So have you watched 2000 Mules, the “documentary” from right-wing grifter Dinesh D’Souza that allegedly “proves” the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”? I certainly hope not, because virtually the only way to watch it (as of this writing) is to cough up some of your hard-earned cash; and the last thing we’d want to do is stuff more lucre into the pockets of this delusional mountebank. He’s already profited enough from his surreal manglings of reality, including a book promoting the trendy revisionist lie that fascism is a leftist ideology (the book was titled, with no perception of irony, The Big Lie) and an obligatory hit piece on Hillary Clinton. He also has a felony conviction for…wait for it … election fraud.
But enough about him. Isn’t even the crookedest of crooks and the dimmest of dim bulbs capable of producing something that has at least a modicum of substance? Well, you’d think so. But that rarely seems to be the case. You don’t have to stoop to actually watching the film to know that there’s no there there. There are plenty of people who have watched it; and if it offered any evidence of its wildly extravagant claims, somebody would have reported that evidence. But the best anyone can do is repeat unhinged rumors and allegations.
Quite a few media sources have ripped this “documentary” to shreds, including U.S. News and World Reports; The Washington Post; Politifact; The Denver Post; The Bulwark; and the intrepid muckraker Greg Palast, who has spent literally decades digging into electoral malfeasance — his coverage of the 2000 travesty is exemplary.
In his commentary, Palast writes:
The movie draws heavy suspicions about people who dropped off ballots early in the morning, wore gloves to drop off ballots, and took photos of drop boxes. All this is drummed up as proof of nefarious activity captured on surveillance video. Coupled with the True the Vote’s geotracking data, the viewer is led to believe these were the “mules” making repeat trips to unnamed non-profit offices to collect ballots and “traffick” them to drop boxes. One problem: They have no video showing these individuals making repeat trips to said non-profits or drop locations, or evidence they were paid to do so. Also, one of the so-called “mules” presented in the film has already been investigated by Georgia officials and no evidence of wrongdoing was found.
Another thing Palast points out is that the individuals prominently displayed in the videos at drop boxes tend to be… well, a little on the swarthy side. That can’t possibly be intended to have any relevance, can it? (Despite having ethnic roots in India, D’Souza is unabashedly racist, and has even argued that American slaves were treated nicely.)
In typical denialist fashion, D’Souza has responded to the debunkings by saying that fact-checkers are all biased and dishonest, and insisting that he has, somehow or other “shot them down”. He hasn’t, of course.
But wait, you may say, these are all “liberal” outlets; so of course they’re going to be unfriendly to D’Souza and his opus. But aside from the fact that it would be a huge exaggeration to dismiss these as all liberal sources (The Bulwark, for instance, was founded by former Republicans who still consider themselves conservative), even many decidedly non-liberal outlets have also turned up their noses at it. It was too batshit even for Newsmax and Fox, two of the biggest bubbling cauldrons of batshittery around. And right-wing co-conspirator in arrant nonsense Ben Shapiro, who moves in the same circles as D’Souza, tried his best to put a friendly spin on it to help his pal out, but ultimately had to admit that:
I think the conclusions of the film are not justified by the premises of the film itself. There are a bunch of dots that need to be connected.
You don’t say.
Of course, there are also plenty of right-wing media that have swallowed the bait whole, and have rushed to defend, praise and apotheosize the film. But the interesting thing is, you actually can get just as good a sense of its gross shortcomings by listening to its supporters and promoters as you can by listening to its critics and detractors.
One right-wing rag praising this “documentary” is The American Spectator. One of its gushing rhapsodies reproduces a map of Atlanta used in the film, with orange dots showing the locations of 28 drop boxes that a single “mule” supposedly “visited” (i.e., passed in the general vicinity of) in a single day. They’ve even traced out a blue line showing this mule’s likely route during the day. Very helpful of them, eh? Oh, and the red circles? Those are the “liberal organizations” he visited — presumably the ones who paid him to stuff the boxes. (Which organizations? What evidence is there that they paid him? Why on earth would there be a need for 5 of them? Shhh! You’re not supposed to ask questions like that.)
But as Phillip Bump of The Washington Post illustrates, when you blow up this map and compare it to the actual locations of drop boxes (indicated with circles), there are some major discrepancies.
These people are not just “connecting dots”. They’re fudging the course of a hurricane with a Sharpie and searching for a portrait of Jesus on a tortilla. Bump also examines another map used in the film, purportedly showing the location of a drop box in Atlanta that one of the “mules” is shown using in a video. But unfortunately, this map does not show the location of a drop box.
In fact, it doesn’t even depict Atlanta. It’s actually a map of… Moscow. Not Moscow, Idaho. Moscow, Russia. Which maybe isn’t so surprising considering that the film is advancing Russian propaganda about American elections. Maybe they just got confused because there’s a cocktail called Moscow Mule, and they’ve tossed down a few too many.
Still, let’s humor D’Souza and company a bit and pretend that 2000 Mules really does make a valid case. What exactly would we need to believe in order to reach such a conclusion? Well, think of it as an illustration of the butterfly effect; there are numerous factors involved, each of which is astronomically unlikely; and you need to believe that all of them are valid in order to buy what D’Souza is peddling. But rather than go into detail about each of these factors, which would require much more time and space than we really want to spend on this, let’s just look at the three broad categories they fall into.
The first question we need to ask is whether D’Souza et al can be taken at their word — and that’s no trifling matter, since the entire film depends on viewers doing just that. Mostly the video consists of them just talking about all the evidence they’ve supposedly gathered, and asking you to trust them. But it would take a huge leap of faith, not to mention a severe case of amnesia, to regard D’Souza as trustworthy. In case you forgot already, this is what actual documentation looks like.
And it isn’t just him. Hans von Spakovsky, one of the “experts” speaking in the flick, also has a perennial record of prevarication. And the “data” comes from an organization called True The Vote, which also has put in many years of fraudulent claims about election fraud. Yet we’re supposed to believe that these people, despite decades of chicanery, have, on this one occasion, united in a cause that is true and just and well-intentioned. And that they really did sift through 10 trillion geolocation data points and 4 million minutes of video. And that they really do have the evidence they claim to. And that the few video clips they show you really do reveal “mules” engaging in illegal activity.
Is there really anyone on earth this gullible? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. It’s quite clear that millions of people are.
But let’s suppose that we somehow can leap over that Everest-size hurdle of credibility. We next face the matter of just how accurate the information is. And we’ve already seen some rather strong indications of that as well. At least one of the accused “mules” has already been investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing. One of the maps of supposed interactions between a “mule” and a ballot box has an accuracy rate scarcely better than a dart board. Another map is thousands of miles off.
Indeed, the cell phone data that True The Vote purports to have examined would be accurate only within a range of 15 feet under even the best of conditions — and often only accurate within 50 feet or more. Which is by no means good enough to pinpoint someone at such a precise locus as a drop box, particularly for purposes of claiming that said individual deposited something in it, as opposed to merely passing near it. In fact, True The Vote counted any passage within 100 — yes, ONE HUNDRED — feet as a “visit”.
In response to this objection, D’Souza mentions that the FBI has used such data to nab “peaceful protesters” (the ones who smashed their way into the Capitol, destroyed property, attacked police, and attempted to murder government officials in an effort to overthrow the U.S. government). Which tells you all you need to know about not only his methodology but his reasoning skills. Fifty feet is generally quite accurate enough to place someone in such a large space as the Capitol — especially if they’re stupid enough to post photos on social media.
Responding to The Washington Post, True The Vote’s Gregg Phillips (who in 2016 promoted the Former Guy’s fraudulent claim that 3 million people had voted illegally in the election that year) says that “the movie graphics are not literal interpretations of our data.” Oh? Then why are they there? “The things we put in our movie to illustrate our top secret data should not be taken as illustrations of our top secret data” is really quite the defense.
But suppose we somehow can ignore all the evidence to the contrary and believe that D’Souza and True The Vote really do have the data they profess to. Suppose that it really does show “mules” dropping off ballots. And suppose that having multiple ballot drops by the same individual really does prove that the ballots are illegal. (Voiceover narration: “it doesn’t”.) Would all of this indeed add up to a “stolen election”?
Hardly. Believing such a thing requires possessing a profound ignorance of the American elections system. The MAGA cult seems to believe that anyone can draw up a fake ballot with a crayon on a sheet of toilet tissue and drop it off, and it will be counted. But delivery is only the first step; there are rigorous safeguards in place to verify that a ballot is genuine.* That’s why, despite all the nutty rumors flying around, there has been zero evidence of any significant voter fraud. Not after all the lawsuits, even with hardcore Republican judges. Not after all the recounts. Not even after the scam “audits” by right-wing fringe groups, who among other things inspected the ballots for traces of bamboo because they believed boatloads of them had been shipped from China. (You just can’t make up this stuff.)
Oh, sure, there were a few fraudulent votes — but only a scant handful. No more than in any other election. And, as in any other election, the people guilty of voting fraudulently almost always get caught. And guess what: they’re invariably Republicans. That includes the ones who vote for dead people. It includes the ones who vote more than once. It includes the ones who use false addresses. It includes candidates who submit phony signatures to qualify for the ballot. It even includes the ones who actually engage in illegal “ballot harvesting”.
Because here’s the thing about right-wingers: every wild accusation they make is really a confession. Always. Every. Single. Time. On everything from censorship to pedophilia to “politicizing a tragedy” to incendiary rhetoric. The reason Republicans keep accusing Democrats of stealing elections is because they are engaged in trying to steal elections (and even, as we saw in 2000, succeeding). But if they’re going to keep getting away with it, they might want to come up with operatives considerably more intelligent and competent than Dinesh D’Souza. Who’s on such a holy mission to save America that he won’t share his secret information. But he’ll describe it to you, provided you pay him.
(* Republicans might say that any ballot that is not cast in strict accordance with state law is by definition illegal and should be discounted even if it would have been otherwise valid. Of course they didn’t feel that way in 2000 when a batch of Florida absentee ballots heavily favoring Bush were included in the tally even though they were delivered after the deadline, but hey. Thing is, declaring a “stolen election” on this basis alone would directly contradict one of their main arguments: that their numerous vote suppression tactics really don’t suppress votes. They insist that any qualified citizen will be able to vote no matter how daunting an obstacle course they erect. Well, if that’s the case, then eliminating all of the drop boxes prior to the election would not have altered the outcome one whit.)