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Dominion Voting Systems is fighting back against the fraudulent claims made against it by filing lawsuits aimed at the biggest propagators of those conspiracy theories.
At the center of the unfounded conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump is Dominion Voting Systems. The American corporation, whose headquarters are in Canada, develops and sells voting hardware and software, including electronic voting machines. That’s how the corporation landed in the crosshairs of conservatives loyal to Trump.
As president, Trump used his singular platform to sow doubts about the election, but he was not alone in spreading conspiracy theories. His team of lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, regularly used public appearances to spread wild claims about voting machines being hacked and votes being deleted, even as their lawsuits were being dismissed by dozens of courts.
Conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting machines were also shared by Trump-supporting news channels like One American News Network (OAN) and Newsmax, whose chief executive officer, Chris Ruddy, has spent much of his career making unproven accusations against Democrats.
Trump has often promoted conspiracy theories, from the false claim that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was not born in the United States to the bizarre theory that MSNBC host and former House Representative Joe Scarborough murdered his congressional intern. And, then, of course, there is the QAnon movement that revolves around Trump’s alleged battle with the “Deep State.”
Over the years, Trump has faced few consequences for pushing baseless claims, even as he vowed during his 2016 campaign to “open up” libel laws to make it easier for him to sue news organizations that he felt had disparaged him. Now, though, Trump and his loyalists may have pushed their luck too far.
Dominion Voting Systems is fighting back against the fraudulent claims made against it by filing lawsuits aimed at the biggest propagators of those conspiracy theories. If successful, Dominion could make the intentional spread of misinformation a little riskier for politicians and public figures.
What is the Dominion voting machine conspiracy theory?
As tends to happen with conspiracy theories, there are many versions of the one that surrounds Dominion Voting Systems. Like so many of the bizarre and unfounded claims of the Trump presidency, this one was birthed within the realm of QAnon.
As originally reported by NBC News’s Ben Collins, in the week after the election, Twitter accounts directly linked to the QAnon movement were, through the use of the #Dominion hashtag, largely responsible for promoting a baseless theory that Dominion voting machines were used to steal the election from Trump.
Within a week, Trump was tweeting the conspiracy theory. Quoting a report by Chanel Rion, a journalist for OAN, the president broadcast in all-caps, “DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE … STATES USING DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN.”
Q, the anonymous person – or persons – behind the conspiracy theory that maintains Trump was fighting a secret Satanic cabal of pedophiles (many of whom are allegedly Democrats), had assured believers that Trump would win the election. When news organizations called the election for President Joe Biden, the movement rapidly developed an explanation for the loss.
The basic claims of the conspiracy theory are that the Dominion Voting System is associated with prominent Democrats. One disproved claim is that Bill and Hillary Clinton have a financial stake in the company. The conspiracy theory further alleges that the machine software was hacked or designed to switch votes from Trump to Biden, or to simply delete Trump votes.
More elaborate versions of this conspiracy theory posit that the computerized voting machines were initially designed by Hugo Chávez, the former president of Venezuela, in a long-term scheme to impose communism on the US. Chávez died in 2013.
One supporter of that particular theory is Sidney Powell, a lawyer who was briefly involved in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. Powell, a believer in QAnon, was dismissed from the team after appearing in a press conference on November 19 and making multiple unsubstantiated claims, including about Chávez. She continues to assert that she has evidence of election fraud.
Dominion’s defamation suits
Dominion Voting Systems has adamantly denied that their voting machines were involved in any kind of election fraud, going so far as to include a page on their website entitled “setting the record straight.” Those denials have been supported by election officials from every state, many of whom are Republicans, contending that the 2020 election was one of the most secure ever.
In December, Dominion wrote to Powell to demand she retract her claims about their company. By that point, she was no longer officially with Trump’s team, but Trump’s campaign staffers were advised to preserve all documents related to the claims about Dominion. Litigation was expected.
Also in December, Ben Smith, writing for The New York Times, reported that Dominion was likely teaming with Smartmatic, another voting machine company that had been the subject of election fraud conspiracy theories. The two companies were considering defamation lawsuits against the news agencies that had shared the conspiracy theories, including OAN, Newsmax and Fox News.
One Fox News host, Lou Dobbs, used multiple segments throughout November and December to push the conspiracy theories about voting machines. After Smartmatic threatened a lawsuit, though, Dobbs (and other shows on the network) aired a segment with Eddie Perez, an expert on election machines, that debunked many of the claims Dobbs himself had made on previous shows.
Smith spoke with multiple attorneys who were experts in the 1st Amendment. They feel that, despite free speech protections for news agencies, Dominion and Smartmatic would probably be able to provide convincing evidence that the conservative news agencies knowingly reported lies about them.
“Newsmax and OAN,” Smith wrote, “appear likely to face the same fate as so many of President Trump’s sycophants, who have watched him lie with impunity and imitated him — only to find that he’s the only one who can really get away with it.”
Indeed, in early January, it was reported that Dominion had formerly filed a US$1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Powell. Weeks later, the company followed that up with a separate lawsuit against Giuliani for the same amount.
In the lawsuits, Dominion has pointed out that, despite their public claims about the company, neither Powell nor Giuliani ever made those same claims in their lawsuits for Trump.
The news channels that aired Powell and Giuliani’s claims are now said to be trying to distance themselves from them. OAN and Newsmax, in particular, are vulnerable because they are much smaller companies and cannot afford expensive litigation.
If the defamation lawsuits against Trump’s lawyers are successful, though, other entities, including Trump himself, will likely feel the repercussions.
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