One America News Network has cultivated a singular obsession with 2000 Mules, a recent movie by right-wing fraudster Dinesh D’Souza pushing an outlandish conspiracy theory about the 2020 election. Unlike other right-wing TV networks, OAN has devoted a ton of coverage to D’Souza’s movie and is apparently attempting to get the rights to air it in full.
According to a Media Matters review, from March 1 to May 31, OAN mentioned or discussed 2000 Mules in 204 segments (including repeat airings), for a total of 8 hours and 45 minutes of programming. The network's nonstop hype for the movie has included at least six interviews with D'Souza, fawning coverage of its Mar-a-Lago red carpet premiere, and OAN personalities telling viewers that 2000 Mules is both “irrefutable” and “the crime of the century and the film of the century, all in one.”
According to D’Souza, 2000 Mules uncovered an army of unidentifiable operatives secretly packing ballot boxes in swing states during the 2020 election. He alleges to have proved this activity through geolocation evidence that shows, as The Washington Post put it, “some people may have been near drop-box locations on a given day.” Many of the other central claims of the movie have similarly been demolished.
Despite its utter nonsense and speculation, 2000 Mules is already influencing real-world political events. On Tuesday, OAN aired nearly 2 hours of live coverage of True The Vote, the right-wing nonprofit that provided the data used in D’Souza’s film, presenting “evidence” of statewide fraud from the movie to the Arizona legislature. OAN’s Chanel Rion covered the hearing on Twitter, saying lawmakers appeared to have “a change of heart” after buying into the movie's flimsy arguments.
Along with serving as fodder in efforts to influence actual election outcomes, 2000 Mules also enables D’Souza and Salem Media Group to grift money and attention off of an audience seeking infinite confirmation for false beliefs. And OAN, still reeling from the loss of DirecTV, is seeking some of that attention by desperately doubling down on perhaps its favorite topic: dead-end lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
OAN’s devotion to Dinesh D’Souza
OAN’s on-air obsession with D’Souza’s “blockbuster production” began in early March, with then-OAN host Natalie Harp hailing 2000 Mules as “the crime of the century and the film of the century, all in one” during an interview with D'Souza. In the exchange -- his first of at least six OAN interviews to promote the movie -- D’Souza claimed to present “decisive” and “overwhelming” evidence of a nationwide plot to steal the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump.
“Geotracking is the cell phone equivalent of a fingerprint. … There’s nothing they can do about it now. The evidence is already there, and we have it,” D’Souza boasted, claiming vague “political forces” -- and not the unsupported assumptions based on shoddily gathered evidence -- are why his movie has not inspired statewide investigations of the 2020 election.
In another interview, D'Souza relayed Trump’s “running commentary” as he sat next to D’Souza at the premiere:
“Amusingly a lot of it wasn’t even about the arguments or ideas in the movie, but I think he was really amazed at the technical competence of the movie. He said things like, ‘That music, you know, did you just buy that music or did you guys compose that music?’ And I’d be like, ‘Well you know, we actually composed it.’ He’s like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’”
Predictably, D’Souza also used his raft of OAN interviews to complain about other outlets not taking his pathetically dishonest movie seriously. Responding to OAN host Chanel Rion’s complaint that “even conservative networks, networks we all know, big ones, put almost a blacklist on even mentioning the title,” D’Souza said that “it’s actually a big embarrassment in my opinion for Fox,” claiming that the network has “literally … blocked their own hosts from talking about it.”
OAN’s comprehensive coverage of the 2000 Mules red carpet
As Media Matters previously noted, OAN employees attended the Mar-a-Lago premiere of 2000 Mules and interviewed several guests and people linked with the film; prime-time host Dan Ball even endorsed the movie. But OAN also used its multiple red carpet interviews, and repeat airings, to fill airtime for several days, with incisive commentary from:
- Right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who used about a minute of his interview to relitigate Trump’s mocking of a disabled journalist in 2015 and argue that people won’t watch the movie because they “are invested in despising this man and evidence — don’t hear it, don’t see it, don’t say it."
- New York gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani, who claimed that his biggest “issue in path to victory” in 2022 is “not even my opponents; it’s making sure this election is secure.”
- Right-wing radio host Eric Metaxas, who called the film’s allegations “a travesty” of “genuinely unprecedented proportions,” adding: “We as a nation have to figure out what are we going to do about this.”
- Convicted Capitol rioter Brandon Straka, who complained that the film will have a low Rotten Tomatoes score and therefore “people will be resistant from actually being willing to watch it and learn this information.”
- Former Trump administration employee Hogan Gidley, who celebrated the movie for “starting to chip away at the Fourth Estate,” which he said has a “lack of curiosity” about D’Souza’s unfounded allegations.
- Real America’s Voice contributor Heather Mullins, who promoted her own conspiracy theory that the National Republican Senatorial Committee could have helped cover up the anti-Trump plot alleged in D’Souza’s movie.
At the end of a montage of yet more of his red carpet interviews, OAN reporter Stefan Kleinhenz said that the movie presents a “concept that is just irrefutable,” even though the supposed evidence in the movie has been refuted.
Ball, who also attended the movie premiere, later aired a montage of selfies he took at the event, including with Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), as well as infamous Trump sycophant Rudy Giuliani, former Trump national security adviser and unhinged conspiracy theorist Michael Flynn, and Kyle Rittenhouse. Ball’s montage was set to the Lee Greenwood song God Bless The USA.
OAN brought Mike Lindell back on the air to promote 2000 Mules -- and himself
At a recent Trump rally for Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-WY) primary challenger, OAN caught up with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who dominated the network’s airtime last year with endless conspiracy theories about election fraud. Lindell told an OAN reporter that, although “these rallies get the word out of the 2020 election, with the corruption and the biggest crime in the history,” he planned to take action -- namely, by making yet another movie falsely alleging election fraud, which he said will have “a world premiere” in July, calling it “the biggest event I believe that will change the world forever, OK? You heard it here live on OAN. This is going to change the world.”
A frantically rambling Lindell continued: “The people want -- number one, in this country, they want the machines gone and the elections to be an election, not a selection. Hence the name of the movie, Selection Code, right? Terminate the machines. You’ve all seen the movie The Terminator. We are an apex in history. If we don’t get rid of the machines and the computers now in elections, it’s bye-bye world. … You’ve all seen the movie The Terminator. Well, in a way, that was in 1984, I believe. They went back in time because the people beat the machines. They had to -- went back in time and change history. We are living in those times now.”
Asked to comment specifically about D’Souza’s effort, Lindell credited it for catching “2,000 people committing felonies on government cameras.” He attacked Fox News and Newsmax for not covering it (“Why won’t you show the 2,000 mules? It’s not about machines! You’ve got to wonder!”) but lapsed back into promoting himself. Lindell ended his ramblings by comparing Democrats to Nazis while also complimenting Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as “the best marketer ever. An evil, evil, man, but he was a marketer.”
OAN baselessly connected real investigations to D’Souza’s movie
OAN reporters also tried to inflate the impact of 2000 Mules by tying it to unrelated investigations.
Citing speculation from Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, OAN reported that Arizona police launched “raids on nonprofit groups over potential ballot trafficking operations” in Yuma County, suggesting that the “big developments” happened after D’Souza’s movie “detailed evidence of illegal ballot trafficking in five battleground states.” D’Souza also claimed that his film directly inspired an investigation by the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office. But according to the county sheriff, the investigation is “not related to or inspired by any movie or celebrity figure.”
In a later interview with her former employer, OAN-reporter-turned-Trump attorney Christina Bobb suggested that the Yuma County investigation received a boost in the public eye from 2000 Mules. This segment was followed by more election lies in a report claiming that D’Souza’s movie was well-timed for another voter suppression nonprofit’s allegations of wrongdoing in Georgia.
OAN even forced 2000 Mules into a report on a Georgia grand jury investigating Trump’s January 2 phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, which OAN’s Mike Dinow called an attempt “to prevent election fraud in Georgia.” Dinow used D’Souza’s conspiracy theory as whataboutism against the grand jury’s attempt to investigate what may have been an actual attempt by Trump to steal the election.
OAN is thinking long-term about 2000 Mules
According to Dan Ball, OAN is trying to secure the rights to air D’Souza’s movie on TV after it finishes its theatrical run. Hailing D’Souza as “an American patriot, but also a hero … because people need to know the damn truth about the 2020 election,” Ball noted that OAN is seeking the rights and “in the future, down the road … hopefully we can air it here on OAN as well.”
OAN’s attempt to secure TV rights for 2000 Mules indicates that the network is prepared to use it to infect politics for years to come. Regarding Tuesday’s Arizona legislative hearing, OAN's Dinow declared that the “incredibly compelling information” showed that “what happened in 2020 can never happen again, and for the sake of our democracy and republic, we need to make sure our elections are honest and fair, and the people’s voices are heard.”
The Arizona legislature hearing about 2000 Mules’ statewide findings is a payoff for OAN’s months of obsessive coverage of D’Souza’s film, as well as an incentive for OAN to secure the TV rights in hopes of pressuring other states into taking the demented conspiracy theory seriously. And just like the previous exposés of the supposed truth, it won’t matter that this will amount to nothing, because the “the most explosive” revelation yet is always just around the corner.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on OAN for any of the terms “2000 Mules,” “mule,” “Dinesh,” or “D’Souza,” including misspellings, from March 1, 2022, through May 31, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the documentary 2,000 Mules was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the documentary. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the documentary with one another. We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the documentary without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the documentary scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.