A Facebook group aimed at quashing a Biden victory gained more than 360,000 members within the first two days of its existence, before being banned on Thursday afternoon. People associated with the page have written for Breitbart, been named in federal cases over a “Build The Wall” scam, and registered the website “transracialism.com.”
The group was also soliciting donations.
As ongoing vote counts on Wednesday and Thursday indicated a growing likelihood of a Joe Biden presidency, fans of President Donald Trump took to the internet in ever-greater numbers to claim that, somehow, Biden’s camp must be cheating. Some of them also fomented protests at vote-counting sites in cities from Detroit to Phoenix to Philadelphia.
One Facebook page, called “Stop the Steal” (a slogan pioneered by GOP “dirty trickster” Roger Stone in 2016, when Trump’s chances briefly flickered), racked up hundreds of thousands of followers in the hours after it was established on Wednesday.
But behind the rapid growth was a team that included members involved in previous Republican campaigns: some of them party-sanctioned, and some considerably shadier.
Among the group’s administrators were two Breitbart alumni recently hit with warrants in a bust over a half-baked border wall scheme that led to criminal charges against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. And running a donation-seeking website associated with the Facebook page was the president of a conservative web services company, who previously registered the website “transracialism.com” and at least one other domain name related to election uncertainty.
Two of the page’s top moderators were Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton. The pair have worked together at the far-right news site Breitbart, as well on a number of doomed Republican campaigns. In 2017, Lawrence and Stockton made headlines for abandoning the election campaign of Kelli Ward, a luridly pro-Trump challenger to Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake. Despite Ward’s pro-Trump bona fides, Stockton (her chief strategist) and Lawrence (her press secretary) jumped ship, claiming she was not “#MAGA” enough for them. (Ward lost the race.)
In 2018, the pair worked on a failed U.S. Senate campaign by disgraced Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Arpaio was running against their former employer Ward, whose campaign the pair accused of threatening to leak employees’ nudes.)
Most recently, Stockton and Lawrence were served warrants (albeit with no charges) related to “We Build The Wall,” an alleged scam that raised tens of millions from donors who wanted the group to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. We Build The Wall’s leader, Steve Bannon, was charged with fraud in relation to the campaign. (Stockton and Lawrence were not charged, although they said their cell phones were seized during a federal raid.) Neither immediately returned a Thursday afternoon request for comment.
Other administrators of the Stop The Steal page were longtime Republican figures. The page appeared to be run in part by “Women for America First,” whose founder previously organized bus caravans during the Tea Party movement, as Mother Jones noted.
While the page was active, it was a hotbed of conspiracy theories, with members peddling debunked claims about Sharpies supposedly invalidating ballots, or falsely accusing vote-counters of being in the bag for Biden. Multiple members demanded not a recount but an entirely new election, asking whether voters could be compelled to go cast their ballots a second time, just to be safe.
Some advertised new in-person rallies including, bafflingly, a pro-Trump truck caravan in the solidly blue state of California. And some called for armed rebellion, with one asking, "IF they give this to Joe, how do we go about overthrowing the government?"
Facebook deleted the page on Thursday.
"In line with the exceptional measures that we are taking during this period of heightened tension, we have removed the Group 'Stop the Steal,' which was creating real-world events," a Facebook spokesperson told The Daily Beast. "The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group."
The Facebook page also encouraged members to go to an associated website with a similar name which, as of Thursday afternoon, appeared to be little more than a data-harvesting and donations-soliciting site. (The page contained no information besides pleas for readers’ personal information and money.)
That site was founded by Scott Graves, president of a web services company that has previously worked with other Republican efforts. Although Graves tweeted about the “stop the steal” campaign, it was unclear whether the website was his own project, or whether he’d made it on behalf of the Facebook group administrators in his capacity as an IT professional. (He did not return a request for comment.)
Graves’ domain name history indicates a series of registering websites for conservative causes. One domain name he’d registered, “transracialism.com,” appeared to allude to a term for a bunk phenomenon that gained some attention in 2015 when Rachel Dolezal was revealed to be faking an identity as a Black woman.
Others indicated more explicitly election-driven purposes. A 2012 domain name referred to a “brokered convention”—a hallmark of contested primary campaigns.
—with reporting by Adam Rawnsley