Op/Ed

Editorial: Saying ‘amen’ to a con

ANGELO LYNN

The venue spoke volumes. An evangelical church opened its door to a hell-and-brimstone charismatic preacher who scolded his flock with visions of ruin and damnation unless they rose up against the doubters and championed resurrection. The preacher was nationally known election-denier David Clements. The venue was the Valley Bible Church in East Middlebury last Wednesday, Oct. 19, as 35 mostly older, true believers sat in the pews eager to hear a conspiratorial message that urged them to revolt against today’s voting system.

Addison Independent Reporter John Flowers was there to capture the flavor of the meeting, and why — despite ample evidence that the 2020 election was won fairly by President Joe Biden over ex-president Donald Trump — Clements’ allegation of a stolen election still resonates.

The answer has more to do with Clements’ talent as an orator and entertainer than with facts.

Clements’ task, as he surveyed the 35 eager disciples, was to marshal them off to war singing that Bible School song, Onward Christian Soldiers. 

“I’m signing you up to war,” he challenged the faithful with visions of the difficulties they were to encounter. “There is no full assurance you’ll get what you want, because the problem is corruption, and the reason why we haven’t fixed corruption is a lack of courage. We’re looking for pit bulls that are going to hold the bone here in Middlebury and won’t let go!”

He excoriated the 35 to “mix it up” at their town meetings, to be “demanding, hounding.”

What he wants them to do is shut down electronic voting machines, demand hand counts, and have election monitors challenge all ballots — despite the fact that Vermont’s election integrity is cited as the best in the nation and most elections are monitored by friends and neighbors in small towns that have managed their posts for years in a nonpartisan manner. (See the sidebar to the Clements story, Page 13A, from the Vermont Secretary of State’s office on how they assure the system’s integrity.)

Nonetheless, Clements cited misconstrued “facts,” referred to debunked documentaries, and cited false examples to make it sound as if he had reliable evidence of election fraud. 

He did not. 

In lawsuit after lawsuit, ex-president Trump’s challenge of election results failed, in red states and blue, because there was no evidence of fraud. The voting system is basically as error-free as a system of its size can be. That was proven in the 61 of the 62 lawsuits filed by the Trump administration, all of which he lost except in one case in which a handful of votes were modified, but not near enough to affect the outcome.  

So, why does Clements’ spiel still resonate with a large minority across the country — even with a few folks in Addison County? 

Because he’s good at his job, and his job today is being a conman to those who have already bought into the idea of election fraud. And what Trump and Clements know is that true believers (those who want to believe) are the most susceptible to such tall tales. 

It’s an age-old phenomenon. Think of a movie with a conman and you can understand the appeal. Burt Lancaster in the 1957 movie The Rainmaker is a classic. In that movie, Lancaster plays Bill Starbuck, a conman who promises to bring rain (for a fee) to a drought-stricken farm family in Kansas. He makes moves on the farmer’s daughter, Lizzie, played by Katherine Hepburn, who’s torn between Starbuck’s exciting, fanciful tales and the appeal of quiet (dull), but honest, Deputy Sheriff J.S. File. The family knows Starbuck is a conman, yet his appeal and charismatic charm is magnetic.

More appropriate, perhaps, is the glib conman played by Steven Martin in his 1992 movie, Leap of Faith, in which Martin plays an evangelical minister with a circus-like act that rakes in money from the easily deceived. 

Clements is little different. He’s a recently fired assistant professor at New Mexico State University’s business school, who honed his speaking skills as a former deputy district attorney and, as of last week, reportedly has pulled in over $300,000 from GiveSendGo donors to help pay for his “expenses” while traveling across the country putting on his show.

We covered the story to let readers know of his tactics and appeal, and we encourage readers, who might otherwise dismiss it, to read through to the end.

For his part, Clements denies he’s making tons off his donor’s generosity, of course. But what do the facts, or any truth, have to do with anything election deniers say? Not much. They’re in it for the con (Trump has been able to raise millions of dollars from party faithful from his Big Lie), and, unfortunately, it’s good politics.

If that’s what folks want to say ‘Amen’ to, well, each to their own.

Angelo Lynn

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