Georgia secretary of state attacked by Trump decries 'huge disinformation campaign' over 2020 election
WASHINGTON — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who took the brunt of former President Donald Trump's attacks over Georgia's 2020 election results, said during a Friday virtual panel that he hopes election disinformation starts to dissipate.
“People weren't questioning the (election) process before, but there was a huge disinformation campaign which really destabilized many segments of American society," Raffensperger said during the panel, referring to his party's conduct in reaction to 2020. “I think the challenge that we have as Republicans is that right now our party is really fractured."
But Raffensperger's participation in the University of California, Irvine School of Law's Fair Elections and Speech Center forum on “election subversion" drew intense criticism from Democrats in his home state.
Georgia state lawmakers and advocacy groups argued in a letter to the panel sponsors that Raffensperger helped pass Georgia's new election overhaul bill, SB 202, widely criticized for restricting voting rights.
“Raffensperger has cheered the initial subversion steps taken by the State Board of Elections that could result in a state takeover of the Fulton County Board of Elections, the first time a state has taken steps toward subversion," according to the letter.
During the panel discussion, Raffensperger said that election integrity was crucial more than ever, pointing to how Trump pressed him to turn over Georgia election results, as well as the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the building over the former president's “big lie" that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Republican-controlled states in reaction to the 2020 election have introduced and passed dozens of restrictive voting laws, including the one in Georgia.
Raffensperger added that he's hoping far-right Republicans move on from the November election and instead focus on winning future elections rather than harassing poll workers.
“No one should ever be threatened, a poll worker particularly," he said. “Many of those are volunteer positions. They're doing this out of their civic responsibility, and that needs to end and we need to make sure coming into 2022 that we have safe, secure elections and people aren't threatened with their lives."
But the letter from his critics in Georgia said that Raffensperger is a “participant" in the very election subversion under discussion.
One of the lawmakers who signed the letter, Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat, is running for secretary of state.
“Mr. Raffensperger backed many of the provisions of Senate Bill 202, the anti-voter legislation in Georgia that pushed election subversion," according to the letter. “The Raffensperger-supported legislation became an election subversion model for other state legislatures seeking powers to take over local elections administration."
In response to those objections, Raffensperger argued that he stood by the bill.
He said many Democrats have objected to the bill's emphasis on voter ID laws, but he added that many states are moving toward using voter ID laws when voting rather than using signatures to match votes.
This year alone, 18 states have passed 30 restrictive voting laws that range from making mail-in voting harder to enacting voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
More than 400 bills in 49 states with restrictive voting provisions have been introduced in the 2021 legislative sessions.
Georgia is currently known as “ground zero" in the fight for voting rights. Senate Democrats held a field hearing in the state and the Biden administration has directed the Department of Justice to sue the state over its election bill, arguing that it violated the Voting Rights Act.
Voting rights advocates and grassroots organizations are pressuring congressional Democrats to pass federal voting rights legislation to halt the new laws that many researchers say would disproportionately impact voters of color. The U.S. Senate has yet to schedule a vote on advancing the latest version of voting rights legislation.
Isabel Longoria of Texas also participated in the virtual conference. She is Harris County's first-ever elections administrator, a nonpartisan position.
Longoria said that since the 2020 presidential election, she's received hundreds of calls from people who believe the election office is not conducting fair elections. She added that she's helped facilitate multiple elections since then and in not one case has she received the same number of calls.
“If you really think elections are being conducted inappropriately, you would think that they were being conducted inappropriately for every election, but apparently it only matters for the November 2020 presidential election," she said.
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“It was an awesome, awesome day," former state Republican legislator Anthony Kern told attendees about being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Kern, who lost in 2020 but is again running for the legislature, has said he never breached the Capitol. However, footage reviewed by the Arizona Mirror shows that Kern was present at other parts of the Capitol breached by protesters. During his speech before the crowd, Kern said he arrived two hours after everything “serious" happened.
The Mirror's analysis determined that Kern arrived shortly after 3 p.m. By that time, the protest had been violent for some time and Trump supporters had already broken into the Capitol in some places, while others were in the process of breaking into the Capitol.
Saturday's rally was one of many across the country organized by Look Ahead America, which is run by former Trump campaign aide Matt Braynard. Arizona's rally came a week after a rally Braynard planned in Washington, D.C., largely fizzled.
Approximately half of the audience in attendance at the Arizona rally were members of the Proud Boys, which the SPLC designates as a hate group. So far, 19 members of the Proud Boys have been indicted in relation to the events of Jan. 6, with one indictment suggesting that there may have been coordination between many of the groups.
Their presence was a boon for GOP Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake.
“The Proud Boys came to one of my events and that was one of the proudest moments of my life," Blackman said to the crowd. Blackman is running for Congress in the 1st District.
One of the speakers, Micajah Jackson, is facing federal charges for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. The FBI alleges that Jackson participated in a march alongside members of the Proud Boys chapter from Arizona and that he knowingly entered the Capitol without permission.
Jackson claimed on Saturday that the Jan. 6 riot was a setup “coup" by the FBI, the Capitol Police, D.C. Police, Black Lives Matter, antifa, Democratic activists and the “radical U.S. government."
“That's disgusting, that is KGB stuff right there going on," Jackson said. A woman in the crowd shouted back, “It's demonic!"
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that there is no evidence that far left groups participated in the violent events of Jan. 6.
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Blackman was the only elected official who spoke, a last-minute change from how the event was promoted. It originally billed GOP legislators Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Wendy Rogers as speakers, as well as a controversial figure named “American Greyson" Arnold.
Arnold has used his social media pages to post memes lauding Nazis as the “pure race" and lament the American victory in World War II. He also called Adolf Hitler a “complicated historical figure." Another time, he posted the logo of Stormfront, the first major hate site on the internet that was founded by Don Black, the former leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The logo is the Celtic Cross, a common white supremacist symbol, emblazoned with the words “White Pride World Wide." “God is on our side because our fight is righteous," he declared.
Shortly after the Mirror inquired about these posts, an event spokeswoman said Arnold was no longer a speaker at the event. However, he still attended the event and was seen with local anti-mask agitator Ethan Schmidt.
Jackson wasn't the only speaker who was arrested by the FBI for their involvement in the events of Jan. 6.
Couy Griffin of Cowboys for Trump was arrested for one count of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful entry. Griffin claims he didn't know the area was off-limits and has said he wasn't there to disrupt anything.
Another speaker also had connections to the insurrection. Jeff Zink, who is running for Congress against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, has a son who was arrested for trespassing, assault and damaging property. Zink has said that his son is falsely accused, but the FBI contends that photos from his son's own Facebook page and security camera footage put his son at the scene and show him damaging property.
Zink condemned the destruction and said anyone who did that rightfully deserves to be in prison — but his son does not.
“Somebody else came in and stole what was supposed to be a peaceful protest," Zink said, adding that the Jan. 6 protest that preceded the violent insurrection was not about “Trump or Biden." In fact, it was organized by Trump's allies and was solely focused on disputing and overturning the 2020 election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden.
“You're guilty until proven Democrat," Zink said to cheers from the crowd.
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Under the leadership of then-Director Mike Pompeo, the CIA in 2017 reportedly plotted to kidnap—and discussed plans to assassinate—WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, who is currently imprisoned in London as he fights the Biden administration's efforts to extradite him to the United States.
Citing conversations with more than 30 former U.S. officials, Yahoo News reported Sunday that "discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred 'at the highest levels' of the Trump administration."
According to Yahoo:
The conversations were part of an unprecedented CIA campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its founder. The agency's multipronged plans also included extensive spying on WikiLeaks associates, sowing discord among the group's members, and stealing their electronic devices.
While Assange had been on the radar of U.S. intelligence agencies for years, these plans for an all-out war against him were sparked by WikiLeaks' ongoing publication of extraordinarily sensitive CIA hacking tools, known collectively as "Vault 7," which the agency ultimately concluded represented "the largest data loss in CIA history."
President Trump's newly installed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was seeking revenge on WikiLeaks and Assange, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape allegations he denied. Pompeo and other top agency leaders "were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7," said a former Trump national security official. "They were seeing blood."
Yahoo's reporting makes clear that Assange is not the only journalist U.S. officials have attempted to target in recent years. During the Obama presidency, according to Yahoo, "top intelligence officials lobbied the White House to redefine WikiLeaks—and some high-profile journalists—as 'information brokers,' which would have opened up the use of more investigative tools against them, potentially paving the way for their prosecution."
"Among the journalists some U.S. officials wanted to designate as 'information brokers' were Glenn Greenwald, then a columnist for The Guardian, and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, who had both been instrumental in publishing documents provided by [NSA whistleblower Edward] Snowden," Yahoo reported.
In a statement to Yahoo, Poitras called the intelligence officials' efforts "bone-chilling and a threat to journalists worldwide."
Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said in a statement that "these new revelations, which involve a shocking disregard of the law, are truly beyond the pale."
"The CIA is a disgrace," said Timm. "The fact that it contemplated and engaged in so many illegal acts against WikiLeaks, its associates, and even other award-winning journalists is an outright scandal that should be investigated by Congress and the Justice Department. The Biden administration must drop its charges against Assange immediately. The case already threatens the rights of countless reporters."
The Trump Justice Department charged Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents, something journalists do often. Despite urgent pleas from press freedom advocates, the Biden administration has refused to drop the charges and continued its predecessor's attempt to extradite the WikiLeaks founder.
As Poitras wrote in an op-ed for the the New York Times last year, "It is impossible to overstate the dangerous precedent Mr. Assange's indictment under the Espionage Act and possible extradition sets: Every national security journalist who reports on classified information now faces possible Espionage Act charges."
"It paves the way for the United States government to indict other international journalists and publishers. And it normalizes other countries' prosecution of journalists from the United States as spies," Poitras noted. "To reverse this dangerous precedent, the Justice Department should immediately drop these charges and the president should pardon Mr. Assange."
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