Fact checking CPAC: speakers make false claims about the election, the Capitol attack, immigration, Covid, and The Muppets


Friday featured false claims about the election, the Capitol attack, and even The Muppets, while on Saturday, there were several incorrect claims on immigration, energy and voting laws — some of which echoed claims President Donald Trump had repeated throughout his administration.

Here is a fact check of some of the statements CPAC speakers made on Friday and Saturday:

Early in the Friday proceedings, CPAC played a video segment that strongly suggested there was mass fraud or widespread malfeasance in the 2020 election.

The segment was titled “YOUR VOTES CANCELED.” Among other things, it suggested there was something nefarious about the fact that Joe Biden gained ground late on election night in vote-counting in swing states — showing one commentator saying this was “statistically impossible,” another saying it was “very strange,” and another, the late radio host Rush Limbaugh, saying the “vote fairy” had visited overnight.

How a post-election crisis was manufactured in Pennsylvania
Facts First: This is nonsense, as CNN and many others have repeatedly explained since November. Biden gained ground in the vote count in some states as legitimate votes were legitimately counted.
Biden simply did far better than Trump with people who voted using mail-in ballots, which some states counted later than they counted in-person ballots. (In Pennsylvania, for example, this happened in part because Republican state legislators refused to allow the processing of mail-in votes to begin before Election Day as Democrats proposed.) Biden also did far better than Trump in most big cities, which had more ballots to count than smaller communities.
Biden did not gain ground late at night in every competitive state. In Florida, where counties were allowed to start counting mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, Biden jumped out to what ended up being a mirage of a big lead, but Trump overtook him after in-person votes were counted. In Arizona, Trump gained ground as the counting proceeded past Election Day, though he still ended up losing.

The legitimacy of the election

TW Shannon, a former Republican state legislator in Oklahoma, said that mobs occur “when people have a sense of hopelessness.” After claiming that Democratic mayors had failed to offer hope to the people who ended up burning cities in the summer of 2020, Shannon then said, “The reason that people stormed the Capitol was because they felt hopeless because of a rigged election.”

Facts First: The election was not rigged. Joe Biden was the legitimate winner. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or malfeasance.

Shannon would have been correct if he had said that many of the people who stormed the Capitol believed the election had been rigged. But that’s not what he said.

Fraud and drop boxes

Conservative commentator Deroy Murdock said: “Democrats, not Republicans, installed ballot drop boxes on sidewalks, where nobody oversaw them. How many fraudulent ballots got deposited in these boxes unchecked and then got counted? Who knows.”

Facts First: Murdock’s suggestion that ballot drop boxes were insecure is false; there is no sign that these drop boxes were used fraudulently in the 2020 election. The boxes were secured in various ways: affixed to the ground, designed with anti-tampering measures, and, in many cases, subjected to 24-hour video surveillance. Also, some states and counties run by Republicans made use of ballot drop boxes.

In addition, states and counties employed various security measures to ensure the legitimacy of the ballots that were deposited in the boxes. Even if drop boxes are hypothetically tampered with, ballots themselves still have to pass the usual checks once they arrive at an elections office.

Who perpetrated the attack on the Capitol

Talking about the attack on the Capitol, conservative radio host Wayne Dupree said there were “a lot of people there — Antifa was there, BLM was there, MAGA people were there, everybody was there. And if Joe Biden wants to talk unity, there was unity there on that day, because America is sick and tired of being pushed down.”

Facts First: Dupree was wrong to suggest the attack on the Capitol was conducted by a united hodgepodge of political activists from left-wing and right-wing movements. In reality, the insurrection was overwhelmingly perpetrated by supporters of Donald Trump.

We know this from videos taken on the day of the attack, social media postings by participants in the attack, and court documents filed by the FBI afterward. The FBI has said that there is no indication that Antifa members disguised themselves as Trump supporters that day.
We can’t speak definitively about the political positions of every single person who was involved in the mob, and the ideology of some alleged participants can be hard to pinpoint. (One of them, who has a unique political history, had previously used the hashtags #antifa and #blm on social media, though he has denied actually being part of the Antifa movement.) But it is abundantly clear that the vast majority were Trump supporters.

Churches in California

Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford criticized California for its coronavirus restrictions.

“The people of California are recalling their governor because they’ve had enough of these stringent closures. They’ve had enough of the encroachment upon their rights, and enough of the government telling them that they can enjoy a five-star meal at ‘French Laundry’ with their governor but they can’t go to church,” Lee said.

Lankford later echoed Lee’s insinuation of California’s hypocrisy, stating that California is a place “where you can go to swanky restaurants but not to church.”

Facts First: This needs context.

Currently, California residents can go to places of worship which choose to open, though indoor capacity is limited. The state did initially ban indoor church services in counties considered at widespread risk of coronavirus transmission but after the US Supreme Court ruled partially in favor of the churches on February 5, California had to revise its guidelines. According to the latest guidance, places of worship must limit indoor attendance to 25% of capacity. The state’s Covid-19 website also notes that church capacity can be expanded to 50% of building capacity based on the tier of coronavirus threat the state is experiencing. Singing and chanting is allowed if performers wear masks and maintain distance.
Lee and Lankford’s argument for hypocrisy references California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attendance at an event with a dozen people at Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry, for which he was widely criticized. According to photos obtained by Fox 11 in Los Angeles, Newsom and the other guests were sitting on the restaurant’s outdoor patio but none of them were wearing a mask despite being in close proximity.
Newsom apologized for his behavior and the decision to dine out at the restaurant when he announced new coronavirus restrictions later that month, moving all counties to the strictest tier. Newsom’s behavior at The French Laundry would have violated the guidance for face coverings included in the new restrictions. Under the new guidelines, diners may only remove their masks if they are “actively eating or drinking” and are at least six feet away from anyone not in their household.

Biden’s comments on China and the Uyghurs

Robby Starbuck, who is running for Congress in Tennessee, castigated Biden for comments he claimed Biden made during a CNN town hall earlier this month.

“They did something that I — I never thought CNN would do, but they asked him about the Uyghurs in China who are being raped, tortured, and children are being kidnapped, forced to praise China as their mother and to praise communism as their savior. They asked Joe Biden about it, and he said it amounted to a mere cultural difference,” Starbuck said.

Starbuck added, “I don’t think that more disgusting words have ever left the lips of an American president.”

Facts First: Starbuck misleadingly described what Biden said. Biden did refer to cultural differences during this section of the town hall, but he did not dismiss China’s persecution of the Uyghurs as a “mere cultural difference.” In fact, he said moments prior to his remark about cultural differences that it is important for a US president to speak out against China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other human rights abuses.

Here’s what actually happened.

When Anderson Cooper asked, “What about the Uyghurs? What about the human rights abuses in China?” Biden responded, “We must speak up for human rights. It’s who we are.” Biden said he pointed out to Chinese President Xi Jinping on their February phone call that “no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States. And so the idea I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China …”

Biden soon continued, “And by the — he said he — he gets it. Culturally, there are different norms that each country and they — their leaders — are expected to follow.”

Biden’s comments were a bit muddled. In context, though, he seemed to be saying that Xi understands that, given the different cultural norms for each country’s leader, there is a cultural norm for an American president to speak out on human rights issues. And given that Biden had just said that “we must speak up for human rights” and speak out against “what he’s doing with the Uyghurs,” Starbuck’s account of Biden’s response to Cooper left out essential information.

Misleading descriptions of Biden’s remark have circulated widely among conservatives on social media.

The Muppets and the left

Mocking the left, Donald Trump Jr. said, “This month alone, they’ve banned The Muppets. And then if there’s things you thought were sort of above cancellation, you would be wrong. There is nothing the radical left won’t cancel.”

Facts First: Trump Jr. was wrong; The Muppets have not been banned. In fact, the Disney+ streaming service just this month started to offer “The Muppet Show,” which originally aired from 1976 to 1981. Trump Jr. might have been referring to the fact that Disney+ added a content disclaimer at the beginning of 18 episodes and is not airing two other episodes — but neither of these moves can be fairly described as a ban on The Muppets.
The content warning says that the episodes include “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” and “these stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The notice goes on to say: “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversations to create a more inclusive future together.”
The Times reported that “each episode bears the 12-second disclaimer for a different reason, from (Johnny) Cash’s appearance singing in front of a Confederate flag to negative depictions of Native Americans, Middle Easterners and people from other cultures.”
The Times reported that two episodes from the final season of the show were left off Disney+ altogether, while Entertainment Weekly noted that assorted other songs and sketches were omitted. It is not clear that any of these omissions were related to culturally sensitive content; Entertainment Weekly noted that one of the two episodes starred someone who was later convicted of possessing child pornography, while other omissions might have been related to challenges securing music rights.

Voting around the world

During a panel on protecting elections, Republican attorney Jesse Binnall, who tried to overturn the election results in Nevada on behalf of the Trump campaign, claimed, “The rest of the world almost exclusively does voting in person because of the opportunities for fraud in mail-in voting.”

Facts First: Binnall is wrong about the voting habits of other countries.

Approximately 1/4 of countries use mail-in voting, according to the Pew Research Center. A survey of experts by the Electoral Integrity Project, run by researchers at Harvard University and Sydney University, found that of the 166 countries for which data was available, 40 used postal ballots even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Electoral Integrity Project analysis, postal ballots were most widely used in North America and Europe. Around 1/3 of European countries have some form of mail-in voting, based on an October 2020 report issued by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organization aimed at advancing democracy worldwide.
CNN has also repeatedly fact-checked previous false claims about mail-in voting and fraud. In the United States, evidence of mail ballot fraud is exceedingly rare. While there are some vulnerabilities, states have systems and processes in place to prevent forgery, theft and voter fraud.

El Paso

On Saturday, in arguing that border walls work, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton repeated the claim — previously touted by Trump — that the crime rate in El Paso shrank because of a border wall.

“We have a border wall, partly along where El Paso is,” Paxton claimed, “before that occurred, El Paso was one of the highest crime cities in America. When they put that up it actually made them one of the more safe cities. So we know they work.”

Facts First: The violent crime rate in El Paso began to fall years before the border wall in the area was built.

CNN looked into this claim when Trump made it in his 2019 State of the Union address. Here’s what we found:
According to an analysis of FBI crimes data and city law enforcement data analyzed by the El Paso Times, violent crime in El Paso peaked in 1993. Border fence construction didn’t begin until 2008, and was completed in 2009.

Violent crime in El Paso fell 34% between 1993 and 2006. And according to the El Paso Times, from 2006 to 2011, violent crime in El Paso actually increased by 17 percent.

Immigrants and court hearings

Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said that 99 percent of undocumented immigrants don’t attend court proceedings after they are released from US custody.

“(T)hey’re releasing 50 undocumented aliens into the streets and hoping they’ll come back for their court appearances,” Gosar said. “but over 99% of them do not do that.”

This, again, is something Trump has claimed before, more recently in the presidential debate with Joe Biden in October. CNN fact checked the claim then as well.

Facts First: This is false. Most immigrants do attend their scheduled hearings in immigration court.

According to the latest statistics from the Justice Department, 25% of immigration cases were decided in absentia in fiscal year 2018 — meaning immigrants showed up for 75% of the cases decided that year.

California voter registration

California Rep. Devin Nunes told CPAC attendees on Saturday that his home state registers people to vote at the DMV even if they don’t want to be registered.

“When you go into the Department of Motor Vehicles, you’re gonna register to vote. Even if you don’t want to register to vote, they register you to vote,” Nunes said. “And the first little game they played is if you walked in and said ‘no I don’t want to be registered to vote,’ then they’d say ‘okay’ and they’d not only register you to vote, but they’d made you a permanent absentee so then the ballot was being mailed directly to your home.”

Facts First: This is false. California citizens are automatically registered to vote when filling out certain forms at the DMV, but are allowed to opt out if they so choose.

According to the California Secretary of State’s website, “eligible applicants completing a driver license, identification (ID) card or change of address transaction online, by mail or in person at the DMV will be automatically registered to vote by the California Secretary of State, unless they choose to opt out of automatic voter registration.”

According to Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, “those claims are false” and represent “really an anti-voter attitude to make things as hard as possible for people to vote.”

Texas green energy

During a panel on energy policy, moderator Tudor Dixon said that wind and solar are not reliable sources of energy, citing the Texas energy crisis earlier this month.

“And wind and solar, as great as they may be, they are not reliable,” Dixon said. “You need that constant reliable source of coal and natural gas that has to be there. But that’s not there if you have wind and solar, which is what we saw in Texas.”

Facts First: This is incorrect. While all sources of power failed to some extent in Texas, the bulk of outages were due to fossil fuel sources going offline, in large part due to the lack of winterization in the state’s energy infrastructure.

According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the state’s power grid, most of the power outages were due to losses in coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Though frozen wind turbines were a contributing factor, wind shutdowns accounted for less than 13% of the outages in Texas, Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for ERCOT, told Bloomberg.

Wind accounted for 18% of the electricity generated in Texas in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Wind turbines can be equipped with different devices that heat and de-ice parts of the turbine along with other measures like water-resistant coatings to help keep them operational in severe cold. Some wind turbines can function in -22 degrees Fahrenheit.

Texas was warned that cold weather snaps could significantly affect the state’s energy infrastructure and recommendations were made by the federal government to install preventative measures to protect Texas’s energy infrastructure from future extreme winter storms.

You can read more on the Texas energy blame-game here.

Criminal justice reform

During a panel on criminal justice, former North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker — who is a candidate to fill the state’s US Senate seat after Sen. Richard Burr retires in 2023 — said that Democrats have recently started supporting criminal justice reform.

“The left, they’re finally getting on board with criminal justice reform,” Walker said. Again, Trump has made similar claims, touting the First Step Act bill he signed into law while claiming that President Barack Obama never attempted such reform.
Facts First: Walker’s assertion is incorrect. President Barack Obama tried to get criminal justice reform passed during his second term in office, but a bipartisan bill failed in the Senate during the 2016 presidential election, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided not to bring it up for a vote.

The Obama administration took reform steps that did not require Republican approval, such as banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, working with state and local governments to reduce pre-trial incarceration and the incarceration of people with mental illnesses, and instructing federal prosecutors to try to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders.

Trump signed a large criminal justice reform bill — the First Step Act — in December 2018. The bill was a bipartisan effort, passing in the Senate 87-12 and the House 358-36. Regardless of this success, it is incorrect to suggest that Democrats are only now warming up to the ideas of criminal justice reform.

CNN’s Samara Lipman contributed to this report.



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