Feature 05.23.2022 8 minutes

The Haunting of the American Mind

Ballot Prep In Boston

A conversation with Dinesh D’Souza about his documentary, 2000 Mules.

Editors’ Note

Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary on the 2020 election, 2,000 Mules, has used new streaming platforms to reach a large and enthusiastic audience. In the days to come, we will publish discussions of the film’s arguments and reception. Here we present a conversation with D’Souza about his own hopes for the electoral process and the movie’s impact.

“This has been something people have been obsessed about for two years now.” 

The American Mind: You begin this movie by saying that the 2020 election “haunts the American mind.” Do you think there’s a disconnect between the base, which feels haunted by the possibility of fraud, and GOP leaders who are hesitant to address or discuss the issue?

Dinesh D’Souza: I think that there is a widespread suspicion across the political spectrum that the 2020 election was not all right. Now, not everybody might think it was stolen. But the idea that something was deeply awry, I think, is actually shared by the vast, vast majority of Republicans—including the Republican establishment, but also including a substantial number of independents and Democrats.

Now of course, the way that each of these groups responds to that suspicion is different. The Republican establishment, by and large, it’s kind of like, “something ugly went on”…but they don’t want to know really what it is. They would prefer not to know. They prefer to dust off and move on—and there are complex reasons for that, but one of them is that they are not entirely displeased that Trump was moved out of the Oval Office. So that’s the Republican establishment.

On the part of the Democrats, I think there are Democrats who themselves think, “we stole it.” But they think that was the right thing to do, because Trump is an authoritarian if not an outright fascist or Nazi—and therefore, emergency measures taken to yank him out of the White House are warranted and actually morally O.K.

And then of course there’s the broad Republican and MAGA base, which knows kind of in their gut that this was a stolen election, but has not had until now either the vocabulary or the actual evidence to be able to document it. And this is why the Left has been able to be so scornful. They’ll call it a “big lie.” When they say things like, “this is the most secure election in history,” they do not mean that they have done a comparison of elections and established this one to be the most pure. They haven’t done that legwork at all—they haven’t even attempted it. Their argument is merely that the burden of proof is on you, and if you can’t prove the election was stolen, we have to say it was the most secure. And so until this movie, the Left was kind of riding high on all this. And now the movie is showing up to ruin the democratic picnic.

TAM: Let me ask you a little bit about that burden of proof. In the film you talk to True The Vote [a firm that uses geolocation data and surveillance footage to identify suspected “mules” who carry multiple ballots to drop-off locations]. You present some of what they’ve been able to uncover, but a number of the folks you talk to also acknowledge that when it comes to 2020 itself, “I don’t think we’ll ever know the full story,” as Charlie Kirk says. Sebastian Gorka says, “It’s the perfect crime, because it cannot be curated after it’s committed.” I wanted to ask you first of all, do you agree with that assessment? That there’s no definitive way of going back and saying the election was rigged enough to flip it?

DD: Well I think that there are two questions here that should be separated. The first one is, is there adequate proof? And the second question is, even if there is adequate proof, is there anything that can be really done about it?

Now, the film presents what I consider to be adequate proof for the intelligent citizen, and by that I mean what’s adequate here is the best available explanation of what happened. I’m not trying to meet the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” because this is not a case where I’m a prosecutor in a courtroom. And also there are certain limitations that are inherent to a film’s format—so for example, you know, I cannot produce appendices and tables of statistical geo-tracking data. I can show you a chart with a blue line representing the movement of a mule. And if you say, well wait a minute, I don’t believe you, show me the underlying data—well, I’m writing a book, and I’ll try to do some of that in the book, go to the next level of documentation. But you can’t do that in a movie. The audience would be bored to death.

TAM: That’s been some of the more bad-faith criticism of you—the Washington Post took you to task for not having basically cited every possible file.

DD: Right, or, if I show a particular mule—in this case it was the “bike guy”—and he’s taking photos of the ballot, we wanted to show that image, because it’s interesting to see these guys take photos. You can see that they’re not taking photos of themselves—a kind of an “I voted” photo—but rather photos of the ballot. But the Washington Post guy was like, wait a minute, I cannot tell from that image if he’s putting in one or three or ten ballots; what makes you think he’s putting in multiple ballots? 

And my point is actually, I agree: from the point of view of the film and that particular image, you can’t see multiple ballots. Some of this surveillance footage is grainy, sometimes it takes actual expertise to be able to zoom in and try to estimate the actual number of ballots. After all, you know, someone putting in 135 ballots or eight, it looks pretty similar. So unless they’re putting them in one by one, you need almost a magnifying glass to be able to look at the image to try to see what’s going on. So yeah, I mean, I’ve had a lot of this type of quibbling.

But what I say to myself is, you take any of the major criticisms being made—I mean, some of them are super dumb, some of them are more intelligent, you know, objections made by Ben Shapiro and others. But none of them can survive the observation of the movie as a totality. So that if someone says, for example—and this is true—that in Georgia you can give your ballot to a family member and ask them to drop it off. Now, this would by itself suggest that look, just me showing you multiple ballots doesn’t mean that something illegal is going on. That particular guy could have been dropping off ballots for a family.

But then I say, wait a minute: we’re talking about people that went to ten or more drop boxes. If you’re dropping off the ballots of your family members, why would you go to more than one drop box? Even if you drop some of them on one day and then you got a few more the next day, you’d go at most to two drop boxes, but not 10, let alone in the middle of the night, let alone wearing gloves, let alone taking photos of the ballots as they went in. All of that behavior, seen as a totality, is impossible to reconcile with the hypothesis [that these are innocent voters]—which, again, makes no sense once you’ve seen the movie as a whole.

TAM: I feel like I cut you off before you got to that second part: even if this kind of activity flipped the election for Biden, can anything be done?

DD: Let me say first of all, I’m not saying that that the court case cannot be made. I’m simply saying that you cannot jump from the movie to the Supreme Court. I mean, people literally say to me O.K., is the Supreme Court gonna watch your movie and like, drag Biden out of the Oval Office? And the answer is no, the movie is the first step.

And what the movie says is basically to attorneys general, to secretaries of state, even to elected officials, look: there is a very obvious course of action available to you here, and that is to apprehend the mules. True the Vote has their cell phone I.D.’s—they don’t have their names, but law enforcement can get their names very easily. The process is quite simply to get a warrant, go to the cell phone provider, unmask the mules, then visit them: Who paid you? Who put you up to this? Who organizes this operation? So, this is the normal course of action that law enforcement would take in any other case. A similar approach is called for here.

Now obviously, if they’re able to unravel and expose a wider cartel that would draw in many other people, the people who run these nonprofits, the people who have been funding the organizations it takes to pull all this together—yeah that’s a case that can absolutely end up in court. In fact the court is the proper place for it to end up.

But that’s not—the movie is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for that to happen. Now let’s turn to what can be done. When I started the film, my view was that not much can be done. My view was the statute of limitations has expired, there is a very small legal window basically between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and then it’s a done deal. And even if it turns out later that you can establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that the election was stolen, there is no recourse.

And so my original view was that the purpose of this movie is as a truth telling enterprise, because we still want to know. Even if we can do nothing, we still want to know. It’s kind of like if you have a guy who’s accused of a crime—let’s just say a robbery or rape—and the statute of limitations has expired, but there’s new DNA evidence that can establish definitively if he did it, you still want to know if he did it. Truth is important. And the second reason, I thought originally, was to prevent this from happening again.

Now, as I got into the film and began to realize the kind of sheer magnitude of the fraud and how disgusting it is, I began to revise that view and move toward the view that, why should we automatically assume that the beneficiary of the fraud should continue to benefit from the fraud? In other words, if Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France what, seven or eight times by using illegal drugs, the Tour de France doesn’t just say let’s fix it the next time around. They say, take away Lance Armstrong’s medals, because they don’t want him to get the fruits of the cheating. And I think that that is a legitimate question. I’m not claiming to know the answer to that question—I’m not claiming to know the constitutional process by which it’s adjudicated.

I mean, I’ve looked into it…basically the Constitution says this: it says the electors meet, it says that their decision is ratified by both houses of Congress, and the president takes office. And then the only other remedy beyond that is impeachment. The Constitution does not seem to envision the possibility that it will emerge later that the guy who’s in the Oval Office is a kind of usurper who has gotten there by fraud perpetrated by his own side. So I just want to make the point that we are in that sense in constitutionally uncharted waters.

And what I want people to do who watch this film is just take a few minutes to digest that, to let that sink in. Just so we don’t hastily jump over that and go O.K., well you know, let’s just go on to the next one. Before we go on to the next one, let’s really think about what happened this time. I think that’s going to better prepare us for how to how to handle the next time.

TAM: I’d like to address that question of how to handle the next time, but first: this strong desire to just close the question and move on. The near-prohibition on raising it from the Left…I wonder what your experience has been of that. Near the end of the film your interlocutors say you’ll be accused of targeting people, of undermining the electoral process, and so forth. Has that prediction proven true?

DD: well, at the end of the film, what Gorka and Charlie Kirk and a couple of others are discussing is potential lines of counterattack that can be used by the Left to attempt to discredit the movie. But prior to all that, I’ve got to say: this is my sixth film. And by now I have kind of a formula for releasing these films: typically it’s a wide release in a theater, and then it’s followed by essentially DVD and home box office, which is basically viewing it at home. And there are obvious channels to do that move: iTunes, Amazon Prime, then you try to go to a streamer—Netflix, something like that. And this entire model was unusable for me for this film. This is the most censored topic in America.

You have the certainty of being banned on certain platforms, and a likelihood of being pulled down on others. I thought to myself, you know, I don’t want to be in a position whereas I’m trying to release the film in the critical opening week, they pull a rug out from under me and that’s not going to happen. So I need a completely novel business plan to release this film, in a new way it’s never been done before.

And so I decided to have a very limited theatrical release, but a very strange kind: we actually rented out those theaters, which you can do by paying like, $5.00 a seat. Essentially you’re buying out the whole theater, but at a discounted price. And so we opened May 2nd and May 4th doing it that way—like, we’re renting this real estate, there’s nothing you can say about it. You can’t cancel the movie: once you’ve signed a contract we can sell tickets, and have people come and watch the movie that way. I’ve never done that before.

And then I put the film only on the Salem media platform and on the Rumble-owned platform called Locals, and this was actually kind of a good break for me. Because I had a powerful video platform, Rumble, on my side, that actually wants to go into the movie business, and saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate that content creators could put a movie on Rumble and do as well, if not better, and actually keep more of the revenue themselves than they would if they went in the traditional way. And so obviously I was open to this in part because I had no alternative, but also because they convinced me that Dinesh, you have a chance to kind of rewrite the rules of the Internet a little bit by doing it this way. But you know, I couldn’t put the trailer up on YouTube, I couldn’t buy ads on Facebook, so all the normal mechanisms for publicizing and distributing a film had to be put to the side. In that sense you can see that this is the first film I’m releasing in an age of censorship.

TAM: My sense from the outside is, in that regard, it’s been a pretty successful proof of concept.

DD: Oh, I mean, more than pretty successful. We have made this film into a massive success and a cultural phenomenon, you know, we have rappers writing songs about it, we have made $10 million in two weeks, which would be pretty good putting a film in 1,500 theaters! So I would say that in terms of the film’s profitability—as I say, the circumstances are different, but it is far and away my most successful film since the very first one, which was Obama’s America (2016), which broke all kinds of records and became the second-highest-grossing political documentary of all time.

TAM: So let’s turn now to this question of what comes next, at the level of the regime. Irrespective of 2020. When you talk with Hans von Spakovsky, you discuss some systemic changes that were made, in large part during COVID. Mass mail-in ballots, waiving signature requirements, etc., sometimes against the constitutions of the individual states. And these new procedures are highly vulnerable to manipulation. I wonder what your thoughts are on that: What kind of counter effort would be strong enough to roll that back, to secure elections and re-found the electoral process going forward?

DD: Well I mean, interestingly, the Republican Party is dominant in a number of these swing states. It typically dominates the legislatures. And the only problem is that the Republicans are kind of inert, and very slow to move. I mean, I can see this with my film itself: if I was a Democrat, if I was Michael Moore, if I made this exact same film about the 2016 election and showed massive, coordinated fraud by the Trump side, you can just imagine the furor. Chuck Schumer would be all over it on the Senate floor. Nancy Pelosi would be going berserk. They’d be demanding that Trump resign.

And contrast this with the Republicans, where, you know, literally if someone goes up to a senator or congressman, “have you seen 2000 Mules?” They’re like, “oh you know, I’ve heard a couple of things about that movie, would you send me a DVD?” [laughs] it’s a radical difference of psychology between the two sides.

So yeah, if the Republican Party wakes up, they are able to do a whole lot in this area. And now, if the Republicans take the House and the Senate, there’s the opportunity to have hearings, bring all of this to light, and actually follow this plot all the way up. And again as I said there’s a very logical way to do that. If Republicans get fired up by this film, they will put pressure on their local sheriffs to look into this issue of mules. And sheriffs have every authority to investigate. They have every authority to push this forward.

Now, ultimately, they’re going to need some sanction from the attorney general, and so this does become a political matter at the level of—say, Mike Brnovich, the attorney general of Arizona, or of course Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia. Obviously I’m more optimistic that things can be done in states that have Republicans in positions of power than places where you’ve got, for example, Michigan or Pennsylvania, Democratic secretaries of state and Democratic attorneys general. I can see why those guys are not going to be overly eager to spring into action on this one.

TAM: Let me ask you then to close about your overall level of optimism. Obviously you wouldn’t have made this documentary if you didn’t think there was some chance of free and fair elections in the future. Do you have hope for the country going forward?

DD: I’m actually very confident. And I’m confident, by the way, not just in the MAGA movement, which I think is going to be fired up—and in fact we’ve already seen it to a degree that’s unbelievable. This film is getting incredible traction. People said to me, oh, it’s going to be displaced by the Ukraine war. Nope. It’s going to be displaced by the news about Roe v. Wade. Nope. It’s going to be displaced by this mass shooting. Nope. The traction under it reflects the fact that this has been something people have been obsessed about for two years now.

I also firmly believe that even if it’s establishment Republicans or RINO Republicans, you take Marco Rubio, you take Lindsey Graham, you take McConnell, you take Kevin McCarthy, you sit them down and play the movie, and then ask them what they think when they see the credits, I think they will be blown away. And they will absolutely realize that something is a wrong and something needs to be done. Now again, reasonable people can take different views of what should be done. They might take the view that look, this is a bygone with regard to 2020, and we need to address 2022 and 2024. But I’m optimistic enough to believe but no sane Republican can see this movie and conclude everything is fine with the electoral process as is.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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2,000 Mules raises important questions, but most people have already decided on the answers.

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