Supporters of President Trump are promoting the Twitter hashtag #StopTheSteal to advocate that contested battleground states stop counting outstanding votes cast during the 2020 presidential election.
Far-right extremists, including former Trump adviser and convicted felon Roger Stone, first popularized the phrase, which dates back to the 2016 election and serves primarily to dispute Democratic votes in urban, multiracial areas. On Thursday, the hashtag appeared to be gaining traction again, sometimes being shared dozens of times within the span of a minute, Hatewatch calculated. Additionally, a Facebook group formed on Wednesday called Stop the Steal 2020 gained over 300,000 members within the span of a day before the social media company removed it.
Stone started promoting a group of would-be poll watchers called “Stop the Steal” during the 2016 election, first under the auspices of defending Trump’s Republican primary nomination and later contesting a potential Hillary Clinton victory that never manifested. Stone created the group to uncover voter fraud, which experts say is not a significant problem in U.S. elections. Democrats sued Stone over the group, arguing that it sought to intimidate non-white voters. He denied that allegation. Far-right activists linked to Stone picked up the slogan a second time during the Florida gubernatorial race in 2018 when Republican Ron DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by a margin of under one percentage point.
In Phoenix on Wednesday, male supremacist and disinformation peddler Mike Cernovich, an associate of Stone’s, helped lead a crowd of pro-Trump protesters, who chanted “Stop the Steal” outside of the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix, where votes were still being counted. CNN and other networks aired footage of the demonstration. Some of the protesters carried guns, which is legal under Arizona’s open carry laws. The department issued a statement after midnight writing that poll workers would “continue our job” of counting the votes in the face of the armed protesters, and thanked the local police for their help. Infowars’ Alex Jones, who has hosted Stone on his show, appeared at a similar event in Phoenix on Thursday night.
Far-right activists promoted similar “Stop the Steal” events Wednesday and Thursday in such places as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Las Vegas, where authorities also continue to count votes in the presidential election. The right wing Tea Party Patriots, as well as the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America, have also involved themselves in Stop the Steal events. News networks have been unable to call winners in those states due in part to the overwhelming number of voters who submitted mail-in ballots this election cycle. Mail-in ballots have favored Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the election, and any effort to discard those votes would disproportionately benefit Trump’s reelection prospects.
Stone associate and One America News Network correspondent Jack Posobiec has also promoted the hashtag #StopTheSteal during the runup to the 2020 election and on election day. Posobiec, who has accrued over one million Twitter followers despite appearing to repeatedly violate the website’s terms of service, is connected to white nationalists and neo-Nazis. He has become infamous for using social media to promote disinformation, such as 2016’s #Pizzagate, which falsely suggested that Clinton and other Democratic Party officials ran a child sex-trafficking operation in the basement of a D.C.-area pizzeria.
Ali Alexander (formerly Ali Akbar), another Stone associate with a history of publishing far-right propaganda, has also repeatedly promoted the #StopTheSteal hashtag to Twitter. On Wednesday, Alexander also promoted a website to help guide Trump supporters to so-called Stop the Steal protest events in different cities. In the runup to the 2020 election, Alexander used Twitter to promote a false story that Joe Biden is suffering from a debilitating disease that he hides from the public.
“The republic is already lost. The question is, can we resurrect her?” Alexander said on a Periscope livestream he published to Twitter on Wednesday while promoting Stop the Steal events.
Other far-right extremists on Twitter helped Stone’s associates give the Stop the Steal campaign traction. Michelle Malkin, an anti-immigrant pundit who contributes to the white nationalist publication VDARE, used #StoptheSteal on Twitter Wednesday night. Faith Goldy, a Canadian woman with over 100,000 followers on Twitter, changed her display name to “TRUMP WON – STOP THE STEAL” in the aftermath of the election. Goldy has appeared on neo-Nazi podcasts and espoused white supremacist views.
“Trump won on Tuesday night,” Goldy wrote to Twitter on Wednesday. “He must secure the win by any means [necessary]. Refuse to leave the office under any circumstances. Call on the people to go out in the street and support him. Order the military to defend him. Things are going to get weird anyway. Remain alpha.”
More mainstream pundits, including Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons and most prominent campaign surrogates, also picked up the hashtag on Thursday morning.
“Where is he** is [sic] the FBI & @TheJusticeDept? #StoptheSteal,” Eric Trump published to Twitter.
Photo illustration by SPLC