By Annie Gowen
David Clements is traveling the country trying to persuade local leaders to withhold certification of election results. If he succeeds, it could cause chaos.
NELIGH, Neb. — One recent still summer night in this tiny city on the Nebraska prairie, more than 60 people showed up at a senior citizens center to hear attorney David Clements warn of an epidemic of purported election fraud.
For two hours, Clements — who has the rumpled look of an academic, though he lost his business school professor’s job last fall for refusing to wear a mask in class — spoke of breached voting machines, voter roll manipulation and ballot stuffing that he falsely claims cost former president Donald Trump victory in 2020. The audience, which included a local minister, a bank teller and farmers in their overalls, gasped in horror or whispered “wow” with each new claim.
“We’ve never experienced a national coup,” he told the crowd, standing before red, white and blue signs strung up alongside a bingo board. “And that’s what we had.”
Clements, who has no formal training or background in election systems, spent months crisscrossing the back roads in his home state of New Mexico in a battered Buick, trying to persuade local leaders not to certify election results. His words had an impact: In June, officials in three New Mexico counties where he made his case either delayed or voted against certification of this year’s primary results, even though there was no credible evidence of problems with the vote.
Now, Clements has taken his message nationwide, traveling to small towns in more than a dozen states, with a focus, he said, on places that are “forgotten and abandoned and overlooked.” His crusade to prove that voting systems can’t be trusted has deepened fears among election experts, who say his meritless claims could give Trump allies more fodder to try to disrupt elections in November and beyond.
Republican primary candidates embracing Trump’s stolen election rhetoric have flourished this year. Clements’s strategy is to target his message locally: to county commissioners and clerks, jobs that are lower profile but that wield an outsize role in administering America’s decentralized election system. If local jurisdictions fail to certify their votes, it could throw the outcome of an election into chaos, raising doubt about the results and giving ammunition to losing candidates who refuse to accept their defeats.
Clements is one among a tightknit circle of Trump supporters who travel the country as self-appointed election fraud evangelists. They embrace the instructions of leaders like former Trump adviser turned podcaster Stephen K. Bannon, who has urged election deniers to run for local races and sign up to be poll workers in what he calls his “precinct-by-precinct” takeover strategy.
Like others preaching the gospel of election fraud, Clements has attracted a large following online, where he mixes conspiracies with Christian nationalist and sometimes violent rhetoric. He has appeared on Fox News and on Bannon’s podcast. He’s dined with Trump and Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and high-profile election fraud conspiracist.
“We’ve got enough evidence to have indictments, people tried for treason and have the remedy of firing squads. That’s what we need,” Clements told an audience at a New Mexico church in February.
A recent report from congressional Democrats on election misinformation highlighted Clements’s activities and concluded that “the greatest current threat to democratic legitimacy now comes from lies by domestic actors who seek to convince Americans that their election systems are fraudulent, corrupt, or insecure.”
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has clashed repeatedly with Clements and his wife, said the “misinformation and disinformation” were being “seeded as core beliefs, not just with elected officials but the general public.”
“I do worry about potential violence toward election officials, in particular around the upcoming general election,” she said.
Clements said in a brief interview in Nebraska that he believes his efforts are noble.
“Why?” he asked. “Because I care about the truth. Because I want to make sure our voices are accurately captured. Because the rule of law needs to exist.”
Pacing the room at the senior center in Neligh, microphone in hand, Clements put the matter in stark terms.
“We’ve figured out how they’re screwing you out of your vote,” Clements said. “That’s the battle. So what’s the solution?”
“Sledgehammers!” a woman at the back of the room yelled out.