Trump allies using false election claims, images of war to recruit ex-military as poll workers
(WASHINGTON) — Military planes dropping bombs, battleships at the ready, scores of soldiers marching in the streets — and across the screen flashes the words, “Your country needs you once again.”
“Beat the cheat,” the video urges viewers.
The footage is from a new recruitment video released by The America Project, an organization led by prominent election deniers Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock.com CEO, and retired general Michael Flynn, a former Trump national security adviser, who have joined forces in the final weeks leading up to the midterm elections to recruit ex-military and first responders to staff polling locations around the country.
The operation, fueled by false election claims and using recruitment material featuring images of war, has been dubbed “One Last Mission” by Byrne and Flynn, who emerged as leading figures in the effort to overturn the 2020 election.
“The America Project has spun up the coup de grâce on the enemy,” Byrne said in a separate video announcing the campaign, telling viewers he believes the “bad guys are going to come at us with another rig”– despite there being no evidence that the 2020 election was rigged or stolen.
Poll workers, who set up voting equipment, sign-in and process voters, and report results, are typically apolitical positions for which applicants must affirm that they won’t act for the benefit of any candidate or party.
“AMERICA NEEDS YOU NOW MORE THAN EVER,” read an October post on the group’s Instagram account. “You took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution. And defending it means ensuring election integrity.”
“This is the most important thing I think going on in America right now,” Byrne said in a recent interview promoting the effort on a conservative internet show. “We’re asking you to save the country again.”
He said in another interview that the recruiting campaign has been “going like gangbusters” after launching in September.
The “One Last Mission” campaign is the latest effort launched by The America Project, which has announced a slate of programs aimed at impacting future elections, many fueled by baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
The group has also conducted poll worker “training” around the county, called “Operation Eagle’s Wings,” which is targeting key battleground states including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The America Project has so far trained almost 6,000 poll workers in just Pennsylvania alone, according to Flynn’s brother Michael Flynn, who is the group’s president. The training is separate and additional to training from election officials.
“They won’t be able to steal this election the same way they stole 2020!” he tweeted.
The recruitment of poll workers based on unproven claims of voter fraud has raised alarm bells with some election experts.
“Recruiting people based on lies is problematic, and to do that and then to add the militaristic ‘we’re at war’ imagery, I think is inviting people to that process with the wrong perspective,” Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of voting rights at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, told ABC News. “Skepticism is one thing, but coming to that job believing that the election was stolen and on the lookout for nonexistent conspiracies and fraud is problematic.”
Morales-Doyle said there is a long history of former servicemen and women serving as poll watchers, and that they often “come to that work precisely because they are people who are committed to public service and making sure the process works.”
“However,” he said, “the methods used by groups like The America Project — conflating images of war with false election fraud claims — can be a troubling combination ahead of Election Day.”
And while Byrne says in some videos that the effort should be peaceful, Morales-Doyle warned that the images being used by the group project a different message.
“The use of militaristic imagery and terminology in order to recruit people to be poll watchers is troubling, in part, because there’s a history of problems with intimidation by poll watchers in this country,” Morales-Doyle said. “There’s specifically a history of efforts to use off-duty law enforcement and poll watchers to accomplish racially discriminatory intimidation, so it gives me concern when you see that kind of recruitment.”
The America Project did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
The organization was founded as a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization in the wake of the 2020 election, according to documents reviewed by ABC News. Michael Flynn said in an online interview posted last week that Byrne had primarily funded the group by investing “a lot of his own personal treasure.”
According to a filing with North Carolina charity regulators, the group listed its planned budget for 2021 as $50 million. When ABC News asked to see the group’s Form 990, a filing that tax-exempt organizations make to the Internal Revenue Service, a representative for The America Project said they had filed an extension until after the election, in February 2023.
In addition to Byrne and Flynn, The America Project is staffed with several former Trump administration officials, according to documents. Emily Newman, who served as an adviser in the Trump administration, is listed as president of the group’s board of directors, and another former Trump administration official, Tim Meisburger, was recently announced as the group’s “election integrity director.”
Meisburger, who served as deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation, left the agency after reportedly making comments that downplayed the attack on the U.S. Capitol shortly after Jan. 6.
Michael Flynn, who served as then-President Donald Trump’s national security adviser until 2017, was initially a prominent face of The America Project and was featured in one of the group’s first videos promoting its formation. Up until a month ago, the retired general was the first one listed in the “About Us” section of the group’s website — but recently his name was removed. The America Project did not respond to questions about Michael Flynn’s ongoing involvement with the group.
“We are crisscrossing the country doing all we can in these remaining days to mobilize believers to have courage and stand up to protect our country from this takeover,” Michael Flynn told Charisma News, a Christian news outlet. “If it is not stopped with an overwhelming turnout and victory in both the House and the Senate, our nation will be forever lost. Now is the time for courage.”
For election experts like Morales-Doyle, groups like The America Project present a dilemma: Is it better to raise alarm bells about their potential threats, or stay quiet so voters aren’t scared off from going to the polls?
“Post Jan. 6, there’s no way that I can tell you that we aren’t at a higher risk of political violence and intimidation and people responding to [those] kinds of calls,” Morales-Doyle said. “It’s the same kind of stuff that prompted people to show up to the Capitol on Jan. 6. I think there’s a real threat and a real concern.”
However, he said. “I just think that whenever we talk about that threat and that concern, it’s important to also keep in mind that most people aren’t going to face that when they go to the polls — and people shouldn’t be scared to go vote.”
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