Stop the Steal’s massive disinformation campaign connected to Roger Stone and Steve Bannon

But whereas Stop the Steal might sound like a brand new 2020 political slogan to many, it didn’t emerge organically over widespread issues about voting fraud in President Donald Trump’s race towards Joe Biden. It has been in the works for years.

Its origin traces to Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described “dirty trickster” whose 40-month jail sentence for seven felonies was reduce brief by Trump’s commutation in July.

Stone’s political motion committee launched a “Stop the Steal” web site in 2016 to fundraise forward of that election, asking for $10,000 donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”

He first trotted out the slogan throughout the 2016 primaries — claiming a “Bush-Cruz-Kasich-Romney-Ryan-McConnell faction” was making an attempt to steal the Republican nomination from Donald Trump — earlier than re-upping Stop the Steal for the common election.

“Donald Trump thinks Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are going to steal the next election,” his web site stated that October.

Stop the Steal briefly resurfaced round the midterms in 2018 — with Republicans using the hashtag throughout a recount in a neck-and-neck Florida race for U.S. Senate — however it wasn’t till 2020 that it actually caught hearth.

A Stop the Steal Facebook group was managed by a unfastened coalition of proper wing operatives, a few of whom have labored with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. The group amassed lots of of 1000’s of followers in little greater than a day earlier than Facebook shut it down on November 5 — the day after it was launched.

Also on November 5, Bannon began his personal “Stop the Steal” Facebook group; he modified the identify to “Own Your Vote” the following day. It was not eliminated by Facebook, however the social media firm did later take away a number of different pages affiliated with Bannon.

“We’ve removed several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behavior tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content,” stated Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman. “That includes a group that was originally named Stop the Steal, which later became Gay Communists for Socialism and misled people about its purpose using deceptive tactics.”

Spinoff pages sprung up quickly after like brush fires, with Facebook struggling to rapidly snuff out the spreaders of bogus info.

All the whereas, Roger Stone and Bannon have been in full disinformation mode. Stone has appeared on the present of far-right radio commentator Alex Jones to trumpet groundless claims that Biden is attempting to steal the election; Bannon is echoing related conspiracy theories on his podcast, calling the election “a mass fraud.”

“We’re calling it a fraud or we’re calling it a steal — stop the steal,” he stated on a November Four episode.

Despite efforts by Facebook to shut down the deceptive content material, it was too late. The cluster of teams and pages — which altogether had amassed 2.5 million followers, in accordance to an evaluation by activist group Avaaz — had seeded a jungle of misinformation that’s being shared — and believed — by hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Dozens of people calling for stopping the vote count in Pennsylvania due to alleged fraud against President Donald Trump gather on the steps of the State Capitol on November 5 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“I would not consider this a grassroots movement by any means,” stated Ben Decker, the CEO and founding father of Memetica, a digital investigations consultancy. “Stop the Steal is a highly coordinated partisan political operation intent on bringing together conspiracy theorists, militias, hate groups and Trump supporters to attack the integrity of our election.”

The motion has additionally migrated to in-person occasions, Decker stated, manifesting itself “in quite a lot of offline rallies and protests that includes quite a lot of individuals which are typically armed.”

Some of the violent rhetoric related to the campaign has come from its personal leaders.

“Clean your guns,” stated Dustin Stockton, one among the directors of the Facebook Stop the Steal group, on a Facebook Live Stream video to his followers. “Things are going to get worse before they get better.”

Stockton acknowledged CNN’s request for remark however did not reply to questions. Stockton previously told CNN he didn’t see any messages inside the group “calling for violence outside of what is common political hyperbole.” He stated Facebook’s removing of the web page was “out of line and they should restore it immediately.”

Stop the Steal triggered voter-intimidation lawsuits in 2016

When Stone launched Stop the Steal in 2016, it wasn’t only a campaign slogan and fundraising web site — it additionally grew to become a self-described “vote protectors” mission that sought volunteers to monitor polling locations. Stone instructed CNN this week that the objective of the group was “to insure the integrity of the vote.”

The mission triggered a slew of federal lawsuits simply earlier than Election Day by Democratic events in six battleground states accusing Stone and associates of attempting to intimidate minority voters in the cities the place he supposed to ship volunteers.

A federal suit filed in Ohio, for example, accused Stone’s Stop the Steal mission of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by “conspiring to intimidate, threaten, harass, or coerce voters on Election Day.”

A choose granted a short lived restraining order towards the group, however it was lifted on enchantment.

Today, redirects to Stone’s private net web page, “,” the place Stone has been posting conspiracy theories about “widespread voter fraud.”

Roger Stone, former adviser and confidante to President Donald Trump, was sentenced on February 20 to 40 months in prison. Trump later commuted Stone's sentence.

This week, he appeared on Alex Jones’s present, the place Stone groundlessly pronounced that Biden’s election was a “hoax” and made a plug for Stop the Steal.

“I think our headline is Join the Patriots in Washington, D.C. this weekend to protest the hoax that is the theft of this election and demand that we Stop the Steal,” he stated, including, “hashtag Stop the Steal.”

In an e mail, Stone responded pugnaciously to a query from CNN about whether or not the present Stop the Steal motion is a recycled model of the false narrative of mass voter fraud he led years earlier than.

“As for the lack of evidence that is the mantra of all you flying monkeys,” he wrote. “It’s like denying the Holocaust. The evidence is overwhelming and compelling, despite the framing of your question.”

Stone defended the recycling of the slogan in his e mail, making an attempt to draw a parallel to different mass protests that share a theme, resembling the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 and The Million Man March — a gathering of Black males in Washington, DC, in 1995.

Stone distanced himself from Bannon, referring to him as an “enemy of the people.” Bannon did not reply to messages from CNN looking for remark.

This fall, as the 2020 election drew nearer, there was discuss in proper wing circles of dusting off the Stop the Steal campaign once more — however not by Stone.

“I’m thinking about bringing Stop the Steal out of retirement,” stated proper wing activist Ali Alexander, previously referred to as Ali Akbar, in a video he circulated on social media in September. “In the next coming days we are going to build the infrastructure to stop the steal.”

Alexander, a controversial determine on the proper whose tweets about Jewish journalists have raised eyebrows, says he employed a profitable Stop the Steal campaign throughout the 2018 midterms in Florida.

This yr, Alexander’s firm registered one other Stop the Steal web site — — on November 4.

Alexander didn’t immediately reply to CNN’s questions for this story.

Also on November 4, the Stop the Steal Facebook group was launched by a company led by a lady with ties to Stone’s ex-wife and managed by a workforce of a number of conservative activists, some with shut connections to Bannon.

Amy Kremer is the chair of Women for America First — a company which created the Stop the Steal Facebook group, in accordance to Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based suppose tank that displays on-line polarization and extremism. Kremer was a lead Tea Party organizer who additionally began a brilliant PAC with Stone’s ex-wife, Ann Stone, known as Women Vote Trump.

In an emailed response to a set of questions from CNN, Kremer didn’t deny that Stop the Steal is a deliberate, recycled model of the same gambit. She declined to reply a query about the extent to which she was coordinating the Stop the Steal efforts with high-profile proper wing operatives, however stated: “We welcome the support and involvement of any individual who is concerned about the integrity of our elections and who supports President Trump.”

The directors for the Stop the Steal Facebook group additionally included Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence, a pair who’ve each written for Breitbart — the place Bannon as soon as served as government chairman, in accordance to ISD. Both additionally had been a part of Bannon’s core workforce for We Build the Wall, an ill-fated crowdfunding campaign for Trump’s border wall that led to the arrest this summer time of Bannon and three associates on suspicion of utilizing lots of of 1000’s of {dollars} in proceeds for private bills. Stockton and Lawrence weren’t amongst these arrested and indicted in August, however their leisure automobile was raided by federal brokers as part of the probe. Bannon pleaded not guilty to the expenses.

In an interview final week, Stockton instructed CNN that the Facebook group had had no contact with Bannon prior to its November Four creation or whereas it was lively.

“We haven’t been able to speak to anyone from that circle since August and the indictments,” he stated.

‘The horse has bolted’

Supporters of President Donald Trump hold "Stop the Steal" signs as they stand outside of the Clark County Elections Department in Nevada on November 7.

The Stop the Steal Facebook group took off instantly. Its dimension swelled at a dizzying tempo, gaining some 300,000 followers in simply 24 hours.

Some commenters on that Stop the Steal Facebook group and its knockoffs used “threatening rhetoric anticipating a civil war, or talk from members about how they are locked and loaded,” stated Ciaran O’Connor, a disinformation analyst with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Citing one among the most excessive feedback he got here throughout, O’Connor stated a person on one among the Facebook teams stated they might die preventing for what they imagine.

“Since then, this thread has over 450 comments in support of the original statement, with many saying that they would happily do the same,” he stated.

Decker of Memetica stated he watched the Facebook group radicalize individuals in actual time throughout the peak of its virality.

“You had otherwise normal Trump supporters who suddenly wanted to understand what was being done against President Trump in this election,” he stated. “And suddenly you see comments where people are asking, ‘What is this QAnon thing?’ ‘What is red pilling?’ And immediately you see all of these different users engage and share harmful, toxic conspiracy theories that they otherwise would have never seen had they not joined the group.”

The Stop the Steal hashtag has additionally unfold broadly on Twitter.

Seeded by a spate of tweets by Ali Alexander and others at the least as early as September, the hashtag took off on Election Day — November 3 — with a tweet by a lawyer displaying a video of a ballot watcher in Philadelphia arguing with ballot employees who would not let him in the constructing. The man was certainly wrongfully turned away; metropolis officers instructed information retailers it was an “honest mistake” and that the ballot watcher went to one other polling website.
The tweet went viral, boosted by retweets from well-known conservative firebrands resembling Ann Coulter and Donald Trump Jr. Other conservative influencers selecting up the hashtag on Twitter had been Rudy Giuliani, Michelle Malkin and Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative activist and filmmaker who pleaded responsible to making unlawful campaign contributions and was pardoned by Trump.

All instructed, the hashtag was tweeted 1.7 million instances, principally after November 5, stated Darren L. Linvill, an affiliate professor in the division of communications at Clemson University who tracks the unfold of knowledge on-line.

Meanwhile, a lot of these banned from or restrained by the two Big Tech corporations have migrated to rising platforms resembling Parler, which grew to become the most-downloaded free app in the Apple app retailer on the weekend of November 8 — the day main media retailers known as the election for Biden.

Despite efforts by tech corporations and reality checkers, the bogus cost that the election has been stolen has entered the bloodstream of American democracy.

“There are still groups active with tens of thousands of members, over 170 Facebook Stop the Steal events, the last time I counted,” O’Connor stated. “The horse has bolted at this stage.”

The hyper-polarized rhetoric round the election worries Steven Levitsky, a Harvard authorities professor and co-author of the 2018 guide “How Democracies Die.”

“When people lose faith in the electoral process and don’t think elections are clean and legitimate, they are much more willing to accept violence,” he stated.

The onus, Levitsky stated, is on Republicans in Congress to guarantee the public that the election was professional.

So far, that hasn’t occurred. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has but to acknowledge Biden as the winner. To date solely a handful of GOP leaders in Congress have carried out so.

CNN’s Scott Bronstein, Yahya Abou-Ghazala, Cybele Mayes-Osterman, Benjamin Naughton, Zachary Cohen and Amitoj Singh contributed to this report.

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