A publisher abruptly recalled the '2,000 Mules' election denial book. NPR got a copy.
For months, the conservative provocateur Dinesh D'Souza teased that the book version of his widely debunked film "2,000 Mules" would provide compelling new evidence that the 2020 election was "stolen." The film has been repeatedly promoted by former President Donald Trump, who even hosted a screening at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Then, just before the book's scheduled release - and after copies had already arrived in stores - D'Souza's publisher, Regnery, abruptly pulled the book from shelves and delayed the e-book release, citing an unspecified "publishing error." Regnery is a division of Salem Media Group, which reduced its quarterly earnings estimate because of the delay. On Twitter, D'Souza blamed Regnery for the recall.
"Somehow a significant error got missed by the publisher," he said.
But not every copy of the book got recalled.
After traveling in Los Angeles traffic to more than a half-dozen booksellers, NPR found a copy of the "2,000 Mules" tucked into a shelf of the "Current Affairs" section at a Barnes & Noble in the San Fernando Valley.
The book does not appear to suffer from an obvious production error which might explain the delay; a misaligned photo, incorrect page numbers or blank pages.
The book does, however, regurgitate the content of the film "2,000 Mules" including misleading claims, which have been thoroughly debunked by fact-checkers and critics across the political spectrum. Former Attorney General Bill Barr called the film's underlying premise "indefensible."
Despite those flaws, "2,000 Mules" has emerged as a leading theory for supporters of Trump's baseless claim that he actually won the 2020 election. For Trump and some of his most diehard fans - among them candidates for public office - the project has served as "proof" of the stolen election.
The film's allegations were often vague, and largely based on data that have not been made public. As a result, some elements of the film were difficult, if not impossible, to fully fact-check. The book adds new details, however, which NPR has been able to scrutinize.
NPR contacted organizations named in the book for comment about some of D'Souza's written claims. They referred to passages in the book as "malarkey," "inaccurate," and "trash."
One group, whose data are cited in the book, said it would request a correction. Another raised the possibility of legal action.
The film and book are both based on the research of a controversial organization called True the Vote, and the activists Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips. Both Engelbrecht and Phillips are credited as executive producers of the film. In a statement to NPR, the group distanced itself from the book.
"True the Vote had no participation in this book, and has no knowledge of its contents," said Brian Glicklich, a representative for the group, in an emailed statement. "This includes any allegations of activities of any specific organizations made in the book. We made no such allegations. The book reflects the views of the author, not of True the Vote, Catherine Engelbrecht, or Gregg Phillips."
Regnery declined to answer NPR's questions for this story, and said the copy of the book NPR obtained "was printed in error, and some advance copies were distributed in error."
"We will be happy to talk to you more about '2000 Mules' once it is published, but we are not commenting on questions about a recalled book," said Thomas Spence, Regnery's president and publisher, in an email.
D'Souza did not respond to NPR's requests for comment.
Here's what's in the book:
D'Souza names nonprofits that he claims helped 'steal' the 2020 election
The central thesis of "2,000 Mules" is essentially that left-wing nonprofit groups engaged in illegal ballot trafficking and paid people (the "mules" of the title) to gather ballots and stuff dropboxes with pro-Biden votes. To build that case, "2,000 Mules" relies on True the Vote, which claims that it used cell phone location data to prove its case.
The film version of "2,000 Mules" does not name a single nonprofit that D'Souza or True the Vote allege took part in the alleged scheme, let alone give them a chance to respond to the accusation that they committed crimes.
D'Souza told interviewers that the reason for the omission was due to legal concerns.
"Basically, when you're putting a movie in the theater, you need three different types of insurance," D'Souza told Megyn Kelly on her podcast earlier this year. "And so we got into a big fight with these lawyers who insisted that we can't name the nonprofits. Now, normally, I would have battled them over this. But the problem was I was trying to get the movie out right away because it's so timely."
The book, however, does name seven different groups. NPR contacted all of them for comment.
One of the groups D'Souza names is the New Georgia Project, an Atlanta-based group that focuses on registering and mobilizing young voters and voters of color.
Aklima Khondoker, the Chief Legal Officer for the New Georgia Project, called the allegations "malarkey and hogwash. Because they're not based in fact. They're based on conspiracy theories."
Khondoker said the allegations in D'Souza's book "can be viewed as libelous," and noted that neither True The Vote nor D'Souza contacted the New Georgia Project for comment - a fundamental step for any journalistic or documentary project.
Khondoker declined to say whether the New Georgia Project would take legal action in response to the book, but said, "It sounds like a bunch of lies committed to paper. And there are legal consequences for doing that."
A spokesperson for the labor union the National Education Association (NEA), which D'Souza also names in the book, condemned the allegations as "trash," noting that D'Souza's attorneys apparently would not allow him to name any groups in his film.
"We would hope anyone looking at his nonsense can quickly see that these claims are false and designed to gin up those who persist in peddling the Big Lie about the 2020 election," said the NEA spokesperson.
Other groups declined to comment, with one citing a desire not to give the project "further oxygen." Given the dubious nature of the allegations, NPR is not naming the groups that did not comment.
NPR asked True the Vote whether it provided the names of the groups to D'Souza. Brian Glicklich, the group's spokesperson, did not answer that question directly, but simply re-sent the group's statement with "We made no such allegations" in bold.
The book repeats misleading and false passages from the film
As NPR has previously reported, the film "2,000 Mules" falsely implies that True the Vote's data were so accurate, they led to the arrest of two suspects in the killing of an eight-year-old girl in Atlanta. In reality, the group acknowledged that it did not provide any law enforcement agency any information about the case until months after two suspects had already been indicted.
Despite that debunking, the book largely repeats the misleading tale from the film.
In a chapter at the end of the book dedicated to answering his critics - including NPR - D'Souza acknowledges that True the Vote did not provide any data in the case until after the arrests. "So?" he writes. He goes on to say, "The only point True the Vote and I were making here is that the very same geotracking that can help identify murder suspects was used to identify mules engaged in ballot trafficking."
The film also claimed that True the Vote used data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) to show that the ballot "mules" were leftist agitators. A spokesperson for ACLED told NPR in May, "This is not the type of analysis you can use ACLED data for, and it is highly unlikely that these conclusions have any basis in fact."
D'Souza nonetheless repeats those claims in the book.
ACLED told NPR in a statement, "Every reference to ACLED in the new book version of '2,000 Mules' is incorrect or misleading."
"Based on the various descriptions provided in both the book and the film, what D'Souza claims to do with ACLED data is simply not plausible," the statement continued. "We will be contacting the publisher about a correction."
D'Souza writes that two of his Salem Media colleagues 'declined to participate' in the film
Long chunks of the "2,000 Mules" film consist of roundtable discussions with D'Souza's "fellow podcast and radio hosts" at the conservative Salem Media, including Sebastian Gorka, Larry Elder, Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager.
In a brief parenthetical comment, D'Souza writes that conservative commentators Mike Gallagher and Hugh Hewitt "declined to participate."
NPR contacted Gallagher and Hewitt to ask why they declined to be a part of "2,000 Mules." Gallagher told NPR in an email, "I didn't decline to participate. I had a scheduling conflict and was unable to travel to California when they filmed it."
Hewitt did not respond.
Notably, Fox News is currently battling a $1.6 billion lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which alleges that Fox's hosts defamed the company with a litany of false claims and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
D'Souza describes True The Vote's money and legal troubles
A key line of inquiry for congressional investigators examining the attack on the U.S. Capitol has been funding sources for "the Big Lie." D'Souza's book adds some new information about financial supporters of election fraud claims.
Just after the 2020 election, a major Republican donor named Fred Eshelman gave True the Vote $2.5 million to assist in efforts to investigate allegations of election fraud. Just weeks later, Eshelman sued True the Vote in federal court, and accused the group of failing to pursue legal action in time to affect the election, and failing to communicate about what it was doing with those millions. Eshelman demanded that True The Vote return the donation. True The Vote denied any wrongdoing and refused to return the money. Eshelman's lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
Catherine Engelbrecht of True The Vote, according to the "2,000 Mules" book, called the lawsuit an "ordeal," though says "at least it gave us the resources to launch this project, although a chunk of it got eaten up in legal fees."
D'Souza writes that he and his wife Debbie helped raise an additional $400,000 for True The Vote's research by calling "two of our friends." D'Souza does not name the friends, but writes that they live in Jacksonville, Fla. and Wichita, Kan.
Eshelman's attorney did not respond to NPR's request for comment.
The movie version of "2,000 Mules" relies on techniques of fictional films
As the Washington Post reported, attentive online sleuths noticed that maps shown in the film of supposed routes taken by ballot "mules" were inaccurate, and, in at least one instance, showed Moscow, Russia - not Atlanta. D'Souza chalked that choice up to movie-making "special effects."
The book features several photos from the making of the "2,000 Mules" film, which show even more ways that the film relied on recreations and sets.
The "spine of the documentary," D'Souza writes, consists of interviews with True the Vote's Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips at an office with digital maps and supposed depictions of True The Vote's data.
The scene where D'Souza meets up with Phillips and Engelbrecht at Phillips' office is a "recreation" - not the real deal.
D'Souza writes that the office itself is also fake, and that the film used a "replica" of Phillips' office.
Scenes that depict D'Souza and his wife at their home are actually "not our real house," D'Souza writes.
D'Souza does not explain why the film opted to use sets rather than genuine locations for what he describes as a documentary.
D'Souza writes that True The Vote did a presentation for RNC members
In April 2022, according to the book, True the Vote and D'Souza gave a presentation to "a group of members of the Republican National Committee" in Memphis, Tennessee. Around that time, the RNC was hosting a spring meeting in Memphis.
D'Souza writes that the RNC members' reaction was "tumultuous."
"Many erupted with something to the effect of, 'I knew it!'" D'Souza writes. A few skeptics of fraud claims, he writes, "were now forced to reexamine their previous confidence in the security of the election."
The RNC did not respond to NPR's requests for comment.
In any case, former President Trump has thoroughly embraced "2,000 Mules." In addition to hosting the film at Mar-a-Lago, Trump repeatedly cited the film in a written response to the congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. This week, Trump again mentioned the film in a post on Truth Social as part of a tirade against the FBI.
Whether Trump will fully endorse the now-rescheduled book, given that True the Vote has distanced itself from D'Souza's work and at least one group has raised the idea of legal action, remains to be seen.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.