A bird illustration altered to look like Donald Trump.

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Trump’s plan to stay in power involved writing Insta posts and tweets for conservative influencers

The plan to stay in power included an 'astroturfing cult.'

 

Claire Goforth

Tech

Published Jan 3, 2022   Updated Jan 4, 2022, 10:07 am CST

On New Year’s Eve, a previous adviser of former President Donald Trump provided a batch of documents to the Jan. 6 Committee. Among the documents Bernard “Bernie” Kerik provided is a detailed “strategic communications plan” reportedly created by Rudy Giuliani’s legal defense team.

The plan, first reported on by Politico, includes a list of conservative social media influencers to tap to push Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud and ultimately overturn the results. The list is broken down into “big names” like Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, and the Daily Wire; “medium” (Ron Watkins and Brandon Straka are in this category); “small”; and “micro.”

It includes a list of 10 right-wing TikTokers and admonishes, “WE have to use TIKTOK!! Content goes VIRAL here like no other platform!!!!! And there are MILLIONS of Trump supporters! It would be amazing if POTUS would use the platform actually—he’d have the biggest account EVER.”

The plan is described as, “Nationwide communications outreach campaign to educate the public on the fraud numbers, and inspire citizens to call upon legislators and Members of Congress to disregard the fraudulent vote count and certify the duly-elected President Trump.”

This document may establish the most direct link between key leadership in Trump’s effort to remain in office, QAnon figures like Watkins, and conservative social media influencers, including a notorious network of Twitter accounts known as #TheMighty200. This network has been described as an “astroturfing cult.” (As the Daily Dot wrote last year: “Astroturfing describes a centrally organized effort to create a false impression of grassroots support, fomenting a belief that there’s way more love for a political candidate or idea than there really is.”)

Many members have been permanently suspended, locked their accounts, or fallen silent in the year since the Capitol riot.

Eric Ellason, chief executive officer of internet service firm SlickRockWeb, was first to make the connection.

Ellason tweeted on Monday, “To our knowledge this is the 1st example of someone at a high official level (Giuliani/Kerik team) engaging or attempting 2 engage members of #TheMighty200 domestic Twitter troll network & large QAnon accounts 4 help in astroturfing a narrative via social media.”

Giuliani is listed as the head of the operation. Most other key deputies are named by initials only. Some of these initials correspond to those of well-known people in Trump’s orbit who helped him try to remain in power.

The plan’s communications strategy relies heavily on the internet. “Channels to disseminate messaging” include Trump and Giuliani’s Twitter feeds, conservative bloggers, and social media influencers on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

It further delineates various types of messaging to use to establish false claims of a stolen election, such as daily talking points with “specific fraud numbers,” ads, pre-written tweets, and Instagram posts. There were to be multiple tweets and Instagram posts each day, the plan called for.

During the 10-day period the plan was to be in effect, accounts it targeted continuously repeated its talking points. For example, Mark Levin tweeted that electors didn’t have the constitutional authority to certify the election; Candace Owens claimed that President Joe Biden “cheated”; Michael Knowles claimed that mail-in ballots gave him “little faith” in election integrity; and others harped on nonexistent voter fraud in states it referenced, such as Georgia and Michigan. Knowingly or not, each was participating in the effort to influence discourse to support Trump’s plan to overturn the election.

Live events are an additional part of the strategy the document lays out, both in the form of public shows of support and protests. It urges targeting elected officials at their homes and offices, including governors, lieutenant governors, locals, and “weak members.” It also calls for protests in Washington, D.C.

The 10-day timeline for these actions was Dec. 27, 2020 through Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the Capitol riot.

It’s unknown to what extent, if at all, the conservative social media influencers identified in the plan worked with Giuliani’s team to spread the lie that the election was stolen from Trump. It is clear that the team was willing to go to great lengths to keep him in office, including by utilizing a coordinated network of hundreds of influencers of various repute to spread misinformation about the election.

Another document in the 140-megabyte folder is an email from Ron Watkins claiming to have found “weak points” in Dominion Voting Systems’ manuals and security audits that could be used for fraud. The document shows that Watkins, whom many believe to have been the person behind “Q,” sent this email to Giuliani associate Maria Ryan on the evening of Nov. 11.

“I am willing to volunteer time to help identify avenues for voter fraud and audit the Dominion Voting System[s] with the mindset of a penetration tester with the goal of finding any vulnerabilities or ‘features’ in the software which may have been utilized by bad actors to facilitate voter fraud,” Watkins wrote.

According to the document, Ryan forwarded the email to Kerik the next morning.

It’s not known if they took Watkins up on his offer or if the forwarded email was the extent of his association with the effort to reverse the election outcome.

Neither Ryan, Watkins, nor Kerik replied to emails the Daily Dot sent to the addresses listed on the document asking whether the email is authentic and whether Watkins did join their efforts.

The URL on Kerik’s email address on the document matches his website. Giuliani’s website is no longer active, but an archive shows that the URL on Ryan’s address matches his former site.

In the months after the November 2020 election, Watkins was among many, including Giuliani and Trump, who harped on Dominion Voting Systems. The company has since sued Giuliani and others for defamation based on these claims, which it vehemently denies. Neither Watkins nor Trump are among the defendants.

The strategic plan Kerik gave the Jan. 6 Committee includes an entire section on “Dominion machines fraud.”

The committee has been investigating the events that culminated with the Capitol riot for six months. While some of its findings have been made public, much has not.

In coming months, the bipartisan committee is planning a series of public hearings and reports to reveal what they’ve found. They intend to link Trump’s efforts to overturn the election to the deadly attack on American democracy.

“The full picture is coming to light, despite President Trump’s ongoing efforts to hide the picture,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) told U.S. News. “…I think this is one of the single most important congressional investigations in history.”

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*First Published: Jan 3, 2022, 5:35 pm CST