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WGVU Public Television and PBS FRONTLINE present: The Plot to Overturn the Election

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Tuesday, March 29th on WGVU Public Television, PBS FRONTLINE will air and begin streaming The Plot to Overturn the Election— One year after President Biden’s inauguration, more than two thirds of Republican voters believe his election was illegitimate — and the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump is now a defining issue of the Republican Party. Yet the story of how lies about election fraud made their way to the center of American politics has not been fully told. WGVU talks with producer, Sam Black.

Sam Black: When I was first presented with this project. I thought there's so many different directions to go with it. This is a collaboration between Frontline, the program on PBS, and
ProPublica, the nonprofit newsroom. And what we did is we focused on one particular key group of Trump supporters who had an outsized role in the engineering, funding and spreading the myth that the 2020 election was rigged or stolen from Donald Trump. That myth in many ways starts with Trump himself. He has said, really since he first ran for president, that if he didn't win, it would mean there had been fraud. But now we're in a situation in 2022 where after Trump lost more than two-thirds of Republicans consistently say in polls they believe the election's illegitimate. That is not simply the result of Donald Trump's rhetoric. That's what we found is the result of something much more specific, which is that there's been a real effort to create a narrative around fraud which it goes back to certain conspiracy theories about voting machines, and that effort goes back several individuals who gathered in the weeks after the election and really started pushing this narrative and figuring out how they were going to prove, in their minds, that the election, was stolen.

Patrick Center: Lay out some of the evidence. What were you finding?

Sam Black: So, we focused on a group that met for the first time in the weeks after the election on a plantation in South Carolina. The most well-known member of that group is former general Michael T. Flynn who was Trump's first National Security Advisor who had resigned and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Now he in the years since that has become somebody who is a major Trump supporter and outspoken critic of what he and Trump called the "Deep State." He and a group of people including his lawyer, Sidney Powell, another lawyer named Lin Wood and a businessman, a former CEO of the online retailer Overstock.com, they assembled a team of cybersecurity people and lawyers who met at this plantation, which is owned by Lin wood. And in those weeks after the election, they started developing a plan for how they were going to, in their minds, investigate the fraud that happened. This meant sending teams out to several locations where they believe fraud occurred. Most relevant to your audience perhaps, and really to our film was one of the first places they sent a team to was Antrim County, Michigan. A remote County near Torch Lake where there has been a human error that caused a discrepancy in the initial election results. And this team took that story and ran with it. Actually even wrote a report that contain many falsehoods, which was the beginning of a larger conspiracy theory about a company called Dominion Voting Systems. So, our film traces the origins of some of these theories and shows how they built it to a larger myth, which is now at the center of the Republican Party.

Patrick Center: The key question here for you. Do you see evidence of seeking out voter fraud before the election even takes place?

Sam Black: Yes. I mean, what we found is that there's a couple things. One of the groups that was involved in investigating election fraud in which has then put out several reports, it has done presentations, it has presented false claims about the election. It is a Dallas based group called Allied Security Operations and there's evidence they had been meeting as early as 2018 looking at what they believe was fraud in voting machines. There's no question that some of these efforts go back to the 2018 midterm elections where Democrats had taken back control of Congress and there was a belief among some Republicans and people on The Right, that was also not a legitimate result. So, yes, some of those efforts do go back even earlier than 2020. I think that what our reporting shows pretty clearly, these efforts were done by people who were partisan and if Donald Trump had won the election, and votes had swung the other way, then this effort would not have been expended to investigate the election.

Patrick Center: Does this all intertwine with the idea of fake electors and vice president Mike Pence overturning the results?

Sam Black: That's a good question. The issue of the fake slate of electors who cast their electors, their fake electors for Trump. It's directly connected to this because many of those efforts were done in conjunction with state legislators and right-wing activists in individual battleground states who are working on this issue in conjunction with the group I've described. It is a little complicated because there are several different groups that were pushing the stolen election myth and the fake elector’s effort was, you know, in different states had different origins. But in every case really is driven by the same falsehoods. Often about the idea that Dominion voting machine had help skew the election. About the idea that votes had been purposely switched from Trump to Biden in certain counties. Basically lies that I’m remiss to even repeat, but that these are things that motivated people to form these alternate slates of electors.

Patrick Center: What should viewers take away?

Sam Black: It's important to understand that we're in a unique time in the political history of this country because one of the two major parties, a large portion of that party according to polls, does not believe the most recent presidential election was legitimate. That’s a scary fact no matter where you stand, that people don't believe in the legitimacy of their government. What I think is most important looking forward is that they're important midterm elections coming up this year where offices that previously had not been particularly politicized, like offices of the Secretary of State or State Attorneys General or even state Legislature, now have candidates who are running on this issue. In Michigan, you have the lawyers who sued Antrim County, Matthew DePerno, who is for attorney general in the Republican primary, is someone who has spread his baseless conspiracy theories and he's led the call for an audit. You also have other state legislators I know in Michigan who running on this issue. This is happening all over the country. So, I think people in terms of how this story moves forward, it’s going to be really interesting to see how these Republican primaries play out, because this is in many ways a battle within the Republican primary, but ultimately how the general election plays out and whether any of these people who believe the last election was stolen, are in a position of power to affect the next Presidential Election in 2024.

Patrick Center: Tonight at 10 o'clock on WGVU public television frontline presents the plot to overturn the election producer. Samuel black, thank you so much.