Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election

Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election 1

A well-funded far-right group—that made inroads with Stop The Steal organizations, paid a former police captain more than $200,000 to hunt ballots, and became entangled in a roadside stickup—was making war plans for Election Day 2020 months ahead of time, documents reveal.

The fringe group, the Liberty Center for God and Country (LCGC), led a lucrative fundraising blitz in the run-up to the election and quietly networked with now-notorious election denialists. Their work came to light in October of that year when former Houston Police captain Mark Aguirre allegedly rammed his SUV into a man’s truck, forced the man onto the ground at gunpoint, and accused him of transporting 750,000 fraudulent ballots. Aguirre’s claims were baseless—his victim was an innocent air conditioner technician—and no widespread voter fraud has been found in the 2020 election. Aguirre was indicted this week for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The criminal charges outed the LCGC, which had quietly moved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of preventing voter fraud in the months before the election, launching a website and fundraisers in the months before Nov. 3.

In the fall of 2020, as Donald Trump trailed Joe Biden in the polls, Republican activists sought ways to sow doubt in the event of a possible Trump loss. Aguirre and LCGC were among them.

“We are private investigators in the State of Texas who have uncovered an illegal ballot harvesting operation in Harris County,” Aguirre wrote in a GoFundMe campaign in late September 2020. “Our team is spearheaded by Mark A. Aguirre retired Captain of the Houston Police Department Lic.#C14256. We have collected evidence from 2018 displaying the massive absentee mail in voting fraud. We are currently in the process of collecting more evidence and information that will directly impact the upcoming 2020 election.”

Aguirre’s description of himself as a “retired” police captain (he’d actually been fired for a disastrous raid) was the least of the fundraiser’s lies. Although the fundraiser shed little light on Aguirre’s “team,” the fundraiser was launched one day after Aguirre signed an affidavit in a lawsuit accusing Houston-area Democrats of widespread voter fraud.

The lawsuit, filed by Republican activist Steven Hotze, accused Texas Democrats of a plot to defraud voters, in part by offering early voting and more voting locations. Some of its claims rested on supposed evidence collected by Aguirre and a former FBI agent who, like Aguirre, later became a private investigator.

“Based on interviews, review of documents, and other information, I have identified the individuals in charge of the ballot harvesting scheme,” Aguirre wrote.

Aguirre’s involvement with Hotze went deeper than the lawsuit suggested. In late August, according to business records, Hotze formed the LCGC. The group’s earliest web presence called on Trump to designate three days “for national repentance, fasting, and prayer.”

Hotze was already a known figure in Texas and Republican politics. An anti-LGBT crusader since the 1980s, Hotze made inroads with the state’s conservatives, aided by money from his medical practice where he offered “hormone replacement.” Before the 2020 election, Hotze filed a flurry of lawsuits attempting to restrict expanded voting in Texas, like early and drive-through voting. In September and October 2020, he also charged headlong into conspiracy theories about the upcoming election, making long Facebook videos and posts detailing what he said would be a Democratic effort to steal 2020 via voter fraud in Harris County, Texas.

“The Socialist Democrats know that Harris County, where Houston is located, is ground zero for the upcoming general election in Texas and nationwide,” he wrote in a post shared by the LCGC. ”As Harris County goes, so goes Texas. As Texas goes, so goes the nation.” (This is not true, either of Harris County’s significance in Texas elections, or of Texas’s role in national elections.)

In order to crack down on alleged fraud pre-election, the LCGC allegedly hired Aguirre to investigate people it suspected of running fake ballot rings. According to charging documents, Aguirre admitted to surveilling the home of air-conditioning technician David Lopez-Zuniga, on the suspicion that the Houston man was running a scheme to force children to sign 750,000 fraudulent ballots. Aguirre allegedly rammed Lopez-Zuniga’s car off the road, forced him onto the ground at gunpoint, and knelt on his back before an actual police officer was able to intervene. The day after the incident, the LCGC sent $211,400 to Aguirre’s bank account.

The LCGC was pulling in big money, its fundraisers suggest. In addition to Aguirre’s GoFundMe, which earned at least $2,600, the group operated its own GoFundMe, which raised nearly $70,000 from mid-October to mid-December.

The LCGC also registered as a nonprofit—a status that would be useful when networking with a burgeoning movement of voter fraud hoaxers.

Shortly after Trump’s loss in November 2020, a website called Every Legal Vote purported to show evidence that Trump had actually won. The site billed itself as something of a supergroup among the emerging field of election-denialist organizations.

“This site is a labor of love by American citizens,” Every Legal Vote’s now-deleted “about us” page reads. “Our Founding Sponsors: The Economic WarRoom, Allied Security Operations Group, Liberty Center for God and Country are building a coalition concerned with protecting our sacred elections from tampering and fraud.”

The Economic War Room is a web series run by Kevin Freeman, a senior fellow at an Islamophobic thinktank, the Colorado Times Recorder noted when a local politico promoted the Every Legal Vote site.

Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG) became notorious in its own right, after it was involved in an effort to “audit” voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. Its founder, Russell Ramsland Jr., authored a report about their findings that was wildly misleading, in part because he confused the states of Michigan and Minnesota, using their voting data interchangeably. The ASOG report nevertheless became a popular document in Trumpist circles, with Rudy Giuliani citing it as evidence of fraud.

The ASOG was also a leading candidate to conduct a doomed “audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, although they were dropped after observers pointed to their botched Antrim County report. Texts from officials involved in the Maricopa County audit reveal that ASOG was also working with Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel credited with distributing a now-infamous PowerPoint presentation on how lawmakers could invalidate the 2020 election and install Trump as president.

The LCGC did not return requests for comment about its relationship with the ASOG. But at least one ASOG fundraiser underscored a financial link between the two groups.

“ASOG urgently needs your help to continue their vitally important research,” read the fundraising plea on an election-denial website early this year. The fundraiser encouraged donors to give their money to LCGC, which was a nonprofit.

“For 501c3 Donations: Write checks to Liberty Center for God and Country,” the fundraiser said. It did not include LCGC’s address in Katy, Texas. Instead it asked supporters to send money to ASOG’s Addison, Texas offices, where a staffer “will get them to LCGC and insure your donation receipt.”