After a disastrous day in court on Thursday, the company behind Arizona’s chaotic Maricopa County election “audit” is disbanding, and now some rightwing fans are furiously wondering if it was all just a big scam.
Cyber Ninjas, a small Florida-based cybersecurity firm, was always a controversial choice to handle Maricopa County voters’ ballots. The company had no elections experience and its founder, Doug Logan, was involved in promoting 2020 election fraud hoaxes online. When it finally released its findings this fall, Cyber Ninjas found President Joe Biden did indeed win the election. But the group did not turn over court-ordered materials, and on Thursday a judge ordered Cyber Ninjas to pay $50,000 for every day it continues to withhold the documents. That night, the company announced its disbandment, reportedly laying off all employees.
“Cyber Ninjas is shutting down,” spokesperson Rod Thompson told NBC on Thursday. “All employees have been let go.” The group’s lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, also told the Associated Press that the company had laid off all its employees and was now insolvent.
The move comes as a blow to audit dead-enders who have long insisted that Cyber Ninjas secretly has proof of Donald Trump’s 2020 victory—but who are now smearing the group as “grifters.”
Since the audit’s launch this spring, Cyber Ninjas claimed to run the operation with radical transparency, sharing live streams of auditors as they flipped through stacks of ballots. The livestreams attracted an online community on messaging platforms like Telegram. Some of those Telegram channels were less than pleased with Cyber Ninjas’ dissolution on Thursday.
“FAKES,” complained one member of an Arizona audit channel. “SOAB [son of a bitch], all they care about is $.”
Cyber Ninjas did rake in the cash over the course of the months-long audit. In July, the company disclosed more than $5.7 million in donations from fans. Meanwhile, the group’s audit was a mess, going millions over budget and months over deadline, during which time audit managers appeared in conspiracy documentaries about the election and were accused of ignoring sexual harassment.
But the group also made a costly error when they refused to turn over court-ordered records, which the newspaper the Arizona Republic sought via a public information request. During a contempt of court hearing on Thursday, the Republic requested a $1,000-per-day sanction until Cyber Ninjas handed over the documents. Maricopa Superior Court Judge John Hannah called $1,000 “grossly insufficient” and upped the sanction to $50,000 a day.
“It is lucidly clear on this record that Cyber Ninjas has disregarded that order,” Hannah said on Thursday.
Hannah also cast doubt on the notion that a newly defunct Cyber Ninjas would be unable to produce the documents. “The court is not going to accept the assertion that Cyber Ninjas is an empty shell and that no one is responsible for seeing that it complies,” Hannah said.
Wilenchick told the AP that the group would not produce the documents because it could no longer afford to retrieve them. Hannah, however, warned that the $50,000 sanctions would begin on Friday, and were applicable to individuals, not just the now-defunct company.
Some Cyber Ninjas fans expressed confusion over the group’s lack of transparency.
“Why won’t they release their documents?” one wrote on Telegram, when others bemoaned the $50,000-a-day sanction.
Another audit-watcher noted that the money Cyber Ninjas supposedly needs to retrieve the documents would be “a drop in the bucket compared to the amount they've spent fighting having to produce these records, in court. But then, ‘give us more money to show you how we spent your other money’, is an entirely predictable grift.”
Other fans urged caution. “We really do not have all the facts, though, do we?” one wrote. “If we do get a hold of the fact, and their actions do turn out to be those of grifters, then, by all means, call them grifters.”
Diehard fans of Cyber Ninjas and the Arizona audit have long maintained that the group could prove Trump won Maricopa County. Although Cyber Ninjas’ final audit report ultimately found that Biden won more Maricopa County votes than Trump, its leaders implied that their audit had revealed alarming voter fraud. They later alleged 77 instances of supposed voter fraud, 76 of which were debunked by Arizona officials on Thursday. (The final, an instance of a small ballot double-count, was upheld.)
Following Cyber Ninjas’ disastrous court appearance on Thursday, some conspiracy theorists took to the airwaves to claim that the Maricopa County audit found fraud, but that incompetant audit officials had bungled their report.
In a Thursday night web broadcast, election conspiracy promoter Shiva Ayyadurai blasted Jovan Pulitzer, another conspiracy theorist and alleged failed treasure hunter, who claimed to find “kinematic artifacts” that proved fraud in Maricopa County ballots.
“There’s no kinematic artifact detection. It’s purely a regurgitation of the Maricopa report,” Ayyadurai lamented of Pulitzer’s report. He still clings to the idea that there was voter fraud in Maricopa County, but trashed Pulitzer’s involvement in the audit as a scam.
“If you’re funding this, I feel that you’re being victimized,” he said.
Audit records show that Ayyadurai twice worked on the Maricopa County audit: once in the employ of Cyber Ninjas, and once for the Arizona State Senate. Ayyadurai, who has blamed his own election loss on supposed voter fraud, went on to accuse Pulitzer of souring state officials’ opinions of the audit.
“If they get crap like this, they’re going to think this entire audit was just garbage,” he said.