By Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press
A coalition of civil and voting rights organizations invoked the 19th-century Ku Klux Klan Act in a lawsuit filed Wednesday seeking to stop a group of Donald Trump supporters from going door-to-door in Colorado in a search for already-debunked voter fraud.
The suit against the U.S. Election Integrity Plan alleges that the group’s activities include photographing voters’ homes and “door-to-door voter intimidation” in areas where a high number of minorities live. The group was founded after Trump lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden and made false claims of mass voter fraud.
Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force colonel who runs the group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to Cause for America, a separate “election integrity” group he runs. USEIP has no listed phone number or email.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on behalf of the state chapter of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Mi Familia Vota.
The move represents a high-profile push against a new method that election deniers have used to try to advance claims of voter fraud that have been roundly dismissed. Repeated audits and investigations — including by Trump’s own Department of Justice — found no significant fraud in the 2020 election, and Trump backers lost more than 50 lawsuits trying to overturn the vote.
The lawsuit relies in part on the KKK Act, which was passed after the Civil War to prevent white vigilantes from using violence and terror to stop Black people from voting. The law has recently been cited in a lawsuit over the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, accused Trump of conspiring with far-right extremist groups that were involved in storming the U.S. Capitol.
The civil and voting rights groups allege that USEIP members sometimes carry firearms and badges during visits to voters’ homes, even though they do not work for the government. It cites no specific examples.
“They’re sending a very clear message that if you vote in the future in Colorado, you can expect an armed agent showing up at your door,” said Courtney Hostetler, an attorney on the suit.
USEIP thanks Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a major supporter of election deniers, in its organizing manual. Smith attended a meeting that Lindell organized on election conspiracy theories last August along with Tina Peters, a clerk in Colorado’s western Mesa County who was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday for her role in copying confidential election data that appeared on conspiracy websites after the event.
The Colorado secretary of state’s office says Smith was on the telephone with a clerk in a second county as he made copies of information from his own election system and gave it to two people not authorized to view it. Last month, at a gathering of election conspiracy theorists, during a discussion of Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state, Smith said, “If you’re involved in election fraud, then you deserve to hang.”
In late November, Lindell hired Smith to run Cause of America. In an interview on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast, Smith said the new organization would “help coordinate the election integrity efforts of citizens across the country.”
Lindell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Election Integrity Plan targets high-density housing that often is full of minority voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
“Sometimes armed and donning badges to present an appearance of government officiality, USEIP agents interrogate voters about their addresses, whether they participated in the 2020 election, and — if so — how they cast their vote,” the lawsuit said. “It is reported that multiple agents have claimed to be from ‘the county,’ and have, without any evidence, falsely accused the residents of casting fraudulent ballots.”
The group says on its website that it plans to expand to other states like Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire. Its materials have been used by conspiracy theorists going door-to-door in Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
“It’s extremely scary,” said Portia Prescott, president of the NAACP of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. If the group knocks on someone’s door, she contended, “you feel like a target, they know how you vote. Will you vote the next time? Probably not.”