Lindell’s dangerous fellow travelers among Minnesota GOP elected officials — Column

August 26, 2021 6:00 am

Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, speaking at a campaign rally held by U.S. President Donald Trump at the Target Center on Oct. 10, 2019 in Minneapolis. Mike Lindell says the FBI seized his cell phone at a Mankato Hardee’s on Tuesday. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

Jennifer Carnahan’s spectacular implosion as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota is not even the most concerning recent event for Republicans or — more importantly — the rest of us. 

Yes, her close ties to indicted donor and party operative Anton Lazzaro — followed by a cascade of stories of her bullying behavior — are tawdry and dispiriting to those of us who would hope Minnesota’s best would volunteer for public life.

The more important event, however, took place recently in South Dakota, where the frenetic pillow mogul Mike Lindell held a three-day conference in which he purported to offer proof that the 2020 election was stolen. 

Which, OK, fine. The man with the colorful past of cocaine, champagne and what he called a “fake” bankruptcy wants to stay famous and sell more pillows. Who cares, right?

The problem is that a parade of Minnesota Republicans followed him over there, people with real power and influence over our state’s future, including GOP Reps. Erik Mortensen, Glenn Gruenhagen and Eric Lucero, apparently among others. 

You can actually smell freedom over here,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said on social media from South Dakota. 

Perhaps COVID-19 has knocked out Drazkowski’s sense of smell, because that odor wasn’t the smell of freedom. It was the smell of equine dung being served up by Lindell. 

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, is both a Republican and a network engineer with 20 years of experience, so he’s well positioned to gauge the veracity of Lindell’s claims. He put it plainly: “There’s no there there.”

Garofalo thinks there’s legitimate debate about how the rules surrounding mail voting were changed last year without legislative input, and he wants to require voters to present a valid ID at the polls. 

I don’t agree, but at least he lives on planet Earth: “Those issues have nothing to do with tabulating the votes,” he said of Lindell’s claims of Chinese election theft. “That’s internet hucksterism.” 

As Garofalo notes, the presidential election in Minnesota just wasn’t that close. President Joe Biden’s win was nearly identical to President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney in 2012. And, if Democrats were going to fix the election, why would they give up a U.S. House seat, state House seats and allow the Republicans to keep the state Senate?

It’s almost embarrassing to have to explain how the vote fraud nonsense is wrong, like explaining to someone how a pyramid scheme will eventually collapse, but let’s do it anyway: 

After every election, a random group of precincts in every congressional district is chosen for review, totaling roughly 440,000 votes after the 2020 election, spanning more than 200 precincts. Guess what: The hand tallies were virtually identical to the machine tallies. 

(People who keep asking for an “audit” don’t seem to know or care that we already do this after every election.)

This has been true in other states. Georgia, for instance, completed a hand tally of every vote cast, and the result was the same. 

The primary conceptual problem with these assertions of widespread fraud is that our election system is decentralized. The secretary of state does not count ballots. The votes are tallied in every county. Major fraud would require a lot of people’s participation, even as a lot of other people from both parties are looking on. 

Aside from the looniest Q-Anoners, Minnesota Republicans know all this. Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said this at a recent party social: “Three precincts that we looked at in St. Cloud, where one of our guys lost by 300 votes and there were some college town area, a Somali area, and I wanted to know, so we did a recount of three precincts and looked at all the data. Compared to the machines, it was the same. Hand count was the same as the machines.”

(It’s a tad offensive that he thinks Somali-American voters are suspect. Also, the “one of our guys” he’s referring to is the late-Sen. Jerry Relph, whose daughter believes he caught COVID-19 at a crowded GOP Senate victory party the week of the election. He died a few weeks later, but I digress.) 

The point is: Gazelka knows the election was not fixed. 

But Gazelka still “sent a team,” as he put it, including Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, to the Lindell-apalooza. 

Lindell offered up $5 million to anyone who could disprove his claim the election was stolen based on the “evidence” he offered up. Big problem for Lindell, as the Washington Times reported: “The cyber expert on the ‘red team’ hired by Lindell now says the key data underpinning the theory that China hacked the 2020 election unveiled at the Cyber Symposium is illegitimate.”

And now someone wants the 5 million bucks.   

Local news in South Dakota reported that Bill Alderson of a Texas-based cybersecurity training outfit called Security Institute paid his own airfare and lodging to go to the Lindell event. He previously worked with the Pentagon after 9/11 and in Afghanistan. Having proven Lindell’s whole theory was nothing but a buncha hokum, he’s put in his application with Lindell’s lawyers for the money. 

He’ll never see it, because the con just goes on and on.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Tyler Kistner, who is again running against U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, is claiming he would have won if not for (non-existent) voter fraud, of which he has zero evidence. I got some audio of Kistner talking at a GOP picnic, in which he said, “They did an audit of just five precincts in Dakota County. In just those five precincts they looked at, there was over 1,500 votes that went towards me.”

Not true. After the hand recount of those precincts, he lost four votes.  

These lies are not without consequence. 

“Huge, long-term damage to our collective, mutual trust in the system,” Secretary of State Steve Simon told me. “It’s really damaging and harmful. And Jan. 6 is just the most obvious expression,” he said, referring to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Thanks to Lindell and his fellow travelers here in Minnesota, Jan. 6 may have been just the beginning of something truly sinister, not the end.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children