If your movie preferences lean toward the likes of Top Gun: Maverick, or if your politics fall anywhere to the left of Liz Cheney, you might have missed the theatrical release of a documentary titled 2000 Mules. But if you tuned in to the January 6 hearings, you might have caught a reference to the film by former attorney general William Barr, who, doubling as a movie critic, dismissed it as “singularly unimpressive” and “indefensible.” 

Directed by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, 2000 Mules purports to prove that Democrats engaged in widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election and stole the presidency from Donald Trump—who, coincidentally or not, pardoned D’Souza in 2018 after his felony conviction for making illegal campaign contributions. Trump, who hosted a screening of 2000 Mules at Mar-a-Lago, called it the “greatest and most impactful documentary of our time.” 

As with so many things hyped by the former president, the film became a viral sensation, complete with its own eponymous hashtag. It is among the highest-grossing documentaries of the year so far, having earned nearly $1.5 million at the box office since its May release. (Documentaries don’t tend to attract Marvel franchise–size audiences.) Streaming revenues—D’Souza’s website sells the film for $19.99 a pop—totaled $10 million in just the first two weeks of release, according to Salem Media Group, the conservative Christian company that financed the film.

Whatever haul it’s actually made, 2000 Mules and its claims have clearly achieved a broad reach. A Rasmussen poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters conducted in the first week in June found that 41 percent had heard of the film and 15 percent had seen it. (Of the 146 likely voters who had watched the film, 77 percent said it strengthened their “conviction that there was systematic and widespread election fraud in the 2020 election.”) One of the movie’s admiring viewers was Texas Secretary of State John Scott, a Greg Abbott appointee who briefly represented Trump in a challenge to Pennsylvania’s 2000 election tally. “It’s really amazing,” the state election chief told an audience of Jewish conservatives in Dallas in mid-July. “You get an enormous amount of information.”

This success has come despite the movie’s claims being repeatedly debunked. The Associated PressNPR, the New York TimesPolitiFact, and the Washington Post, among others, have pointed out that the film’s central assertion—that cellphone tracking data reveals multiple trips by Democrat-funded flunkies (a.k.a. “mules”) to stuff drop boxes with phony ballots in battleground states—is just so much hooey. The film contains video footage of people putting multiple ballots into drop boxes (which is not, as the film would have it, illegal). But as NPR notes, the videos never show the same individuals taking votes to multiple drop boxes, or returning to the same boxes to stuff them with additional ballots.

Some of the alleged ballot-harvesters get tagged as though they’ve been spied on by undercover cops—including “dog guy,” who was filmed with his pup. Another fellow is deemed suspicious for taking a picture of his bike propped against a drop box after voting. “If you’re just casting your own ballot,” one of the film’s talking heads asks darkly, “what reason in the world would you have to come back and take a picture of the box?” Millions of Instagram users could provide the answer. 

The absurdities don’t stop there. A map that purports to depict cellphone usage in Atlanta—one of the main alleged centers of mulish activity—actually shows a slice of Moscow, according to the Washington Post. The film boasts that the “geolocation” technology not only backs up Trump’s assertions of systematic election theft but had such pinpoint accuracy that it also helped solve the murder of an eight-year-old girl in Georgia. Law enforcement officials told NPR that there was no truth to the story; the murder had been solved two months before the brains behind 2000 Mules said they turned over their evidence to authorities. 

You might think such disproven claims would discredit the filmmakers. But for many conspiracy theorists, the depictions of shadowy, hoodie-wearing figures approaching ballot drop boxes, interspersed with images of dark rooms lit by computer screens displaying incomprehensible maps and diagrams, is proof aplenty.    

The star of the show, along with D’Souza and the hoodied mules, is Gregg Phillips, a Republican who has served as a state official in Mississippi and Texas. He is credited with developing the technology used to “prove” the mules’ nefarious deeds. According to the film, Phillips has “a deep background in election intelligence; he’s worked projects over the world; he has a massive thirty years’ experience.” His costar is Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of the Houston-based nonprofit True the Vote, whose stated mission is to “restore America’s confidence in our electoral process.” 

Phillips has served as a board member and a highly paid “researcher” for True the Vote. He and Engelbrecht are listed as executive producers of 2000 Mules. And both have shown, time and again, how a lot of money can be made by purporting to show—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that voter fraud is an organized threat to our democracy. As Texas-based reporter Cassandra Jaramillo writes in a recent exposé for the investigative website Reveal, “True the Vote highlights how exploiting the Big Lie has become a lucrative enterprise.” 

Engelbrecht and Phillips make a cinematic pair. She is blond, always impeccably made up, and earnest in the way of a former Texas beauty queen turned marketing executive. The tall, pale-eyed Phillips, who began his political career, and his hunt for voter fraud, in Alabama in the eighties, is as steady and sincere as an undertaker, with the kind of elaborate, well-tended facial hair that evokes a Civil War general. You could think of them as the Barbie and Ken of voter fraud, or maybe the Bonnie and Clyde. 

Engelbrecht, a former small-business owner and Parent Teacher Organization board member in southeast Texas, began chasing alleged voter fraud in 2009 after finding herself “sickened” by the election of President Barack Obama. She’s been a leading advocate for restrictive voter ID laws and purges of voter rolls, and has organized controversial poll-watching efforts focused on Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston. 

Elected officials including the late Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas have raised questions about the tactics of Engelbrecht’s organizations. King Street Patriots, the anti-voter-fraud group that Engelbrecht founded prior to True the Vote, in 2009, was registered as a charitable 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Democratic officials and voting rights groups such as Fair Fight, founded by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic legislator and current candidate for governor of Georgia, have charged that True the Vote uses “suppressive tactics” and supports only Republican candidates, in violation of nonprofit rules. Journalists for the Washington Post and the Center for Investigative Reporting have documented questionable financial dealings—including the transfer of large sums of money going to Engelbrecht’s and Phillips’s for-profit businesses. In every case, the two have denied wrongdoing. 

(Texas Monthly made multiple requests to interview Engelbrecht and Phillips, then sent a detailed list of questions to them and James Bopp, a lawyer who has represented True the Vote. Brian Glicklich, True the Vote’s communications consultant, said Engelbrecht and Phillips would not respond to questions or meet with a reporter.)

Phillips became nationally notorious immediately after the 2016 election, when he tweeted on November 11—soon after Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton—that he had “Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million.” At the time, Phillips was marketing an app he’d created, called VoteStand, which allowed users to send photos or videos of suspected improper voting or electioneering to a central database. 

Not surprisingly, President-elect Trump jumped on Phillips’s claim, tweeting: “Look forward to seeing final results of VoteStand. Gregg Phillips and crew say at least 3,000,000 votes were illegal.” (Coincidentally or not, that is approximately the margin by which Clinton won the popular vote.) Despite promises to produce evidence of his claims, Phillips never did so. Reputable election officials from both parties, in states across the country, said no such fraud took place. But Phillips’s “finding” became the basis for Trump to repeatedly assert what he started saying in November of that year: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The Associated Press, among others, started poking into Phillips’s history in the wake of his splashy claim. In 2017, AP reported that the self-proclaimed foe of voter fraud was registered in 2016 to vote in three states: Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Queried on that subject, Phillips’s response was, “Why would I know or care? Doesn’t that just demonstrate how broken the system is?” 

Across the country, judges appointed by presidents of both parties have heard claims of widespread voter fraud, with not one finding any compelling evidence to support them. Yet Phillips and Engelbrecht, along with Trump, have brought to mind Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ observation that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” When the lie is amplified by partisan outlets such as Fox News and by influencers on social media, that makes it easier for the conspiracy mongers to advance their political goals—and for some to make money along the way. 

Christian Menefee, a Democrat who serves as county attorney for Harris County, where Houston is located, told me that “the lies and exaggerations about voter fraud . . . are used by conspiracy theorists to file meritless lawsuits, and by elected officials to push partisan audits that end up finding nothing. It leads legislators to pass restrictive voting laws, causes people to question election processes that have been safely used for decades, and makes election workers fear they’ll find themselves in court if they make a minor mistake. These are real impacts, changing how our elections are run and making it harder for eligible voters to cast ballots.”

Andrew Wheat, the research director of the corruption-exposing nonprofit group Texans for Public Justice, put it a little differently. “Sometimes you get the feeling that we as a human race have lost the ability to do a simple Google search, because these hustlers keep doing the same things over and over.” 

When Gregg Phillips entered political life in his home state of Alabama, he was a clean-shaven, baby-faced fund-raiser for the state’s Republican party. As he later told the Atlantic, “Our first voter project I did when I worked for the GOP in Alabama back in the 1980s. I’ve been involved off and on since then, and I’ve always said we need to ensure integrity in our systems.” 

At a legislative hearing in Arizona in late May, Phillips recounted an experience back home that he said turned him into a crusader against voter fraud. In 1994, a race for chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama between the Democratic incumbent, Ernest “Sonny” Hornsby, and a Republican challenger, Perry O. Hooper Sr., came down to fewer than 300 votes out of 1.1 million cast. Hooper, whose campaign was run by GOP campaign guru Karl Rove, won after a recount. But while the outcome was in question, Hooper’s campaign made vociferous charges of voter fraud, which were never proved. Phillips said he advised the campaign in its investigation. “I worked in Alabama since I was a kid and you know, 15,000 votes showing up in Selma, Alabama”—a city that is overwhelmingly Black—“was not a super big surprise to anyone,” Phillips told his Arizona audience. 

In 1991, Phillips moved on to work in Mississippi as a fund-raiser for Kirk Fordice, who became the first Republican to be elected governor of the state since Reconstruction. Fordice, in turn, tapped Phillips to head the Mississippi Department of Human Services in 1993. But when the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (or PEER), made up of legislators appointed by the lieutenant governor and house Speaker, conducted a background check on Phillips, it found discrepancies in his résumé. Phillips, who was then 33, claimed he’d majored in finance at the University of Alabama, but the committee’s records search showed he had majored in transportation. And though Phillips said he was a registered voter in Mississippi at the time, the committee found that his name did not appear on the rolls. Phillips also failed to file a required financial report to the state ethics commission. And he was, according to reports citing his former wife’s new husband, a deadbeat dad who’d failed to pay child support. (Phillips denied that accusation.) 

Nevertheless, the state Senate approved his nomination. Within two years, Phillips left for more lucrative work with a contractor who had benefited from an $878,000 deal with his department. Phillips’s new salary$84,000 a year. (In today’s dollars, that’s around $164,000.) A subsequent investigation by the same PEER committee concluded that “Mr. Phillips’ actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust.” The committee also asserted that Phillips’s moves “relative to the contractual arrangement create the appearance of impropriety and could constitute a violation of state ethics laws.” Phillips denied any wrongdoing.  

Phillips’s next public position was as the executive director of the Mississippi GOP, which was hellbent on combatting alleged voter fraud in Black communities (in a state that is 38 percent Black). A lawsuit from Black leaders in one such area resulted in a restraining order against the state GOP’s voter-intimidation tactics, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice stationed themselves at polling locations during Mississippi’s 1995 elections to make sure voters of color were not turned away. The state GOP provided no evidence of the fraud that it had alleged.

Phillips hadn’t yet become a national figure, but his pattern was set: a life of toggling between ever-more-lucrative public and private-sector jobs. Phillips has mostly shown impeccable timing in his entrances and exits, experiencing only one glitch: he was up for a job as head of human resources for the state of Alabama in 1995, but a negative editorial in the Birmingham News dashed his chances, citing Phillips’s “shaky qualifications and a suspect track record.” 

For some Texas Republicans, though, Phillips’s track record seemed to inspire little more than a shoulder shrug. In 2003, Phillips was hired as executive deputy commissioner of the state Health and Human Services Commission under Governor Rick Perry. (When a Houston Chronicle reporter later looked into how Phillips had come to be hired, no officials could recall. There were no letters of recommendation in his file.)

Another reported conflict of interest followed. When Phillips oversaw a billion-dollar plan to streamline and privatize Health and Human Services, two clients of a company called Enterject, a “management consulting services” firm that Phillips had founded, won $167 million in state contracts. Phillips claimed to have severed all ties with Enterject while serving in state government, but his then-wife was the company’s chief financial officer. In addition, the Chronicle reported, “a company called GHT Development Inc. owned the Internet registration for the Enterject Web site. GHT listed Gregg Phillips as its chief executive.” 

When Phillips resigned from the Texas HHSC, he said it was because of a lingering health issue and that he wanted to spend more time with his family. But as it had in Mississippi, controversy followed him. According to a subsequent Dallas Morning News investigation, the company Phillips hired to replace state workers—to the tune of $899 million for five years—produced chaos, including jammed call centers and clients who were separated wrongfully from their benefits. “Most infamously,” the News reported, “applicants for a time were given a wrong fax number for sending pay stubs and other private documents. It belonged to a Seattle warehouse that had no part of the deal.” 

Five years later, in 2010, the state hired an Austin-based company called AutoGov to help fix the continuing problems in Health and Human Services, at a cost to taxpayers of $207,500. State officials thought the company’s software expertise might simplify some of the confusion Phillips had left behind. Phillips, it turned out, had founded AutoGov and served as its chairman and CEO. The News reported that there was nothing illegal about bringing Phillips back into the fold given the years he had been away from state government, but noted that “critics of the deal say it’s troubling that a former employee is getting paid to try to fix problems spawned by an idea he helped hatch.”

Engelbrecht and Phillips have shown, time and again, how a lot of money can be made by purporting to show that voter fraud is an organized threat to our democracy.

Nobody can deny that Phillips is relentlessly entrepreneurial. In 2012, he garnered attention nationally with his VoteStand app. “People will have somewhere to turn if they see voter fraud or something that is not quite right in their eyes,” Phillips explained to Politico. “We think this will help us leave a positive legacy this election cycle, rather than just putting up a bunch of ads.” The app, available for iPhone through Apple’s app store, purportedly sent all reports to a “team of experts that are interested in and investigating this issue,” Phillips said, though he declined to offer more specifics about how the app worked and who had paid for its development. (He also declined to answer Texas Monthly’s question about who the “experts” were.) 

It turned out that funding for VoteStand came from a super PAC, Winning Our Future, for which Phillips served as managing director. The PAC, which received $15 million from right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, backed former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful presidential run in 2012. 

Phillips appears to have connected with Catherine Engelbrecht around 2014, when she was continuing to gain national notoriety for fighting imaginary voter fraud. Phillips had his mysterious technology, and Engelbrecht had a platform to market their investigations nationwide. That year, Phillips followed up on VoteStand with a nonprofit he founded called the Voters Trust, which offered a $1 million bounty to anyone who could prove that IRS leaders or members of the Obama administration were targeting right-wing or tea party groups. (It’s unclear who collected the cash, if anyone did.) 

Even before that time, Englebrecht’s efforts, like Phillips’s, had begun to attract scrutiny. In 2011, the Texas Observer reported on multiple controversies emanating from her King Street Patriots, including one that involved a video featuring a doctored image of a Black woman holding a sign declaring, “I only got to vote once!” In a harbinger of things to come, Engelbrecht’s group had taken “evidence” of invalid voter applications to Harris County’s Republican voter registrar, Leo Vasquez, who subsequently claimed in August 2010 to have found more than five thousand such invalid applications.  

The questionable research from King Street Patriots was challenged by Houston Votes, a progressive group that was registering voters. Englebrecht had publicly claimed that Houston Votes was being controlled by the New Black Panthers, a “radical, racist, criminal hate group.” The group’s leader filed a defamation suit, but the damage had been done: before the allegations were made, Houston Votes had been registering one thousand minority voters a day; afterward, its daily tally dropped to two hundred. That November, at the request of Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, federal monitors from the Department of Justice came to Houston to protect voters against intimidation by King Street poll watchers on Election Day. 

More trouble followed. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit alleging that King Street Patriots made “unlawful expenditures in coordination with the Republican Party and/or one or more of its candidates.” The suit further alleged that King Street was a “sham domestic nonprofit corporation that instead acts as an unregistered and illegal political committee.” Though King Street denied the allegations, a state court judge ruled in favor of the Democrats. Appeals dragged on for several years, however, by which time King Street had morphed into a different group, True the Vote. The case was ultimately dismissed by agreement of both parties, and, according to Chad Dunn, the attorney who represented the Democrats, “It looks like Catherine went into the vote-suppression business full-time.” 

None of the controversies stopped Engelbrecht from becoming a tea party star, hosting events where she charmed Republican county clerks, state legislators, and members of Congress in Texas and beyond. Despite the clear partisan flavor of these events, Engelbrecht continued to claim that True the Vote was nonpartisan. Engelbrecht was becoming a Fox News darling, and True the Vote said it was organizing poll-watching volunteers in 35 states, while pushing for voter roll purges and drawing accusations of voter intimidation. 

It’s easy to see why Engelbrecht and Phillips joined forces. They had a lot in common, including a loathing for President Obama, a love of the spotlight, and a penchant for turning a personal profit from their crusades against alleged voter fraud. Their companies have shared a mailing address, and in 2016 Engelbrecht was named the chief financial officer of one of Phillips’s companies. Engelbrecht and Phillips have been coy about a reported romantic link, though both listed the same address in the small Central Texas town of Cat Spring, about sixty miles west of Houston, for several years. “You know, Gregg and I have actually talked about this and how we would answer this question,” Engelbrecht told the New York Times in May, “and the best answer that I think either of us are going to give is, it is totally unrelated and unimportant.”

Regardless, they’ve made quite a team. By 2016, True the Vote’s national influence was growing, with a substantial network of volunteers, event co-sponsorships with the Koch brothers’ tea party advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, and data collected by Phillips, who by then was touting a proprietary algorithm for his research. (That includes the research that he claimed—without ever showing any evidence—proved that more than three million noncitizens voted in 2016.) In the two years prior to 2016, one of Phillips’s companies was paid $30,000 by True the Vote, while he was a board member of the organization.

Allegations of widespread voter fraud were repeated by Donald Trump and right-wing media so often that they became gospel, first on the far right and eventually among a majority of Republicans. Phillips was always eager to congratulate himself for his work. “I’ve torn down govt in two states, eliminated 20K jobs and saved $5 billion,” he boasted in a 2016 tweet. “Requires enormous stones.”

When legitimate media outlets came calling, Phillips was more circumspect about his never-proved claim of more than three million illegal votes. “I’m not gonna be goaded into going faster than I want to,” he told the Atlantic in January 2017, when pressed about releasing his data. “I’m not a government official.” Besides, he said, “Our interest is not in uncovering anything that might somehow change any past election, because once those votes are certified, they’re certified and that’s over. The work that we’re doing could create a foundation for looking at elections moving forward.” The same month, The Guardian reported that the man who had built a career excising government waste owed about $100,000 in back taxes. Phillips said he owed less than $50,000, and that he was “in a disagreement with the IRS.”  

A lesser man might have retreated with his spoils to, say, a villa in the Caymans. Not Phillips. Joe Biden’s victory in 2020—along with Trump’s incessant claim that the election had been stolen—inspired a deeply conservative North Carolina donor by the name of Fred Eshelman to wire $2 million shortly after Election Day to True the Vote, whose leaders were saying they needed to raise $7.3 million to stop the certification of the election and get to the bottom of the grand conspiracy that robbed Trump of his presidency. A former pharmaceutical executive and financier who gave $100 million to the University of North Carolina, Eshelman could afford to make the biggest donation True the Vote had ever received

On November 9, not long after Eshelman’s payment arrived, Phillips’s latest venture, OPSEC, billed True the Vote $350,000. The following day, True the Vote gave a $500,000 retainer to Bopp, a right-wing lawyer best known for winning the Citizens United case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on corporate campaign contributions. While True the Vote had promised that OPSEC would “aggregate and analyze data to identify patterns of election subversion,” Bopp’s role was to try to persuade judges to give the organization access to voter rolls in closely contested states so it could show proof of fraud. Eshelman was told that Bopp would file lawsuits in seven states. He filed four, and then voluntarily withdrew each of them within a week. 

Eschelman pitched in another $500,000 after a consultant told him True the Vote needed “additional short-term money for Bopp.” But Bopp, Engelbrecht, and Phillips had promised much and delivered little. “We were just not getting any data or proof,” a lobbyist for Eshelman later told the Washington Post. “We were looking at this and saying to ourselves, ‘This just is not adding up.’” 

Disgusted, Eshelman filed suit, demanding a refund. The lawsuit, first filed in federal court, was withdrawn and then refiled in Texas, where a judge threw out the case, ruling that Eshelman did not have standing to sue in the state. The proper authority to investigate the case, the judge said, was the Texas attorney general’s office. Republican attorney general Ken Paxton—who’s been a guest on Engelbrecht’s podcast, has taken no action. 

Or rather, the Attorney General’s office has chosen a different kind of action. On May 13th,  before the official May 20th release date of 2000 Mules, Jonathan White, the Division Chief of the AG’s Election Integrity Division, sent out an email to his team, stating that Deputy AG Josh Reno had invited everyone on it to a screening of D’Souza’s “voter fraud documentary” the next evening. The event was free to all comers, along with a plus-one. General Paxton had a block of reservations, White continued, and would be present. “I think they would love to have a good showing from our office…” the head of AG’s Election Integrity Division wrote. The office hosted another screening on June 6, complete with a BBQ lunch.

Meanwhile, according to Reveal’s reporting, court records showed that Phillips’s voter analysis company, OPSEC Group LLC, continued to bill True the Vote after Eschelman broke ties, receiving another $400,000 for a project called Eyes on Georgia. 

True the Vote’s tax returns, linked to in the Reveal exposé, have been “riddled with inconsistencies and have regularly been amended,” Jaramillo wrote. Her extensive investigation found that along with the handsome sums paid to Phillips’s various companies for their data analysis, True the Vote has made questionable loans to Engelbrecht, who received $113,396 in 2019 alone. 

Phillips is currently CEO and Engelbrecht is “chief experience officer” of a company called CoverMe Services Inc.—formerly known as AutoGov—which says it uses software to “bridge the financial and social service gaps faced by both hospitals and their patients.” CoverMe claims that “in the span of a five-minute interview, hospitals can provide patients with real-time eligibility and enrollment support, creating better outcomes for both the patient and provider.” The State of Mississippi has paid the company close to $1.7 million for its services.

But that doesn’t mean Phillips has given up on voter fraud investigations—especially after the attention garnered by 2000 Mules. The film has the ultimate power-endorser in Trump, who brought up Phillips’s claims again in a twelve-page missive refuting the claims of the January 6 committee. “The data is astonishing!” Trump said in his publicly released statement. “Rather than 2000 mules, the number jumps to 54,000 mules.” 

Both Engelbrecht and Phillips are now certified stars on the conspiracy circuit—with their credibility boosted by state and federal lawmakers eager to use their “findings” to make the case for overturning elections. In Wisconsin, the duo addressed the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections in March. In Michigan, seventeen Republican House members asked the state’s attorney general to investigate the claims made in 2000 Mules. Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona, has called for congressional hearings about the film’s allegations. On July 27, in a sign of how much weight Phillips’s name now carries in far-right circles, Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake tweeted prior to her primary victory, “I am honored to have the endorsement of True the Vote’s Gregg Phillips!” 

Engelbrecht and Phillips have still failed to present any credible evidence to prove the claims they made in the movie. In the Arizona legislative hearing, Phillips said criticism of their methods came from “journalistic terrorists.” (The Republican Party of Arizona picked up on his phrase, twice tweeting out: “The mainstream media is domestic terrorists.”) Asked to describe his process in greater detail, Phillips refused, calling the methods “proprietary.”

Phillips says criticism of True the Vote’s methods comes from “journalistic terrorists.”

On a right-wing podcast in late spring, he claimed that an even bigger finding would soon be revealed. At the hearing in Arizona, he doubled down: “We do indeed have a matter brewing that is ten times bigger than Mules,” he said, inspiring excited whispers in the audience. “It’ll be about six weeks before we can clear our way through it, but I assure you it is the most explosive issue that you have ever come in contact with related to elections in the United States.” 

Twelve weeks later, as this story was being published, the explosive revelation had still not been delivered. But Phillips was still dropping hints to titillate the conspiracy-minded. On a podcast in late July, he claimed that what would be revealed stems from an “op” involving “the United States government, which we worked for,” until “we were betrayed by the United States government.” This month, True the Vote held a symposium in Arizona called “The Pit,” where Phillips promised to roll out “devastating” findings, including “the part that was left out of the movie.” The proceedings were livestreamed on the Right Side Broadcasting Network. But in lieu of a big reveal, Engelbrecht and Phillips announced they were putting up a new website that would include surveillance video taken at drop boxes and documents from various election lawsuits—but not the geolocation data that was the basis for the film’s allegations. And that, they said, would be a wrap on 2000 Mules. “The end of Mules!” Engelbrecht exclaimed. “End scene. We’re done.”

The pair had already been moving on to their next project. In late July, Phillips appeared with Engelbrecht on a stage in Las Vegas at a gathering of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an organization of local police officials who claim that federal and state authorities are subordinate to local sheriffs. They were joined by sheriffs who have signed on to True the Vote’s Protect America Now initiative, designed to encourage them to investigate elections—or, as the True the Vote website puts it, to “equip local sheriffs with the tools that they need to fight potential fraud,” such as enhanced video surveillance. A national hotline, according to True the Vote, will be set up “to connect American citizens with their local sheriffs in case they see anything awry” at the polls this fall. Five Texas sheriffs (and one former sheriff) from small, rural counties have signed up

And so it goes, despite the many investigations of Phillips and Engelbrecht, and despite True the Vote’s continued inability to prove that voter fraud exists. “True the Vote and groups like it are well-documented voter intimidation scams,” said Chris Hollins, a Democrat running for mayor of Houston who, as county clerk for Harris, was on the front lines in the 2020 election. “They’re created to amplify conspiracy theories, funded by wealthy right-wing activists, to tie the hands of election administrators and embolden partisan poll watchers.” 

They are also created, as Engelbrecht and Phillips have long demonstrated, with an eye toward making money. To support their efforts to “equip” sheriffs for November’s elections, True the Vote aims to raise a cool $1 million.

Correction 8/22/2022: An earlier version of this article reported Miriam and Sheldon Adelson had given $15 billion to the super PAC Winning Our Future. They gave $15 million.

Update 8/24/2022: This article has been updated to include information about invitations to members of the Texas Attorney General’s office to watch 2,000 Mules.