Steve Bannon and Clean Elections USA's Melody Jennings justify armed vigilantism at Arizona ballot drop boxes

Bannon celebrated election conspiracy theorists staking out drop boxes as “deterrence” against supposed voter fraud

Election deniers Melody Jennings and Steve Bannon have spent the final days before the midterms defending armed, camouflaged extremists staking out ballot drop boxes in Arizona and praising volunteers with Jennings' group accused of voter harassment.

Over the course of multiple episodes of Bannon’s War Room podcast, the former Trump strategist has simultaneously downplayed the degree to which these extremists may be intimidating voters, while also celebrating their “deterrence” effect. Jennings is a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory and has collaborated with QAnon influencers to help with her voter suppression efforts.

By October 21, the Arizona secretary of state had received at least two complaints of voter intimidation at ballot drop boxes, as reported by local Arizona affiliate ABC15. One report alleged “camo clad people” were taking pictures of people dropping their ballots and also photographing voters’ license plates, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office responded to another incident involving “armed individuals with tactical gear outside of the Mesa ballot box.” ABC15 additionally reported that a man watching a drop box claimed to be affiliated with Clean Elections USA, Jennings’ group.

Voting rights groups in Arizona have brought two lawsuits against Clean Elections USA, which have since consolidated, alleging the group is engaged in voter suppression efforts.

Bannon had hosted Jennings on his show on October 15 and 17, and invited her back on October 26 after the reports of the camouflaged vigilantes had emerged.

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Citation From the October 26, 2022 edition of War Room: Battleground, streamed on Rumble

“People came up in cammies, they were doing what the law says you can do in Arizona,” Bannon said. “The people watching the box are not vigilantes, they’re just concerned Americans that understand there was a lot of problems in 2020.”

Jennings responded that her group's actions were “lawful” and described the lawsuits as “an attempt to undermine election monitoring.”

Jennings was back on War Room on October 29, and again on October 31. On that show, Bannon again justified the presence of vigilantes staking out drop boxes.

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Citation From the October 31, 2022, edition of War Room: Pandemic, streamed on Rumble

“Like the judge said, the people wearing cammies and carrying [guns], that’s the law of Arizona,” Bannon said. “They’re standing far enough back from – the appropriate distance from these boxes. They’ve got the cameras out there but everything’s according to the rules.”

“It wasn’t us intimidating anyone, but it was them intimidating us,” Jennings claimed, seemingly referring to the news media and voting rights activists.

Bannon appeared to be referencing a ruling in the ongoing legislation issued a day earlier in Clean Elections USA’s favor. The judge found that the voting rights groups did “not present evidence that Clean Elections USA represented ‘a true threat,’ adding that he could not ‘craft an injunction without violating the First Amendment’ rights of the defendants,” as reported by Reuters.

Jennings was back on the show on November 1. In that segment, Bannon was even more explicit in his celebration of armed, camouflaged vigilantes intimidating people dropping off ballots. 

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Citation From the November 1, 2022 edition of War Room: Pandemic, streamed on Rumble

“This is about the people watching the mail-in boxes in Arizona specifically, right, and they’re fully compliant with how far they’ve got to stay away and they’ve got their cameras, and they’re there in person because camera footage alone can’t be used in a court,” Bannon said. “Some of these people, that are not your people, some of these people are in cammies, and some of these people are open carry[ing guns] because Arizona is an open-carry state.” 

“We’re getting more information on, first of all, the two people who were in cammies, and evidently they haven’t shown up in quite a while,” Jennings responded. “But they were a hundred feet away back, from what I’m understanding, I wasn’t there. They were tucked between two cars, way back, no lights on them, not visible, minding their own business, and it was someone in the press or I don’t know who circled them, found them, and blew that up.”

Jennings went on to dispute whether they were carrying rifles or shotguns but acknowledged she’d seen “a sidearm.”   

“Is the harassment coming from the media?” Bannon responded. “Isn’t the media coming up in people’s faces and putting cameras in people’s faces, is not the harassment coming from the regime media?”

“You don’t have to apologize at all,” Bannon added, before referencing a debunked election conspiracy theory from the film 2000 Mules. “These mules – hey, what you guys have done is deterrence. A mule would understand, ‘Hey, these people are gonna have the hairy eyeball on me.’”

The judge overseeing the case subsequently ruled in favor of the voting rights groups and against Clean Elections USA, barring Jennings and anyone associated with her from “carrying guns or wearing body armor near a ballot drop box” or otherwise harassing or intimidating people dropping off ballots. (The other right-wing group named in the lawsuit alongside Clean Elections USA, called the Lions of Liberty, had already pledged to end its drop box monitoring.)

As part of the judge’s ruling, Jennings also had to post on her Truth Social account clarifying that it was legal in some circumstances for people to drop other voters’ ballots in a drop box. (Minutes later, she posted the QAnon slogan.)

Jennings Truth clarification and QAnon slogan

Citation From the Melody Jennings' Truth Social account, November 2, 2022

Bannon has extensively pushed for election deniers and conspiracy theorists to get involved in this year’s midterm elections, and he previously defended armed people in camouflage watching Arizona drop boxes in an interview with Trump coup architect and election denier Cleta Mitchell. “It’s not intimidation to put a set of eyeballs on these things,” he said.