JCinemark Fairfax Corner’s atrium can only be described as characterful. Yellow walls, arcade games and rows of snacks and popcorn could be any bland multiplex cinema anywhere. But the digital dashboard of movies currently streaming deserves a second look.
Alongside Bad Guys, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All at Once there is the title 2000 Mules. Anyone hoping for a superhero blockbuster about an army of horse-donkey hybrids will be disappointed.
Instead, Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” has arrived at a theater near you.
2000 Mules purports to be an investigation into voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. It purports to show that Democrat-aligned voting “mules” were paid to illegally collect and deposit ballots in Arizona, Georgia , Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, swinging swing states in favor of Joe Biden against Trump.
The ‘documentary’ has been resoundingly debunked by fact-checkers who point out that its supposed smoking gun – $2 million worth of anonymized cellphone geolocation data that allegedly tracks down ‘mules’ visiting drop boxes – is based on false assumptions about the accuracy of such technology.
But that hasn’t stopped 2000 Mules from winning praise from Trump and other Republicans, getting a limited theatrical release, and becoming something of a hallmark in the discredited conspiracy theory tale “Stop The Robbery.” “.
So it was that on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, a dozen people – mostly white and middle-aged or elderly – took their seats at Cinemark Fairfax Corner for a screening. Unusually and perhaps tellingly, when the lights went down, there were no trailers for any other movies.
The main feature turned out to be more restrained than critics of the Big Lie might expect. Far-right filmmaker and provocateur Dinesh D’Souza seeks to present himself as curious, innocent and reasonable – by simply asking questions – as he interviews commentators and “experts” on how the 2020 election unfolded.
In fact, D’Souza is so determined to avoid the raucous tone of Trump rallies or Fox News opinion leaders that at times the 88-minute film is, surprisingly, just plain boring. But in the end, he emphatically concludes that the election was rigged and stolen by the Democrats as an ominous, plaintive version of The Star-Spangled Banner swells.
Among this group of moviegoers, at least, D’Souza was preaching to converts. All were convinced that Biden is not legitimately elected president. The film, like a social media echo chamber, delivered a satisfying dose of confirmation bias.
“I thought it was spectacular,” said Joe Hughes, 67, who is self-employed. “Trump never stood a chance in this election.”
Joyce Gould, 69, an accounting administrator, agreed: “When Trump talked about things that were going to happen, I had no reason to doubt him. I thought there was a lot of cheating. But when do you actually see the details of the movie when it comes to geo-technology and all that kind of stuff?
“I’m just surprised at the evil that exists in the world. You always know it’s there, but when you actually hear the details of it, it’s just very amazing to me.”
A man who gave his name only as Bill and his age over 50, described the film as “sickening and hugely compelling if you have an open mind”. He insisted: “I am a very objective person. If my own children were accused of a crime, I would be on the jury. That’s how I’m objective.
But he added: “My frustration comes from Trump. He knew it was coming. He did nothing to stop it. It is also very nauseating for me.
Will this film really change your mind? Bill’s wife Anna, 63, who works for an airline, commented: “It might wake up some people who aren’t awake but I don’t know who will come and watch it. I doubt some with a certain political affiliation would be willing to do that because they don’t want to see or hear it.
2000 Mules was produced by D’Souza and uses research from True the Vote, a Texas-based nonprofit that has spent months lobbying states to use its findings to change laws elections.
A special screening at Trump’s luxury Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, brought together prominent supporters of his assault on democracy: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and MyPillow entrepreneur Mike Lindell.
Clips of the film were regularly shown at Trump campaign rallies and it was shown in its entirety before he took the stage in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The former president congratulated 2000 Mules for having denounced “a great electoral fraud”.
There are signs it could become a cultural touchstone for Republicans, lending a patina of seriousness and respectability to the big lie that doesn’t come from rumors, speeches or internet chat rooms.
Ronny Jackson, the former White House top doctor who is now a congressman, tweeted: “If you don’t think there was MASSIVE voter fraud in the 2020 election after seeing 2000 mules, then NOTHING can convince you. The number of criminal cheats captured ON CAMERA will SHOCK you! 2020 was NOT “free and fair” at ALL. GO SEE 2000 MULES!!
Kandiss Taylor, who ran for governor of Georgia in this week’s Republican primary election, lamented the lack of investigations into voter fraud: Citizens.”
However, fact checkers eviscerated the film, noting its flawed analysis of cellphone location data, which is not accurate enough to confirm that someone dropped a ballot into a drop box instead of just walk or drive nearby.
Aaron Striegel, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, told The Associated Press: “You can use cell evidence to say this person was in that area, but to say that she was at the polls, you’re stretching her a lot. There’s always a pretty good amount of uncertainty that comes with that.
2000 Mules also contains drop box surveillance footage showing voters dropping multiple ballots into ballot boxes. But it’s impossible to say whether those voters were the same ones whose cellphones were tracked anonymously.
Critics also point out that D’Souza is in form. He has spent years promoting misinformation. In 2007, he wrote that “the cultural left is responsible for the cause of September 11”. In 2014, he was convicted of violating federal election law by making illegal donations to a US Senate campaign only to be pardoned by Trump in 2018.
Still, 2000 Mules was released in more than 270 theaters across the United States, with most of the distribution handled by Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest chain. The website Popular Information pointed out that Cinemark founder and chairman of the board, Lee Roy Mitchell, “is a major funder of Trump and right-wing disinformation platforms.”
Given Trump’s obsession with ratings, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he now claims to have saved the US box office. But the release of 2000 Mules is very modest compared to the typical Hollywood blockbuster.
Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, said: “It’s not widespread. It’s not Doctor Strange. It exists because there is a market for it.
“It’s hard to believe that this kind of very blatant propaganda that doesn’t answer the question it’s supposed to answer could convince anyone who didn’t already believe it was real. It’s a way of giving talking points extra to people who already believe the election was stolen.
The purveyors of Trump’s false election claims have taken a beating in this week’s Republican primary election in Georgia. But some watchdogs warn that, some 18 months after the presidential election, the mere existence of 2,000 mules could still breathe new life into the big lie.
Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project, said: “We get angry emails in our inbox all the time – we are stupid and terrible RINO. [Republicans In Name Only] or whatever – and one thing I’ve noticed is people mentioning 2000 mules.
“Among the crowd that still can’t get over the loss of the 2020 election, they’re watching this. It impacted them and reinforced the big lie.”