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Major cinema chain brings the Big Lie to theaters nationwide
More than 18 months after the 2020 presidential election, the Big Lie — the discredited claim that Trump won but was the victim of voter fraud — lives on. The Big Lie has staying power because it has proven to be highly adaptable. As various theories, including hacked voting machines, trashed ballots, and widespread voting by dead people, were debunked, new theories emerged in their place.
The latest version of the Big Lie comes from Dinesh D'Souza, a far-right polemicist, in a 90-minute "documentary" called 2000 Mules. D'Souza has a lengthy history of promoting false information and was convicted in 2014 of violating federal election law by making illegal donations. D'Souza was pardoned in 2018 by Trump.
Over the weekend, D'Souza's film began being offered alongside Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in hundreds of theaters across the country. The bulk of the distribution was provided by Cinemark, one of the nation's largest movie theater chains.
2000 Mules is based on claims by True the Vote, a right-wing group with a history of "baseless allegations" about the 2020 election. In November 2020, True the Vote filed lawsuits alleging fraud in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania alleging voter fraud but the group dismissed all four cases less than a week later. In 2016, Gregg Phillips, a True the Vote board member who is featured in the film, claimed that Trump won the popular vote because 3 million people voted illegally. In June 2017, Phillips and True the Vote said they were unable to raise enough cash to prove the claim.
Now, in 2000 Mules, True the Vote says it has purchased "a trove of geolocation data obtained from electronic devices." True the Vote says this data shows 2000 people came within a 100-foot radius of a ballot dropbox 10 times or more between October 1, 2020, and November 3, 2020. (The same group of people were also recorded near unnamed non-profits that the film describes as "stash houses.") D'Souza and True the Vote claim that this is proof that these 2000 people were paid "mules," stuffing multiple dropboxes with illegal votes for Biden.
This claim is absurd and it is the entire basis for the film.
First, dropboxes are intentionally placed in libraries, college campuses, government buildings, and other high-traffic areas that people visit frequently. Someone passing by one or more dropboxes 10 times in a month is not unusual. Second, just because an individual comes within 100 feet of a dropbox does not even prove they used a dropbox. Finally, the film "does not show any person on camera going to multiple dropboxes."
In one instance, True the Vote flagged a man in Georgia depositing five ballots in a dropbox. The incident was investigated by the Georgia Secretary of State, who found no wrongdoing. The man was dropping off ballots for himself and four family members, which is legal under Georgia law. Another featured clip shows a woman wearing latex gloves while dropping off a ballot, which the film describes as suspicious. But the 2020 election took place amid a surge in COVID and many people were wearing gloves to protect themselves.
To validate their data, D'Souza and True the Vote publicly claimed they used the same geotracking technique to help solve the murder of an 8-year-old girl. That was a lie. True the Vote says it provided the data to the FBI in late October 2021. The two suspects were arrested in August 2021. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is in charge of the murder investigation, said it never received any information from True the Vote.
2000 Mules premiered on May 5 at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Florida. Many of the most prominent supporters of the Big Lie — former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Green (R-GA), and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell — were in attendance. In a speech before the premiere, Trump called the movie "genius" and promoted it extensively at political events. The official 2000 Mules website features an endorsement from Trump:
Previously, however, distribution of the film was limited. One day in May, D'Souza rented out a number of theaters for a single showing and sold tickets on the film's website. The movie was also available to purchase on the right-wing video streaming service Rumble for $29.99.
On May 20, however, D'Souza announced that 2000 Mules would be going "wide," showing at hundreds of theaters across the country. A Popular Information investigation reveals that the theatrical release of 2000 Mules was facilitated primarily by Cinemark, the nation's third-largest movie theater chain. Over the weekend, 2000 Mules was showing in at least 169 Cinemark theaters — from Alaska to Florida.
Cinemark did not respond to a request for comment. But Cinemark's founder and Chairman of the Board, Lee Roy Mitchell, is a major financial backer of Trump and right-wing misinformation platforms.
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Mitchell's support for Trump and other politicians that promote the big lie
Lee Roy Mitchell, who founded Cinemark in 1984, keeps a relatively low profile. But Mitchell is a major Republican donor and a key part of the political network established by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch. In 2015, Mitchell co-authored a newspaper column defending Koch's influence on United States politics. More recently, Mitchell has emerged as a significant source of cash for Trump and other promoters of the Big Lie.
In advance of the 2020 election, Mitchell and his wife Tandy, who is also an executive at Cinemark, donated $200,000 to Trump Victory, the joint fundraising account set up by the Trump campaign to accept large donations.
Mitchell also donated a total of $100,000 in June 2021 and January 2022 to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R). In December 2020, Paxton filed a lawsuit against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. According to Texas campaign finance records, Mitchell has hosted multiple fundraising events for Paxton over the last decade.
Paxton has promoted 2000 Mules on Twitter:
Mitchell is also a financial backer of Kris Kobach (R), donating $5600 to his ill-fated 2020 Senate campaign. Kobach has been a key source of misinformation about election fraud. After the 2016 election, Trump appointed Kobach to head up an "Election Integrity Committee" that sought to prove Trump won the popular vote. The committee was disbanded after it "uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud."
Mitchell's support for PragerU and Turning Point USA
Mitchell also provides significant financial support to Prager University (PragerU), which is not a university but a right-wing video site founded by conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. PragerU publishes videos, which collectively have garnered billions of views, replete with misinformation about COVID-19, global warming, and election fraud. D'Souza is regularly featured in PragerU content.
Lee Roy Mitchell, through the Mitchell Foundation, donated $1.2 million to PragerU between 2017 and 2019, the last year of data disclosed by the foundation. In 2016 and 2017, the Mitchell Foundation donated $620,000 to Turning Point USA. Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, is a key source of misinformation about the 2020 election and a contributor to PragerU.