Because WorldNetDaily couldn't pass up a good conspiracy theory, no matter how thoroughly it'd debunked, it was quick to attach itself to the idea that thousands of "mules" stuffed absentee ballot boxes with fraudulent. In January, for example, an article touted a claim from right-wing group True the Vote that it had a video of this allegedly happening, which was a teaser for an article (like the first, unbylined) announcing that Dinesh D'Souza was making a film based on True the Vote's "explosive footage," called "2000 Mules," and that he had released a teaser video. No mention, of course, that the trailer didn't actually prove anything and that D'Souza is a convicted criminal with a poor factual track record.
As the movie's release date approached, WND got very excited. An April 15 article by Art Moore forwarded the film's claims in an attempt to build credibility for them:
An April 25 article by Moore touted a right-wing reporter promoting "the hard data gathering by longtime election-integrity investigators Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, and data analyst Gregg Phillips that is featured in the upcoming documentary by Dinesh D'Souza '2000 Mules'." That was followed the next day by an article by Bob Unruh promoting how True the Vote video led to "organizations that handed out cash for ballot-harvesting operations" in Georgia. (Those claims were dismissed a few weeks later, which WND never reported to its readers.)
Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips have been engaged in the battle for election integrity for more than a decade, and the day after the contested November 2020 vote, they made a pact.
"Catherine looked at me and said, 'What are we going to do?'" Phillips recounted in an in-depth video interview with Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.
"I said, Let’s go," Phillips recalled. "She said, Let's go all in."
They eventually hired a dozen people who have put in 16-hour days for 15 months, combing tediously through cellphone geolocation data, surveillance videos and documents to see if the evidence supports their hypothesis.
Their hypothesis is that amid the many "dirty," out-of-date voter rolls and the unprecedented distribution of mail-in ballots, a highly coordinated operation in the key battleground states collected ballots and paid "mules" to literally stuff them in the unattended drop boxes that became a center of controversy.
On the day D'Souza's film release date was announced, WND published a Western Journal article detailing where the "highly anticipated documentary film? coupld be viewed. This was followed by an April 28 article by Moore detailed his softball interivew with Engelbrecht in which she declared that "The facts are the facts, and you cannot look away." Moore also interviewed D'Souza, and that bundle of softballs was featured in a May 3 article:
Feeling a bit like Charlie Brown and the elusive football, many who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 have grown weary of claims of evidence that the 2020 election was stolen.
Filmmaker and author Dinesh D'Souza understands that reaction, but he's willing to bet that even the most cynical among us will be convinced after seeing the hard evidence presented in "2000 Mules," which is debuting this week.
"This idea that this was the most secure election – I predict that this movie will blow that out of the water," he told WND in a video interview (embedded below).
"No one who sees this movie will be able to listen to that with a straight face."
D'Souza emphasized "this is evidence of a completely different caliber than anything we've seen before."
But like many things involving D'Souza, "2000 Mules" began to fall apart factually as soon as people outside WND's right-wing media bubble saw it. That means Moore went into defense mode for a May 10 article trying to fight back against an Associated Press fact-check:
The AP's primary claim was that the cellphone location data is not precise enough to determine whether or not an individual actually visited a particular drop box. Innocent people, the news wire contended, may have been caught up in their data.
However, as Wendi Strauch Mahoney of UncoverDC reports, Engelbrecht and Phillips took that issue and many others brought up by the AP into account when they designed their investigation.
In a 2018 opinion in the Supreme Court case Carpenter v. United States, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that when the government "tracks the location of a cell phone," it "achieves near perfect surveillance as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user."
And Engelbrecht points out in the movie that the data in Georgia was used by law enforcement as a test case to help law enforcement solve a cold murder case of a young girl.
That's not actually true, but since Moore is promoting the film instead of acting like a real reporter, he's not about to question anything Engelbrecht says. He also made no effort to fact-check this:
The AP also challenged the claim that the data show violent Antifa rioters were among the mules.
"There were several different violent BLM Antifa riots in Atlanta, and in one of them, we had three dozen of our mules participate in these violent riots," Phillips said. "There's an organization that tracks the device IDs. Across all violent protests around the world, we took a look at our 242 mules in Atlanta, and sure enough, dozens and dozens and dozens of our mules show up on the ACLED databases."
The reference is to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a non-profit that "collects the dates, actors, locations, fatalities, and types of all reported political violence and protest events around the world."
In fact, an official with ACLED says its data cannot be used in that way.
WND cranked up promotion of the film to try and drown out the criticism. An unbylined May 13 article claimed that "An Arizona county sheriff's office featured in Dinesh D'Souza's "2000 Mules" documentary on alleged ballot trafficking in the 2020 presidential election is working with the county recorder to investigate vote fraud" -- but the sheriff himself said there's no link between his investigation and the film. An article the same day by Moore uncritically promoted Phillips' claim that "he and his witnesses have become the target of Georgia state officials instead of the people he believes delivered fraudulent votes to help Joe Biden win the White House.
But even as WND's "news" side got tired of defending D'Souza's film, the opinion side was full of conspiracy theories designed to promote a conspiracy-laden film. More on that soon.