While most of the world is focused on the COVID-19 nightmare unfolding in India or the fallout from the Derek Chauvin trial, over in MAGA world there’s only one story that matters: the Maricopa County audit.
For the last five days, Trump supporters and QAnon followers have been obsessively monitoring livestreams of auditors re-counting ballots from the November presidential election in the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix—a GOP-led effort that’s shrouded in mystery and is at least in part being funded by taxpayers.
A roster of people have signed up to ensure all the cameras inside the building are monitored at all times. Anything suspicious is flagged, shared on MAGA forums and QAnon Telegram channels, and endlessly scrutinized for evidence of wrongdoing. The counting began Friday and is expected to last for 16 days, with 250 people working in two shifts to do the job.
The Republican-orchestrated audit of 2.1 million votes in Arizona’s biggest county, which encompasses the Phoenix metro area, is seen by many as nothing more than a political stunt.
Audit update videos are published breathlessly on YouTube, maps showing the positions of tables within the count center are created and shared—and pretty much everyone is pushing wild and baseless conspiracy theories about the operation.
The reason for this intense focus on Maricopa County is that all these people still believe the election was stolen from Donald Trump and that if the audit reveals any discrepancy in the original count, it will trigger some sort of nationwide recount of votes that will lead to Trump’s triumphant return to the White House.
Of course such a scenario isn’t remotely possible, but that hasn’t stopped a 24-7 torrent of disinformation emerging from the MAGA fever swamp.
Leading the charge is Ron Watkins, the administrator of the message board 8kun, who became a minor celebrity in MAGA world in the weeks after the election for sharing conspiracy theories about election fraud.
Watkins, who was recently outed as the likely anonymous leader of QAnon, has been sharing videos of what he claims is suspicious activity of individual auditors.
He even shared a diagram of the layout of the count center to his 180,000 Telegram followers showing the position of cameras in relation to tables within the building.
“We are watching the auditors,” Watkins wrote. “No shenanigans will get through the sharp eyes of the watchers.”
The results of the audit will not change the election outcome in the state or the nation, but it will serve to further fuel conspiracy theories about election fraud.
On Patriots.win, a rabidly pro-Trump forum formerly known as TheDonald, members were glued to every update. The top pinned post on the message board Monday was a detailed list of links to all the livestream cameras and other resources for people who wanted to watch events in real time.
Fueling the anger on these forums is Trump himself, who has this week released three statements criticizing Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey as “one of the worst Governors in America” for “refusing to provide security for the American Patriots who are hand counting the Rigged 2020 Arizona Election Ballots.”
Dan Scavino, the former White House director of social media, also helped draw attention to the audit.
On QAnon Telegram channels, the conspiracies grew even wilder.
One prominent influencer known as Joe M. wrote that Ducey’s refusal to provide security for the audit was a signal that “domestic paramilitary paid mercenaries, cunningly named 'Antifa', are on standby and will be deployed against American civil servants, and the public at large, when political and media subterfuge is no longer effective, and the true result is finally revealed.”
The Democrats have filed a lawsuit to get the audit shut down, and on Sunday the appointed judge in the case, Judge Christopher Coury, recused himself because one of the lawyers representing the auditors had previously worked for him.
But on QAnon message boards, this move was seen as a deliberate tactic by the Democrats to install a patsy and get the audit stopped.
But no matter what happens, QAnon supporters and MAGA fans are determined to remain laser-focused on watching the counts.
Another prominent QAnon influencer, Mel Q, posted a message that said no matter what happens in the real world, even an earthquake, supporters should “keep your eyes on the Audit.”
As a result, members of these forums are now seeing everything else happening in the world as an effort to distract from the audit. Whether that’s the evacuation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York because of a suspicious package, or the the family of Andrew Brown saying he was “executed” are reviewing the body-camera footage provided by the Elizabeth City police department.
But oddly, Trump’s supporters or QAnon followers don’t seem to be too concerned about Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company that’s leading the audit.
The company is a complete unknown, even among Republicans in its own state, according to a Politico report citing numerous GOP officials in Florida who said they’d never heard of Cyber Ninjas or its founder, Doug Logan.
But someone who has heard of Logan is Lin Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer who has been one of the loudest voices sharing baseless election fraud activity.
Not only has Wood helped raise the money to pay for the audit, he admitted to Talking Points Memo (TPM) last week that he hosted Logan at his home late last year, in the midst of Wood’s efforts to overturn election results in multiple states, together with Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell.
“He was there working on the investigation into election fraud,” Wood told TPM, adding that Logan was working with “others” on the 2020 election investigation, not with Wood himself.
“I opened up my home to allow people to work on the election fraud investigation,” Wood said.