On Friday afternoon, a judge in South Florida dismissed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee, brought by people who accused it of committing fraud during the 2016 primary to the detriment of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). Neither the DNC nor ousted chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) responded to the dismissal when asked to comment.
Within hours, the attorneys who bought the suit, Jared and Elizabeth Beck, were providing updates on the case to the blogger and fantasy author H.A. Goodman. Calling out the people and outlets who they believe had covered them unfairly, the Becks described a legal system so corrupt that there could be no fair accounting for what the DNC did. It would be up to alternative media to get the truth out.
“This population has been battered by propaganda, and misinformation, and corrupt politicians for so long,” Jared Beck said. “If you go into court, and you represent anyone but a rich person or a powerful corporation, the chances of you having a fair day in court are slim to none.”
More than a year after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, her opponents on the left remain in a few distinct but overlapping camps. Most, like Sanders, have remained in Democratic Party politics to drive the conversation further to the left. Organizations like Justice Democrats and #AllOfUs are oriented around primary challenges and bullet-pointed agenda; Sanders’s own Our Revolution is providing a national donor network progressives in often-ignored local races.
But for a certain kind of 2016 Sanders supporter, the primary never really ended. It grew into a defining, eye-opening event — a moment when it became clear that Democrats could not be trusted, were not worth co-opting, and might literally be getting away with crimes.
Goodman, whose devotion to Sanders as a Huffington Post blogger gained him a small but dedicated audience, transitioned from columns about the Vermont senator’s inevitable victory to vlogs about the truth coming out about Clinton and the DNC. Sitting in front of a WikiLeaks logo, Goodman alternated updates on the #DNCFraudLawsuit with updates like “CLINTON EMAIL GRAND JURY TO INDICT HILLARY CLINTON UNDER ESPIONAGE ACT: Imminent,” and “SETH RICH MURDER ANNIVERSARY MARKED BY GUCCIFER 2.0 FILES COPIED LOCALLY, NOT HACKED BY RUSSIA.”
And Goodman is one node in a busy network of pundits on full-time war footing against the DNC. YouTube, with its easy use, free storage, and possibility of global reach, has become an agora of 2016 primary bitter-enders. YouTube previously played the same role for far right; in reporter John Herrman’s read, it made mini-celebrities out of “monologuists, essayists, performers and vloggers who publish frequent dispatches from their living rooms, their studios or the field, inveighing vigorously against the political left and mocking the ‘mainstream media,’ against which they are defined and empowered.”
Something similar, but smaller, has grown up around the people who want to prove that the 2016 primary was stolen from Sanders. Over the weekend, there was no TV coverage of the case; it was easy to spend hours, instead, absorbing punditry on YouTube. The case against the “mainstream media” was easy to make, anyway as the Becks’ lawsuit drew little national attention.
“If you’re in independent media, and you didn’t think it was your job to cover the underbelly of the DNC, I’d like to know exactly what you think your job is,” said YouTuber Tim Black after the case was dismissed. “How can you look in the mirror, a journalist, a speaker of truth, and not cover this case?”
The Baltimore-based The Real News Network, which called the lawsuit “overlooked” — contrasting the lack of coverage with the copious coverage of Russian meddling in the 2016 election — followed up with a report on its dismissal. In an interview with Elizabeth Beck, TRNN founder Paul Jay suggested that even in dismissing the case, the judge had agreed with the plaintiffs, stating that the DNC “used resources and surreptitious methods to support Clinton over Sanders.”
Beck found herself in a strange position — telling an interviewer that he was giving her lawsuit too much credit. The language in the dismissal that assumed the plaintiffs’ arguments was not, in itself, admission that the DNC had rigged primaries.
“The court is obligated to take all those allegations as true. I would point out that the court is not saying that those allegations are true,” she told Jay. Jared Beck performed some of the same cleanup after the Observer falsely reported that the judge “reaffirmed that the primaries were tipped in Hillary Clinton’s favor.”
The churn of commentary and accusations let the story get away from the DNC hack itself. The intrusion was one of at least three that badly damaged Democrats in the 2016 election, followed by hacks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
But the emails taken from DNC accounts, while embarrassing enough to force Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, did not reveal an effort to rig primaries. At worst, they revealed that Wasserman Schultz insulted Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver behind his back; that DNC chief financial officer Brad Marshall suggested that someone might want to ask Sanders about his religion, to cost him votes in Appalachian primaries; and that in May 2017, Wasserman Schultz had gruffly insisted that Sanders would not be president. (At the time, Sanders was fighting to win a majority of delegates in the final primaries, in the hopes of creating momentum ahead of the DNC; without that, he was on the path to defeat.)
Some DNC staffers were hostile to Sanders, especially in the final stretch of the primaries; the best evidence of how this hurt him was not in the hacked email, but in the fact that the DNC scheduled only a few, late primary debates for Clinton’s rivals to climb onto a stage with the front-runner. The events that did the most to anger Sanders supporters, like New York’s early voter registration deadline, Brooklyn’s voter roll purge, and a debacle that created long lines for voting in Arizona, were produced by state government and elections officials, not by the DNC.
On channels obsessed with the fraud case, however, the DNC’s conduct eventually took a back seat to the atmosphere around the courtroom. In the months between the April hearing and the August dismissal, the #DNCFraudsuit Web speculated about the deaths of the process server who had handed papers to the DNC, of attorney Beranton Whisenant, of a Haitian official who was set to testify in a corruption case, and of the former DNC IT staffer Seth Rich.
“The DNC fraud lawsuit continues to be ignored by the mainstream media; meanwhile, the Clinton body count continues to grow,” said Infowars’ Owen Shroyer last month, before asking Elizabeth Beck whether the deaths were related to the fraud case.
The Infowars interview was one of several intersections between the DNC case obsessives and right-wing media. The Haitian story was inflated into a “Clinton” story by fake news outlets, which put the wrong quotes in the mouths of the story’s characters. The story of the Becks seeking a motion for protection, out of questions about the mysterious deaths and some harassing phone calls, got big play on WorldNetDaily. (That website, which once sold bumper stickers promoting the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not an American citizen, also has a GoFundMe to fund Seth Rich reporting. It’s more than $95,000 short of a $100,000 funding goal.)
As of Tuesday afternoon, the dismissal of the Becks’ lawsuit had done little to slow down speculation, or snuff out hope that somehow, the DNC’s perfidy would be exposed.
“This action can be filed in any jurisdiction by any lawyer representing any aggrieved party,” Elizabeth Beck said in the interview with the Real News. “There’s nothing stopping anyone else from filing this case.”