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If you're going to intimidate an election worker, you may as well tweet about it.
Her name, the 4chan user proclaimed, “IS RUBY FREEMAN.”
More than a month earlier, in the early morning hours of election day, a burst pipe caused some chaos inside the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. Workers raced to ensure that the boxes upon boxes of absentee ballots were safe and sound — and, in the end, things went surprisingly well. Not a single ballot had been damaged.
But, as we know, paranoia ran rampant as the results trickled in. Joe Biden had flipped Georgia — as well as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district. The pump primed for the idea that the election had been stolen, President Donald Trump, his associates, and a raft of supportive organizations and activists got to work trying to figure out how to alter the results and keep him in the White House.
Many of those online wannabe sleuths were combing through footage of that day, at the State Farm Arena in search of evidence. And this 4chan user was analyzing every frame of footage from a minute-and-a-half long clip from the local Atlanta news. They honed in on a Black woman, wearing a surgical mask and a purple “LADY RUBY” t-shirt, supervising the count.
She appeared, the 4chan user proclaimed, “IN THE (((NEWS))) REPORT ABOUT THE FAKE BROKEN PIPE THAT ALLOWED THEM TO KICK OUT REPUBLICAN OBSERVERS.”
The broken pipe was, of course, not fake. The triple-bracketed news (alt-right code for “jewish”) had been filming at the count more than 12 hours after the pipe burst. Republican observers were never kicked out. But this room was already the subject to enormous scrutiny, as Republicans pointed to grainy security footage as proof that poll workers were hauling out “suitcases filled with ballots.”
Identifying one of the poll workers, however, was huge. Interspersed with a stream of racial slurs and memes with captions like “REMEMBER: You are never too important to be hanged for TREASON!” they obsessed over Ruby Freeman. 4chan users dug up Freeman’s social media pages. And they discovered she was a Joe Biden supporter.
A few weeks later, Trevian Kutti, a former publicist for the stars, was on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta. Later that day, she sat in a Cobb County Police Department precinct and told Ruby Freeman that she was “a loose end for a party that needs to tidy up.”
This week, on Bug-eyed and Shameless, a story about how posting through it can, sometimes, land you indicted on RICO charges.
Don’t worry, Bug-eyed and Shameless is covered under newsletter-writer/newsletter-reader privilege. But only if you’ve signed up to receive the weekly dispatch.
There’s no doubt that Trevian Kutti has a flare for the dramatic.
In the early-00s, Kutti and her husband ran an upscale boutique in Chicago’s Near North Side.
“Our customer is not the conservative Christian right,” Kutti told the New York Times in 2006. Certainly an understatement.
Over the years, the window display for the store featured strewn, bloody mannequin body parts and an Iraqi flag; a stop sign-headed diamond-covered figure bearing the message “STOP DOMESTIC SPYING”; and a Nazi flag, next to a portrait of a Ku Klux Klansman, and a picture of the towers on fire.
Kutti told the Times she was posting $2 million in annual sales. The store shut a few years later. When she filed for bankruptcy in 2010, she reported just $60,000 a year in income, and nearly $500,000 in debt.
Within a few years, however, Kutti had reinvented herself doing publicity. And, by all accounts, she did pretty well for herself. Representing and styling boxing legend Terence Crawford, Kanye West, R Kelly, actress Regina King and Queen Rania of Jordan.
Kutti had donated to Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, took photos from the White House lawn when Barack Obama still occupied it, and posted grinning selfies with Elizabeth Warren.
Then the pandemic hit. And Kutti became a big fan of Angela Stanton-King.
Stanton-King had, decades ago, spent two years in prison for her role in a luxury car theft ring. Once out, she got into the self-publishing business. She penned a thinly-veiled attack on ex-associate then-Real Housewives star Phaedra Parks. The book earned her a defamation suit, but landed her a gig on a BET reality show. That, in turn, propelled her into a run against Representative John Lewis’ congressional seat in Georgia. In early 2020, Trump helped her out with a full pardon.
Kutti joined the Stanton-King campaign later that summer, as a campaign consultant.
Stanton-King was one of a class of QAnon-affiliated candidates running for office across America. She told her followers that the pandemic was “a major cover up for PEDOPHILIA and HUMAN TRAFFICKING” and tipped her hat to the idea that online furniture market Wayfair was shipping abducted children in their furniture. (She stormed out of an interview with The Guardian when pressed about those tweets.)
While she was helping run Stanton-King, Kutti’s conspiracy-tinged campaign was also working on Kanye West’s omnishambles presidential bid. She began posting COVID-19 misinformation, calling it a “plan-demic” and endorsing Stella Immanuel — the quack who touted hydroxychloroquine as a viral cure-all at the White House. Soon, she was linked up with Black Voices for Trump and was posing for selfies with William Prescott Floyd, the group’s leader and “the smartest black man in politics,” Kutti wrote. She posted on Facebook that she had signed Mike Lindell, pillow king and QAnon booster, as a client.
Her record in politics as not exactly sterling. Stanton-King earned just 14% of the vote in her congressional district. West netted just 66,000 votes across the 12 states in which he had ballot access. And Trump, of course, lost.
Shortly before the new year, she tweeted at Trump: “If you are going to bring us patriots to D.C. on January 6th, you better unleash every military and Executive power you have to save our Republic. DO IT!!! #byanymeansnecessary.”
Over the course of just 12 months, Kutti went from being a fairly successful publicist and stylist to a messianic Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist. To the Trump campaign, that made her very useful.
By January, 2021, the “stop the steal” movement was in full effect. While the Trump campaign was frantically trying to figure out how to ‘find’ friendly ballots or submit fake electors to the electoral college, a quasi-grassroots effort of influencers and activists was working diligently to astroturf public support for his cause. (Dispatch #35)
In early December, Trump’s team testified at the Georgia State Senate, alleging all kinds of fraud and misconduct. They broadcast surveillance footage which, they said, proved the election workers at the State Farm Arena had produced 18,000 Biden votes out of thin air. His team mentioned some of the workers by their appearance: “Lady who has the blonde braids,” “the lady in purple,” “two women in yellow,” and so on. Those election workers had, the Trump team alleged, kicked the Republican observers out of the room in order to produce these fake ballots. They didn’t identify the workers by name, except to mention that one “had the name Ruby across her shirt.”
The next day, that 4chan user identified Ruby Freeman. Shortly thereafter, conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit named her as the “crooked operative filmed pulling out suitcases of ballots.”
These grandiose claims went nowhere — because they’re bullshit.
As we know, Trump upped the pressure. On January 2, he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On that call, Trump rants about the water main break: “When they came back-” the name was redacted in the leaked call, but we know that he mentioned Freeman’s name 18 times on that call “and her daughter and a few people. There were no Republican poll workers.” He goes on to repeat the suitcase-full-of-votes lie. The next day, the call leaked and Trump angrily tweeted that Raffensperger was “unwilling or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under the table’ scam.”
Later that day, a chain of phone calls began. Floyd, the Black Voices for Trump director who Kutti called one of the smartest men in politics, tried calling Freeman directly — she didn’t answer. He also spoke to Georgia chaplain Stephen Lee, who had tried visiting Freeman at her home in December, but who was shooed away by the cops. Finally, he called Kutti.
The next day, Kutti was on a plane to Atlanta.
Kutti headed straight for Freeman’s house. When she didn’t answer the door, Kutti told a neighbor that she was a “crisis manager” hoping to “help” Freeman. She tried Freeman’s mom’s place, too, and tried to force her way inside. When she finally got Freeman on the phone, Kutti told her she was in danger. Freeman gave Kutti a phone number for her contact at the FBI — a number she had called often in recent days, as threats mounted. The FBI, in turn, suggested that if Kutti wanted to talk to Freeman, they do it at the local police precinct.
It was a profoundly clever move by the FBI. A Cobb County officer kept their bodycam running the entire time, as Kutti and Freeman talked in a corner of the police station.
Kutti: We have to put in [place] a way to move you, to secure you…We probably have 48 hours in which to move you. We would do it on your schedule…I cannot say what specifically will take place, I just know that it will disrupt your freedom and [inaudible] the freedom of one or more of your family members…You are a loose end for a party that needs to tidy up.
Kutti puts Floyd on speakerphone. She insists that she wants to get Freeman “protection that you need.” The three talk for roughly an hour.
In the end, Freeman tells Kutti to take a hike. Police, apparently, decline to file a report because no crime had been committed.
The day after Kutti’s meeting with Freeman, Floyd called Georgia lawyer Robert Cheeley — one of the Trump-linked lawyers who had first presented this insane and baseless allegation to the Georgia State Senate. Cheeley, in turn, called Kutti.
You would think that this is where the story ends. But, no. This being Trumpworld, everyone had to keep posting their Ls.
“Look what was captured by Cobb County police body cameras on January 4,” Trump posted on Truth Social earlier this year. He uploaded a selectively-edited clip, of two officers discussing the bizarre scene that played out in their lobby.
Kutti, for her part, was ecstatic. “MY INTERVIEW WITH RUBY FREEMAN IN GEORGIA IS NOW PLAYING ON PRESIDENT TRUMP'S TRUTH SOCIAL ACCOUNT,” she wrote. “HAPPY FUCKIN NEW YEAR.”
“I should not be here,” Freeman told the January 6 committee in 2022. She introduced herself for the record. “I’ve always believed it when god says that he’ll make your name great, but this is not the way it was supposed to be.”
Freeman told the committee that she had become anxious and worried. “I’ve lost my sense of security — all because a group of people, starting with Number 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me and my daughter.”
Her family had been inundated with death threats and racial slurs. She had to leave her home for months at a time. People showed up on her mother’s doorstep and tried to enact a “citizen’s arrest.”
Freeman filed a lawsuit against The Gateway Pundit to try and get some justice, but a series of legal delay tactics has kept the case in limbo for more than a year. In one affidavit, Gateway Pundit owner Jim Hoft argues that his outlet’s reporting was accurate and did not cause harm. (A judge ruled in June that the case ought to proceed, over Hoft’s objections.)
Freeman and her daughter had been dedicated and hardworking election officials. They were Democrats, sure, but that came second. “Like countless other election workers, we don’t show up to help any candidate or political party.”
After her name was published, it all went to hell. “Strangers came by my home the week of January 6th. One person told me I had 48 hours to give them sort of statement to avoid going to jail — to admit something I never did.” Others tried to break into her home.
“Do you know how it feels to have the President of the United States target you?” She asked the committee.
The whole testimony is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. By all accounts, Ruby Freeman is a funny, lovely woman. She got her start as a street vendor at an Atlanta stadium, and eventually worked her way up to owning her own boutique. But to Trump and his ilk, she is a “rigger” — a title first suggested, accompanied by the slur you would expect, on the 4chan thread that doxxed her.
There has been much written about the ex-president’s indictment. Lots of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about whether it is right or proper to indict a president, or whether it could calcify the animus growing at the heart of American politics.
But there are real victims in this case. Real people whose lives have been up-ended, real people who were intimidated, threatened, and bullied. All in advancement of a conspiracy to overturn a valid election, run by thousands of people like Ruby Freeman. Whether or not Trump, Floyd, Kutti, and the rest of them are guilty is for a jury to decide.
To not pursue this case, however, would be to overlook what happened to Ruby Freeman.
“Congress needs to protect our election workers,” Freeman pleaded last year. “It needs to to take steps to prevent the spread of lies that threaten our democracy. I am just one name, one reputation, one life devastated by disinformation, but there are so many more, and there will be even more if things don’t change.”
That’s it for this week!
If you’re interested, I held an AMA on Reddit about my Far and Widening report. There was some quality chat.
As always, I’m keen to hear your thoughts in the comments — about this post, anything else in the newsletter, or things you’d like to see in future dispatches.
Until next time.