Claims by Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, and President Donald Trump that Democrats are "stealing" the 2018 elections in Broward County have sparked the expected reaction. Despite the fact there appears to be zero evidence backing up the claims, conspiracy theorists, right-wing grifters, and pro-Trump protesters are now descending on the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office.
The "Broward County Election Theft" demonstration seems to have been co-organized by a former Trump-campaign volunteer from Miami, Juan Fiol, who has been posting online. Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris has already posted that roughly 60 people appear to be outside right now chanting "Lock her up!" at Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. The incident calls to mind the infamous 2000 "Brooks Brothers riot" — a pro-Bush "protest" that right-wing provocateur Roger Stone later admitted he organized.
Republican protest crowd doubles to about 60. Chant of lock her up breaks out pic.twitter.com/PfBHkbokha— Alex Harris (@harrisalexc) November 9, 2018
Text-message invitations appear to show that some of the protesters arrived at the request of Andrew Pollack, the conservative father of a student murdered in the Parkland school-shooting. But many other online observers have pointed out that protesters are posting the #StopTheSteal slogan — a phrase that Stone himself has used often online and in various projects.
As reporter Jared Holt at Right Wing Watch noted today, alt-right personality Jack Posobiec this week told his followers that Roger Stone is "on the ground" and that there are "assets going to be deployed" in South Florida.
Via text, Stone, who has a history of lying about things he's been involved in, denied any tie to today's protest:
"The so called Brooks Brothers riot was citizen action to prevent a portion of ballots that had already been re-counted three times being taken by democratic elections board of commissioners to an area with no observers from the republican party or the media in violation of Florida sunshine law. The situation in Broward is in no way analogous therefor claims that I am seeking to foment Some kind of a similar citizen action is false. The single most important thing right now is for Governor Rick Scott to order FDLE to impound all ballots in Broward County in order to stop any potential manipulation of the ballots. Claims to the contrary are fear momgering and false." [sic]
Fiol, meanwhile, has posted tons of selfies online with various Trump Administration operatives and allies, including Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump cheerleader Maurice "Michael the Black Man" Symonette, Trump himself, and Stone:
"If you want to be on FOX NEWS or CNN," come to the Broward Elections Office today, Fiol encouraged followers today on Facebook.
He added in a subsequent post: "Democrats are trying to steal this election with a sneaky recount, we need volunteers to monitor the machines NOW."
A Facebook group called Americans for Trump has also blasted out news of the protest/election-monitoring event.
And a slew of outright conspiracy theorists and right-wing propagandists have announced plans to descend on Broward County. Laura Loomer, the former Project Veritas employee so dumb that just last week she asked online if a Wi-Fi network labeled "FBI Surveillance Van" was, in fact, that of a real FBI surveillance van, has announced her plans to "monitor" the Florida recount.
All these 3rd rate provocateurs heading for Broward County Florida today for what?! pic.twitter.com/pXdAlXg92K— Djinn (@ARAEveryDay) November 9, 2018
Likewise, Jacob Engels, an Orlando-based
Floridians do not despair. I am en route back down to South Florida to handle this situation in Broward. I refuse to let SNEAKY AND CORRUPT BRENDA SNIPES steal this election. @LauraLoomer and I will STOP THE STEAL! She is flying to FL today! #FloridaRecount— Jacob Engels (@JacobEngels) November 9, 2018
Also en route is Ali Alexander, a self-described Republican activist who runs a political action committee financed by Robert Mercer, the billionaire known for propping up Trump, Steve Bannon, and data firm Cambridge Analytica.
As Holt at Right Wing Watch has pointed out, a few of these operatives have histories with Stone — including Loomer and Engels. Via text, Stone referred to Loomer and Engels as "friends" but denied telling them to travel to Broward County or use the very specific hashtag that he uses all the time.
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"They are both friends of mine but [claims of] control or direct[ing] their actions would be incorrect," he said. "I don’t own #StopTheSteal — anyone in America is free to use it. I have offered my advice and will continue to do so to those who want an honest and accurate vote count but to say that I am planning some kind of riot is patently false."
Many of the protesters seem to be sharing videos from former congressional candidate Tim Canova, who in 2016 earned an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders. But Canova is no longer a reliable source of information: He has since come out as a Seth Rich "truther," claimed his opponent Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to fry the surge
In reality, truth doesn't exactly matter to folks like Rick Scott right now. The claims of election theft have had their intended effect: The governor's supporters no longer think this is a legitimate election. And that's a dangerous sign for democracy.
This post has been updated to include information and comment from Roger Stone.