Since Americans elected Joe Biden in 2020, Donald Trump and his supporters have cycled through several theories to explain how the election was stolen. There was the theory that mail-in voting at such a scale was an invitation for fraud. There was the theory (sometimes known as "the Kraken") that Venezuelan voting software had been rigged to fix vote totals. There was the theory that poll workers in swing states inexplicably stopped counting votes on election night in order to inflate the totals with illegal ballots, and so on.
Enter Dinesh D'Souza. His new documentary, 2000 Mules, purports to explain through the analysis of cell phone geolocation data how the Democratic Party stole the presidency. Here's how it allegedly worked. Nonprofit groups (we are never told which ones) hired volunteers to collect ballots for Biden, and then deliver an average five or so ballots at a time to drop boxes established for the 2020 election due to the raging COVID pandemic.
An organization called True the Vote analyzed cell phone data in two crucial swing states—Georgia and Arizona—and found patterns showing volunteers visited several drop boxes and buildings of nonprofit groups in the expanded early voting period before the election. These were the "mules." The nonprofits were "stash houses," where allegedly the mules picked up the Biden ballots. Then the group obtained surveillance footage around some of those drop boxes that showed a few mules delivering a few of the ballots late in the evening. Put it all together and you have "ballot trafficking," a corrupt scheme to inflate the vote for a preferred candidate.
As Carl Sagan once said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." What D'Souza presents in his documentary though is not really evidence at all. Take the geolocation data that established patterns around ballot drop boxes. The Associated Press has reported that geolocation data is not precise enough to know if the person carrying the cell phone actually went up to the drop box and delivered ballots. Because many of the drop boxes were in heavily trafficked areas, it's possible that the pings analyzed by True the Vote were not mules, but commuters.
Another problem is that no nonprofits are directly accused of orchestrating the ballot-trafficking scheme. An Arizona woman is interviewed (her face is obscured and her name is redacted) who claims she paid volunteers to collect ballots on behalf of a nonprofit. But we never learn the name of the organization or any other information to evaluate her testimony.
The surveillance camera footage of alleged mules shows one woman dropping off a few ballots, wearing plastic gloves, and then discarding them in a nearby garbage can. We are told this is because word got out that the FBI could dust ballots for fingerprints and the mules had adjusted their protocol. Another explanation is that the election in 2020 was held during a pandemic and the woman (who was also wearing a mask) still believed she could catch COVID by touching unclean surfaces.
Now it should be said there are less dramatic and more plausible critiques of the integrity of the 2020 election. Procedures were changed in the run up to the election often through court rulings that created a confusing maze of rules on how and when citizens could vote. In some Democratic states, ballots were mailed to people even if they didn't request them. Because voter rolls often fail to purge those who've died or moved, many extra ballots were in circulation for the 2020 election. Add to this, the moral panic around Hunter Biden's laptop and the decision of social media companies to censor those revelations on their platforms, and there is a credible argument that Biden had some advantages in 2020 that Trump did not.
But that is not an argument that Biden stole the election. It's an argument that Republicans should have fought the legal battles harder and smarter in the run up to the pandemic election to help shape the rules for casting and counting ballots. Instead, Trump spent the summer and fall of 2020 priming his supporters to believe that if he lost, the election was fixed.
Today millions of Trump supporters still believe Joe Biden is not a legitimate president. In a sense they are a mirror of elites and progressives who spent most of Trump's presidency repeating Clinton campaign disinformation that the president colluded with Russia to win in 2016. The difference though is that Clinton at the time accepted her defeat, even if she would later insist she was cheated. Clinton did not attempt to get the sitting vice president to delay the certification of the Electoral College count, as Trump did. She didn't try to pressure election officials in swing states to find her more votes.
A responsible and honorable conservative would understand these differences and reason with Republicans to focus on the next election. But that is not who D'Souza is. He is a man, like Trump, willing to peddle innuendo and insinuation and pretend it's proof of electoral larceny because he knows there are millions of people who just want to hear someone tell them what they think they already know. And, like Trump, D'Souza is playing with fire. Because if his con works, then the next election may result in a civil war.
Eli Lake is a contributing editor to Commentary magazine and host of The Re-Education podcast.