The user, @We_Have_Risen, tweeted pictures of what he implied were raw vote tallies photographed in Antrim County, Michigan, a key swing state at the center of the stolen election fantasy. Among other offerings, he included photos of a dissected Dominion voting machine (Republicans accused Dominion of helping rig the election, and the company is now suing pro-Trump outlets over these false claims). The conspiratorial captions were well received by his followers, some of whom had previously taken interest in the user’s communications with the administrator of a QAnon-connected message board.
@We_Have_Risen was in Michigan as an “expert witness” for an examination of Antrim County’s votes. But @We_Have_Risen is not an election expert. He’s Conan Hayes, a former professional surfer and co-founder of the popular clothing brand RVCA. And in multiple states, he’s appeared in person as a quiet but central figure in efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Donald Trump’s favor.
That behind-the-scenes work finally burst into the spotlight this week when Hayes was named onstage during MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s “symposium” on supposed election fraud.
Hayes did not return requests for comment for this story. Likewise, @We_Have_Risen did not return requests for comment but went private less than an hour after The Daily Beast first reached out in May. But court records, interviews with people connected to election lawsuits, and Hayes’s own social media confirm his intricate involvement with the movement.
If you’ve ever tossed on a t-shirt or a pair of boardshorts from the brand RVCA (pronounced “ruca”), you’ve come into contact with Conan Hayes’ legacy. A professional surfer in the 1990s, Hayes launched the brand with his co-founder in 2001, reportedly growing it to a $30 million business before selling it to the larger surfwear brand Billabong in 2010.
Then Hayes took a step back from the public eye, founding a company that made children’s sporting goods. “No one knows what I’m doing now,” he told Surfer magazine in a 2012 interview about his new business. “I’ve always had a busy mind, and I just kind of fell into this. Going outside of surf was cool. It was starting from scratch.”
Since 2017, though, Hayes acquired a very different following, under @We_Have_Risen, a Twitter account that promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory during the movement’s still-young days in 2018. That year, the account even reached out to The Daily Beast, tweeting a QAnon graphic at a reporter who noted that QAnon fans were trying to attract journalists’ attention. The QAnon conspiracy theory falsely accuses Trump’s opponents of a variety of crimes, sometimes including drinking children’s blood.
@We_Have_Risen’s account is sparse with identifying details. Last May, however, the user tweeted a picture of a certificate listing their name as “CJ.” The user attempted to blur out his last name on the certificate but, as Twitter user @get_innocuous noted, failed to fully redact it. When @get_innocuous (who first identified Hayes on Twitter, and tipped The Daily Beast to @We_Have_Risen’s likely name) raised the contrast on the certificate, it revealed the last name to be “Hayes.” The Daily Beast ran the same experiment, with the same results.
Elsewhere, @We_Have_Risen has offered strikingly similar biographical details as Hayes. The user frequently describes himself, like Hayes, as a white man from Hawaii. In a 2019 conversation, @We_Have_Risen disclosed that his father was incarcerated for 10 years for growing marijuana. By his own past account, Hayes’ father experienced the same, when Hayes was just 14.
@We_Have_Risen also repeatedly cited surf culture, describing himself as having attended a surfing contest in 1986 when “I was little.” Hayes would have been a child at the time. Elsewhere, he invoked his expertise to claim that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was signaling support to QAnon fans because of a round, almost Q-shaped loop on Flynn’s surfboard leash. “I grew up in Hawaii and have surfed my entire life,” @We_Have_Risen tweeted. “There is no way anyone has tied a leash like that unless it was on purpose.”
And in a 2020 conversation about COVID-19 with @We_Have_Risen, one of his followers appeared to drop his legal name. “Yeah! Thanks Conan! Nice try China!” the follower tweeted at him.
By November 2020, @We_Have_Risen had latched onto conspiracy theories about voter fraud and attracted more than 40,000 followers. On 8kun, the forum that hosted the QAnon theory, users frequently shared @We_Have_Risen’s posts, especially when he interacted with 8kun administrator Ron Watkins. (A new documentary argues that Watkins controls the anonymous account authoring the QAnon theory, a charge Watkins denies.)
On November 11, after Trump’s defeat was official, Watkins tweeted his interest in reviewing the “source code” for Dominion-brand voting machines. The devices became a focal point for voter fraud conspiracy theories after Biden’s victory, feeding a right-wing media echo chamber that resulted in a series of massive lawsuits.
“Send me a DM buddy,” @We_Have_Risen replied to Watkins, prompting speculation that he (and soon Watkins) had special access to the voting company’s program.
Soon, @We_Have_Risen would find his way to real-world election involvement.
Some of the loudest allegations of voter fraud centered on Antrim County, Michigan, where a county clerk (a Republican) briefly announced an incorrect preliminary vote count, before issuing a correction that showed Trump to have won the county. Trump supporters seized on the error as evidence of widespread inaccuracies in the state’s elections. Following a lawsuit by a local man, the state allowed a team of “expert witnesses” to examine voting information in Antrim County’s Central Lake Township.
Those witnesses were not exactly experts, as the Traverse City Record-Eagle first reported. The group was led by ASOG, the Texas-based group. And among the group’s Antrim County delegation was retired Army colonel Phil Waldron (who would soon go on to make debunked claims about voter data in a congressional hearing) and Doug Logan (a tech CEO who promoted voter fraud claims with Watkins on Twitter). After inspecting the voter data, ASOG issued a notoriously error-ridden report that alleged voter fraud, in part because the report’s authors had accidentally mixed up the states of Michigan and Minnesota.
Hayes was one of those witnesses, said Matt DePerno, the attorney arguing the Antrim case.
“I knew him from when he came to Antrim County and helped with the collection of forensic information and the analysis of the info we put into the ASOG report on December 14,” DePerno told The Daily Beast in May. “That's his involvement in our case.” (Days after that conversation, a judge dismissed the case. DePerno, who is appealing the decision, did not respond to new requests for comment this week.)
Hayes or attorneys appear to have obscured his name in an an early list of “expert witnesses,” where he was listed as “C. James Hayes,” his first initial and middle name. An updated witness list, filed in April when the plaintiffs asked to re-examine voting machines, named him as “Conan Hayes.”
Deperno confirmed that Conan Hayes and C. James Hayes are the same person. “I thought his name was C. James Hayes,” Deperno told The Daily Beast. “We amended it. I’m not sure it makes a difference.” (Conan Hayes appears to be the only person of his first and last, not to mention middle, name living in the U.S.)
Hayes’ work as an “expert” in Antrim late last year raised concerns about the plaintiffs’ professionalism, as he appeared to share pictures of his work alongside conspiratorial captions on Twitter.
On November 27, when the group was conducting its forensic analysis in Central Lake Township, the @We_Have_Risen account tweeted pictures of what appeared to be unfurled rolls of voter data, part of a Dominion voting machine, and at least two other documents (a barcode and a spreadsheet).
The rolls of voter data were spread out on a carpet with gray stripes that ran in alternating directions. A report by ASOG appeared to show the same two rolls from a different angle, on the same gray carpet, also photographed on November 27. @We_Have_Risen also included his own analysis alongside the images.
“Who showed up for Trump big time!” he wrote above the picture of the rolls. “What I picked up on was a pattern 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5 and repeat from 1 in 2’s then 4’s back to 1’s after a big adjustment…”
On December 6, the ASOG-led team returned to Antrim County for another analysis. Once again, @We_Have_Risen suggested he was in attendance, tweeting pictures from a local airport.
“I hope @We_Have_Risen is in Michigan today,” one of his fans tweeted.
“Thank you my friend,” @We_Have_Risen replied. “You calllleddd it.”
Experts on elections law told The Daily Beast that tweeting from inside an investigation was, at the very least, unprofessional.
“If this is a person who is part of a team of experts who, because of their expertise, have been appointed by the court to conduct some kind of review of voting practices, then regardless of whether it’s illegal, it’s certainly a violation of the professional code of ethics that applies to expert witnesses doing forensic analysis,” University of Buffalo law professor James Gardner told The Daily Beast. “There are professional obligations of impartiality, of professionalism, and somebody who is sharing stuff on social media would seem to have a kind of conflict of interest that would preclude them from serving as a neutral expert.”
Hayes might also have been involved in an ongoing vote “audit” in Arizona led by Doug Logan, who also served as an Antrim County witness. In May, political analyst Garrett Archer of Arizona’s ABC15 tweeted that Hayes had been at the audit site, where he was described as a “subcontractor.” (A spokesperson for the Arizona audit did not return requests for comment.)
But Arizona and Antrim were not the end of Hayes’ alleged involvement in voter fraud conspiracy theories. On Wednesday night, his name was invoked in a “symposium” on voter fraud, by one of his former allies.
The symposium, hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, was a disaster writ large, with one of Lindell’s own “cyber experts” admitting to the Washington Times that Lindell’s claims of voter fraud could not be proven. In a standout moment of confusion, Ron Watkins (who was teleconferencing into the event) interrupted himself while discussing a voting machine breach in Mesa County, Colorado.
“My lawyer just called me,” Watkins said. “He said I should put out this statement: I just learned that Conan James Hayes may have taken, without authorization, the actual hard drives from the Mesa County—or, the Mesa, Colorado County Clerk and he needs to produce those hard drives immediately and return them to the clerk, and we should stop this data review until he produces the hard drives.” (@We_Have_Risen, which had gone public again in June after going private when The Daily Beast reached out in May, went dark again after Watkins’ announcement.)
If Hayes had taken hard drives without permission, it would be cause for concern at the symposium. Mesa County, Colorado is the latest focal point for election truthers, after a pro-Trump county clerk allegedly leaked her county’s voting machine passwords to a conspiracy site, before heading to Lindell’s symposium. Colorado’s secretary of state accuses clerk Tina Peters of turning off video surveillance systems and allowing an unauthorized person to access voting machines in May. Peters did not return requests for comment. Investigators say the unauthorized person used the name “Gerald Wood,” although they are uncertain whether the name was a pseudonym. Metadata from the leaked voting machine information shows that it was accessed by a person who signed in with the username “cjh,” Twitter user @get_innocuous noted.
Later in the symposium, Peters refuted Watkins, stating that Hayes had not improperly accessed the machines.
Watkins, through his attorney Ty Clevenger, told The Daily Beast that Conan James Hayes of the alleged Mesa County breach was the same person as Conan James Hayes the surfer and RVCA founder.
Clevenger told The Daily Beast that Watkins’ team had spoken with Hayes on multiple occasions, but that they were now beginning to regard him with greater scrutiny after Hayes reportedly aligned himself with Dennis Montgomery, an infamous hoaxster who promoted voter fraud conspiracy theories. Clevenger said Hayes was expected to act as a conduit between Montgomery and other election truthers, but that Hayes came up empty-handed when asked to turn over certain data.
“My understanding is that Conan then said, ‘Dennis has had a stroke,’” Clevenger said. (Reached for comment at a number listed for Montgomery, a man answered the phone to that name, asked who was calling, and hung up upon learning that it was a reporter. He did not return renewed requests for comment.)
Clevenger said his team’s response to Hayes was “‘what the heck, somebody should be able to produce the data.’ It has not been produced and I don’t think it ever will be produced.”
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