A misleading video by conservative activist James O’Keefe released on Sunday alleging, from unknown sources and with no verifiable evidence, that Rep. Ilhan Omar’s campaign had illegally collected ballots, was likely part of a coordinated disinformation effort, according to Stanford University researchers.
Mr O’Keefe and his group, Project Veritas, appear to have made an abrupt decision to release the video earlier than planned after the New York Times published a comprehensive investigation into President Trump’s taxes, the researchers said. They also found that the timing and metadata of a Twitter post where Mr. Trump̵
Project Veritas had posted the video on social media for several days before it was released. In posts reinforced by other prominent Conservative reports, Mr. O’Keefe teased what he called evidence of election fraud and urged people to log on to “ballot-harvesting.com” to obtain the alleged evidence, when they came out. (None of the materials in the video actually proved electoral fraud.)
Mr. O’Keefe’s promotional posts had announced the video would be released on Monday, but Project Veritas instead released it on Sunday, a few hours after the Times investigation was published. The Stanford researchers concluded that this timing was likely to be no coincidence, “given the tremendous marketing around a September 28 release date,” they wrote in an analysis by Alex Stamos, who led the research team at the Stanford Internet Observatory , with The Mal shared.
“It’s a great example of what a coordinated disinformation campaign looks like: pre-sowing the ground and then hitting it from a number of different accounts at the same time,” said Stamos.
Many of the same accounts that shared advertising tweets also shared the video as soon as it was released, quickly getting it on trending Twitter alongside the Times’ tax investigation.
About an hour after The Times published his article, Mike Lindell, executive director of MyPillow and honorary chairman of Mr. Trump’s Minnesota campaign, tweeted a video of himself saying that Project Veritas’s alleged synopsis that evening would be released at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.
“I just met James O’Keefe from Project Veritas and James showed me footage of systematic electoral fraud,” said Lindell. He didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Mr O’Keefe posted the video on Twitter at 9 p.m. sharp, and the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted it just seven minutes later. Two minutes later, he was retweeted from the President’s account in the “War Room,” and the President himself soon began posting comments.
In particular, the video that the younger Mr. Trump posted did not have the “from James O’Keefe” label that appeared when other Twitter users shared the video uploaded by Mr. O’Keefe.
“This detail, as well as video metadata showing that the Donald Trump Jr. version of the video was uploaded separately from Twitter and re-encoded, suggests that the Trump campaign may have had access to the video in front of the public and throw it Questions about coordination. The Stanford researchers wrote and also found that Mr. Trump posted the video on Facebook 10 minutes before Mr. O’Keefe was there.
When asked for a comment, the Trump campaign said that Donald Trump Jr. received a downloadable link to the video after it was released. No comment was made on Mr Lindell’s post or the timing of the video’s release, and a spokesman for the younger Mr Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
The video includes footage of a man identified as Liban Mohamed showing ballots collected for a Minneapolis City Council candidate – something that, depending on when the video was shot, may not have been illegal because of a district judge In July, Minnesota’s ban on the collection and return of large numbers of completed ballot papers by third parties was temporarily suspended. Mr. Mohamed did not work for Ms. Omar.
The video then claims that Democratic activists linked to Ms. Omar’s campaign paid voters to hand over and fill out blank postal ballot papers. It would be illegal to do so, but the allegations are all from unnamed people speaking to Project Veritas staff on the project and whose faces are not shown.
On Monday, the Minneapolis Police Department said it was reviewing “the validity” of claims in the video, which a spokesman for Ms. Omar described as a “coordinated right-wing effort to delegitimize a free and fair election.”
Mr. O’Keefe and Project Veritas have a long history of posting rigged or selectively edited footage allegedly depicting illegal behavior by Democrats and liberal groups.
The Stanford researchers reported the video to multiple social media platforms. Facebook added a link to its “Voting Information Center” to an upload of the video, but did not announce the original upload. Twitter, YouTube and Reddit did nothing. TikTok was the only platform that removed all uploads of the video.