A voting machine company’s $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News has rocked the conservative media giant, exposing rifts between its journalists and the star hosts, and executives more concerned with mollifying pro-Trump viewers than accurately reporting that the 2020 election wasn’t stolen.
But the strangest revelation so far from the Dominion Voting Systems case against the cable channel may be the alleged source of the voter-fraud claims that sparked the lawsuit: a single email from a previously unknown woman who was convinced, among other things, that late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered while being hunted for sport.
That unhinged email to Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell has now become a centerpiece of Dominion’s case, raising questions about how Fox could allow obviously fake claims from a total stranger with no credentials to make it on the air.
Even Maria Bartiromo, the Fox host whose show first aired the claims, admitted in a deposition that the email was ridiculous.
“It’s kooky, absolutely,” Bartiromo said.
But the idea’s origin is even more “kooky” than Bartiromo might realize. In an interview with The Daily Beast, the woman behind that email—a Minnesota artist named Marlene Bourne—said that she based her now nationally prominent ideas about election fraud on a wide variety of sources, including hidden messages she detects in films, song lyrics she hears on the radio, and overheard conversations she hears while in line at the supermarket checkout.
“Yeah, I’m crazy,” Bourne told The Daily Beast. “Crazy like a fox.”
Powell didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Dominion declined to comment.
In a statement provided after this article was published, Fox called the lawsuit an effort to “silence the press.”
“FOX News will continue to fiercely protect the free press as a ruling in favor of Dominion would have grave consequences for journalism across this country,” the statement read.
Bourne, who makes what she calls “cactus art” using glitter and Swarovski crystals, might seem like an unlikely person to plunge the most-watched cable network in the country into an embarrassing, expensive lawsuit.
Bourne said she has never met Powell, or communicated with her beyond that one email. She doesn’t even watch Fox News, because she considers the network and all other major media outlets to be “psyops”—short for psychological operations carried out by nefarious forces as part of what she called a “mass global unconventional warfare” plot to divide Americans.
But on the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2020, just hours after Fox and other major media outlets called the election for Joe Biden, Bourne sent Powell, Fox host Lou Dobbs, and conservative activist Tom Fitton an email laying out the case against Dominion as she saw it. In Bourne’s telling, Dominion machines used software to convert 3 percent of all votes for Donald Trump into votes for Biden.
Bourne had seen Powell defending Trump online and thought the lawyer would be the perfect person for her theories.
“OK, let’s send some information that will steer her in the right direction,” Bourne told The Daily Beast. “I was on a roll, let’s put it that way.”
But Bourne didn’t stop there. In a flurry of names and statistics, she laid out a scenario in the email where the world is controlled by a sinister cabal —one that fatally hunted Scalia for sport (in reality, Scalia died in his sleep in 2016).
“Justice Scalia wasn’t accidentally shot during a hunting trip,” her email read. “He was purposefully killed at the annual Bohemian Grove camp. A club for members of the Mega-Group, during a weeklong human hunting expedition. NEVER accept an invitation to be a guest at that camp. Ever.”
Bourne peppered the email to Powell with “facts” about herself, claiming that she had once felt her soul leave her body after being shot in the back and that she had been “internally decapitated” during a car accident.
“The Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it,” Bourne wrote.
Asked about the “wind” that gives her ideas, Bourne responded to The Daily Beast with a question of her own.
“Well, let me ask you something,” Bourne said. “Do you believe in telepathy?”
Bourne admitted in her email to Powell that her ideas were “pretty wackadoodle.”
But less than an hour after receiving the email, Powell had ignored the many red flags the email contained about Bourne’s credibility and forwarded it to Bartiromo.
Three minutes later, Bartiromo forwarded Bourne’s theories to her producer and replied to Powell, saying the lawyer had provided Fox with “very imp[ortant] info.”
The next day, Fox aired a pre-taped interview with Bartiromo and Powell on Bartiromo’s show, Sunday Morning Futures. The segment appears to be based in large part on Bourne’s email—in Bartiromo’s deposition, she was unable to point to another source for Powell’s ideas.
During the deposition process, a lawyer for Dominion said the discovery process didn’t turn up any other documents used by Bartiromo’s staff before the segment aired that mentioned Dominion.
Bartiromo’s producer said in her own deposition that the show “never used” the email. But the Nov. 8 segment on Bartiromo’s show echoed a number of claims made in Bourne’s email. Powell said Dominion software “used an algorithm to calculate the votes they would need to flip,” converting Trump votes into Biden votes.
Bartiromo referenced false claims that she would have read a day earlier in Bourne’s email. At times, Bartiromo even used identical phrasing to Bourne’s email.
For example, Bourne’s email reads:
“Don’t you find it curious that Nadeam Elshami, Nancy Pelosi’s longtime Chief of Staff is a key executive there, and that Richard Blum, Senator Feinstein’s husband, is not only a significant shareholder of that company, but in Avid Technologies as well?”
Bartiromo repeated phrases from the email, like “longtime chief of staff,” “key executive,” and “significant shareholder”:
“I also see reports that Nancy Pelosi’s longtime chief of staff is a key executive at that company,” Bartiromo said. “Richard Blum, Sen. Feinstein's husband, a significant shareholder of that company.”
The identical phrasing is more visible because Bartiromo’s claims, taken from Bourne’s email, are false. Dominion hired Elshami’s lobbying firm, but he wasn’t a “key executive” at the voting machine company. And Blum, the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has no financial connection to Dominion.
Bartiromo and at least one Fox executive have scrambled to distance themselves from the email in the aftermath of Dominion’s lawsuit. In her deposition, Bartiromo said it was “inherently unreliable” and agreed that it was “nonsense.”
In an October deposition for the Dominion lawsuit, David Clark, the Fox executive who oversaw Bartiromo’s show, agreed that the segment should not have run if it was based only on Bourne’s email.
“I will concede that this email is crazy,” Clark said.
Lawyers for Dominion would later seize on Bourne’s most outlandish claims, noting in a motion filed last month that “the full force of the email’s lunacy comes across by reading it in its entirety.”
In a discursive 40-minute interview with The Daily Beast, Bourne threw out a jumble of ideas that centered on ties between telepaths, the Bank of the Vatican, the NXIVM sex cult, and the 1970 film Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
And she explained where she got the conspiracy theories like the one that Fox somehow allowed to reach its airwaves, prompting the threat of a $1.6 billion judgment. Essentially, in Bourne’s telling, she conjures her theories out of nothing.
“It’s just really interesting where I’ll have the TV on, and I’ll hear a word or a person’s name, and for whatever reason, I can’t explain it, it’s going to compel me to look it up online, I’ll do a little digging,” she said. “Instead of saying I rely on my intuition, I say ‘the wind’ is talking to me. It’s just a fun way of living my life, don’t you think?”
Bourne gets her theories from song lyrics and glimpses of magazine covers. She’s working on a book styled after the Ancient Aliens television series that focuses on the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. She has an elaborate theory about the deep state and the media: in Bourne’s telling, the CIA controls the Washington Post, the FBI runs the New York Times, and the State Department runs Politico and CNN.
Bourne didn’t realize her email had become a key part of the Dominion trial until a reporter from The Daily Beast contacted her, but she didn’t seem surprised.
“My point of view sometimes is so far outside the box it’s not even on the same playing field, it’s not even on the same planet,” she said.
For example, Bourne got the idea that Scalia was murdered in a human hunt because it just made logical sense from what she had seen from watching movies and television.
“What’s one way to get rid of a Supreme Court justice in order to get the kind of people that you want on it?” Bourne said. “Hunting.”
UPDATED to include comment from Fox News.