December 2022
Gun-Toting Election Deniers Foiled
The Daily Show Exposes Local Voter-Intimidation Efforts as Lawsuit Ends Them

Famous for interviewing Trump supporters for The Daily Show, a comedian released an online video special on November 1 about the coming elections, called Jordan Klepper Fingers the Midterms: America Unfollows Democracy. He interviewed election deniers, civil-war advocates and Yavapai County Oath Keepers about their ideas for stopping election fraud that never existed.

The report’s funniest section comes in the last quarter , at 17:25, when he was in the Chino Valley headquarters of the local Oath Keepers chapter (now called the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, YCPT), where it was mentioned that eight people at the table were carrying a gun. One of the group interjects, “You’re assuming that we all only have one gun,” eliciting laughs.

Then Klepper quips, “This must be the overcompensating capital of America right here, everybody has multiple guns, a huge flag and a giant Jesus.”

Jordan Klepper talks with Oath Keepers in Chino Valley

The Chino Valley group formed the LLC Lions of Liberty as the political arm of YCPT, which sought to prevent voter fraud by taking photos and videos of people and their license plates as they dropped off ballots. In Mesa a related group called Clean Elections USA wore camouflage, carried guns and covered up their license plates while monitoring dropboxes. Some wore masks.

But at least two groups didn’t see the humor in the group’s efforts to watch voters at the dropboxes. “Operation Drop Box” crumpled after a judge ruled in favor of legal challenges by the League of Women Voters of Arizona (LWVA) and Protect Democracy, which ended in a statewide cease-and-desist order in late October, a week before elections. The judge agreed that the Lions of Liberty were violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act.

The LWVA had filed a lawsuit on October 25 to stop the voter-intimidation efforts, specifically naming the Lions of Liberty, YCPT and Clean Elections USA. The suit also named individuals Jim Arroyo, Lucas Cilano, Nicholas Cilano, Brian Mounsey, Toby Fox, James Johnson, Melody Jennings and “John Does 1-10.”

The lawsuit stated: “While promoting the campaign under the pretext of uncovering election crimes, in reality, Defendants Jennings and Clean Elections USA are scheming to baselessly accuse voters of being ‘mules’ and to ‘dox’ them (that is, publicly reveal their personal information online), thereby unjustifiably exposing voters to harm to not only their reputations but also their safety. Already, Defendant Jennings and her co-conspirators have peddled images of innocent voters who have used dropboxes and baselessly claimed that they are ‘mules’ to advance their goal of deterring voters from using dropboxes. Moreover, Defendant Jennings has admitted that her monitors are guarding dropboxes while armed and in tactical gear, and that the purpose of these tactics is to intimidate voters: she has boasted that these tactics are already deterring voters from using dropboxes. Supporters of dropbox surveillance have responded in kind, affirming on Twitter that they ‘will hold round-the-clock armed surveillance of every ballot box in Arizona.’”

Pinny Sheoran, president of the LWVA, said the lawsuit had the intended effect. After the judge’s ruling, when the seriousness of the lawsuit sank in, Lions of Liberty took down its website and agreed to end its activities. The US District Court Judge had to issue a restraining order against Clean Elections USA.

While the threat of federal charges was more than the groups were willing to face, the fact that more than half of Arizona’s 15 county sheriffs were willing to support them, including Yavapai County’s David Rhodes, sent a chilling message that extremists are active in local government, too.

The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting  uncovered beliefs held by sheriffs that led to supporting voter-intimidation groups. It described its findings this way: “The so-called constitutional sheriff movement threatens to radicalize sheriffs by indoctrinating them with its false legal theories about the sheriffs’ unconstrained power and a duty to nullify laws they deem unconstitutional.”

Despite the efforts by extremists, many Republicans voted to preserve democracy rather than support a slate of election deniers, confounding media predictions. (An analysis by The Arizona Republic of state vote totals concluded that many Republicans crossed party lines to elect a Democratic governor, secretary of state and attorney general.)

However, the Republic also warns that Trumpism is not going away overnight in Arizona. Heavily Republican Cochise County voted against certifying the election by the official November 28 deadline.

So now the question is whether these groups will attempt to relaunch voter-intimidation efforts during the 2024 presidential election. If they do the LWVA and Protect Democracy will be ready to challenge them again, says Sheoran.

“We were able to show it was harmful for voters and for the work that we do,” Sheoran said. “The other thing that’s important is that they might be getting the message that they will be challenged in the future.”

Sheoran said the League’s next steps are to worktoward state laws that punish groups who practice voter intimidation, from criminal penalties for doxing to enforcing 75-foot protected space for those dropping off ballots at county boxes.

“We need to stand up to these bullies,” Sheoran said. “We believe we have to be ready and work at the state level to pass laws to protect the citizens from this vigilantism.”

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor.

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