There are crazy people, and then there are scary crazy people with lots of money.
If you want the hair on the back of your neck to stand straight up, read Jane Mayer’s recent article in the New Yorker,“The Big Money Behind the Big Lie.”
The first paragraph describes beliefs so insane it is is difficult to believe that any but a small fringe of people who should probably be institutionalized would hold them.
It was tempting to dismiss the show unfolding inside the Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, as an unintended comedy. One night in June, a few hundred people gathered for the première of “The Deep Rig,” a film financed by the multimillionaire founder of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne, who is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. Styled as a documentary, the movie asserts that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen by supporters of Joe Biden, including by Antifa members who chatted about their sinister plot on a conference call. The evening’s program featured live appearances by Byrne and a local QAnon conspiracist, BabyQ, who claimed to be receiving messages from his future self. They were joined by the film’s director, who had previously made an exposé contending that the real perpetrators of 9/11 were space aliens.
Messages from the future. Space aliens…um..okay.
Far more frightening is Mayer’s report on the ” well-funded national movement” that has used Trump’s bogus claims of fraud to promote “alterations to the way that ballots are cast and counted in forty-nine states, eighteen of which have passed new voting laws in the past six months.”
Mayer quotes Ralph Neas– a Republican who served as executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Neas has overseen a study of the Arizona audit for the nonpartisan Century Foundation, and he told me that, though the audit is a “farce,” it may nonetheless have “extraordinary consequences.” He said, “The Maricopa County audit exposes exactly what the Big Lie is all about. If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos. That will enable new legislation. Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping Donald Trump to be elected again in 2024. That’s the bottom line. Maricopa County is the prism through which to view everything. It’s not so much about 2020—it’s about 2022 and 2024. This is a coördinated national effort to distort not just what happened in 2020 but to regain the House of Representatives and the Presidency.”
The truly frightening part of Mayer’s report isn’t in the fantasies of the QAnon followers and assorted “true believers” who serve as foot soldiers in Trump’s White Nationalist cult–instead, it is the fact that these efforts are being funded by “sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives.”
Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.
Who are these groups?
Mayer identifies several: the Heritage Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are (unsurprisingly) prominent. Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society has renamed his Judicial Education Project the “Honest Elections Project”–it opposes mail-in ballots and basically any reforms making it easier for people to vote. Then there’s the “Election Integrity Project California,” and a group called FreedomWorks.
They have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a private, tax-exempt organization Mayer says has become “an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right.”
With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years.
Lest you be tempted to dismiss these efforts as fringe assaults with little chance of success, several polls have found that a third of American voters believe Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Perhaps the most chilling part of a chilling article was the explanation offered for receptivity to that belief:
What blue-state people don’t understand about why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn’t actually require proof of fraud. “What animates it is the belief that Biden won because votes were cast by some people in this country who others think are not ‘real’ Americans.” This anti-democratic belief has been bolstered by a constellation of established institutions on the right: “white evangelical churches, legislators, media companies, nonprofits, and even now paramilitary groups.” Podhorzer noted, “Trump won white America by eight points. He won non-urban areas by over twenty points. He is the democratically elected President of white America.”
The article provides much more detail about the ways in which wealthy reactionaries are funding the assault on democratic institutions–most dangerously, the right to vote and (as Paul Ogden frequently reminds us) the right to have those votes accurately counted.
You really need to click through and read the article in its entirety.
I did, and then I poured myself a very stiff drink.