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Tina Peters presents: A convenient lie.
At the 59 minute mark of [S]election Code—the Mike Lindell-produced documentary on Tina Peters, the Colorado election official who tried to prove that the 2020 election was stolen—there’s a three shot sequence that has haunted me: an image of a computer uploading files, a Thomas Jefferson quote, and then a closeup of Peters caressing a cardboard box containing her dead son’s possessions.
In 2017, Peters’ only son, a Navy SEAL, died in a freak parachuting accident over the Hudson River. Each time the film highlighted this fact, it became clearer to me that Peters found refuge in conspiracy theories to distract from the horror of her son’s death.
In 2021, Peters, then a Colorado county election official, tried to prove that the 2020 election was stolen by allegedly orchestrating a plan to copy election software from voting machines. This year, she tried, and failed, to gain the Republican nomination for the state’s top election post. Peters has pleaded not guilty to charges including identity theft and criminal impersonation, and her trial is set to begin in March.
The juxtaposition of the images of the computer, the Jefferson quote, and the cardboard box shows that Peters’ story, and that of the election denier movement as a whole, isn’t just absurd. It’s also a deeply sad tale of someone who, like many who stormed the Capitol on January 6, is convinced that her alleged crimes are actually the fulfillment of her civic duty. The movie’s nonsense was intended to warn viewers of the evil forces supposedly perverting our election system. The reality is equally alarming, but much easier to understand.
So, what is the film actually trying to argue? It’s complicated. In a dizzying series of random images of charts—reminiscent of Al Gore presenting on climate change if he forgot to turn the Excel models into actual charts—we are presented a convenient lie.
There is not enough coherence in the presentation to even begin to debunk what’s going on here. In fact, [S]election Code unearthed for me latent memories of seeing 9/11 conspiracy theory videos on YouTube in the mid-2000s. This New York Times explanation of the rhetorical methods employed by Loose Change, one of the most popular 9/11 conspiracy theory documentaries, basically fits:
It feels less like a conspiracist’s rant than an edgy PowerPoint presentation that calmly guides viewers through the evidence, using innuendo and leading questions to provoke their imaginations. Like: What was under the mysterious blue tarp carried out of the Pentagon? Were the phone calls from passengers aboard the hijacked planes faked using voice-morphing technology? If jet fuel didn’t bring down the World Trade Center, then what did?
Similarly, [S]election Code asks viewers to consider whether scanned ballot images from the 2020 elections could have been digitally manipulated to alter people’s votes, or whether voting machines were programmed to change the outcome of the election, but it never actually goes beyond wait, what if? Slick production and interviews with wacko academics seek to lend the film credibility, but it’s never revealed who is doing all this nefarious programming and manipulation, nor is it ever proven that there’s been any manipulation at all.