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Poll workers sort out ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP) Poll workers sort out ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP)

Poll workers sort out ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek June 13, 2024

A 2022 movie and book called "2,000 Mules" outlined what they maintained was credible evidence of a widespread effort by people — "mules" — illegally depositing ballots into ballot drop boxes to sway the 2020 election.

The film made a splash in conservative circles, where clips of the movie’s creator, Dinesh D’Souza, populated social media. Journalists from outlets including PolitiFact, roundly debunked its claims.

On May 31, with months until the next presidential election, Salem Media Group Inc., the company that produced the book and film, issued an apology — specifically for falsely representing Georgia voter Mark Andrews as having engaged in illegal voting.

"It was never our intent that the publication of the 2000 Mules film and book would harm Mr. Andrews," Salem’s statement said, before announcing that the company had removed the film from its platforms and would no longer distribute the book or the movie.

The about-face didn’t come from nowhere. Andrews had sued Salem over the movie, arguing he’d been falsely accused of election crimes and the accusations led to threats against Andrews and his family. Salem settled the lawsuit for a "significant" undisclosed amount.

Salem Media Group released this apology May 31, 2024. (Screenshot from Salem Media Group.)

With its settlement and apology, Salem joined a growing list of groups and people who’ve faced legal consequences, often from defamation lawsuits, for spreading election fraud falsehoods.

"Defamation law has been one of the rare successful tools in combating rampant, democracy-harming lies," said RonNell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah law professor and First Amendment scholar. "Courts declaring that these were lies — and ordering those who told the lies to pay substantial damages — is a win in our ongoing battle for shared objective truth in a democracy." 

Here are eight other examples of the fallout from spreading 2020 presidential election misinformation. 

1. Gateway Pundit, a conservative news website, declared bankruptcy amid defamation lawsuits: The Gateway Pundit’s parent company, TGP Communications, filed for bankruptcy in April, citing what it called "lawfare attacks," seemingly a reference to the lawsuits. 

PolitiFact and other news organizations have rebutted election falsehoods The Gateway Pundit promoted. The website is facing at least two defamation lawsuits — one brought by Georgia election workers and another by Eric Coomer, a former executive at Dominion Voting Systems, an election equipment company. Both lawsuits argue that The Gateway Pundit published false stories accusing the plaintiffs of election crimes.

In a statement posted online, Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft denied fault

When contacted by PolitiFact, Hoft said his organization is "very proud" of its record; he also criticized PolitiFact and its coverage. 

2. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell ordered to pay $5 million: In 2021, Lindell launched a "Prove Mike Wrong" challenge, offering $5 million to anyone who could disprove that data he provided showed Chinese interference in the 2020 presidential election. Software developer Robert Zeidman took the challenge and found the data didn’t prove election interference. When Zeidman did not win the challenge, he filed for arbitration. An arbitration panel ruled in April 2021 that Lindell owed Zeidman $5 million plus interest. A federal judge affirmed that decision Feb. 21. 

Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, an election software company, both of which were the target of false election fraud claims, are also suing Lindell.

MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, speaks to reporters outside federal court in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2021. (AP)

3. Fox News settled Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit for $787.5 million: Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, arguing the network defamed Dominion by broadcasting multiple false claims that its voting technology had rigged the 2020 presidential election. 

The lawsuit settlement in April 2023 came hours before the trial’s opening arguments were set to begin. In a statement, Fox acknowledged "the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false."

A few months later, the state of Oregon and New York City’s pension funds sued Fox Corp. for failing to uphold its duty to shareholders by persistently broadcasting 2020 presidential election falsehoods that opened the network to defamation lawsuits. That lawsuit is ongoing, as is another defamation lawsuit brought by Smartmatic.

4. One America News Network settled lawsuits related to election falsehoods: OANN, a conservative cable channel that pushed 2020 election conspiracy theories, has settled at least two defamation lawsuits since that year’s presidential election. 

On April 24, OANN reached a confidential settlement agreement with Smartmatic. 

In April 2022, OANN also settled a defamation lawsuit brought by Fulton County, Georgia, election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss. In their lawsuit, Freeman and Moss said the network falsely claimed they committed fraud to alter the outcome of the election.

Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, a former Georgia election worker, is comforted by her mother Ruby Freeman, right, during her congressional testimony at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 21, 2022. (AP)

As a result of the settlement, on May 9, 2022, OANN ran a brief segment correcting the record about Freeman and Moss. In the segment, a narrator said that Georgia officials determined there was "no widespread voter fraud by election workers who counted ballots at the State Farm Arena in November 2020." 

The segment’s narrator said Freeman and Moss "did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct while working at State Farm Arena on election night," and that the workers’ lawsuit had been "resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties" with an unspecified settlement agreement. 

Chip Babcock, OANN’s legal counsel, told PolitiFact the network had published "newsworthy allegations" made by people like Giuliani and Trump "on a matter of public concern" — even if some of the more "incendiary allegations" of election fraud proved to be inaccurate. 

Dominion Voting Systems filed a lawsuit against OANN that continues

5. Rudy Giuliani ordered to pay $146 million over defamatory election claims: On Dec. 20, 2023, a federal judge ordered Giuliani, formerly a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, to immediately pay $146 million to Freeman and Moss for his defamatory claims that the pair had committed election fraud to benefit President Joe Biden. (The jury’s initial $148 million verdict was lowered.) A day later, Giuliani filed for bankruptcy, declaring his primary form of debt was multiple lawsuits, including the one brought by Freeman and Moss.

As their first lawsuit against Giuliani reached resolution, Freeman and Moss sued Giuliani again Dec. 18, 2023, arguing that he continued to make false statements about them. In May, Giuliani agreed to permanently stop claiming that Freeman and Moss "engaged in wrongdoing" during the 2020 election.

Rudy Giuliani speaks during a news conference after his defamation trial outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 2023. (AP)

6. James O’Keefe and Project Veritas settled an election falsehoods lawsuit: A Pennsylvania postal service worker filed a lawsuit against conservative activist O’Keefe and Project Veritas, the organization he once led. Robert Weisenbach, the postmaster, said Project Veritas spread false claims that he had illegally backdated ballots. 

In February, the lawsuit was "settled to the satisfaction of the parties," according to Weisenbach’s lawyer. In a Feb. 5 X post, O’Keefe said "I am aware of no evidence or other allegation that election fraud occurred in the Erie Post Office during the 2020 Presidential Election." Project Veritas shared a similar statement. O’Keefe was removed as Project Veritas’ chairman Feb. 19, 2023.James O’Keefe and Project Veritas released these statements. (Screenshots from X and YouTube)

7. Sidney Powell faced Michigan fines, sanctions for spreading election lies: Courts ordered Powell, who was an attorney for Trump, and other lawyers who filed a conspiracy theory-filled lawsuit that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, to pay more than $130,000 in legal fees incurred by those who had to defend against the lawsuit. A federal judge in Michigan imposed sanctions on Powell and the other lawyers in August 2021. 

In October 2023, Powell pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors related to a high-profile election interference case in Fulton County, Georgia. Powell agreed to serve six years probation, pay a $6,000 fine, pay $2,700 to the Georgia secretary of state’s office and to testify truthfully at co-defendants’ trials.

Powell also faces lawsuits from Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems.

Sidney Powell, former attorney for former President Donald Trump, leaves federal court in Washington, D.C., June 24, 2021. (AP)

8. Newsmax settles defamation lawsuit with former Dominion Voting Systems executive: Coomer, the former Dominion Voting Systems executive, sued conservative media outlet Newsmax for amplifying false claims about Coomer manipulating votes in Biden’s favor.  

On April 30, 2021, Newsmax and Coomer reached a confidential settlement agreement. 

Newsmax apologized to Coomer on its website and in a broadcast.

"Newsmax has found no evidence that Dr. Coomer interfered with Dominion voting machines or voting software in any way, nor that Dr. Coomer ever claimed to have done so," the statement said. "We would like to apologize for any harm that our reporting of the allegations against Dr. Coomer may have caused." 

Lawsuits that Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic filed against Newsmax continue.

Litigating election fraud falsehoods has limits

Although some election-related defamation lawsuits have yielded payouts and public apologies, experts said the U.S. legal system is not well positioned to fight misinformation. 

Defamation law focuses on false statements about people or companies that "damage reputation," said A.J. Bauer, a University of Alabama journalism and creative media professor. That’s a narrow category and there are "few legal mechanisms to combat falsehoods beyond the individual scale," he said. 

Already, Bauer said he’s seen a shift in election misinformation: "By keeping election denial vague and nebulous they avoid legal punishment while perpetuating distrust in democratic systems. This isn’t going away any time soon."

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

RELATED: Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News: What to know before the trial

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Our Sources

Email interview with RonNell Andersen Jones, a University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law professor and First Amendment scholar, June 8, 2024

Email interview with A.J. Bauer, a professor in the journalism and creative media department at the University of Alabama, June 8, 2024

Email interview with Ethan Porter, a professor of media and public affairs and political science at George Washington University, June 7, 2024

Email interview with Alan K. Chen, Thompson G. Marsh Law Alumni Professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, June 12, 2024

Emailed statement from Jim Hoft, the founder of The Gateway Pundit, June 9, 2024

Emailed statement from a Fox News spokesperson, June 7, 2024

Interview with Chip Babcock, lead counsel for One America News Network, June 11, 2024

Email interview with Brad Kloewer, Eric Coomer’s attorney, June 12, 2024

Salem Media Group, Salem Media Statement, May 31, 2024

NPR, Publisher of ‘2,000 Mules’ election conspiracy theory film issues apology, May 31, 2024

Votebeat, Some creators of debunked ‘2000 Mules’ haven’t stopped selling the movie, or its false premise, June 10, 2024

The Associated Press, Conservative group tells judge it has no evidence to back its claims of Georgia ballot stuffing, Feb. 14, 2024

Court Listener, Andrews v. D'Souza Document #1, accessed June 10, 2024

Court Listener, Salem Media Group, Inc. v. Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company Complaint (Attorney Civil Case Opening) — Document #1, accessed June 10, 2024

True the Vote’s post on X, June 2, 2024

Radio Ink, Salem Sues Insurer Over Denied Defamation Claims Coverage, June 7, 2024

The Washington Post, Two years later, obvious misinformation is finally taken down, June 3, 2024

Al Jazeera, US far-right outlet Gateway Pundit declares bankruptcy, April 25, 2024

The Gateway Pundit, A Message from The Gateway Pundit Founder Jim Hoft to Our Readers, April 24, 2024

Missouri Courts, 2122-CC09815-01 - RUBY FREEMAN ET AL V JAMES HOFT ET AL, accessed June 10, 2024

The Washington Post, A right-wing tale of Michigan election fraud had it all – except proof, Jan. 3, 2024

CNN, Notorious far-right blog The Gateway Pundit declares bankruptcy over 2020 election-related lawsuits, April 25, 2024

CPR, Former Dominion employee defamation suit against Trump campaign can continue, court says, April 11, 2024

The Washington Post, Mike Lindell must pay man $5M in ‘Prove Mike Wrong’ challenge, judge says, Feb. 22, 2024

The Associated Press, Federal judge affirms MyPillow’s Mike Lindell must pay $5M in election data dispute, Feb. 21, 2024

NBC News, Judge says Mike Lindell must pay $5 million to man who won his 'Prove Mike Wrong' challenge, Feb. 22, 2024

Politico, MyPillow, owned by election denier Mike Lindell, evicted from Minnesota warehouse, March 27, 2024

CNN, Mike Lindell’s lawyers in election defamation cases seek to quit over millions of dollars in unpaid legal fees, Oct. 6, 2023

Newsweek, Mike Lindell Faces Potential Court Hearing Over Dire Financial Situation, April 19, 2024

CourtListener, US DOMINION, INC. v. MY PILLOW, INC. (1:21-cv-00445), accessed June 11, 2024

CourtListener, SMARTMATIC USA CORP. v. LINDELL (1:23-mc-00073), accessed June 11, 2024

PolitiFact, Dominion-Fox lawsuit: Looking back at false claims about voting machine company, April 17, 2023

PolitiFact, Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News: What to know before the trial, April 17, 2023

BBC, Fox News settles Dominion defamation case for $787.5m, April 18, 2024

Reuters, In Fox shareholder case against board, lead plaintiffs fault network's business strategy, Jan. 2, 2024

The New York Times, Fox Sued by New York City Pension Funds Over Election Falsehoods, Sept. 12, 2023

New York State Unified Court System, SMARTMATIC USA CORP. et al v. FOX CORPORATION et al, accessed June 11, 2024 

Reuters, Two Atlanta poll workers settle defamation lawsuit against One America, April 21, 2022

NPR, Voting technology company settles lawsuit against OAN over 2020 election claims, April 17, 2024

CNN, Newsmax and OANN are telling lies about the election as more people tune in, Nov. 23, 2020

The Daily Beast, OAN Finally Admits ‘No Widespread Voter Fraud’ After Settling Defamation Suit, May 9, 2022

CourtListener, US DOMINION, INC. v. HERRING NETWORKS, INC. (1:21-cv-02130), accessed June 11, 2024

Reuters, How AT&T helped build far-right One America News, Oct. 6, 2021

The Associated Press, Georgia election workers reach settlement terms with OAN, April 21, 2022

The Associated Press, OAN dismissed from election workers’ suit after settlement, May 12, 2022

Deadline, OAN Admits "No Widespread Voter Fraud By Election Workers" After Lawsuit Over Its Reporting, May 10, 2022

The Associated Press, Georgia election workers file second suit over fraud claims, Dec. 23, 2021

NPR, Giuliani is ordered to pay $148 million to Georgia election workers he defamed, Dec. 15, 2023

CBS News, Giuliani ordered to immediately pay $146 million to Georgia election workers he defamed, Dec. 21, 2023

NPR, Rudy Giuliani files for bankruptcy a day after a judge orders him to pay $146 million, Dec. 21, 2023

The Washington Post, Judge says Rudy Giuliani must pay $148 million judgment immediately, Dec. 20, 2023

CourtListener, Rudolph W. Giuliani 20 Largest Unsecured Creditors - Official Forms 104/204 — Document #2, United States Bankruptcy Court, S.D. New York, Dec. 21, 2023

Court Listener, FREEMAN v. GIULIANI Order — Document #16, May 22, 2024

CourtListener, FREEMAN v. GIULIANI Complaint — Document #1, Dec. 18, 2023

Protect Democracy, Statement from Counsel for Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss on Giuliani’s Stipulation to Permanent Injunction, May 21, 2024

NBC News, Rudy Giuliani agrees to stop accusing Georgia workers of election fraud, May 22, 2024

CNN, Former Georgia election workers sue Rudy Giuliani again, asking judge to permanently stop him from lying about them, Dec. 18, 2023

NBC News, Rudy Giuliani sued again by former election workers who now want a court order against further defamatory remarks, Dec. 18, 2023

Protect Democracy, Ruby Freeman & Wandrea’ Moss v. Rudolph Giuliani (formerly Freeman v. Herring Networks, Inc. d/b/a One America News Network et al.), June 27, 2022

Go Erie, Project Veritas settles libel suit, says 'no evidence' of ballot fraud at Erie post office, Feb. 6, 2024 

James O’Keefe’s post on X, Feb. 5, 2024

NBC News, James O'Keefe and Project Veritas settle suit over bogus voter fraud claims cited by the Trump campaign, Feb. 5, 2024

The Associated Press, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe out at right-wing org, Feb. 20, 2023

Erie Court Viewer, Case #2021-10819, accessed June 10, 2024 

Project Veritas’ statement on YouTube, February 2024

Protect Democracy, Weisenbach v. Project Veritas et al., Feb. 5, 2024

The Guardian, Far-right group Project Veritas admits it had ‘no evidence’ of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, Feb. 6, 2024

Detroit Free Press, Court upholds sanctions for some − not all − lawyers for suit to overturn Mich. election, June 23, 2023

CBS News, Supreme Court leaves sanctions in place against Sidney Powell and others over 2020 election suit in Michigan, Feb. 20, 2024

Detroit Free Press, Sidney Powell, Kraken legal team face sanctions, court costs and potential disbarment over election lawsuit, Aug. 25, 2021

The Texas Tribune, Texan Sidney Powell, Trump co-defendant, pleads guilty in Georgia election interference case, Oct. 19, 2023

CourtListener, US DOMINION, INC. v. POWELL (1:21-cv-00040), accessed June 11, 2024

NPR, Newsmax Issues Retraction And Apology To Dominion Employee Over Election Stories, April 30, 2021

The Washington Post, Newsmax apologizes to Dominion employee for falsely alleging he manipulated votes against Trump, May 1, 2021

Archived Newsmax statement, archived April 30, 2021

Media Matters, Right-wing media face legal woes as their 2020 election lies crash and burn, Feb. 23, 2024

The Guardian, Voting equipment company Smartmatic settles defamation lawsuit with far-right network, April 17, 2024

NBC News, Disinformation poses an unprecedented threat in 2024 — and the U.S. is less ready than ever, Jan. 18, 2024

PolitiFact, The faulty premise of the ‘2,000 mules’ trailer about voting by mail in the 2020 election, May 4, 2022

PolitiFact, Instagram post falsely says ‘2,000 Mules’ proves Democrats cheated, Oct. 28, 2022

NBC News, Right-wing media reckoning: Some outlets pay a price after spreading 2020 election misinformation, June 8, 2024

Newsweek, Donald Trump Holds Screening Of '2,000 Mules' Documentary At Mar-a-Lago, May 5, 2022

Patrick Bet-David’s Facebook post, Nov. 20, 2022

Jenna Ellis’ post on X, May 4, 2022

Megyn Kelly’s channel on YouTube, Dinesh D'Souza on Ballot Trafficking, "Election Integrity," and His Movie, "2000 Mules," May 20, 2022

Dan Bongino’s post on Facebook, Feb. 2, 2022, Evidence Gaps in ‘2000 Mules,’ June 10, 2022

Reuters, Does ‘2000 Mules’ provide evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election? May 27, 2022

The Associated Press, FACT FOCUS: Gaping holes in the claim of 2K ballot ‘mules,’ May 3, 2022

PolitiFact, The faulty premise of the ‘2,000 mules’ trailer about voting by mail in the 2020 election, May 4, 2022

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The fallout from spreading election falsehoods: lawsuits, settlements and bankruptcy filings