Former Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who was named dean of Regent University’s Robertson School of Government in December, is hosting an “election integrity” conference Tuesday, March 23, featuring a mix of longtime voter suppression advocates and right-wing pundits who have promoted former President Donald Trump’s bogus “stolen election” claims. The conference is further evidence that the religious right has thrown its institutional muscle behind Republican efforts to gain and hold political power by passing laws designed to make it harder for some people to vote.
On election night last November, Bachmann told viewers of Kenneth Copeland’s Victory Channel that God had “sealed this election in the heavenlies” and that they would be “rejoicing very soon.” A few weeks later she declared that Satan stole the election from Trump.
Bachmann is using her perch at the “academic setting” of Regent University, which is affiliated with televangelist Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, to tout the supposed intellectual seriousness of her conference. She recently told radio host Dom Giordano that the event would feature “A-list speakers” and that she was “very careful” about who she chose to speak, saying, “I didn’t want any fringe people, people that would be considered nuts.”
One measure of Bachmann’s claims and her sense of what counts as not-fringey is that she has also said that a “centerpiece of this entire conference” will be an hour-long presentation by “the editorial board of The Gateway Pundit,” which she said has the “finest archive in the United States of stories dealing with questionable election practices.” The Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft and his brother Joe Hoft have both been listed as speakers in promotional materials for the conference, and The Gateway Pundit has in turn promoted the conference.
The Gateway Pundit has for years been widely recognized as a notorious source of conspiracy theories and disinformation about a range of topics. A 2017 Harvard University study of disinformation and propaganda said, “Gateway Pundit is in a class of its own, known for ‘publishing falsehoods and spreading hoaxes.’” Jim Hoft’s Twitter account was permanently suspended in February for spreading disinformation about the 2020 election in violation of the company’s “civic integrity policy.”
Research from the nonprofit research organization Advance Democracy noted just before the inauguration that The Gateway Pundit and other right-wing media were questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election and either downplaying the seriousness of the Capitol insurrection or falsely claiming that it was incited by left-wing activists. The day after the Capitol Insurrection, The Gateway Pundit promoted an article that referred to then-Vice President Mike Pence as a “traitor.”
Former Right Wing Watch investigative reporter Jared Holt, now at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, noted on March 17, “Since the Capitol attack, the pro-Trump disinformation rag The Gateway Pundit has been growing increasingly cozy to the modern militia movement. Recent articles have cheered on Ammon Bundy, and Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, for example.”
Bachmann promoted the conference and touted The Gateway Pundit’s central role on a March 17 prayer call hosted by religious-right activists Jim Garlow and Mario Bramnick. Garlow and Bramnick have hosted a series of prayer calls since the election that promoted stolen election claims and fervent prayers and prophecies that God would intervene before Inauguration Day to miraculously keep Trump in power. The day after the Capitol insurrection, Bachmann appeared on one of the calls, where she said that Democratic wins in Georgia Senate runoff elections and the assault on the Capitol were both part of “a left-wing coup.”
In addition to a presentation by The Gateway Pundit, which Bachmann told her fellow prayer warriors would have people “clamoring for election reform,” the conference will also include sessions on the supposed threat to democracy posed by H.R. 1, the voting rights and democracy reform legislation that has passed the House and is being considered by the Senate. Proponents of H.R. 1 say it is urgently necessary to prevent a new wave of state voter suppression laws from taking effect. Bachmann told radio listeners that it would lead to “one-party rule” by Democrats “for evermore.”
Bachmann has touted the participation of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who is not widely known for his expertise on election procedures.
Other speakers include the following:
- Eric Metaxas is an author and self-styled public intellectual whose plunge into the deep waters of Trumpism and conspiracy theories has confounded some conservatives. Metaxas emceed the pro-Trump Stop the Steal rally on the National Mall on Dec. 12 at which Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes called for bloody civil war if Trump did not remain in power. Metaxas responded with a “God bless you,” adding “keepin’ in real, folks.” Metaxas has continued to promote stolen-election conspiracies that have been debunked. The day after the Capitol insurrection, which Metaxas downplayed, he said, “The Deep State is Adolf Hitler.”
- Mark Steyn is a right-wing Canadian author and commentator whose credentials for speaking at Bachmann’s conference appear to be his having served regularly as guest host for Tucker Carlson’s Fox News TV show and the late Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Steyn’s response to the Jan. 6 assault on Congress was in part, “I choke on the sanctimonious drivel of the continuing coverage. The political class … has been largely insulated from the pathologies they have loosed upon the land. For a few hours yesterday they weren’t.” Steyn’s rhetoric has criticized Muslims and other right-wing targets.
- Kris Kobach is a former Kansas secretary of state who is popular among right-wing activists for his anti-immigration and voter suppression activism, but who in the past few years lost races for lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate. In 2018, a federal judge rejected Kobach’s defense of what the American Civil Liberties Union called a “show-me-your-papers” voter suppression law. His loss in the 2020 Senate Republican primary was disappointing to white nationalists who had been excited about the prospect of a Senator Kobach. Kobach, who served on Trump’s ill-fated and short-lived “election integrity” commission, has a history of making false and unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud.
- Hans von Spakovsky, who leads the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, pushes claims that voter fraud is an extensive problem and advocates for more restrictive voting laws. He also served on Trump’s commission on voter fraud and urged the White House not to appoint any Democrats or moderate Republicans to the commission. In 2018, a federal judge slammed von Spakovsky for making “myriad misleading statements” about purported voting by noncitizens. In February, von Spakovsky compared the second impeachment of Trump to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s show trials of political opponents. In 2016, von Spakovsky waged an unsuccessful campaign against President Barack Obama’s pick to be the Librarian of Congress, claiming that she had just been chosen because she was a woman of color and wasn’t fit to be an advocate of “American cultural greatness.”
- Jay Ashcroft is Missouri’s secretary of state. In January 2020, he criticized the state Supreme Court for upholding a lower court ruling against the state’s voter ID law. Last fall, he was sued by voting rights activists over restrictions on voting by mail; they said he had “worked vigorously to reduce access to the ballot for vulnerable Missouri voters.” In January, he said that the state had secured four “safe, secure elections” in 2020, prompting the St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial board to ask on Mar. 3 why, if that were true, Ashcroft was supporting new voting restrictions being pushed in the legislature. The paper called it “a cynical move clearly designed to undermine voter confidence in election integrity and advance the myth proffered by former President Donald Trump that vote fraud is a real threat to American democracy.” The editorial concluded, “Because, apparently, ‘safe and secure’ isn’t safe and secure enough—especially when the free exercise of voting rights might enable certain voters, such as minorities and the elderly, to vote for non-Republicans.”
- John Fund is a conservative journalist who co-authored a book on voter fraud with von Spakovsky. Fund joined von Spakovksy on a panel on election fraud at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, where Fund claimed that fraudulent same-day registration in Minnesota had been responsible for the election of former Sen. Al Franken and thus for passage of Obamacare. Fund did warn people not to believe every rumor and conspiracy theory floating around on the internet, including one connecting George Soros and electronic voting machines; it will yet to be seen whether Fund will publicly challenge any of the conspiracy theories likely to be promoted by Bachmann and her guests.