself as leader. The provincial putsch has the townsfolk of Goddard comparing their hamlet to “Germany in 1935.” 

Harmeet reduction 

California lawyer Harmeet Dhillon is challenging RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel for the party’s top spot in secret ballot elections today. And the winner will have to deal with the GOP’s self-inflicted contradiction: Most of the party believes that 2020 was stolen from Trump, but Trump’s harping on imagined fraud keeps costing them elections. 


And though Dhillon has downplayed election conspiracies and has recognized Joe Biden as president (notable for prominent Republicans these days) even other Republicans worry that she’s still surrounded by Trumpist extremists and conspiracy theorists. 

But we at VICE News are watching the quixotic and thoroughly weird RNC chair candidacy of none other than MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who, according to Cam Joseph, is running a ramshackle campaign that’s inducing eye rolls in GOP land. Lindell is bringing his obsession with voting machines and an “unswerving fealty” to Trump to the race, and he’s picked up exactly one endorsement. Even Stephen Colbert loves it!


The trials of Tina Peters

While we’re waiting for Mesa County, Colo. clerk Tina Peters to go on trial for multiple felony charges of election tampering in March, this was supposed to be the week she faced separate charges for attempting to kick a cop. The whole thing stems from the incident last February when police came to serve a warrant on Peters for lying to a judge about recording a court hearing on her iPad. 

Alas, the prosecutor has COVID, so they had to reschedule. 

Dream ticket

Why did Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene make a hard turn from coup-backing, conspiracy-crazed lunatic from the Internet to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s right hand? (Please ignore the corollary question of whether that turn was hard at all.) Was it to gain proximity to power and parlay her media fame to congressional clout? Sure. But according to this report, Greene also fancies herself Donald Trump’s 2024 vice presidential running mate! 


Rep. Matt Gaetz, for one, thinks that’s a terrific idea

Pushing the envelope

A woman pleaded guilty this week to mailing Donald Trump a letter containing highly toxic ricin powder. Pascale Cecile Veronique Ferrier, a dual Canadian and French citizen, mailed the letter, which also contained numerous threats, in September 2020. Shortly after she was arrested at the US-Canada border with a loaded firearm and other weapons. The letter was intercepted at a White House mail facility and never got to Trump. She’ll be sentenced in April. 

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“Making pillows and winning elections—I don’t think there’s a correlation there.” — Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman, on conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell’s bid to become RNC Chair. 

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Low resolution — Things are going great over at the Arizona GOP. The state party that once asked supporters for a death pact with Donald Trump is having its annual meeting this weekend. On the agenda: a resolution declaring fraudulent the 2022 election that gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake lost. There’s another censuring several Maricopa County Republican officials for unfounded claims of fraud in the election that Lake lost, another calling for the elimination of all ballot drop boxes and hand-counting of all ballots…and yet another urging Republicans to purge the term “RINO” from the GOP lexicon. “Civic discourse must be restored,” that last one states. 

Elon in the time of Nick — On Tuesday, Elon Musk reinstated antisemitic white nationalist and Trump dining partner Nick Fuentes on Twitter. On Tuesday night Fuentes hosted a Twitter space where he praised Hitler and told an audience of thousands that “Jews run the news.” By Thursday, Fuentes was suspended again

True grift — You may remember the election-denying propagandists at True the Vote for “2000 Mules” and for business practices so allegedly shady that even the Republican AG of Arizona said they should be investigated. Now read about how Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht, the forces behind Texas-based True the Vote, raised millions for a hospital in Ukraine that was never built. 

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How Nick Fuentes groomed a new generation of racist hate.


Springtime for Nazis... on Twitter.


Charging Donald Trump and his allies with racketeering could be risky