To the delight of autocrats around the world, from Brazil’s neo-fascist President Jair Bolsonaro to Hungarian quasi-dictator Viktor Orban, Donald Trump and his cult-of-personality Republican Party have driven the United States into a category that was once the domain of Third World nations. Widespread belief among Trump loyalists that elections are “fixed” has undermined faith in the American political process. It was similar propaganda put forth by Adolf Hitler that convinced many Germans in the 1930s that elections were merely a waste of time, a mindset that allowed Hitler to scrap Germany’s democratic constitution and declare a “Thousand Year” Nazi Reich.
In nations like India, the world’s largest democracy, there has been, since its independence in 1947, a history of violence attached to charges of election fraud. India’s large and diverse media, much of it divided along sectarian, ethnic, and linguistic lines, has helped fuel conspiracies about stolen elections. In 1989, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government announced that India was switching over to computerized voting systems, many opposition leaders cried foul. The Janata Dal opposition party noted that the first constituencies that would receive the voting machines were located in opposition strongholds like Uttar Pradesh. The government contended that the machines were fraud-proof, but that failed to allay opposition charges that there would be systematic election fraud. Janata Dal leader Vishwanath Pratap Singh pointed out that the software used by the machines relied on software from Japan.
In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a terrorist bombing in Tamil Nadu. Although Tamil militants were blamed for the attack, there were reports that opposition figures, including those tied to militant Sikh and Hindu organizations, were also involved. The lesson that can be learned from India is that conspiracies surrounding Gandhi’s legitimacy after the initial introduction of electronic voting machines in 150 constituencies in 1989 and the election conspiracy media hype surrounding it helped polarized the country to the point that the prime minister, as well as 14 other people, were ultimately the victims of a terrorist bombing two years later.
Similar baseless charges of foreign manipulation of computerized voting systems have been leveled by Trump conspiracists, from Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO, to former Trump attorneys Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell. They have made wild accusations that Trump lost the election due to a combination of Italian satellites, Chinese-made wireless thermostats, Chinese-manufactured paper ballots containing bamboo fibers, and Hugo Chavez-manufactured voting machines changing votes. Chavez, who was the president of Venezuela and who had nothing to do with the production of voting machines, died in 2013.
Elected officeholders and elections officials around the United States have been subjected to physical threats from Trump supporters. As was the case with the more irresponsible sectors of the Indian media with the case of Gandhi’s killing, media outlets like Fox News, One America News—which we now know is funded by AT&T—Newsmax, Guo Media and Steve Bannon’s War Room podcasts, numerous Facebook pages, and Epoch Times—bear a direct responsibility for elections officials and anti-Trump politicians being subjected to death threats and other physical harm.
The Trumpists have already shown how far they are willing to go in resorting to violent acts: the January 6 insurrection and siege of the U.S. Capitol; the plot to seize the Michigan state Capitol and kidnap and execute the governor; the shooting of two guards, including the killing of one, at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland, California; the murder of five journalists and staff of the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper; and various Qanon- and white supremacist-related attacks, mass shootings, and homicides around the country.
What the Trumpists are actually doing is what has always been an endemic problem in Indian elections. Party thugs would often storm a polling place in a process known as “booth capturing.” These activists would then proceed to stuff ballots boxes for their party, usually the Hindu nationalist party that today controls the national government. Charges of election fraud have also resulted in sectarian and political violence. In 2004, in the state of Bihar, poor lower caste voters were scared away from exercising their franchise after Hindu nationalists set off bombs near polling places. In other cases, local thugs demanded that voters select their candidates or suffer the consequences. The election bullies would enter the voting booth and stand over voters to ensure they pressed the right buttons.
In 2016, “booth capturing” was accomplished in the United States presidential election and the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum by combining election data analytics compiled by the Steve Bannon-linked company Cambridge Analytica and Facebook with election roll data. By micro-targeting certain voter groups with false and incendiary social media posts and e-mail, voters were either encouraged to vote or dissuaded from exercising their franchise.
With Trumpists seeking to take over local elections and canvassing boards and Secretaries of State positions, the United States is heading in the direction of India and other countries where voter intimidation is the rule of the day. And that can only bring on the levels of violence seen during elections in India, Ukraine, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Mexico, and other nations.
In 2005, the U.S. Embassy in Harare issued the following statement on the rampant fraud in Zimbabwe’s election: “Our monitoring of the vote in 59 legislative races documented several patterns of irregularities that raised concerns about the freeness and fairness of the process.” In 2022 and 2024 will embassies in Washington, DC, be issuing similar reports about the election processes in states like Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida?
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).