Far-right Groups in Arizona Push “Election Integrity” Lies; Undermine Trust in Elections
Originally called Patriot Pack, America Pack (AP), run by Branden Turley, a 16-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department and a firearms expert, and Valerie Grosso-Turley, who calls herself a “rebel dietician,” was founded after the 2020 election. A Facebook post signed by both Turleys reads, “After the 2020 election, I knew I had to do something, but just like so many of you, I had no idea what I needed to do….I just knew I had to do something. The nation I once came to know and love had turned on me in the most sinister way.” In January 2021, the Turleys founded their new organization to “fight for a country we once knew was pure, a country we once knew was free, a country we once knew was OURS!” and to work against “sadistic evil” infecting American society. AP says its mission is to “educate and empower like-minded citizens to work together to hold elected officials accountable, advocate for honest elections, support law enforcement, and fight for freedom and liberty using a team concept ensuring beginner to seasoned activists work together towards solutions based on issues important to them.” AP is a prolific propagandist of the “Big Lie” and an official partner with Republicans in election integrity trainings, according to the state GOP website. Their Facebook page is filled with images of “Stop Fraud,” one of which from April is accompanied with this: “America is in an extremely dangerous place. Bad actors, liberals, progressives, and RINOs seek to dismantle and subvert our country. Our elections, borders, military, police, speech, medical freedom, parental rights, faith, freedom, family, and American Values are under attack.” AP has five issue teams: election integrity, city councils, legislation, school boards, and events. They hold candidate forums, usually hosting people who also believe elections are rigged, and hold trainings for poll workers and recruit precinct committeemen. They’ve been particularly active in school boards, touting in a May YouTube video that AP had “over 20 school board candidates working collaboratively to represent America First, conservative values. Parents rights’, excellence in education, school choice, and American values must be the foundation of our educational system.” They also appear to receive funds from candidates to put on events. The group agitated against Phoenix City Council decisions related to police salaries. In a June Facebook post, AP complained that “Defund The Police council members are at it again.” In June, the group left YouTube for the unregulated Rumble, complaining that the platform was censoring their videos. They also post about Blue Patriot Defense, a gun training facility that Branden Turley appears to own. Disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was spared a jail sentence by a Trump pardon, has spoken at their events as has state Senator Wendy Rogers, who has said white nationalists are “patriots.” In October, AP co-sponsored with We the People of Arizona and other far-right groups a showing of “Deep Rig,” a film produced by Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, also a Trump pardon recipient, and Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, that falsely alleges massive election fraud. In May, they co-sponsored with Turning Point Action a viewing of “2,000 Mules,” another film, produced by True the Vote founders, that makes debunked claims about election fraud. Other issues for AP include rejecting pandemic health measures including vaccine mandates and lockdowns and “stopping CRITICAL RACE THEORY.” In celebration of the primaries, in mid-August they co-hosted RedFest Rally with other organizations complaining of voter fraud, including FreedomWorks, EZAZ, Patriots of Arizona and Tea Party Arizona.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club
Founded in 2005, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) is a 501(c)(4) organization backed by Koch brothers money that has lobbied for “pro-growth, limited government policies in Arizona.” AFEC has often worked for Koch interests, for example, heavily lobbying for a state budget provision in 2016 that gave five million dollars each year to academic centers teaching libertarian economic policies that the Koch brothers wanted established in Arizona’s public universities. One of the group’s directors put in millions to help found one of the free-market centers. AFEC has successfully sued to stop matching funds for candidates created in a 2010 Arizona campaign finance law and successfully challenged a ballot measure to change Arizona’s tax structure. Recently, AFEC has become involved in “election integrity” issues, serving as a partner to the Arizona GOP in its “election integrity” trainings, along with other far right groups, according to the GOP’s website. Run by Scot Mussi since 2013, they criticize “the left” on Twitter as pushing for voting with “no security, no ID, no paper ballots & no concern if someone decides to vote a few extra times.” They are particularly keen on the false idea that “illegals” are voting. In July, AFEC filed a successful lawsuit against a ballot initiative put forward by Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections, contending that well over half of the signatures on the election initiative were gathered illegally. AFEC also believed the initiative would “Upend Arizona’s election administration and voter registration laws.” The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with AFEC. The group also agitates for school choice and border security. They are fervent supporters of election deniers, and have hosted Kari Lake at various events they’ve sponsored.
Arizona Proud Boys
Various Telegram channels
It is unclear who leads the white supremacist and misogynistic Proud Boys in Arizona, though their Telegram channel lists four chapters in the state. Arizona Proud Boys were deeply involved in the January 6 Capitol insurrection, according to the Select Committee hearings. That has not stopped the group from being active in Arizona, where they continue to be involved in protests after January 6, at times showing up armed. The group is well known for its misogynistic and hateful views, which are detailed in GPAHE’s submission on the group to the January 6 House Select Committee. But among all the hate, it is clear that the group is just as active in promoting lies about election fraud. In fact, since the 2020 election and the events of January 6, their main Telegram channel has promoted the “Big Lie” through a multitude of posts suggesting widespread election fraud throughout the country. The North Phoenix group’s Telegram channel is particularly interested in raising funds for those arrested for January 6 activities, along with posting hateful anti-LGBTQ and racist messaging. Starting right after the November 2020 election, Proud Boys began participating in “Stop the Steal” events. That November, a Proud Boys member spoke outside of an event in Phoenix where Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was meeting with Republican lawmakers to dispute Trump’s loss. The Proud Boy told the crowd, “It’s the moment that we’ve got to fight back…It’s the moment where we’ve got to start telling them, we’re not taking it anymore. We’re not going to ‘stand back and stand by’ [referring to Trump’s comments to the Proud Boys during a presidential debate] anymore. We’re standing up and going after you if you come after us.” Members of the group were on hand at the Arizona Capitol on January 6, 2021, when a rally against the election results was held. That pattern of showing up to election denier events has continued. In September 2021, dozens of Proud Boys members were on hand for a “Justice for J-6” rally in support of those arrested for storming the Capitol that was hosted by Look Ahead Arizona. In February 2022, a member of the Proud Boys attended a “Second Amendment Rally” at the Arizona Capitol and posed for photos with a Republican gubernatorial candidate. In July 2022, Proud Boys counterprotested a reproductive rights rally in Anthem alongside members of the Three Percenter militia and state Represetative Shawnna Bolickthe, wife of an Arizona Supreme Court Justice. In August, the Arizona group was organizing protests in front of the Phoenix FBI office on their Telegram channel in reaction to the recent raid on Trump’s estate in Florida. It is likely there will be more protest activity from the Proud Boys and the potential for violence grows. An analysis of Proud Boy activity nationwide found that the group had become increasingly violent at demonstrations between 2020 and 2021.
Citizens’ Non-Partisan Grassroots
The Citizens’ Non-Partisan Grassroots (CNPG) is a shadowy group whose existence only came to light after American Oversight released documents related to the Maricopa County audit it had requested in June 2021. The document, dated March 1, 2021 and titled, “Summary of 2020 General Election Initial Findings: Maricopa and Pima Counties,” indicates that this group had canvassed more than 3,000 homes in Maricopa and Pima Counties “to verify the integrity of the voter rolls.” The report alleges that “52% of those canvassed addresses required an affidavit for an irregularity” and that other problems, such as unknown “phantom voters” and “residents receiving additional ballots” had occurred in 2020. The report from CNPG also alleges fraud was witnessed by poll workers. The group apparently obtained signed affidavits from 1,500 people. The report includes specific details of the group’s canvassing and alleges thousands of irregularities with ballots. In June 2021, it was reported that people impersonating election officials from Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman’s office were knocking on doors in Yavapai County. asking if the residents voted in the last election and for whom they voted. The recorder’s office sent an advisory warning about the activity. In early May, the Justice Department warned against such canvassing, which was proposed in the Arizona State Senate’s contract for an “audit” with the firm Cyber Ninjas, writing that it could violate federal law. More details about this organization are not available and it is unclear if it is still functioning and who is behind it.
Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona. Mack gained notoriety in the 1990s after successfully suing to overturn a prominent gun control measure, known as the Brady Law. CSPOA has arguably had more success infiltrating law enforcement than any other anti-government group. The constitutional sheriff movement’s ideology is rooted in the anti-government movement’s false concept of county supremacy. The movement believes that the county and not the state or federal governments should control all land within its borders, and the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority in the U.S. This idea was pioneered by William Potter Gale in the 1970s, a minister in the Christian identity movement, which is rabidly antisemitic and racist. It is expressed on CSPOA’s website this way: “The law enforcement powers held by the sheriff supersede those of any agent, officer, elected official or employee from any level of government when in the jurisdiction of the county. The vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.” CSPOA claims this is because county sheriffs are the only elected law enforcement officers and therefore only accountable to their constituents, and thus no higher government power. Mack is a former Oath Keepers board member who has said that the “greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our own federal government.” In a May 2020 interview posted to YouTube, Mack described this view, saying: “Let me make this real clear: The President of the United States cannot tell your sheriff what to do. I don’t care if its George Washington himself, they cannot tell us what to do.” Mack crisscrosses the country for speaking engagements where he promotes himself, CSPOA, and his county sheriff theories. In 2021, in a disturbing development, Mack was able to win official state approval for his “trainings” in Montana and Texas, thereby allowing attendees to receive continuing education credits for his events. Mack was prominent in the anti-lockdown movements that sprang up in response to pandemic health measures. Mack went on a speaking junket in 2021, promoting the organization at a series of events alongside a long list of extremists. This included Red Pill Expo, a who’s who of antigovernment figures hosted by well-known conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin, a QAnon sovereign citizen rally in Hawaii, the Rod of Iron Ministries Freedom Festival and the Arise USA tour, hosted by the late antisemitic conspiracy theorist Robert David Steele where Mack was a speaker and CSPOA’s name was emblazoned on the side of the tour bus. Since 2020, CSPOA has latched on to election denialism. During a July event held by True the Vote, a major election denier organization, Mack invited several of his staff and two former law enforcement officials to attend. Mack said the event provided “more evidence of quite extensive election fraud.” “There’s no way anyone in this country should be trusting computers to tabulate votes.” True the Vote is working directly with CSPOA, which now has a whole section on its website about law enforcement’s role in rooting out voting fraud. Sheriffs affiliated with CSPOA have promised to monitor future elections and hunt down remaining claims of fraud from the 2020 presidential election. Besides membership dues, CSPOA sells a wide range of natural supplements. In July, Mack declared that investigating voting fraud is now his group’s top priority, calling it a “holy cause.”
EZAZ, which also seems to go under the name Strong Communities Action, has as its tagline “making civic action easy as pie.” According to its Telegram channel, the group’s board includes Merissa Hamilton, Lisa Blankenship, and Jeff Caldwell. Merissa Hamilton ran for election for Mayor of Phoenix and lost in 2020 and ran as a write-in candidate for Senate in 2016. EZAZ is a voter advocacy group on the list of partner organizations included on the Republican party website. EZAZ is also partnering with conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, which Hamilton is listed on EZAZ materials as serving as a grassroots director with as well, to host election integrity trainings this year. Peter Vicenzi, a spokesperson for FreedomWorks, said they saw a need to get more active in this realm, where he said Democratic groups have been active for years. “Republicans deserve to be part of the process too,” Vicenzi said.
EZAZ often works in tandem with FreedomWorks in other ways. In May 2021, they sold special tickets to their members for “America’s Come Back Tour 2021” featuring British politician Nigel Farage, a far- right British politician who led the drive for Brexit and has engaged in conspiracy-mongering. Also on the tour was Kari Lake and EZAZ’s Hamilton.
The group hosts candidate events, and they have programs to help people become precinct committeemen as well as holding “election protection initiative” trainings and “poll worker” trainings. The group has an “anti-woke” store on its website, where it sells t-shirts that read “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time,” “make audits great again,” and “tyranny never sleeps.” It also has a “Fauci medical freedom collection.” EZAZ was involved in a bizarre hunt to find dead people who voted in the November 2020 election. Arizona was rife with conspiracies about dead people’s ballots being cast by others after the November election, something EZAZ apparently chose to investigate. Hamilton said her team scoured 4,000 voter registrations for people over the age of 90. The names were then checked against address databases for information on whether a voter had died. EZAZ determined that about 450 dead voters might still be on the rolls. Hamilton said she presented the information on dead voters to the Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit and that they promised to review the materials. The Tracey Kay McKee case is the lone prosecution to emerge from the AG’s investigation of this information. McKee, who signed the ballot belonging to her recently deceased mother and mailed it in, was charged with illegal voting and perjury. She ultimately plead guilty to a reduced felony charge of attempted illegal voting.
Look Ahead Arizona
Look Ahead Arizona (LAA) is a local chapter of the Washington, D.C.-based Look Ahead America. The national organization is a non-profit organization created in 2017 by former Trump staffer Matt Braynard, who reportedly was motivated by Trump’s first inaugural address, where he said, “Through loyalty to our country, we will rediscover loyalty to each other.” Braynard said in 2017 that the idea behind LAA was to create “the Acorn of the right,” referring to the now defunct progressive organizing group. In April 2021, Look Ahead America launched its Arizona chapter. The organization started as a Get Out the Vote operation for disenfranchised rural voters, and engaged in voter registration and community organizing. On its Facebook page, it says, “Our primary objective is to register, educate and re-enfranchise disaffected rural and blue-collar Patriotic Americans.”.Over time, the group has advocated for increased transparency in the voting process and for engaging in forensic investigations of fraudulent vote claims to identify “votes cast in the names of the deceased, by illegal immigrants or non-citizens” and equipping poll watchers with cameras. Since 2021, LAA has organized public rallies “defending” the rights of prisoners and arrestees rounded up for their involvement in the January 6 Capitol insurrection under the banner “Justice for J6.” Look Ahead America sent a letter to the DOJ and FBI in January 2021 that requested that these departments drop all charges against non-violent offenders who were involved in the insurrection. Braynard worked with Cara Castronuova of Citizens Against Political Persecution, and the two organizations filed a formal complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of those incarcerated for their activities on January 6. Look Ahead America held “Justice for J6” satellite rallies in nine states prior to its first Washington, D.C., rally in September 2021, including one in July 2021 in Arizona. The event included speakers U.S. House Representative Paul Gosar and State Representative Mark Finchem. A September 2021 rally in Phoneix put on by LAA featured about 50 people, mostly members of the white supremacist Proud Boys. On the one-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol insurrection, Look Ahead America organized 35 vigils in 12 States and Washington, D.C. LAA held a series of town hall meetings on “What Happened at the Audit” featuring former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was a staffer with the group. The meetings focused on the results of the Maricopa County audit. During a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in October 2021, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier asked Bennett about LAA’s relationship to groups like the Proud Boys. Spier said to Bennett, “it is very important that we identify those organizations that have sought to further inflame tensions. One of those groups is Look Ahead America. On September 24, this group held a rally in Arizona in which nearly half of the attendees were Proud Boys, which is an organization identified as a far-right neo-Fascist group.” Speier asked Bennett if she knew about LAA, to which he replied yes. She went on, “And you know this group has been associated with violent hard-right activities for a long time?” pointing to a relationship between LAA and Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist. Bennett then claimed he had been on a leave of absence from the group.
Patriot Party of Arizona (PPA)
Formed in 2020, the Patriot Party of Arizona (PPA) evolved out of a campaign for U.S. Senate by cosmetics salesman Daniel McCarthy, who was angry over moderate GOP figures controlling the Arizona GOP. McCarthy was a key figure in anti-lockdown protests, “Stop the Steal” events, and has ties to far-right extremists. He ran in 2019 for the senate seat then held by Martha McSally, who had been appointed in 2018 to fill the seat of longtime Arizona Senator John McCain. Though a fervent Trump supporter, McSally angered McCarthy when she supported legislation that would designate such white nationalist attacks as acts of domestic terrorism (this was after several mass attacks by white supremacists, including the 2019 shootings at an El Paso Walmart). The proposal would have allowed confiscation of weapons possessed by suspected domestic terrorists and the mentally ill. According to a detailed Phoenix New Times report, it was this threat of potential “red flag” laws that spurred McCarthy to challenge McSally. McCarthy lost the August 2020 primary to McSally by a substantial margin, but complained that it was stolen from him. McCarthy was a key figure in the “Reopen Arizona” protests in 2020. In May 2020, the New Times reported that after executive orders closed “non-essential” businesses, McCarthy told the paper, “‘Essential’ is a code word for communism. ‘Essential businesses’ is a code word for communism.” He went on to predict a looming takeover of the energy and healthcare sectors of the American economy by a communist “consolidation of power.” In April 2020, McCarthy and other right-wing activists led a large group into the Arizona Capitol building to protest pandemic restrictions. As the crowd shouted slogans in the lobby, McCarthy and a contingent of activists attempted to gain access to the governor’s office. On January 6, 2021, during protests in Phoenix that featured militiamen and Proud Boys on the same day the U.S. Capitol was stormed, the Patriot Party had a booth set up, looking to collect 35,000 signatures. A person manning the booth said their goal was to hold RINO’s (Republicans in name only) accountable, and if they do not “follow the constitution” the new party will “primary them to split the vote and let the Democrats win.” McCarthy eventually closely associated and at times hiring extremists from groups like College Republicans United (CRU). Private CRU chat logs obtained by New Times found them replete with posts denigrating American Indians, expressing outrage over mass migration into Europe and the United States, voicing suspicions over the authenticity of video depicting the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and supporting various fringe conspiracy theories, such as the belief that most “leftists” are pedophiles. During the period of the “Reopen Arizona” protests, these chat logs revealed that members of CRU were recruited to work for McCarthy and promote the protests. Steve Daniels is the chair of the Patriot Party of Arizona. He was one of the key figures in rallies to re-open Arizona and helped run McCarthy’s campaign. During a December 1, 2020, meeting of the party livestreamed on Facebook, Daniels said the election was a “coup” and that members needed to contact state lawmakers and tell them to de-certify the election results or appoint pro-Trump electoral college electors. He also talked about intimidating state lawmakers into either decertifying the election. “I’ll sit there and tell them, ‘You’re going to do this,’” Daniels told the group. “I say, ‘Look, I’ve got people calling me all day, saying, ‘We need Steve to go show up at their house and drag them out.’ I tell them to stand down. I say, ‘We can’t do that at this point. But, at a certain point, I can’t tell people to stand down; they’re not going to listen to me.’ And then you see the look on their face: It’s fear.” McCarthy’s former campaign strategist, Stacy Gentile, posted in late November 2020 a photo to the party’s social media pages depicting a number of people hanging from a gallows, implying a death sentence was appropriate for those responsible for the outcome of the 2020 election.
In recent months, the party’s activities have revolved around election denialism. This has been made more difficult as the group did not obtain the required signatures to be declared an official political party. The group failed to turn in the required materials and signatures to the Arizona secretary of state’s office in November 2021. After that, McCarthy said that the Patriot Party had not intended to run candidates but rather was interested in getting access to other aspects of the election system that are only available to recognized political parties. For example, only official political parties can designate observers at polling places and ballot tabulation centers during elections. They participate in logic-and-accuracy testing for ballot tabulation machines before elections, and take part in partial hand counts of ballots after elections. And they recommend lists of people that election officials use to select poll workers. Regardless, the party has had some successes. In late September, Republican gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Matt Salmon signed the Arizona Patriot Party’s “Contract with Arizona,” calling on Governor Doug Ducey to immediately convene a special session to, among other things, kill the state’s 30-year-old early voting program. In 2021, the Patriot Party collected signatures to recall then-Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers. The effort was rejected by the secretary of state’s office. In June 2021, Daniels was reportedly arrested outside the Chandler school board meeting on suspicion of criminal trespassing after he refused a school representative’s and police officers’ request to leave the district office. Daniels has been involved in the debate over critical race theory and is involved in the Purple for Parents movement, which is targeting school boards over this issue. Daniels has attended school board meetings in Litchfield Park and Scottsdale to address the topic.
Founded in June 2022, ProtectAmerica.Vote (PAV) is a joint effort by Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, and the national election denial group True the Vote. Lamb runs another project, Protect America Now, which claims about 70 law enforcement members in 30 states and is an official partner of PAV according to the website. Protect America Now focuses mostly on immigration and law enforcement issues and holds to many of the same values as CSPOA, arguing that sheriffs are the top law enforcement officials in their counties.
The website for ProtectAmerica.Vote states its mission is to “empower sheriffs” and “connect citizens and sheriffs” as part of a wide-ranging drive to ferret out potential voting fraud and criminal activity relating to voting and elections. In a video on its website, Lamb says: “We will engage voters, we’ll help clear up confusion through education, and where necessary, sheriffs can and will investigate where laws are being broken.” According to the PAV website, sheriffs will be trained in “election laws specific to their state, developing a grants function to provide technology and support for visibility into allegations of violations as reported throughout their county and in best practices to support citizens and uphold election integrity.” The site has a tool to connect citizens through email directly with their local sheriff. PAV was made public in July at a conference in Las Vegas and the project is underwritten by True The Vote according to the website. The gathering lasted about seven and a half hours and featured talks by Cathering Engelbrecht, co-founder of True the Vote, and Lamb.
PAV will promote a larger role for sheriffs in election monitoring and help build ties with other law enforcement agencies and organizations, including CSPOA, to bolster the hunt for voting fraud. The joint effort features an “election integrity hotline” that True the Vote has deployed in past elections that can connect citizens with tips to their local sheriffs. Engelbrecht has said that the group will also run ads in a “handful of states.” PAV may give grants to some sheriffs in key states where county sheriffs have launched investigations into alleged election fraud, and provide surveillance equipment to monitor drop boxes and other voting sites. It also plans to hold press conferences with county sheriffs, according to the PAN website. CSPOA leader Richard Mack was at the unveiling conference, and said his group would also work on the new effort to provide more muscle to investigate charges of current and past voting fraud, regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to support that such a problem exists.
True the Vote
Texas-based organization with Arizona partners and influence
Catherine Engelbrecht founded the Texas-based True the Vote (TTV) in 2008 and the organization has raised millions in donations by claiming it has discovered voter fraud, particularly in the 2020 election. Though Texas-based and very active there, TTV is also engaged in “election integrity” activities in other states, most recently holding events in Arizona prior to the primaries and continuing to work directly with Arizona-based groups, including funding ProtectAmerica.Vote and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
TTV was featured in the widely debunked film,“2,000 Mules,” produced by the right-wing conservative Dinesh D’Souza. The film depicts TTV’s work investigating alleged illegal ballot harvesting they argue took place during the 2020 election. TTV claims that it tracked 10 trillion cell phone pings, and that after looking at millions of minutes of surveillance footage and speaking with whistleblowers who acted as ballot mules in 2020, they were able to conclude that around 5 million ballots were trafficked during the 2020 election. These claims are unsubstantiated and D’Souza himself has acknowledged that “2,000 Mules” does not show any person going to multiple ballot drop boxes. Rather, the film primarily relies on TTV’s claims about its geo-tracking data, which D’Souza has argued is “more reliable than video footage.”
Englebrecht has a long history of claiming election fraud. Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008 concerned her enough that she got active in local Tea Party efforts, attending rallies and meetings. Along with her then-husband, Bryan Engelbrecht, she created a nonprofit called King Street Patriots, which trained volunteers to poll watch in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Harris County, Texas. A judge later ruled in a lawsuit brought by the local Democratic party that King Street Patriots was actually an unregistered political action committee, leading the Engelbrechts to formally create TTV. Over the last two presidential election cycles, TTV has raised millions in donations with claims that it discovered election-altering voter fraud. TTV has promised to release its evidence, but never has. There are also allegations that TTV engaged in a series of questionable transactions that sent more than one million dollars to its founder, a longtime board member romantically linked to the founder, and the group’s general counsel. A review of thousands of pages of documents from state filings, tax returns, and court records, seems to point to an organization that enriches Engelbrecht and her partner Gregg Phillips, rather than actually rooting out any fraud.
TTV has recently been very active in Arizona. In June, it co-founded ProtectAmerica.Vote with Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, which intends to bring sheriffs into the hunt for voter fraud. In June, Arizona lawmakers heard from TTV about its election conspiracies and the “proof” of voter fraud they supposedly provided for “2000 Mules.” The film focuses in part on Yuma County, where the Arizona attorney general’s office indicted two people for illegally collecting ballots in the 2020 primary election. Engelbrecht and Phillips presented their “findings” to eight Republican lawmakers in a livestreamed meeting at the state Capitol. Phillips said news stories pointing out the lack of proof were written by “journalistic terrorists,” but he declined to outline the group’s methods, calling them “proprietary.” Phillips said he turned over data on voter fraud to Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office a year ago, but the AG’s office told him it never received it. TTV held a somewhat embarrassing event in Scottsdale in August. Phillips put on a gathering he called “The Pit,” where he vowed to finally release information about the “2,000 Mules” geolocation data to about 100 conspiracy theorists and influencers. The event ended in disaster, as police ushered Phillips from his own afterparty for bringing a gun and warned him not to return. The big reveal also turned out to be a massive flop, with Phillips revealing nothing, instead directing his fans to a partially built website that appears to offer supporters a chance to pay money to see proof of election fraud.
Turning Point Action/Turning Point USA
Turning Point Action (TPA) is a 501(c)(4) organization founded in 2019 out of the 2020 Students for Trump campaign. It was established by Charlie Kirk, who founded its non-profit sister organization, Turning Point USA, in 2012. Turning Point USA has been described as the “MAGA youth wing” of the conservative movement. Kirk perennially stokes racial resentments and uses divisiveness to build his youth movement. Typical was Kirk’s calling George Floyd a “scumbag” after his murder at the hands of police ignited racial justice rallies across the country in 2020. Kirk has toured college campuses raging at schools that teach about racism. A TPA spokesman said the new group was founded as a c4 so that it would allow Kirk and his allies to be more active in directly taking on candidates they oppose. In Arizona, the Republican party is partnering with TPA in its “election integrity” trainings. The group describes itself as “America’s largest youth activist organization” and it has close ties to Trump officials, saying on its website that “Don Jr. is helping Charlie Kirk recruit more MAGA conservatives to run for Congress.” According to CNN, TPA paid Kimberly Guilfoyle $60,000 to introduce her fiancé, Donald Trump Jr., in a speech lasting less than three minutes at the “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021. TPA recruits candidates for precinct committees and holds get out the vote activities in Arizona and elsewhere across the country.
The group engages in election denialism. For example, in July 2021, Turning Point Action hosted a “Rally to Save our Elections” in Phoenix where Trump spoke for almost two hours, repeating his false allegations of voter fraud. Arizona’s fake slate of electors included Tyler Bowyer, COO of Turning Point USA. In recent months, Turning Point USA’s relationship with Kari Lake has been scrutinized. Turning Point USA, a tax-exempt non-profit, is prohibited from publicly supporting or endorsing political candidates. Even so, many Turning Point staffers, including Kirk, have engaged in several activities with Lake like inviting her on their podcasts or supporting her candidacy online. This past September, Tyler Montague, president of the Public Integrity Alliance, wrote a letter to Kirk and the organization’s board of directors calling into question the group’s relationship with the Lake campaign. Specifically, Montague noted how the organization ran paid Google ads in support of Lake’s candidacy and invited her to speak at its events last year. American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, filed a complaint with the IRS requesting that the agency open an investigation into whether Turning Point USA violated its nonprofit tax status by cozying up with Republican candidates, including Lake. Turning Point Action has a sordid history in terms of its online activism. In September 2020, it was reported that Turning Point Action had paid young people in Arizona, some of them minors, to post Turning Point content on their social media accounts without disclosing their affiliation with Turning Point, and that Turning Point had given them specific instructions on how to make minor alterations to the content to prevent detection that it came from the same source. The posts cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process and made light of the pandemic. For example, on Facebook, a comment casted doubt on mail-in ballots because of the potential of mail fraud. An Instagram comment claimed that 28 million ballots went missing in the past four elections, implying voter fraud. A former Turning Point USA employee, Arizona state Rep. Jake Hoffman, a member of Arizona’s false slate of electors, was banned from Facebook in 2020 for his role in trolling and because of work his previous firm, Rally Forge, did on behalf of TPA, posting comments in support of Trump and other conservative causes across hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages. Facebook described its investigation into these activities in a post on its website, sharing that the Turning Point-related activity was just part of what Rally Forge was doing on the platform. Facebook said the company would create accounts to comment on topics like trophy hunting, elections, COVID-19, and candidates. The platform said the accounts were “thinly veiled personas,” using slight variations of the names of the actual people behind the accounts. In total, Facebook’s investigation tied 200 accounts, 55 Pages, and 76 Instagram accounts to these activities by Rally Forge. About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the pages and 22,000 people followed at least one of the Instagram accounts. Nearly one million dollars was spent for Facebook advertising by the network.
We the People Arizona
Founded in December 2020, We The People Arizona (WTPAZ) is a political action committee that distributes funds as campaign donations and for other election purposes. The group’s symbol includes the language “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” and its homepage says ominously “a broken oath is treason.” The group’s YouTube page is filled with videos allegedly showing Maricopa County officials involved in all kinds of election shenanigans. The channel hosts various election deniers including Mike Lindell, Lin Wood, and Steve Bannon. The founders of WTPAZ, Shelby Busch and Steve Robinson, explained that they had distrusted elections for years, even when Trump won in 2016. This prompted them to become major supporters of the audit in Maricopa. WTPAZ participated in rallies outside the Arizona Capitol in December 2020 and on January 6, 2021, where they issued a “warning” to elected officials. “A new revolution is upon us,” Robinson told the crowd in Phoenix, not long after law enforcement had put down the insurrection in Washington. “Let’s get five tyrants out of office,” Busch said, referring to the Maricopa County supervisors, whom they hoped to recall from their positions. WTPAZ started receiving large donations quite quickly, including $50,000 from Lindell, who had recently appeared by video at one of their rallies. The group’s principals have participated in events with Lindell and other prominent election deniers.
In May 2021, WTPAZ held a “revival,” at a veterans’ memorial near the State Capitol. Speakers framed the audit in biblical terms. “Put your faith in God, like we have with this audit,” said a woman named Patty, wearing a “Latinas for Trump” shirt. “The election was stolen, and you don’t take from God. I will die fighting. We all need to be there. It is a war.” Busch said that day, “That heaviness you feel every day when you wake up?…That’s spiritual warfare.” Robinson referred to Trump as “our rightful president.” WTPAZ has an extensive section on their website that claims to be evidence of “fraud” in the Arizona elections. The page includes pictures of the LinkedIn pages of election employees in Maricopa County as well as various documents, many highlighted, they believe prove that fraud happened. The Associated Press (AP) fact checked the group’s videos, writing “The conservative political action committee We the People AZ Alliance tweeted…footage with misleading captions” which then was picked up by the conservative blog The Gateway Pundit, which has previously spread numerous false claims about elections in Arizona. AP determined that the allegations WTPAZ made were “false,” reporting, “video footage from different dates and different locations was spliced together to make it falsely appear that an election worker was wrongfully photographing ballots” and other videos, such as footage involving a flash drive “showed a routine data retrieval process, while the photograph of an exposed hard drive was from a professional forensic audit.” AP’s conclusion was that the videos and images show legitimate activity in the elections department in 2021 and had no impact on the 2020 election.
WTPAZ’s website also highlights information from Verify Vote claiming that about 19,000 ballots were counted that had been turned in past the state’s deadline. They have a petition to “Stand with Gosar” and an item thanking Mike Lindell for his support. The group’s members include Dr. Lyle Rapacki, a far-right activist who has claimed “demonic” forces were afoot in the fight over the Maricopa ballots and who became one of the recount’s most vocal boosters. Speaking about the election, Rapacki told Busch on March 8, “It’s been unfair, it’s been unreal, it’s been demonic.” In July, WTPAZ held an “Arizona Election Security Forum” that featured Lara Logan, Mike Lindell, and Kari Lake and promised “never before seen footage of election violations.” Steve Bannon called in. Other events and rallies hosted by the group or at which they spoke have featured U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, former ICE Director Tom Holman, Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes, and Tim Foley of Arizona Border Recon.