SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — State legislators attending MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s three-day cyber symposium remained largely undeterred by his inability to prove, as promised, his theory that China hacked the 2020 election systems and switched votes in favor of President Biden.
As Mr. Lindell’s claims unraveled last week in front of an audience of 40 million online viewers and roughly 500 people attending in person, Republican state and municipal lawmakers at the Sioux Falls event became even more galvanized in their quest to overturn the election.
Still convinced that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, they headed back to their state capitals primed to advance audits and investigations of the ballot counts.
“Today, we are providing a united front,” Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase said in an impromptu press conference as the symposium wrapped up Thursday. “We have begun an election integrity caucus of legislators across the United States. Going forward, we will have a bimonthly meeting to continue the efforts for partial and full election audits in all 50 states.”
Mr. Lindell trumpeted his cyberspace evidence for months and predicted that the revelations at his symposium would prompt Mr. Biden to resign and restore Mr. Trump to the White House.
By the time Ms. Chase and six of her fellow state lawmakers gathered reporters to announce the formation of their election audit caucus, which the far-right website TruNews called “A HISTORIC moment in history,” cyber experts who huddled in “breakout rooms” to examine the long-awaited evidence had found no proof backing Mr. Lindell’s claims.
As first reported by The Washington Times, Josh Merritt, an expert on the “red team” hired by Mr. Lindell to cross-examine the data, said intercepted network traffic, or “packet captures,” from Election Day was unrecoverable. He said the data, as provided, could not prove a Chinese cyberattack.
“We’re not going to say that this is legitimate if we don’t have confidence in the information,” he said.
After Mr. Merritt announced his findings, other experts hired by Mr. Lindell raised alarm that the data had been sabotaged.
Robert Graham, another expert at the symposium, said in an interview that the “true believers” began to scramble in the breakout rooms to craft a message for the crowd. Mr. Graham said the experts, more than half of whom arrived at the symposium convinced that there was a widespread hack of the election, settled on a “we need more time” approach rather than telling the lawmakers that the data was not what Mr. Lindell had promised.
“The initial analysis takes time. It’s a lot of effort searching haystacks for needles,” Mr. Graham said in a message on Twitter. “But once you find a needle, it doesn’t take much time at all to confirm you’ve found one. Had we been given the packet captures, we could’ve confirmed it in a day.”
The announcement was one of the rare occasions that any of the experts from the breakout rooms addressed the lawmakers. There was little mingling between those interrogating the data and the others at the symposium, who were mostly state lawmakers or their representatives and media.
Mr. Graham told The Times that he crossed paths with the lawmakers only in the buffet line.
The exception was on the second day of the symposium when Mr. Lindell’s team unveiled data in front of the audience. The team said the data showed tampering in the presidential election in Mesa County, Colorado.
The presentation was ad hoc and separate from Mr. Lindell’s original claim of a nationwide hack. Mesa County’s clerk and recorder, Tina Peters, headlined the opening day of the symposium. Ms. Peters is under investigation for a potential election security breach from within her office. Mr. Lindell’s team would not confirm the source of the Mesa County data.
Cybersleuths, including Ron Watkins, guided the crowd through the three-hour reveal. Mr. Watkins, who also goes by CodeMonkeyZ, is a former administrator of 8chan, a website known for peddling conspiracy theories.
Mr. Watkins was featured in the HBO docuseries “Q: Into the Storm,” about the conspiracy group QAnon. The filmmaker, Cullen Hoback, has suggested that Mr. Watkins is “Q,” the originator of the theory that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles within the government and Hollywood were working to undermine Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Mr. Hoback said in an email to The Times that Mr. Lindell and Mr. Watkins have been coordinating “for some time.” He said Mr. Watkins “has been deeply involved in all election audit activities,” including close coordination with Mr. Lindell.
After the three hours of parsing through unintelligible computer files, guided by a known conspiracy theorist, Mr. Graham said the presenters revealed absolutely nothing. The whole exercise, which was the sole attempt to show any data, seemed to fall flat even among the lay audience of lawmakers.
Ms. Chase acknowledged that there was no smoking gun as Mr. Lindell had promised.
“They’re still analyzing the data,” Ms. Chase told The Times. “They’re just getting the data, I mean, so you know, they’re still poring through, the technical experts, of which I am not, are still poring through the data. I want to hear what they have to say. They are the experts, not the legislators. So that’s what I’m waiting for. I’ve heard generalities. I’ve heard different ideas out there. You know, as far as conclusive facts and that type of thing, I think that’s going to come later, as the technical experts have their hands on the data on are analyzing, and I’m going to listen.”
At the same time, it was clear that Mr. Lindell’s inability to fulfill his promise had little bearing on her strategy.
“Is it going to deter what I’m doing? No, absolutely not,” she said. “I’m full-on. I believe that every state, no matter what state you’re in, you owe it to the people back home. They’ve reached out to your office like they have designed and the universe that they have, we have to get to the bottom of it one way or the other.”
Others said they had the proof they needed by Day Two of the symposium.
“I think what I’ve already seen here in the last two days, and I’ll see tomorrow, has confirmed what I already believed: that there was internet intrusion into our election systems,” said Washington state Rep. Brad Klippert.
“I’m not the smartest or sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to technology,” he said, “so I’m trying to gather bits and pieces so that I, in my first-grade-level technology mind, can take home to the citizens more truth about what’s out there, what actually happened. … I am concerned that we did not have a true, accurate election. I think there’s a lot of fraud that took place. There are many citizens in my legislative district who are very, very upset.”
Mr. Lindell never conceded that he did not produce the evidence or that the Supreme Court would make a unanimous decision to overturn the election based on the evidence, as he had predicted.
“I know you all got here, and I don’t know what the expectations were,” Mr. Lindell told the crowd as the event drew to a close. “Things really changed up and down through the three days. I hope you all were fed good.”