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Oath Keepers watched Maricopa County drop boxes, despite claims to the contrary

By: - December 12, 2022 4:07 pm

Armed vigilantes wearing tactical gear were captured by security cameras on Oct. 21, 2022, outside Maricopa County’s drop box in Mesa. Photo via Maricopa County

Attorneys representing Melody Jennings, known online as “TrumperMel,” told a federal court back in October that none of her volunteer drop box watchers to her knowledge had extremist ties, but an analysis of a database of her volunteers by the Arizona Mirror found that isn’t true. 

In the lead up to Election Day, Jennings gained notoriety with her former organization Clean Elections USA for a nationwide effort she was leading to watch ballot drop boxes for alleged fraud, inspired by the flawed claims made in the film “2000 Mules.” 

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The actions of her group eventually led to a temporary restraining order in federal court that disallowed certain actions and made Jennings post a disclaimer on all her social media about the actual law in regards to how vote by mail operates in Arizona. Jennings had to drop the group’s name after facing legal threats from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission for confusing voters. 

During the case, attorneys for Jennings argued that the volunteers with Jennings were not affiliated with the far-right anti-government group the Oath Keepers, who were conducting their own drop box watch operation in Arizona, which was promptly shut down in response to legal challenges by voting rights groups

Jennings also distanced herself from armed vigilantes in tactical gear at a drop box in Mesa. 

The Mirror received a copy of an internal database from Clean Elections USA that included the names and email addresses of the people who signed up to work in Arizona along with the position they chose to take. The Mirror then cross-referenced that list with a leaked database of Oath Keeper members. 

Three people appeared in both sets of data. Two people had name, email and state matches; one person’s name and state matched, but their email did not. All three signed up for “Guarding Drop Box.” 

The increased attention to ballot drop boxes was fueled by the debunked film “2000 Mules,” in which conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza alleged that supposed “ballot mules” were tracked by using cell phone geolocation data. The film alleges the people were paid to stuff ballot boxes with completed ballots, but provides no actual evidence such a thing happened.

The practice of submitting a ballot completed by another person, pejoratively referred to as ballot harvesting, is largely illegal in Arizona, though there are exceptions allowing people to deliver ballots for family members and others in their care.

Jennings’ group gained increased attention in Maricopa County due to former President Donald Trump sharing one of her posts on his social media platform Truth Social that falsely claimed “ballot stuffing had already begun” in the state. 

Shortly after a wave of attention came to Jennings’ group and more people began participating in the watches, another individual became the poster child for the drop box watchers. 

At a drop box in Mesa, a masked armed man got into a confrontation with individuals who did not feel comfortable with the presence of those watching the drop box. The individual, who was also accompanied by other masked vigilantes, was sitting near the drop box — within the 75-foot electioneering limit in state law — next to a vehicle with its license plate obscured. 

In court hearings, Jennings said that her group was not affiliated with any armed individuals who appeared at drop boxes, and her attorneys said it was not fair for Jennings to be on trial for the actions of others in the state. 

The Mirror also discovered those with other forms of extremist activity within the dataset, like those who engage in COVID-19 denialism. Multiple people either sell or are associated with alternative medications, including one individual who sells devices to block 5G emissions. 

Also within the dataset were some attorneys and Republican precinct committeemen. Precinct committeemen are voting members of a political party’s legislative district organization. They are the foot soldiers of political parties, and they primarily do things like registering voters, canvassing neighborhoods for their party’s candidates and other grassroots activities. They also have access to voting data. 

Jennings and her attorney, GOP state legislator-elect Alexander Kolodin, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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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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