The Sunday after the presidential election, Gregg Phillips, founder of a health care analytics firm in Austin, Texas, tweeted, “We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens. We are joining @truethevote to initiate legal action.” The next day, Phillips’s assertion, based solely on his tweet, was splashed across the InfoWars site – run by Austin conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – that has become an agitprop site for President-elect Donald Trump, with the headline, “Report: Three Million Votes in Presidential Election Cast by Illegal Aliens. Trump may have won popular vote.” It was quickly picked up by the Drudge Report, a premier aggregator of the web with its own pro-Trump bent, which changed “Report” to “Claim.” Phillips, a former executive with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and prolific tweeter on voting fraud, was astonished his tweet was given such prominence. No one had called him.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans were watching football, the president-elect, apparently vexed by Hillary Clinton’s more than 2 million vote lead in the popular vote and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s effort to get recounts in three states that Trump narrowly won, turned to Twitter, seemingly inspired by Phillips’ math. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” he tweeted.
Trump was lambasted far and wide, and Phillips, whose tweet was quickly pinpointed as his inspiration, was besieged by reporters, fact-checkers and angry tweeters telling him to put up or shut up.
Phillips’ tweet was a statement of what he thinks he will be able to prove once he is able to analyze True the Vote’s 50-state, 180 million registered voter data base when it is updated to reflect the election — not a statement, as it sounded, of what he was able to prove right now. Any legal action will wait for a Trump Justice Department. Phillips said he thought Twitter allowed that kind of latitude.
“When did a tweet become news?” Phillips told the American-Statesman. “I’m just like a guy. I’m an ordinary guy. There are billions of tweets every single day and because somebody picked it up, made something of something I wrote, all of a sudden the president-elect is talking about me?”