The conspiracy theory seemed to come out of nowhere: Dark forces had hacked into voting systems nationwide to rob Donald Trump of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The myth started spreading even before the votes were counted. One of the earliest versions, from an obscure right-wing website, had a hero: Dennis Montgomery, a computer programmer and self-described former contractor for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The writer cited Montgomery’s claim that he had built a supercomputer called the Hammer years ago as a U.S. government surveillance tool, along with software called Scorecard that could be used to manipulate election results. Now, Montgomery alleged, someone had hijacked the technology and was using it to steal the presidency for Joe Biden.
In the election’s febrile aftermath, these and other unproven claims about Hammer and Scorecard went viral and morphed into a grand global conspiracy theory about how a host of sinister characters, often tied to China, had hacked voting systems to flip votes from Trump to Biden. As the stolen-election fiction spread, so did its repercussions — frivolous lawsuits seeking to overturn the election; threats of violence against election workers; and well-funded campaigns to rid America of voting machines. Two years later, about two-thirds of Republicans say they believe Trump was cheated, Reuters polls show.
Montgomery did not comment for this article. Reuters interviewed more than two dozen of his former associates and prominent election deniers to trace the evolution of the Hammer-and-Scorecard conspiracy theory. The convoluted tale emerged in a series of phone interviews of Montgomery by Mary Fanning, the right-wing writer who originally published his unsupported allegations on her website, the American Report. Fanning told Reuters that Montgomery approached her with the election-hacking claims shortly before the November 2020 vote.
Fanning’s post cast Montgomery as a whistleblower exposing the secret use of his tech creations to steal votes. But former associates of Montgomery have called him a con artist, and federal judges in civil cases have accused him of fraud and cited him for perjury. The computer programmer has a history of promoting tall tales: He’s peddled allegedly phony technology or bogus evidence of conspiracy theories to the U.S. government, a right-wing Arizona sheriff and, most recently, Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate and outspoken election denier. [Continue reading…]