The Origin of the “Three Million Illegal Voters” Story

The truth behind our president’s current favorite alternative fact

On November 15, 2016, I saw numerous people tweeting that three million “dead people and illegals” voted for Clinton. They were all using the same “three million” number — weeks before Trump himself began citing it. Wondering where the consistency of this message could have come from, and with all the zeal of a person newly coming to terms with a President Trump, I set out to find the origin. With Trump now calling for an investigation into the supposed fraud, I feel compelled to share what I found.

One of the first articles to use the figure was written by Milo Yiannopoulos, on November 14. I’d never heard of Milo at the time, but I’ve since learned he needs no last name among the alt-right faithful. A frequent contributor of… stories?… to Breitbart, Milo also has his own well-trafficked website, where his post, Report: Illegal Immigrants Cast More Than 3 Million Votes In Presidential Election (along with a similar piece that day from InfoWars), seems to have been the catalyst for this widespread voter fraud belief.

In Milo’s story, he says the statement is:

…according to a report from VoteFraud.org. The organization’s founder Gregg Phillips said they reached that number after analyzing a whopping 180 million voter registrations from across the country.

So, what constitutes the “report?” Merely Gregg Phillips’ own tweets, which are displayed in the article.

The first tweet from Gregg Phillips on the topic

As the next logical step, I pointed my browser to the supposed source, VoteFraud.org, and was surprised to find myself being forwarded to ElectionNightGateKeepers.com, a site that says it focuses on the “Election Integrity / Computerized Votescam” issue. They had no mention of Gregg Phillips or his report when I visited on November 15, but approximately a week later this statement appeared on the site:

Did You Land on this Page Seeking Documentation that 3 Million Illegal Immigrants Voted for Hillary Clinton?

(read the full ElectionNightGateKeepers.com statement here)

Let that sink in for a minute. VoteFraud.org no longer exists as a website, and the domain owners’ conservative replacement site- which is devoted to voter fraud theories— is completely disavowing itself of Gregg Phillips and the “three million illegal voter” statements.

So what are we left with? It seems safe to assume Phillips is just a guy on Twitter who simply made something up. As of this writing, a Google search for “votefraud.org” returns 4,880 results — most of which are self-proclaimed conservative websites sharing this story with headlines like this one: WE BARELY ESCAPED, FINAL ELECTION RESULTS SHOW OVER 3 MILLION ILLEGALS VOTED DEMOCRAT. It begs the question: did thousands of authors not bother to check the source site, or did they simply not care?

The Broader Implications

Before going on this fact-finding mission, I thought Donald Trump just randomly uttered notions of fiction that his followers chose to believe. That’s a frightening prospect, but I now believe the real story is something even more dangerous: by the time Trump says something outlandish, there are likely millions of people who already believe it. And the fact that traditional media then reports Trump’s claims with skepticism reinforces the believers’ narrative that the mainstream media is unfair.

How much of this is purposely orchestrated is perhaps impossible to know, but it’s a fact that a key player in the alt-right propaganda machine is now chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. I’ve always been a person who believes the best remedy for conspiracy theories is to ignore them — this is the traditional media approach, as well. But to understand this president and the people who follow him, we’re going to have to change our approach.

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