'Stop the Steal' didn't start in 2020 - it was 20 years in the making
Roger Stone (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds for AFP)

As the January 6th Committee continues to unpeel layers of criminality and conspiracy, it’s important to note that the Stone/Bannon/Trump “Stop The Steal” scheme did not originate in 2020. It was, in fact, 20 years in the making.

Roger Stone, Trump’s dirty trickster who was sentenced to 40 months in prison before Trump pardoned him, rolled out version 1.0 in Florida in 2000, helping the George W. Bush campaign stop a Florida Supreme Court-mandated statewide recount that would have handed the election to Al Gore.

After Stone’s successful efforts to shut down the Miami-Dade County recount with the infamous “Brooks Brothers Riot,” five Republicans on the US Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court (so much for “state’s rights” and the 10th Amendment) and blocked the recount because it would “cause irreparable harm” to “plaintiff George W. Bush.”

Stone coordinated the program to shut down the vote count and throw the election to Bush, who had lost the election by 500,000 votes nationwide, a role Stone reprised in both 2016 and 2020.

In 2000, “I set up my command center there [in Miami]” Stone told Jeffrey Toobin. “I had walkie-talkies and cell phones, and I was in touch with our people in the building. Our whole idea was to shut the recount down. That was why we were there. We had the frequency to the Democrats’ walkie-talkies and were listening to their communications…”

Joe Geller was the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairman, and was threatened and roughed up by Stone’s goons, many staffers from Republican members of Congress flown down for the event.

“Anybody who says it was unrelated to the intimidation and violence floating around there is not telling the truth. I saw it with my own eyes,” Geller told The Washington Post. “Violence, fear and physical intimidation affected the outcome of a lawful elections process. I think that’s pretty bad.”

Stone’s next Stop The Steal, this one Version 2.0, was to be on behalf of Donald Trump in 2016, an election they fully expected to lose but were willing to unleash chaos on the country over anyway.

The day before the 2016 election — six years ago — ABC News reported that Roger Stone’s second “Stop The Steal” program had been forced to back off their efforts to put armed white “election monitors” into minority neighborhoods after a court threatened him.

“For weeks,” John Kruzel reported for ABC, “the group has used incendiary rhetoric to motivate members to turn up at contested areas tomorrow to participate in a survey of voters leaving polling places.”

Two weeks earlier The Guardian reported that the Trump campaign was targeting “Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond and Fayetteville,” all cities with large Black populations.

Trump and Stone were expecting to lose the election to Hillary Clinton, so finding or manufacturing any evidence of hanky panky in Black neighborhoods would be pure gold for the “Stop The Steal” operation they were planning for the days after the election was called for Clinton.

If if there was anything that might throw a monkey wrench into the 2016 election, armed white men going door-to-door in Black neighborhoods to ask about voting plans, and standing outside polling places doing “exit interviews” was at the top of the list.

“In court filings,” ABC reported, “Democrats argue Stop the Steal’s exit polling operation serves no legitimate purpose, but is merely a pretext for harassing and intimidating likely Democratic voters of color. They say the ruse goes hand-in-hand with Donald Trump's heated, racially-tinged accusations of vote-rigging and his calls for supporters to monitor voting in ‘certain areas,’ which Democrats argue is code for minority communities.”

That year, 2016, was a dress rehearsal for 2020. Stone and Trump’s 2016 StopTheSteal.org website (here’s the link to the archive) laid out the lies they were going to deploy and their strategy for profiting from them:

“[Democrats] intend to flood the polls with illegals. Liberal enclaves already let illegals vote in their local and state elections and now they want them to vote in the Presidential election.
“What can we do to stop this outrageous steal? We must step up to the plate and do this vital job? That€™s why I am working with a statistician attorneys and computer experts to find and make public any result which has been rigged.
“We at THE EMERGENCY COMMITTEE TO STOP THE STEAL WILL:
“– Demand inspection of the software used to program the voting machines in every jurisdiction...
“– Conduct targeted EXIT-POLLING in targeted states and targeted localities that we believe the Democrats could manipulate based on their local control...
“– Retain the countries foremost experts on voting machine fraud to help us both prevent and detect voting machine manipulation….”

And, of course, there was the ever-present Trump-trademarked fundraising grift:

“Under the law, you €”or your corporation €”can contribute in any amount. Won’t you send $10,000 for this vital program today? Of course $5,000 or even $2,500 would be a great help. If you can send $5,000 or $10,000 or more it would be a Godsend.”

Thus, by the time the 2020 election rolled around, Trump and Stone were running a well-oiled machine, at least when it came to preparing the ground to convince the public the election had been stolen from Trump.

The BBC compiled a series of Trump tweets throughout 2020, all designed to prepare his followers to believe his lies about a stolen election that fall.

The first came in April, as the pandemic was biting and then-President Trump’s approval numbers were collapsing:

GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD. THE USA MUST HAVE VOTER I.D., THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN HONEST COUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020

Then, in June as the Democratic candidacy of Joe Biden was gaining traction:

RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2020

In August, he tweeted again to his millions of followers:

The Democrats are demanding Mail-In Ballots because the enthusiasm meter for Slow Joe Biden is the lowest in recorded history, and they are concerned that very few people will turn out to vote. Instead, they will search & find people, then “harvest” & return Ballots. Not fair!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2020

Around that time, in August — three months before the election — the BBC documented how Trump and Stone rolled out dozens of Facebook groups all using the same banner; millions joined them or got their “news” from these groups between August and the election:

https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/D1B8/production/_115588635_stopthestealfacebookgroup.png

Finally, the night of the election Trump again tweeted, laying the ground for both January 6th and a massive half-billion-dollar theft of money from his mostly older small-dollar donors:

We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2020

That’s how Trump has made over $390 million dollars just since he lost the election. And he’s still fundraising, fleecing the rubes: I get a dozen emails a week from him begging for money and telling me I can win a prize.

The big difference between 2000 and 2020 is that back in 2000 Stone’s plan worked, but it failed the second time around.

Stone’s “Brooks Brothers” goons succeeded in stopping the Florida vote count and cemented Bush’s ascent to the White House, even though he’d lost the election.

In 2020, on the other hand, the January 6th protests failed to intimidate members of Congress the way they had the Miami-Dade County vote-counters twenty years earlier.

Having succeeded in stealing an election with a mob once, it’s not surprising that Stone and Trump thought it might work again. They just couldn’t pull it off because Trump was so incompetent. The next Republican may not be.

Given that Republicans have used these “big lie” and intimidation tactics in three presidential elections in this century, Republican criminality should cease to surprise us. And, indeed, there’s a long tradition of criminal GOP presidential tactics.

Nixon blew up LBJ’s Vietnam negotiations (causing another 20,000 American deaths) to win the 1968 election, something LBJ and Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen agreed at the time was treason. Reagan cut a deal with the Iranians in 1980 to sabotage Jimmy Carter, elevating him to the White House.

Bush’s dirty work was done by his brother in Florida and his dad’s friends on the Supreme Court, and in 2016 Trump had a big boost from Vladimir Putin, a boost that Trump tried his best to repay during his presidency by shutting down two of our cybersecurity agencies, withholding military support to Ukraine, and trying to pull the US out of NATO.

And here come the new outrages, just in time for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

At this moment multiple Republican-controlled states are considering laws giving their legislatures the power to override the vote of the people of the state and send the presidential electors of their choice to Washington, DC.

The trend started in Arizona last year, when, as NBC News noted:

“The Republican chair of Arizona's state House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill Wednesday that would give the Legislature authority to override the secretary of state’s certification of its electoral votes.”

Meanwhile, 27 states with Republican Secretaries of State are most likely following the examples of Ohio, Texas and Georgia and purging people in “certain” zip codes from their voter rolls.

Five Republicans on the US Supreme Court legalized that in 2018; it was a decision that NBC News reported “discourages minority turnout”:

“At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if Ohio prevailed,” NBC reported.

Ever since ALEC got to work and the first mandatory voter ID law was put into place in both Georgia and Indiana in 2005, Republican-controlled states have been hard at work.

They’ve figured out dozens of ways to make it harder for working class people to vote at a convenient time, impossible in some cases for low income people to vote at all, and to throw up expensive and/or time-consuming barriers to voting for young and elderly people.

One of their favorites is criminalizing making mistakes while voting, like making it a crime to misspell your name or city, or to offer to carry your neighbor’s ballot to the post office, or to register to vote or sign a petition.

The laws are so all-over-the-place and almost always only enforced against Black and Brown people that entire communities have become reluctant to vote.

Stories of voting-related prison sentences spread fast, like Pamela Moses’, who got 6-years-and-a day in prison for registering to vote, not knowing she couldn’t in that state because she had once been a felon.

And that drop in voting is what Republicans have been calling for ever since Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, working for Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980, laid out the new GOP strategy to a group of Republicans in the basement of a Dallas church (check it out: it’s only 40 seconds and was a moment that changed history):

Fully 393 pieces of voting-related legislation intended to suppress the vote have been proposed in 39 state legislatures as of May of this year. One-hundred-forty-eight of them have passed in 27 states.

These Republicans haven’t fought fair in over 50 years.

Don’t expect them to this fall; and we must be on particular alert for the presidential election in 2024.

They’re gaming that one out as you read these words. We need to be, too.