Election conspiracy film stars promoted vigilante action against officials

By: - June 30, 2021 2:01 pm

A screenshot of the Q&A following the premiere of “The Deep Rig” at a Phoenix church. From left to right: Ann Vandersteel, Joseph Flynn, Patrick Byrne, Steve Lucescu, Phil Waldron, Joe Oltmann, Bob Hughes and Roger Richards.

At a question-and-answer session following the premiere of a conspiracy theory film that had unprecedented access to the people conducting the Arizona Senate’s review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results, the film’s participants said their baseless allegations of election fraud warranted “drastic” action. 

“The Deep Rig,” which debuted Saturday and was produced by former Overstock.com CEO and Trump ally Patrick Byrne, aims to prove that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Byrne wrote the book the film is based on, and is its main star. He is also the founder of a Florida-based 501(c)(4) that is aiming to raise $2.8 million to fund the Arizona audit, and profits from the film are going to that organization. 

During the question-and-answer portion of the premiere event, which lasted a little over an hour, the participants sounded off on a litany of topics, many of which have been thoroughly debunked or disproven, and a number of which have their roots in the QAnon conspiracy. 

Arizona Mirror watched the livestream of the event and fact checked a number of claims made by the participants. 

Antifa and “drastic” measures

One of the participants in the film said during the Q&A that he believes that people will have to take matters into their own hands against those who engaged in alleged fraud. 

“They took away our voice in this election, so we are going to have to do something after the election that is going to be pretty drastic,” Joe Oltmann told the 150 or so people who attended the premiere at Dream City Church in north Phoenix in response to a question about the needed “remedy” if the state Senate’s self-styled audit concludes there was fraud in the 2020 election.

“I’ll be damned if I wait to let somebody else stand up and do something else for me,” Oltmann said, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause. One audience member could be heard shouting “patriot militia.” 

There has been no evidence of fraud found in the 2020 election, and two audits that Maricopa County commissioned from nationally accredited companies found no irregularities in the county’s election. 

Oltmann has a history of using violent rhetoric. In March, he said violence would be necessary to “take our country back” in a speech flanked by militia members, and late last year Oltmann threatened journalists.  

In the film, Oltmann rehashed a baseless allegation he previously made against Dominion Voting Systems executive Eric Coomer that has led to him receiving death threats. Coomer has filed several defamation lawsuits over the allegations that he was a member of “antifa” and used his company’s machines to make sure Trump was not re-elected. 

Oltmann wasn’t the only panelist who voiced support for vigilante action: Ret. Army Col. Phil Waldron of Allied Security Operations Group, which was almost hired by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, was asked by an audience member why they cannot do a citizen’s arrest of those they believe are engaged in the alleged fraud. 

“I’m hoping that we all can, like you said, can do that,” Waldron said, adding that he had talked with a friend in Pennsylvania about the issue before. “There has to be justice and there has to be limits on the bureaucracies that have gotten fat and gluttonous over time.”

And Joe Flynn, the brother of disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn, exhorted the crowd to take action. 

“This is where we take the country back. Here in Maricopa County, this is where we do it,” he said. 

Bobby Piton, a mathematician who is connected to Ron Watkins, the man many believe was posting as Q and driving the QAnon conspiracy theory, called on the crowd to harass and intimidate elected officials and government workers who the conspiracy theorists believe have wronged them.

“Lock them into their damn houses,” Piton said. “Protest around their damn houses.”

Old lies resurface

The Q&A also included a number of mistruths about Arizona’s election, as well as the election nationally. The film itself also included a number of debunked conspiracy theories and thoroughly discredited reports

In the film and in the Q&A, Byrne claimed that multiple states and cities had 3-hour pauses in vote counting which is where Byrne and others claim that fraudulent votes were “injected” into the system.

This is not true

The states listed did not have 3-hour stops, and many did not stop counting ballots at all. Additionally, a large number of mail-in ballots in many states did result in votes being tallied slower than usual, but did not cause vote counting to stop

Another claim made was by a man named Bob Hughes, who says he developed the paper evaluation system used by audit workers to examine the paper of the ballots for alleged anomalies such as bamboo fibers and evidence that the ballots were filled out by machines. Hughes claimed there are 667 versions of the ballot in Maricopa County. In fact, there were actually 10,920 ballot styles for the 2020 election in Maricopa County to account for the various city council, school board  

New conspiracy theories begin

A number of new claims about Arizona’s election, the future of the country and more also sprang to life during the Q&A. 

Piton has been making false claims about the election, specifically Arizona’s, since the start of the year. He appeared in the film and made a number of outlandish — and unsupported — claims during the Q&A, including that the Senate’s review will find 300,000 fraudulent votes and swing 800,000 votes for Trump in Arizona. Biden beat Trump by 10,457 votes.

Piton also made a number of remarks aimed at refugees and immigrant communities. 

“Then they can subsidize housing to possibly communists… and to illegals and refugees,” Piton said, saying that the unidentified “they” are buying up property across the United States in order to push fraudulent voters. The untrue claim echoes false allegations about Somali immigrants in Minnesota.  

Byrne also warned those in attendance that he is worried about an impending world war coming by Labor Day, which he said is supported by China telling its citizens to leave the United States. The Arizona Mirror could not find any proof of this claim. 

He further speculated that a plan to combat domestic extremism by the Biden administration, specifically white supremacist extremism, will end up labeling all white people terrorists by the end of the summer.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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