The Midterms Coup Attempt Has Already Begun

Vigilantes, saboteurs, suppression... It’s already happening now, 12 days before Election Day, in plain sight. 

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.

If you’re waiting for 2024 to see if Trumpists try to sabotage or even steal another election, I’ve got news for you: It’s happening now, 12 days before Election Day, in plain sight. 


All over the country, the rotten seeds of Donald Trump’s yearslong campaign of stolen-election lies are fruiting. In Arizona’s Maricopa County, masked and armed vigilante poll watchers loom over ballot drop boxes and in some cases follow and intimidate voters. They’re egged on by propaganda films like 2000 Mules and by Trump himself. Meanwhile, anonymous conspiracists target election officials and candidates with threats, putting law enforcement on alert for real-world versions of the violence that’s already all over the internet.

In Georgia, GOP officials refused to bend to Trump’s efforts to steal 2020, and have even provided key evidence for the criminal investigation in Fulton County. But they also teamed up with the state Legislature to pass some of the country’s most suppressive new voting laws, all in the name of “election integrity.” Now early-voting Georgians, many of them Black, are facing repeated, unlimited challenges to their status as they try to cast ballots. Emboldened Republicans are mounting the challenges by the thousands, and it’s all legal.


In Pennsylvania, where counting rules make it likely that close races won’t be called on election night, Trump himself is reportedly gearing up to rush in, cry fraud, and claim victory for his chosen candidates in an election where he’s not on the ballot. Trump, of course, is pursuing the strategy for himself, viewing the challenges as a “dress rehearsal for 2024,” according to one source in the piece.  

But the most imminent fiasco could be Nevada, where election officials have been driven from office by election saboteurs, armed in some cases with antisemitic conspiracies. Four counties have spurned ballot tabulating machines for hand-counting, which experts warn is guaranteed to introduce more errors. Lawsuits are underway in Nye County, where watchdogs warn that “a historic disaster is brewing.”  

And not to be outdone, Steven Bannon, soon due in prison for covering up his role in the attempted coup, this week appeared on InfoWars and encouraged the audience to volunteer as poll watchers.


That’s the same InfoWars that Alex Jones used to earn himself a recent billion-dollar judgment for the slander that the Sandy Hook massacre was fake and its murdered children were actors. Bannon’s appearance proves the obvious: that sops toward “election integrity” have nothing to do with integrity and everything to do with chaos.  

Trump’s ability to spawn, spread, and perpetuate self-serving election mayhem derives from the fact that he’s faced no accountability for any of the other times he’s done it. In 2016, Russia interfered in the presidential election, and the Trump campaign enthusiastically accepted the help. After that, Trump acted to obstruct the investigation into that interference, probably criminally

In 2020… well… you know. 

Criminal investigations are underway in Georgia and D.C. looking at the 2020 coup attempt and Trump’s role at the center of it. I don’t know if those probes, or the one of top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, will result in any consequences for Trump or his allies. The consequences for the rest of us are already here. 

I’m betting election night won’t be over next Tuesday. Sign up your friends for Breaking the Vote so they don’t miss a thing!

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Militias’ behavior

Last week we brought you some of VICE’s great new reporting on how political extremism is reinfecting America. This week, three more members of a right-wing militia in Michigan were convicted of supporting the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as revenge for her COVID policies. It’s all part of the Wolverine Watchmen conspiracy, which has already featured two federal convictions, a couple of guilty pleas, and some acquittals. 

In this case, a jury in Jackson County found Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico guilty of aiding terrorism and weapons charges that could get them 20 years at sentencing. Just last week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on the Breaking the Vote show that threats against her are so bad in her reelection campaign that she fears she won’t be able to stay in the state if she loses on Nov. 8.

T.W.I.S.™ Notes

- Crimin’ and stealin’

Jury selection got underway in the New York criminal trial where the Trump Organization is charged with multiple felonies, including tax fraud and grand larceny. Longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg already pleaded guilty to a fraud scheme where he and Trump Org entities hid nearly $1.8 million in income from the IRS. He refused to cooperate with prosecutors, but he has to testify truthfully in this trial if he wants the relatively breezy five-month jail sentence in his plea agreement. Donald Trump himself isn’t accused in the case and is unlikely to participate, though his company is at risk for $1.6 million in fines.


Remember, this is all separate from the civil case in which New York’s attorney general accuses Trump and his adult kids of manipulating real estate values to defraud taxpayers and banks. That’s the one where Trump sat for a deposition and claimed Fifth Amendment protection 440 times.  

- Gimme clearance, Clarence

Who will save Sen. Lindsey “Count me out” Graham from having to appear before the Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury investigating the plot to overturn the 2020 election? Yep, it’s the only Supreme Court justice who voted to allow Donald Trump to hide evidence from the January 6 committee. Justice Clarence Thomas temporarily blocked an appeals court ruling this week that ordered Graham to honor a subpoena from the grand jury. 

Graham sued to avoid testifying, claiming that the Constitution’s “speech and debate” clause immunizes him from having to appear. Last week, judges on the 11th Circuit said that while legit senatorial activities are protected, Graham still has to answer questions about not-senator things like coordinating with the Trump campaign to overturn Georgia’s election results, or “efforts to ‘cajole’ or ‘exhort’ Georgia election officials.” (Graham called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to ask about tossing out mail-in ballots from counties favoring Joe Biden.) 


Thomas put a hold on the 11th Circuit, but only until the rest of the court has a chance to weigh in. So far, it has shown little interest in backing up Trump when it comes to stolen election claims. 

- Mark-ed questioning

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also very much does not want to testify in front of the Fulton County grand jury. But on Wednesday a South Carolina judge ordered him to answer his subpoena. But if Graham can take it all the way to SCOTUS, why not Meadows? Expect appeals.  

BTW, the former prosecutors VICE News’ Greg Walters has been talking to in Fulton County think Trump is about to get charged.

- Awk-Ward 

And will SCOTUS save Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward from having to produce her phone records to the January 6 committee? She hopes so! Justice Elena Kagan also put a temporary stay on Ward’s subpoena and asked the committee to weigh in by today. It looks like Arizona Republicans ran one of the fake elector schemes at the center of the 2020 coup plot. Ward appeared in front of the committee, where she took the Fifth.  


- The audacity of Hope 

Trump adviser-turned-Fox-News-personality-turned-Trump-adviser Hope Hicks sat for an under-oath, transcribed deposition with the January 6 committee this week. Several post-coup books put Hicks in the large camp of advisers who repeatedly told Trump he lost the 2020 election.

- A sensible pair of Pats

DOJ prosecutors are asking a judge to compel former White House counsels Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin to talk about conversations with then-President Trump in front of a federal grand jury investigating the coup attempt. The Pats have so far refused to answer some questions that could be off-limits thanks to executive or attorney-client privilege. But prosecutors already busted those claims and got two of former Veep Mike Pence’s counsels to testify. Here’s how hard Trump was trying to stop that from happening.


The Mule-er retort

Clapping back for democracy! A Georgia man accused of illegal ballot harvesting in the propaganda film 2000 Mules is suing Dinesh D’Souza and a whole bunch of his election conspiracy friends in federal court. Mark Andrews’ lawsuit against D’Souza, True the Vote, and others claims their election conspiracies caused “immense harm” for election workers, ordinary citizens wrongly accused, and the democracy itself. 

The suit states D’Souza showed Andrews on screen dropping ballots at a drop box in 2020 while intoning, “What you are seeing is crime. These are fraudulent votes.”

“In fact,” the suit continues, “the video of Mr. Andrews shows him legally dropping off ballots for himself and his family, a voting method expressly authorized by Georgia law.”

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 "He was your prey. He was your trophy." - U.S. District Judge Amy Berman, sentencing Capitol rioter Albuquerque Head to seven and a half years in prison for assaulting D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone during the insurrection.

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Leaving in droves — Regular BtV readers know well the story of harassment, intimidation, and downright inconvenience driving election workers away from the critical, unsung jobs of democracy. This piece does a great job of laying out the causes and the numbers. Election workers are fleeing service almost everywhere: In Utah, turnover between 2020 and 2022 is up 55 percentage points over 2016-2020; in the swing state of Georgia, it’s up 36 points. 

Here’s one horrible scene from Nevada that caught my eye: “In another Trump-dominated county, Sandra Merlino retired in August in the middle of her term as county clerk in Nye County, after her commissioners gave in to the demands of an election-denying activist...

‘It was horrible, because I’ve been doing elections since January of 2000,’ said Merlino, who was immediately replaced by a clerk who has falsely said Trump won the election. The activist who pushed for the hand count, Jim Marchant, is now the Republican nominee for secretary of state and leading in the polls.”

Six years for registering — An activist and former mayoral candidate in Memphis is suing the state of Tennessee for a six-year voter fraud sentence that she says caused her significant emotional anguish before it was invalidated. Pamela Moses served close to three months in jail before a new trial was ordered on her conviction of illegally registering to vote. Moses was ineligible to vote because of previous felony convictions. She maintained she thought her right to vote had been restored, though activists say the judge who gave her six years was trying to intimidate Black voters.

“Twenty-nine Americans” — Ninety Florida residents have been charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection, more than from any other state. “If you live in Tampa Bay, an alleged insurrectionist likely lives somewhere nearby.” 

tick tick tick tick tick — After the barrage of lies and conspiracies from Trumpists, Dominion Voting Systems now has eight defamation lawsuits totaling $10 billion in the field against Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, Sidney Powell, and a bunch of others (congrats to their lawyers on their no-interest-rate homes.) If you missed 60 Minutes’ interview with Dominion CEO John Poulos, catch it here

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The media are still making the same mistake with Trump.  THE ATLANTIC

Curtis Yarvin wants American democracy toppled. VOX

The man fighting to keep Arizona’s election out of an extremist’s hands. THE GUARDIAN