Those Star Trek conventions were odd, with folks in odd costumes chatting with each other in what they thought was Klingon and a hundred Spocks in a row – but those conventions are pretty much history. Now it’s Comic-Con International in San Diego and its imitators in other cities – a Batman here, a Joker there, and an Ironman or two, and Star Wars folks too. Everyone’s a Wookie. But everyone has conventions. There may be an Industrial Plastic Fasteners Marketers Convention. Lawyers go to ABA conventions. The like-minded like to get together and compare notes, and have a little fun if they can.
Campbell Robertson reports on one of those, the annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference:
“What the government tells you is rarely the truth, and it’s never the complete truth,” proclaimed Roger Stone, the veteran political operative and longtime confidant of Donald J. Trump.
To the approving hoots of several dozen audience members on Sunday in a conference room at the Crowne Plaza New Orleans Airport Hotel, Mr. Stone went on to contend that his candidate was no tool of the elite power brokers at the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderberg meetings – and then he asserted paternity cover-ups within the Clinton family, declared that one group supporting Hillary Clinton was a “criminal-based money-laundering operation” and promised “devastating” revelations among hacked emails yet to be released.
And, in a brief detour, he explained that Lyndon B. Johnson helped orchestrate the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The last part – while hardly the focus of Mr. Stone’s speech – was what had brought him, for the second year in a row, to the annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference, a gathering of conspiracy amateurs and prolific authors that is timed around Oswald’s birthday (Oct. 18). The conference is dedicated to the proposition, as the conference organizer explained in his introductory remarks, that “Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy and that it was a coup d’état that happened and we lost our country.”
That’s a Trump kind of thought, so for the second year in a row, one of Trump’s main men was the guest of honor:
In between the dissections of events from 53 years ago, the proceedings repeatedly came back to the current election. Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, who for years raised doubts about whether President Obama was born in the United States, has charged that the election is “one big fix” and has accused Mrs. Clinton of meeting secretly with global financial powers “to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty,” all while intelligence officials warn of covert Russian attempts to manipulate the vote.
That fit right in:
The idea that political figures are at the whim of shadowy forces is a core principle of the conference. The notion that elections have always been rigged was echoed by at least one presenter: Sean Stone, the son of the director Oliver Stone, whose 1991 film “JFK” is effectively one of the conference’s founding documents. There was also extensive and generally favorable discussion of claims put forward by Mr. Trump that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had played a role in a conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination.
Still this Oswald conference is not easy to pin down, politically:
If there was any “party” loyalty, it was with Oswald, considered an honorable patriot manipulated and impugned by conspirators, and with Kennedy, described by one attendee as among the country’s great conservatives and by one speaker as a “kind of better-looking Bernie Sanders.”
Kris Millegan, an amiable publisher of conspiracy books and the chief organizer of the conference – and a self-described “Bernie man” – said the politics here flouted the usual labels.
“When you get people from the far left and far right, they’re really kind of saying the same things,” he said.
Perhaps they’re speaking to each other in Klingon, but this was all about loss:
A sense that some vital national essence was lost on Nov. 22, 1963, was alluded to again and again at the conference. There was also a conviction that the forces that had taken it away were still in control.
“If they did that to us 50-some-odd years ago, what are they doing today?” asked the Rev. Hy McEnery, 65, a New Orleans chaplain and a committed Trump supporter who also had questions about whether the BP oil spill had been planned.
They want to make America great again, as it was on November 21, 1963, but they did have fun:
In the beer garden of a biker bar on Saturday night, a celebration of Oswald’s birthday included a cake, a “Happy Birthday” singalong and live music performed by Saint John Hunt, a son of E. Howard Hunt, one of the Richard M. Nixon operatives implicated in the Watergate break-in.
And if that didn’t cheer people up, there was this:
To some at the conference, there was little to do but despair. The books on sale depicted forces aligned against the truth on an almost incomprehensible scale, arguing that the public was being duped about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Sept. 11 attacks, the origin of HIV and AIDS, the Nuremberg trials, the Federal Reserve, vaccinations, UFO’s and countless other matters. The idea that a vote for any candidate would make a difference, several said wearily, just seemed naïve.
But Mr. Stone’s brash confidence convinced others that this election was a chance to fight back – and when internet connectivity in the conference room suddenly dropped out during Mr. Stone’s speech, they saw it as a sign that someone saw Mr. Trump as a threat who had to be suppressed.
They needed no further proof. The fix was in, and on the Monday after this conference, Donald Trump gave them everything they hoped for:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday cited studies he said showed rampant voter fraud, saying the Nov. 8 election was “rigged” against him even as Republican lawyers called his allegations unfounded…
“They even want to try to rig the election at the polling place,” Trump told a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common.”
Trump cited Pew Trusts research from 2012 that called for updates to the voter registration system because about 24 million registrations were inaccurate.
He also referred to a 2014 article by two political scientists in the Washington Post that said non-citizens who voted could have accounted for Democratic victories in a few close elections in 2008, although the authors acknowledged the sample size of their study was small.
That was good enough, even if Trump’s own party, sort of, was unhappy:
Republican campaign lawyer Chris Ashby said Trump’s charges could foment unrest and were “unfounded” and “dangerous.”
“When you say an election is rigged, you’re telling voters, your supporters, their votes do not matter,” Ashby said in an interview. “I think some of Donald Trump’s comments could cause unrest at the polls.”
Of course they will. That’s why Republicans have told Trump to cut it out, because it’s nonsense:
Mark Braden, partner at Baker and Hostetler and former chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, said that any sort of election rigging at the national level “just is impossible,” citing the various systems in place that would make such an endeavor complicated and unfeasible.
“Our system is principally a system based upon each side watching the other side,” Braden said in an interview. “Our system is dependent on local volunteer participation. Our system has worked very well because we have people who get involved in the process and perform these functions.”
Trump wasn’t in the mood to hear such things:
Trump also pounced on the release on Monday of Federal Bureau of Investigation documents that he alleged showed “felony corruption.”
The documents cited an FBI official as saying a senior State Department official sought to pressure the bureau in 2015 to drop its insistence that an email from Clinton’s private server contained classified information…
“This is worse than Watergate, what’s going on with this,” said Trump.
Yeah, yeah – everything’s worse than Watergate – but the idea was to rein in Trump about this election stuff:
The country’s top elected Republican, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, tried to counter Trump’s message about election fraud. Spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Ryan “is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
In the traditionally hard-fought state of Ohio, the top elections official, a Republican, said concerns about widespread voter fraud were simply not justified.
“I can reassure Donald Trump: I am in charge of elections in Ohio and they’re not going to be rigged, I’ll make sure of that,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted told CNN.
In a report titled “The Truth about Voter Fraud,” the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law cited voter fraud incident rates between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.
An August study by the Washington Post found 31 credible cases of impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast in elections from 2000 to 2014. Arizona State University studies in 2012 and 2016 found similarly low rates.
That’s what THEY say. But Paul Waldman sees the irony here:
The profound threat to democracy created by a major party nominee encouraging his voters not to accept the results of the election has even Republicans getting nervous. But if they say that Trump has gone too far, they have only themselves to blame.
We’ve seen this pattern again and again in this election. Here’s how it works: 1) Trump takes something Republicans have implied or tried to subtly exploit, and presents it in a much more literal, and often vulgar, way. 2) The idea comes under greater scrutiny, and it becomes impossible for any sensible observer to treat it as though it isn’t factually bogus, morally despicable, or both. 3) Supposedly sensible Republicans claim that they’re deeply troubled by what Trump is saying.
That may be the bigger nonsense:
On immigration, Republicans say we need strong border security, and Trump comes right out and says Mexicans are rapists and we need to build a wall. Republicans advocate “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and Trump says “torture works,” and even it doesn’t we should do it because “they deserve it anyway” (and we should kill their families to boot). Republicans warn of “Sharia law” but say they aren’t anti-Muslim, and Trump just says, let’s go ahead and ban Muslims from entering the United States.
And now Republicans are shocked, shocked that Trump would work so hard to delegitimize the electoral process.
They should have known better:
How is it possible that the Republican nominee for president would be able to convince so many people that the voting will be rigged? Maybe it’s because conservative media figures and Republican politicians have for years been saying that ACORN, an organization that was focused in part on registering poor people to vote, was in the business of stealing elections. Indeed, even though ACORN went out of business in 2010, for years afterward Republicans continued to insert provisions into spending bills banning the group from receiving federal money – a group that no longer existed. After the 2012 election, half of Republicans said in one poll that they believed this non-existent organization stole the election for Obama.
And there’s this:
If you’re wondering why, when he’s in Pennsylvania, Trump will tell his nearly all-white audiences to watch the polls in “certain areas,” look no further than Fox News’ extraordinary campaign to convince its viewers that a 2008 incident in Philadelphia – in which a couple of knuckleheads from the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling place glaring menacingly at voters – was a crime on par with the Rape of Nanking or the Armenian genocide. In one two-week period in 2010, Megyn Kelly did 45 separate segments on the New Black Panther case despite the fact that George W. Bush’s Justice Department decided it was too trivial to merit any criminal charges.
Actually, someone else was doing the rigging:
if you’re wondering why Trump supporters are so eager to believe that the vote will be rigged, perhaps you could find the explanation in the fact that the GOP in the last few years has embarked on an extraordinary campaign of vote suppression aimed primarily at minorities, which they’ve justified with the claim that massive vote fraud takes place in American elections.
There are approximately zero prominent Republicans who have raised any objections to this effort, which includes things like ID requirements, restrictions on early voting (particularly on Sundays, when African-American churches often mount “souls to the polls” drives), and moves to make it somewhere between difficult and impossible for non-profit organizations to register voters.
With the possible exception of the claim that the insane regulations Republican legislatures impose on abortion clinics are intended only to safeguard women’s health, there is no more disingenuous argument anyone offers in American politics today than the idea that Republican vote suppression efforts are truly about stopping voter fraud.
So let’s be honest: When Republican legislatures try to make it as hard as possible for certain people to register and vote, they know that their warnings about the supposedly dire threat of voter impersonation are, as the late Antonin Scalia would have said, pure applesauce. As a judge in a case involving North Carolina’s restrictions put it, despite Republicans’ insistence that they were only concerned with the integrity of the election, the law in question was actually constructed to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” In other states, Republican legislatures have been broader in their vote suppression efforts; for instance, a law passed in Texas would accept hunting licenses as valid ID to vote, but not student IDs from state universities. The fact that Republicans can claim without breaking into gales of uproarious laughter that that’s about anything other than making it harder for Democrats to get to the polls is a tribute to their commitment to their cause.
So spare us the indignant reaction from Republican election officials who themselves have worked so hard to place roadblocks in front of minorities trying to vote, when they discover that their base bought all their bogus rhetoric about fraud and don’t trust the electoral process.
They’ve got this all backwards:
As President Obama said the other day in so many words… You built that.
But wait – Mike Pence broke with Donald Trump. He said “we” will accept the outcome of this election, even if Trump is escalating his insistence that he won’t and no one else should. Mike Pence may be one of the good guys here.
Indiana’s Republican governor, Mike Pence – Trump’s running mate – has sent state troopers into more than half of the state’s counties to conduct “investigations” into potential voter fraud.
In one county alone, state troopers seized application papers for more than 45,000 newly registered black voters – effectively keeping them from voting in what is likely to be close presidential and Senate contests in the state. Multiply that sort of seizure of newly registered voter papers in 50-plus counties in Indiana by state troopers conducting investigations, and it’s likely more than enough to make a difference in a close contest.
Pence officials have said that the state police investigations are legitimate and that they believe instances of voter fraud will be found. But this looks mostly like voter suppression, conducted under the guise of an investigation of voter “fraud” (which, again, is essentially nonexistent in America). It’s more likely it has one simple, direct goal in mind: to disenfranchise voters. In this case, the goal would seem to be to keep newly registered black voters from supporting either Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or Senate Democratic candidate Evan Bayh.
Someone really is rigging the election. It’s the Republicans, and Donald Trump is still losing. That can’t be, unless he’s actually winning. An item in the Wall Street Journal explains that theory:
Donald Trump, trailing in opinion polls and facing new accusations by women of unwanted sexual contact, has begun arguing he will win the election on a surge of silent backers who have gone undetected by surveys and the political establishment.
Mr. Trump, who consistently draws thousands of supporters to rallies, said last week his election would be “Brexit all over again,” referring to the unexpected majority of British citizens who voted this year to exit the European Union.
His theory – which others view skeptically – holds that fear of social stigma prevents some voters from admitting they back him, including when talking to pollsters.
After all, polls can be wrong:
Opinion surveys have failed to accurately measure populist unrest around the globe this year, particularly when a movement’s supporters were characterized as immoral or uneducated.
The most recent example was in South America earlier this month, when Colombian voters rejected a peace accord between their government and the country’s Marxist rebel group. Several polls just ahead of the vote showed the proposal would pass by a margin of 20 percentage points, as critics of the deal were cast as morally inferior. It failed with 50.2% of voters opposed.
Earlier this year, proponents of Brexit were characterized as xenophobic and narrow-minded. It passed after polls heading into the election showed it would fail.
The xenophobic and narrow-minded and uneducated (and possibly immoral) will rise up here too, or so the thinking goes:
The theory of silent supporters has been picked up by some of Mr. Trump’s backers. Asked about the polls showing him down in Colorado, longtime resident Jeanie Seder relayed a conversation she had with her hairdresser. “She said, ‘I’m voting for Trump, but I can’t say that to anyone else,'” Mrs. Seder said before a rally in Longwood, Colo. Mr. Trump “says everything we think, but there are just a lot of people who are just being quiet.”
Republican consultants are more skeptical. Pollster Whit Ayers, who has worked for Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), said any hidden support for Mr. Trump likely would be balanced by “Hillary Republicans” who don’t want to admit their preferences publicly.
Drat! Trump didn’t think of that, and there’s this view:
Stuart Stevens, a top adviser to 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, pointed out that Mr. Trump is underperforming in nearly every slice of the electorate.
“This is what I call the ‘lost tribes of the Amazon’ theory: If you just paddle the boat up the Amazon and beat the drum loudly, these lost tribes are going to come to the boat and vote for you,” Mr. Stevens said. “But they’re not there.”
That was the same problem at that annual Lee Harvey Oswald Conference this year, and probably most years. They beat the drum of this conspiracy theory or that, loudly – this year it was the drumbeat of a rigged election that would prevent America from becoming great again – but there really was nothing there. Donald Trump is simply losing. He won’t accept that. Everyone else will – but the like-minded do like to get together and compare notes. Expect him to attend next year.