The fourth public hearing organized by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol on June 21 2022 examined how disinformation and smear campaigns were wielded to pressure state officials and private individuals to help him overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The most chilling stories came from private citizens Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, both election workers who were attacked by weaponized disinformation campaigns spurred in part by a phony “confession” posted to Instagram in Freeman’s name, which we debunked in December 2020:
The harassment escalated thanks to feverish far-right websites, Donald Trump’s tweets, and Rudy Giuliani, until both mother and daughter felt unsafe everywhere they want. Freeman told the committee that because of the threats, she had to give up her entire life’s work and identity. “I’ve lost my name, and I’ve lost my reputation,” she testified. “For my entire professional life, I was Lady Ruby”:
My community in Georgia, where I was born and lived my whole life, new me as Lady Ruby. I built my own business around that name, Ruby’s Unique Treasures. A pop-up shop catering to ladies with unique fashions. I wore a shirt that proudly proclaimed that I was, and I am, Lady Ruby. Actually, I had that shirt on. I had that shirt in every color. I wore that shirt on election day, 2020. I have not worn it since and I will never wear it again.Jan. 6 Hearings: Disinformation Powered Trump’s Push to Overturn ElectionJan. 6 Hearings: Disinformation Pow...
“There is nowhere I feel safe,” she said. “Nowhere.”
Moss, like her mother, said that she was forced to stop doing work that she loved because of the racist attacks and harassment brought on by the disinformation circulated about them:
Moss, who testified in person on Tuesday, described the moment she discovered she’d been receiving myriad “racist” and “hateful” threats on Facebook’s Messenger application.
“I went to that icon and there was just a lot of horrible things,” Moss said. “A lot of threats, wishing death upon me, telling me that I’ll be in jail with my mother and saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.’”
I’ve gained about 60 pounds. I just don’t do nothing anymore. I don’t want to go anywhere. I second guess everything that I do. It’s affected my life in a — in a major way. In every way. All because of lies. For me doing my job, same thing I’ve been doing forever.
Moss and her mother were targeted and harassed relentlessly after Rudy Giuliani, who was advising Trump on how to overturn the results of the 2020 election, used video footage of the pair working during the election count to push lies about the results.
Arizona House Speaker Russell “Rusty” Bowers (R) also testified, saying that Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure election officials to call the election in his favor was “a tragic parody.”
Bowers detailed a harassment campaign against not just him but his family and neighbors and attacking him using QAnon-style narratives that should by now be exceedingly familiar to anyone following American politics:
“You are asking me to do something against my oath, and I will not break my oath,” he said he told Trump and Giuliani, to which the former New York mayor said: “Aren’t we all Republicans here? I would think we’d get a better reception.”
Bowers told the committee that his office was subject to over 20,000 emails, thousands of voicemails and texts from those who believed he was wrong to not recall the electors.
“Up until recently, it is a new pattern in our lives to worry what will happen on Saturdays,” he said about his family. “Because we have various groups come by.”
Groups have video trucks accusing Bowers of being a pedophile and corrupt politician, blaring loudspeakers and threatening him and his neighbors.
In recent years, baseless “pedophilia” and “groomer” smears have been increasingly leveled against teachers, doctors, scientists, journalists, LGBTQ people, and anybody else in the sights of far right disinformation campaigns and power grabs leveraging inauthentically organized moral panics from PizzaGate to QAnon and beyond:
After Josh Hawley (R-MO) falsely accused [Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown] Jackson of giving child pornographers unusually lenient sentences and “soft” treatment, other conservatives, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, ran with the idea that Jackson and anyone who supported her confirmation was supporting or sympathetic to pedophilia.
The result of this fear-mongering is grim: Vice reports that users of extremist right-wing websites like Patriot.win recently tried to publicize the address of a school superintendent who they claimed was “grooming” children. In March, the superintendent placed a school nurse on leave for allegedly making inappropriate statements on Facebook about a student who may have been receiving gender-affirming care.
Claiming the superintendent was “supporting leftist grooming in her schools” by implicitly protecting the welfare of a potentially trans student, one Patriot.win user wrote that she “needs to be executed by our judicial system.”
Bowers said that the smears also extended to his gravely ill daughter, who he said was deeply distressed by the harassment in the months before her death.
Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who was a frequent target of Trump’s tweets trying to publicly pressure him into changing the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election after he maintained that there was no fraud, also testified about the “disgusting” slurs and harassment he and his family received:
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified under oath and under subpoena alongside his top election officer Gabriel Sterling. The committee is probing the riot at the capitol that came just four days after former President Trump called Raffensperger – and implored him to find enough votes to swing Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump.
“What are we gonna do here folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break,” Trump said in a recorded phone call.
As Raffensperger and Sterling refused Trump’s demand, tensions heightened. Trump rallied his supporters to back his false claims of voter fraud. And Raffensperger told the committee Trump backers started in on his family.
“And my wife started getting texts. They were typically sexualized texts which were disgusting,” Raffensperger told the committee. “They started going after her to get to me – why don’t you quit and just walk away. So that happened. And then some people broke into my daughter-in-law’s home,” he said.
That harassment was bolstered by the circulation of weaponized disinformation campaigns via botnets, blogs, and others, as we covered throughout 2021:
Trump also made these claims publicly via social media and at rallies:
The rhetoric culminated in the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6 2021:
The House committee also played audio of Trump pressuring Georgia Secretary of State investigator Frances Watson to call the election in his favor:
Trump also tried to sway Frances Watson, who was then the chief investigator of the Investigations Division for the Office of the Georgia Secretary of State, into tipping the outcome of her probe in his favor. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump told her in a recorded conversation.
Ultimately, three vote counts by the Georgia secretary of state found that Trump “came up short,” Raffensperger said. He noted that he and his office “followed” the law and the Constitution.
Our stories on election disinformation can be found here.