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AP reports on election deniers and the people who believe them

From left, speaker Douglas Frank chats with Melissa Sauder and her daughter, Anley, 13, of Grant, Neb., before the start of the Nebraska Election Integrity Forum in Omaha, Neb., Aug. 27, 2022. Sauder and her daughter traveled nearly 350 miles to learn more about what Melissa believes are serious problems with the integrity of U.S. elections. The audience applauded when Frank told them: “We have evil secretaries of states. … It’s sort of like World War II — when the war’s over, we need to have Nuremberg trials and we need to have firing squads, OK? I’m looking forward to the trials, OK?” The crowd applauded. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)

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The AP Democracy Team, working with U.S. colleagues, jumped at a chance that had eluded them for months — to attend a forum organized by allies of former President Donald Trump who were promoting election conspiracy theories and undermining faith in elections.

Omaha, Nebraska, reporter Margery Beck and Atlanta-based election administration reporter Christina Cassidy teamed up on a revealing story about the influence of conspiracy theories on countless Republicans across the country. Beck attended the “Nebraska Election Integrity Forum,” her reporting approach putting attendees at ease talking with her, even as one prominent speaker complained about journalists who are “election fraud deniers.” She was even singled out for criticism, but just kept reporting.

Weeks earlier, Iowa-Nebraska news editor Scott McFetridge had flagged the Omaha forum; Cassidy quickly researched the organizers and agenda, determining the event was indeed part of the election conspiracy movement, and several high-profile figures would be there. Beck arranged her schedule so she could attend, joined by freelance photographer Rebecca Gratz. Cassidy provided her own reporting based on beat expertise and sourcing.

The result was a comprehensive look at those who are continuing to peddle lies about the nation’s elections and the people who fervently believe those lies. The story also described how violence is woven into the conspiracies — from statements about civil war to calls for putting certain election officials before firing squads.

The piece performed well over the Labor Day weekend, engaging readers online and landing on more than a dozen front pages around the country.

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