Truth or Consequences

Putting the “con” in conspiracy theorists


Truth or Consequences

I follow an eclectic group of right-wing conspiracy theorists on social media, not because “I go where they go” (which is my own contraction for QAnon’s “WWG1WGA” motto), but because I’m genuinely fascinated by conspiracy theorists, how they come to believe what they believe, and how they reconcile facts that unassailably disprove their quackadoodle conspiracy theories. I’m keen to know how they got to where they got to (HTG2WTG2).

Whether it’s anti-vaxxers who still claim that COVID-19 was a hoax despite the pandemic’s monumental death toll, or the canard that Bill Gates put a tracking device in all the COVID vaccines, or election deniers in the US who still claim Trump won the election despite recount after recount showing that he had lost, or that grieving parents at school shootings are “crisis actors,” or that the world is controlled by a cabal of nefarious Bond villains within the World Economic Forum, following conspiracy theorists is a never-ending source of fascination for me and it should be for you given the damage they are doing to Western democratic and legal institutions.

I could hardly keep up with conspiracy theory news in the fall. Three lawyers very close to the Trump campaign, namely Sydney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis, each had a hand or two (or three) in propagating conspiracy theories that there was widespread voter fraud in the last US election and that the election had been “stolen” from Mr. Trump. When the facts came crashing down on them, they folded like cheap tents and struck plea deals with Georgia prosecutors to save their skin and avoid jail time.

Ms. Ellis pled guilty to aiding and abetting false statements and writings, which stoked the lie that Trump had won the election. Harvard law alum Chesebro also pled guilty to conspiracy to commit filing false documents and admitted that he conspired to put forward a list of “fake electors” in Georgia to overturn the election. Powell was a conspiracy theory media darling who pushed baseless and outrageous claims that Dominion Voting Systems (which manufactured the voting machines used in 28 states), was controlled by the Venezuelan government, George Soros and the Clinton Foundation, and that the election results were technologically rigged in favour of Mr. Biden. Fox News propagated the same lie but had to pay $787 million to Dominion to settle Dominion’s lawsuit against it. I wonder if Ms. Powell’s next court appearance will involve her bankruptcy, because Dominion is suing her as well.

The facts are clear. There was no widespread voter fraud and a number of prominent Republicans have publicly ridiculed the “stolen election” theory as nonsense. As Senator Mitt Romney has said, where there was evidence of voter fraud, the fraud was committed by Republicans, not Democrats. These three lawyers pled guilty to various lesser charges in exchange for no jail, some community service time, an apology, and a commitment to cooperate in the upcoming case against Mr. Trump. But it strikes me that these lawyers face far more serious consequences than simply admitting they made a boo-boo, and they’re really sorry they messed up. Notwithstanding any other civil liability that they may face, I imagine each of them face potential suspension and even disbarment for their conduct, and that’s an important lesson for all lawyers to learn. Don’t lie on behalf of your clients.

I agree that part of our job is to put forward the best case possible, and in many situations, we are called upon to use our advocacy and wordsmithing skills to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. But when lawyers make false statements to government authorities or courts, blatantly lie in the media in order to propagate disinformation to sway public opinion or otherwise take steps to thwart democracy, their conduct is comparable with those who orchestrated and participated in the January 6 insurrection.

What Powell, Chesebro and Ellis did wasn’t advocacy. It was a recipe for disbarment.

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