The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Even the geolocation maps in ‘2000 Mules’ are misleading

One appears to be a map of Moscow.

Title card for '2000 Mules'. (D'Souza Media)

What filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza would like you to think is that he and his partners at the conservative activist group True the Vote have cracked the case of the 2020 election. D’Souza’s new film, “2000 Mules,” purports to show a grand conspiracy of collecting and submitting ballots in that election, enough to have made Joe Biden the president. But, as we’ve noted, not only does the film completely fail to provide any evidence of that being the case, even D’Souza admits that he didn’t have the evidence that would have been required to prove it.

The film has already been subjected to a battery of debunkings, from the implication that the cellphone geolocation data essential to D’Souza’s case helped solve a murder (it didn’t) to claims that individuals shown depositing more than one ballot necessarily depict criminal activity (they don’t).

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

Ultimately, viewers are asked to take a leap of faith: That the videos shown in the film are, in fact, of people who had been tracked by their cellphone use and that True the Vote and D’Souza have the data to prove it. But, it turns out, multiple visual presentations of that geolocation data depicted in the film clearly don’t show what D’Souza would have you believe.

A misdirected ‘mule’

The heart of the film centers on a conversation between D’Souza and Gregg Phillips, the person at True the Vote responsible for compiling and analyzing the geolocation data. This is data that your phone collects as you move and which is aggregated and sold to marketers. Phillips claims that, by analyzing a huge set of data from swing states, he and his team were able to identify people — pejoratively labeled “mules” — who traveled to multiple ballot drop boxes and to nonprofit organizations, suggesting a nefarious plot to cast suspect ballots.

Again, the movie does not prove this case at all, and we’re left to trust Phillips’s word for it. Not a great idea, mind you, given that Phillips in November 2016 announced that he had found 3 million illegally cast votes in that year’s election — a claim elevated by Donald Trump before it became obvious that Phillips had absolutely no evidence of the claim.

In “2000 Mules,” he sits at a table with D’Souza and explains his new claims of fraud. Below, for example, you see Phillips’s tablet as D’Souza asks him a question. (Phillips is off-screen to the left.)

Zooming into the tablet screen, you see that it is displaying a map. It appears to be the same map that is a focal point at another part of the film, showing what Phillips claims is a map of one “mule’s” movements.

“What you see here on this screen is a single person on a single day in Atlanta, Georgia,” Phillips explains. “They went to 28 drop boxes and five organizations in one day.”

“What are the orange dots?” D’Souza asks.

“Those are drop boxes,” Phillips replies.

“And what is the blue tracks?” D’Souza continues.

“That is a smoothed-out pattern of life,” Phillips says, “so that we could take the movement of the individual cellphone signals, marry them together into something that is visual. So that you can see movement on the individual.”

But an anonymous Twitter account called “Angry Fleas” noticed something: Those orange dots don’t appear to conform to actual drop-box locations.

We can pull the listed drop-box locations from Fulton and Gwinnett counties for the 2020 election, the area covering most of what Phillips’s map shows. It looks like this, with the outlined circles showing the drop boxes.

When we superimpose that map on the one shown in the movie, it becomes clear that Angry Fleas is correct. The orange dots are not drop-box locations.

If we zoom in, that becomes more clear. In some places, the orange dots are close to drop box sites. But often, they’re not. What are those three dots to the northeast of the red circle below, for example?

This is of critical importance, because the entire crux of the film depends on the accuracy of the cellphone data. If Phillips’s team was using incorrect drop-box locations, none of its conclusions are reliable.

In an email to The Post, Phillips said that “the movie graphics are not literal interpretations of our data.”

Even if the orange dots did align with the white circles, that of course doesn’t prove Phillips and D’Souza correct. True the Vote provided its data to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which declined to investigate. In its response to True the Vote, the GBI noted that True the Vote identified drop box “visits” using a radius of 100 feet; if you came within 100 feet of a drop box, it counted. That’s a broad range.

But it also depends on knowing where drop boxes were located at the library or county building where they were placed. If you don’t, how can you know that your 100-foot radius includes it at all?

That level of criticism is not useful if the orange dots are, in fact, miles away from any actual drop box.

Dropping off ballots in Russia

Phillips and D’Souza could certainly argue that the map above is shown for cinematic effect. Fair enough, though the dialogue certainly implies that this is an actual person’s actual route. In some cases, though, the maps shown are more clearly for effect — though casual viewers might be forgiven for not knowing that.

Consider the still below, shown as a voice-over explains how True the Vote compiled its data. It shows a city with red dots indicated — purported cellphone geolocation pings. There’s an overlay showing a car pulled up next to a drop box with someone stepping out. The implication is clear: This is someone being tracked near a drop-box site.

If we zoom in on the map, though, something seems off. The drop-box site shown in the overlaid photo is one that elsewhere in the movie is described as being in Gwinnett County. But the accompanying map depicts a river running through the city, which doesn’t exist in Atlanta. So what’s this showing?

A group of Internet sleuths tracked it down. Simply flip the image …

... and it becomes clear. That’s not Atlanta; it’s a stock photo of a different capital.


There’s another point at which the same Moscow map is used, rotated 90 degrees. It, too, purports to show someone moving around an American city.

It is at least ironic that an effort to prove that the 2020 election was stolen uses a map of the capital of Russia to display its purportedly irrefutable digital fingerprints. But it’s not something we can simply laugh off. The central point of “2000 Mules” is that Phillips and True the Vote found that evidence. In the movie itself, the times at which that evidence is displayed undercuts instead of bolstering their argument.

Amy Gardner contributed to this report. It has been updated with Phillips’s statement.