An obscure Republican official traced as the source of an evidence-free assert that millions illegally voted says in an interview he has received menaces and abuse
When Donald Trump tweeted that millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election, headline novelists were quick to point out that he had no evidence .
The US president-elect had not given his source but fact-checking websites and newspapers traced it to a two-week-old random tweet by a little known former Republican party official in Texas. Gregg Phillips claimed on 12 November to have found more than three million elections cast by non-citizens but he too failed to provide data.
Accused of the very topical sin of spreading fake news, all the way to the White House, Phillips is unrepentant. He stands by his original affirm, though he still offers no evidence, and is denying that he was Trumps inspiration in any case.
The tweet that I put out had died down; nothing else was being said, Phillips told the Guardian on Tuesday. And then when Mr Trump came out with his tweet, it seemed to erupt again because somebody erroneously connected me to Mr Trumps tweet. The campaign “re coming out” and cleared that up: what he was talking about was a Washington Post article.
Indeed, when asked to explain Trumps claim of illegal voting, his transition team pointed journalists to a 2014 article in the Washington Post by two academics which the Post website has since prefaced with a disclaimer along with a 2012 Pew Research study. Neither proved that non-citizens voted in 2016.
Media analysts still believe, however, that Phillipss Twitter-born conspiracy theory, as the Washington Post put it, is the most likely rationale for Trumps unsubstantiated outburst on 27 November.
The episode offers a study in the power of lone activists to make claims that soon become reported with the trust of facts on myriad websites. It also illustrates the blowback they can suffer when, rightly or wrongly, Trump is perceived as having recycled those claims to serve his dangerously selective worldview .
Phillips, a 56 -year-old grandfather based in Austin, Texas, said: Im on the edge and you can probably hear it in my voice. In the last couple of days Ive been called a child molester. Somebody posted something up there that Ive been arrested for armed robbery; it turned out that if you drilled into that it was some black guy that was 15 years younger than me. Theyve accused me of being a Nazi, a fascist, a Russian spy, an Israeli spy theyve called me all sorts of words that I wont even repeat on here.
Phillips is no political novice. The former Republican official in Alabama and Mississippi was managing director of a Super Pac that supported Newt Gingrichs 2012 campaign for chairman. He has worked for the state governments of Mississippi and Texas and now operates a company that provides data analytics and fraud protection to healthcare providers.
He has also long taken an interest in the issue of voter fraud and says he is on the board of trustees of the True the Vote , a conservative campaigning organisation focused on US electoral standards . So it did not come out of the blue when Phillips tweeted four days after the election: Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter enrollments. Number of non-citizen elections outstrips 3 million. Consulting legal team.