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How ‘Stop the Steal’ Captured the American Right

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In early May, the rally tour that Trump had maintained with few interruptions since his first presidential campaign touched down at a fairgrounds in Greensburg, Pa., within the hill country southeast of Pittsburgh. It had been raining for many of the night and morning of the rally, and before the gates were open, the outlands of the venue were already boggy and wet.

In the primary hours, nearly everyone I met drifting down the muddy pop-up boulevards with TRUMP WON flags and kiosks selling LET’S GO BRANDON T-shirts had been following Trump’s rallies from state to state, on and off, for months or years. Once I asked what they thought in regards to the last election or the subsequent one, most cited one or one other strand of the Trump-centric QAnon conspiracy theory. “It starts with the British royal monarchy and the Vatican which might be controlling every thing,” Jill Wood, a rallygoer from Ohio, told me. “There’s only two teams: Team Jesus and Team Lucifer. And it’s very easy to choose a side.”

The Greensburg rally, like all Trump-centric events, was an open-air marketplace for the complete range of election theories currently in circulation. A big LCD screen was playing “2,000 Mules,” a recent, slickly produced film advancing (but failing to prove, even by itself terms) the claim that the election was stolen by “ballot harvesters” depositing 1000’s of fraudulent votes in drop boxes. Once I asked a person watching it what he thought had happened in 2020, he replied, “I ponder what happened to that tractor-trailer filled with ballots?” — a reference to a claim made a couple of shipment of trucked-in absentee ballots that Trump’s Justice Department officials had investigated at length and decided was baseless. Once I pressed further, he shrugged. “I don’t know. If people can cheat, they’ll cheat. That’s my idea of human nature.”

In the course of all of it, figuratively and literally, was Mike Lindell, standing among the many Trump supporters, his loafers and pant cuffs caked in mud. The chief executive of MyPillow, the bedding company whose infomercials are ubiquitous within the odd hours of the cable schedule, became a Trump supporter and donor in 2016. He had factored peripherally in a number of the longest-shot schemes to maintain Trump in power after the election, and every week after Jan. 6, he was photographed on the White House with a sheaf of papers on which the phrase “martial law if needed” was visible. (Lindell has said that these weren’t his papers and that he hadn’t read them.)

Since Biden’s inauguration, Lindell had plowed himself into the election cause with unmatched energy and, by his own account, hundreds of thousands of dollars. He had bankrolled documentaries, lawsuits, public-records acquisitions, grass-roots organizations and canvassing efforts scrutinizing voter rolls for indications of fraud, one address at a time. He has said he contributed money to the Arizona audit. He hosted an August 2021 “cyber symposium” in Sioux Falls, S.D., wherein he promised (but failed) to disclose data showing definitive proof of election fraud. And late last yr, he began his own “election integrity” organization to supply support and guidance to state-level groups. He called it Reason for America, after a Thomas Paine quotation.

The sheer frenzy of this activism had made Lindell one of the influential figures within the movement — influence that he, like Trump, was now attempting to wield within the Republican primaries, endorsing candidates for secretary of state and other positions. “Tomorrow I’m going all the way down to Georgia,” he told me in Greensburg. The state’s Republican primary, later that month, was widely viewed as a test of the political potency of Trump’s election claims. It was the one hotly contested state where a Republican governor (Brian Kemp), secretary of state (Brad Raffensperger) and attorney general (Chris Carr) had stood directly and deliberately in the way in which of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump had thrown his support behind challengers for all three offices who backed his claims and solid the race as a referendum on the difficulty. “We’re going after the Triple Crown of crime!” Lindell told me. “Then I’m going to South Carolina for one more event, after which — I don’t know. On daily basis it’s somewhere. Because we’ve got to avoid wasting our country — save the American dream!”

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