A conspiracy theory amplified by President Donald Trump holds that a former lawyer on his campaign team has evidence of voter fraud that involves a government spying or hacking operation. The false claim spread among QAnon supporters and on far-right message boards before making its way to the president.
Since Election Day and following his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump and his legal team have pushed multiple baseless voter fraud claims. Sidney Powell, who worked with the Trump campaign legal team, told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs on November 13 that she had evidence voter fraud had been “organized and conducted with the help of Silicon Valley people, the big tech companies, the social media companies and even the media companies.” She also promised she would “release the Kraken” to prove it — a phrase from the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans and its 2010 remake. (Powell has multiple ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, having appeared on multiple QAnon shows and repeatedly amplified major QAnon accounts on Twitter.)
Soon after Powell’s interview — as much of the far-right internet hyped her “Kraken” remark — some started claiming Powell’s comment was actually a coded reference to a government surveillance/defense program. Social media accounts, including some that support QAnon, and users on the far-right message board “/qresearch/” on 8kun (where “Q,” the central figure of QAnon, posts) started pointing to an article from the U.S. Army about a system “nicknamed ‘Kraken’” that “combines radar, surveillance cameras, unmanned sensors, gunshot detection and remote-controlled weapons,” claiming that “this is the ‘Kraken’” Powell was referring to and that it is “military software.”
On November 17, Jeffrey Prather, a former U.S. Army special forces soldier and radio host who also supports QAnon, uploaded a video on YouTube in which he claimed that Powell’s remark referred to “cyber algorithmic software that recorded the algorithm percentage switching of the votes [in] real time” and that the “Kraken” is “an auto-run remote monitoring system.”
Prather also later that day appeared in another YouTube video, this one with a QAnon-supporting host (who was wearing a “Q” pin) and titled “The Great Reset: The Deep State vs the Great Awakening,” where he also pushed the claim while alleging he had “people who have gotten Sidney information.” (“The Great Awakening” is a term associated with QAnon, while “The Great Reset” is a reference to another false conspiracy theory claiming, among other things, that elites are using the coronavirus pandemic to enslave humanity.)
Over the next few days, the conspiracy theory continued to circulate among QAnon supporters (including a QAnon-supporting former state legislative candidate), as well as in a Spanish-laguage QAnon Telegram channel (which was then also shared by a QAnon supporter on Twitter). It was also pushed again on 4chan, by anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, and by others on social media.
On November 19, conspiracy theory blog Natural News published an article touting Prather’s “bombshell” video and claiming that he revealed that the “Kraken” is “actually a DoD-run cyber warfare program that tracks and hacks various other systems to acquire evidence of nefarious actions by the deep state.” “TapNewsWire,” another site that also spreads misinformation and QAnon talking points, later republished the Natural News article.
On November 22, “The Marshall Report,” another fringe QAnon-supporting blog that has pushed misinformation, published an article headlined “Sidney Powell’s ‘Kraken’ is DOD Cyber Warfare Program! We are at war!” which claimed that the “Kraken” was a “Department of Defense-run cyber warfare program that tracks and hacks various other systems to acquire evidence of nefarious actions by the deep state.” The article cited both the TapNewsWire repost of the Natural News article and one of the YouTube videos featuring Prather, along with linking to an article mentioning the Army program nicknamed “Kraken.”
On November 24 -- by which time the conspiracy theory had also been pushed on the far-right message board TheDonald.win -- Lin Wood, a QAnon-supporting attorney who has been aiding Trump’s campaign, tweeted the Marshall Report article. Shortly before midnight, Trump retweeted Wood’s promotion of the article.
The spread and reach of the conspiracy theory all the way up to the president of the United States comes as QAnon supporters and QAnon-connected figures have also played a major role spreading the false Dominion conspiracy theory, another voter fraud claim embraced by Trump. Meanwhile, Powell appears to have cited another QAnon voter fraud conspiracy theory -- this one about watermarked ballots -- in a federal lawsuit.