Photo: A member of the National Guard on duty securing the U.S. Capitol building ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Fallout from the violence includes the Dominion lawsuit in addition to other litigation filed against news media networks and individuals working for former President Trump.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign strategy rested on lying about the existence of massive voter fraud, even before the very first ballot was cast. The lies were groundless, shameless, easily debunked and tinged with naked racism. While Trump’s position as president protected him from legal repercussions in office, his allies in the business community were left vulnerable. If the new Dominion lawsuit against Trump ally and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell is successful, perhaps other business leaders will be all the less likely to help spread lies and conspiracy theories in the future.
Racism, conspiracy theories and voter fraud lies
The former president’s history of appealing to racism is well documented. Years before he launched his 2016 campaign on a running diatribe against Mexicans and Muslims, he burnished his public profile by ginning up public outrage against a group of Black and Hispanic teenagers accused (falsely, as it turned out) of rape. Similarly, during former President Obama’s two terms he was regularly in the media spotlight for supporting the “birther” conspiracy theory, stimulating public outrage by casting doubt on the birthplace of the first Black president in U.S. history.
When the re-energized Black Lives Matter movement swept across the country last summer, it’s no surprise that Trump returned to the “thug” slur to reference unarmed protestors. Meanwhile he failed to condemn armed white supremacists for a series of threatening actions against state officials and at least one murder accusation, culminating in the bloody, violent - and failed - insurrection of January 6.
It’s also no surprise that Trump raised claims of widespread voter fraud early and often, even as Black voting rights advocates and their allies in the business community organized massive get-out-the-vote efforts in the run-up to Election Day. He persisted in claiming that the election was stolen right on through the violence of January 6, even though experts in his own administration vouched for the security of the process.
The Dominion lawsuit and the business case against the “Big Lie” of voter fraud
Though Trump enjoyed the protection of his office, his allies were not so fortunate. The first sign of trouble appeared earlier this month, when the global voting technology firm Smartmatic took Fox News to court for amplifying Trump’s voter fraud lies.
Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion lawsuit alleges that Fox made more than 100 false statements and implications about the company, resulting in measurable bottom-line harm to its global reputation.
Fox shined the media spotlight on Smartmatic even though the company played a minuscule role in the 2020 election. As a global firm, Smartmatic has ample experience in other nations but the 2020 election was its first foray into the U.S. Its only contract was with Los Angeles County in California.
A more significant target for Trump’s voter fraud lies was U.S. company Dominion Voting Systems, which had contracts in 28 states for the 2020 election cycle. As the company points out, its experience covers “tens of thousands” of U.S. elections since 2003 regardless of the political identity of electorates and office holders.
Earlier this Dominion also took legal action. Rather than targeting news media, it filed a $1.3 billion lawsuit the company My Pillow and Mike Lindell, its CEO, for spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“The 115-page lawsuit filed Monday in Washington, DC, cites Lindell's media appearances and social media posts pushing what they called the ‘Big Lie’ about Dominion's machines — including a two-hour film that aired on OAN and was filled with falsehoods about voting irregularities,” CNN reported.
As the Dominion lawsuit points out, the lies are still in force through the My Pillow website, through promotional codes like “FightforTrump" that reference the voter fraud conspiracy theory.
Voter fraud lies breed violence
In addition to bringing a case against My Pillow and Lindell, the Dominion lawsuit is backed by the company’s a point-by-point debunking of the entire Trump disinformation campaign on its website.
A list of facts and the seriousness of the Dominion lawsuit will not cause Trump supporters to realize they’ve been had, but it does provide a roadmap for the business community to push back against voter fraud lies in future elections.
Among the many points raised by the litigation is the existence of a paper trail and validation process, but perhaps the most significant point refers to the potential for voter fraud lies to foster violence.
Long before events led to the Dominion lawsuit making waves, white supremacy and domestic terrorism were on the rise during the Obama administration but were not aggressively pursued, as evidenced by the kid glove treatment of the Bundy family and their allies, who illegally grazed cattle on federal property for years leading up to the armed takeover of the federal Malheur wildlife refuge in 2016.
Trump actively encouraged the movement up to and including the cultivation of the QAnon conspiracy theory mirror the language of Nazi-era anti-Semitic propaganda.
In that context, the Dominion lawsuit and its statement on the consequences of voter fraud lies could become a factor in future legal action by other business stakeholders.
“The company works with all U.S. political parties, and our customer base and government outreach practices support this non-partisan approach,” Dominion explains. “Given the high headline risk and the public visibility of elections, it would be difficult to thrive as a business without maintaining reliable technology and high standards as an industry provider.”
Nevertheless, that easily verifiable fact did not protect Dominion employees from assault.
“Malicious and misleading false claims about Dominion have resulted in dangerous levels of threats and harassment against the company and its employees, as well as election officials,” Dominion asserts.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce steps in, but more action is needed
Whether or not Dominion’s point about the violent consequences of voter fraud lies will be picked up by other business stakeholders remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the business community has taken some steps to rally behind election integrity, regardless of political identity.
In the run-up to January 6, for example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined other leading business stakeholders to assert that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.
“Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Partnership for New York City separately issued statements calling for an end to efforts to undermine Biden’s win,” CNBC reported on January 4.
That is why it is important for business stakeholders to back up words with action. In that regard, some have responded by withholding, or threatening to withhold, campaign donations to Republican members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College vote on January 6.
However, signs of an effort to help undo the violent fallout from Trump’s voter fraud lies are already beginning to fade, indicating that stronger action is needed.
Unmoved by the threats of the Dominion lawsuit, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have doubled down on their support for him, and his voter base is just as dedicated as ever.
In one ominous sign, the Bundy family has popped up in the media spotlight again. Last month Jennfer Yachnin of E&E News reported that family patriarch Cliven Bundy continues to assert the privilege of white violence over federal protection of public lands.
“Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is vowing to once again ‘walk towards guns’ should the incoming Biden administration attempt to collect on more than two decades of debt from trespass fines and unpaid grazing fees,” Yachnin reported on January 15.
That would seem to describe an act of unarmed civil disobedience, but Yachnin also drew attention to Bundy’s ability to spark others to take up arms.
“Bundy…came to national attention in 2014 when he rallied armed supporters to his Bunkerville ranch to block the government's attempted roundup of his cattle,” she noted, in reference to a recent interview between Bundy and conservative Pete Santilli who was involved in both the Bunkerville and Malheur episodes.
As reported by Yachnin, during the interview Bundy appeared to raise the possibility of another, similar action.
”We're going to have to go forward. If we have to walk forward towards guns, which we did at the Bundy ranch, we have to do that,” he reportedly said.
The point is that a festering problem will continue to fester unless forceful action is taken. While Cliven Bundy’s latest threat was a veiled one, last year multiple news outlets reported that his son Ammon Bundy was assembling a “militia network,” working off of the backlash against public health guidance on COVID-19 prevention.
The COVID-19 pandemic still in force and the threat of armed white supremacist violence continues to loom over American democracy. U.S. business leaders will need to take more forceful action on voting rights and election integrity to help prevent more violence in the months and years to come. The Dominion lawsuit could help pave the way forward.
Image credit: Brendan Beale/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.