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PORT COLUMN: '2000 Mules' is an exercise in exploiting Trump supporters for money

This film won't convince you that the 2020 election was stolen, but it is an excellent mechanism for extracting money from the wallets of MAGA-world.

Rob Port
Rob Port
We are part of The Trust Project.

The following is an opinion piece by a Forum Communications Co. columnist. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Detroit Lakes Tribune. To submit a response for our Opinion page, email nbowe@dlnewspapers.com

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Recently two different people recommended that I watch political provocateur Dinesh D'Souza's film "2000 Mules," a supposed expose that purports to reveal the fraud that cost disgraced former President Donald Trump the 2020 election.

The first was an anonymous man who called to threaten me over my criticism of Trump. He told me that I'd better stop referring to him as the "disgraced former president" lest I face some personal consequence he was unwilling to define for me.

He was also weirdly fixated on my use of "ten-dollar words" in my writing. Like "propensity." It doesn't surprise me that the sort of person prone to making vaguely menacing phone calls isn't likely to treat the happenstance of an unknown word as an opportunity to crack open a book and learn something new, but I digress.

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He ended his shouted diatribe with an exhortation that I watch D'Souza's film to learn the truth.

I got the same recommendation from a Republican state lawmaker who called me a day later to make a similar (and far more civil) complaint about my views of Trump. He also told me to give D'Souza's film a look.

I decided to take their advice. I watched, and I wasn't impressed.

This film is an exercise in entertainment capitalism, meeting the unquenchable demand among credulous Trumpists for "proof" that the 2020 election was stolen with a supply of squint-your-eyes-and-maybe-it's-plausible "evidence."

It is an excellent mechanism for extracting money from the wallets of MAGA-world.

But as a convincing argument for the existence of meaningful, outcome-altering fraud in 2020? This film won't change anyone's mind.

The production makes its case for election fraud on the back of cell phone geolocation data gathered by a pro-Trump group called True the Vote (they got an executive-producer credit on the film) that's then analyzed by a round table of pro-Trump pundits, all of whom just happen to work for Salem Media Group (which got an executive-producer credit, too, and is also distributing the film on its website) .

And if that's all a bit too cozy for your tastes, then I guess you're just another member of the establishment swamp.

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The geolocation data is supposed to show nefarious political activists, working for various nonprofit groups, "trafficking" ballots en masse to official drop-box locations.

This use of nomenclature from the war on drugs is purposeful and gives the movie its odd title. If the ballots are being trafficked, then the people carrying them are akin to the drug mules who transport illicit narcotics, and so on and so forth.

Only, there's no conclusive evidence in the film showing that anything untoward happened.

The geolocation data at the heart of the film's argument isn't nearly as precise as presented. How do we know that somebody being tracked is actually dropping off ballots, as opposed to merely passing by a drop-box location, given that they're often (and for obvious reasons) located in high-traffic areas?

Even in instances where the film couples the geolocation data with surveillance footage of the dropboxes (obtained from public sources through open records requests), the conclusions reached don't match up with what we, the audience, are presented.

In one scene, a woman is shown putting an envelope into a dropbox. The narrators tell us she's putting multiple ballots in, but we aren't shown anything to prove that.

This is also portrayed as meaningful for the 2020 election, but the footage is from January 5, 2021, during the Georgia runoff election. We're also supposed to be suspicious that she was wearing a mask and latex gloves, but many people used those precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In another scene, a man on a bike is seen making a deposit into a dropbox. He then parks his bike nearby and takes a picture. The film's narrators ask us to believe that he's doing so to prove to his bosses that he successfully "muled" some ballots so he can get paid, but a more likely explanation is that the guy was taking one of those I-just-voted photos Americans love to post on social media.

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This is the thin gruel that's supposed to leave us with the conclusion that the 2020 election was stolen.

That's as preposterous as the arithmetic D'Souza uses toward the end of the film. He starts with True the Vote's dubious ballot "trafficking" numbers ( the group has admitted in testimony that they can't prove the ballots are illegal ), inexplicably inflates them for no discernible reason, and then concludes that Trump must have actually won every single contested state.

Why? Because D'Souza knows that's what his audience wants to hear, even if that's not what's supported by the evidence.

This sort of mathematical fabulism is not persuasive for any reasonable person interested in factual and logical conclusions.

But, again, this isn't an exercise in persuasion. This is about separating Trump supporters from their money.

And by that measure, I suspect the film will be a success.

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