Former President Donald Trump reportedly believes that he will be reinstated as president later this summer thanks to the so-called "audit" of Arizona's ballots that is being conducted by his supporters.
Most experts believe that the audit is entirely unprofessional and illegitimate -- or as former DHS official Matt Masterson tells NPR, the Trump-backed audit is a "clown show" that will never put Trump back in the White House.
However, Masterson and other elections experts argue that the audit could still have a corrosive effects on the American republic, and they lay out three steps that Trump and his allies are taking to upend American democracy.
The first step, these experts say, is to use the process of the audit itself to create a "false reality" in which the results of the 2020 election are still in doubt.
"The strategy in calling it an audit to begin with creates the illusion of legality — the illusion of a government-backed agency," explains Francesca Tripodi, an information studies professor at the University of North Carolina. "And when I think of an audit, I think of wrongdoing immediately."
The second step is to use social media to spread news about the audit across Facebook and other platforms, which right-wing media outlets have done so far with great success.
"An NPR analysis of social media engagement data from the online analytics firm Newswhip found that the 10 most popular stories about the "audit" on social media were all published by conservative publications, many of which have also pushed the false idea that Trump may be the rightful president," notes NPR.
And finally, experts tell NPR that the audit, regardless of what it produces, will be used to justify similar Trump-backed audits in other states.
As Masterston tells NPR, these efforts have been successful because there is no punishment for lying about the results of the 2020 election, other than perhaps the lawsuits that have been filed by Dominion Voting Systems against multiple Trump allies.
"The incentive structure that has been created is one in which so far we've seen zero accountability for lying and pushing these narratives," he explains. "We don't see anyone really, truly being held accountable."