Italygate is a pro-Trump, QAnon-affiliated conspiracy theory that alleges the 2020 United States presidential election was rigged to favor Joe Biden using satellites and military technology to remotely switch votes from Donald Trump to Biden from the U.S. Embassy in Rome. The conspiracy was also rumored to involve the Vatican. Fact-checkers at Reuters and USA Today, who investigated these claims, described them as "false" and "baseless".
Details and propagation of theory
Maria Strollo Zack, a Georgia-based lobbyist and leader of the 501(c)4 organization Nations in Action, said she told Trump about the conspiracy theory at his Mar-a-Lago resort on December 24, 2020. On December 29, Mark Meadows forwarded a letter explaining the Italygate claims to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. The letter was printed on the letterhead of USAerospace Partners, a company led by Republican businesswoman Michele Roosevelt Edwards.
On January 6, 2021, the Institute for Good Governance—a firm also headed by Edwards—released a joint statement with Nations in Action stating an Italian hacker named Arturo D'Elia had confessed to "using Leonardo computer systems and military satellites located in Pescara, Italy" to change U.S. election results. The Italian bureau of prisons later said it was investigating how two American men gained access to the Salerno prison where they tried to interrogate D'Elia. D'Elia told reporters that he had refused to speak with the Americans, and that he had no connection to the alleged conspiracy, saying, "I didn't steal anything. I didn’t pass anything to anyone. I just created malware."
According to Zack, the operation had been coordinated by the American embassy in Rome, with the help of Italian general Claudio Graziano who was a member of the board of Leonardo. Also on January 6, Media Matters for America reported supporters of the theory were trying to get "#ItalyDidIt" to trend on Twitter. Related posts were retweeted by QAnon promoter Ron Watkins and other conspiracy theorists affiliated with the movement.
On January 11, a power blackout in Vatican City sparked a rumor among QAnon followers that Pope Francis had been arrested for his involvement in "Italygate" and that the blackout had been orchestrated by the police in order to cover the operation. Around the same time, a photo circulated on the Internet, which purportedly showed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arresting Italian president Sergio Mattarella for his role in the conspiracy; the picture had actually been taken during Pompeo's October 2020 visit to India and showed Pompeo with ambassador Kenneth Juster.
Role of Mark Meadows
According to The New York Times, during Trump's last weeks in office, his chief of staff Mark Meadows tried to persuade the Department of Justice to investigate these claims. Meadows emailed Rosen a link to a YouTube video about the claims; Rosen forwarded the email to his deputy Richard Donoghue, who responded it was "pure insanity". The Washington Post commented that Italygate was "the craziest election fraud conspiracy" pushed by Trump's associates, which showed "just how desperate President Donald Trump and his team were to grab hold of something — anything — that could genuinely cast doubt on his election defeat".
- Attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election
- United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack public hearings
- Anti-Catholic conspiracy theories
- "Fact check: Evidence disproves claims of Italian conspiracy to meddle in U.S. election (known as #ItalyGate)". Reuters. January 15, 2021.
- "Vatican blackout hoax linked to ItalyGate conspiracy theory". Formiche.net. January 12, 2021.
- Caldera, Camille (January 8, 2021). "Fact check: Claims of electoral fraud in Rome, dubbed 'ItalyGate,' are baseless". USA TODAY.
- Jon Swaine; Emma Brown (June 19, 2021). "'Italygate' election conspiracy theory was pushed by two firms led by woman who also falsely claimed $30 million mansion was hers". Washington Post. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emailed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a letter ...printed under the letterhead of USAerospace Partners, a little-known Virginia aviation company. In early January, a second Virginia firm, the Institute for Good Governance, and a partner organization released a statement from an Italian attorney who claimed that a hacker had admitted involvement in the supposed conspiracy.
- ""Press Release: Votes Switched throughout U.S. Presidential Race – Institute for Good Governance" (January 6, 2021)". Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
- Vecchio, Concetto (November 16, 2021). "La strana visita in carcere della deputata No Vax Sara Cunial, l'ultimo mistero dell'Italygate". la Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved February 11, 2022.
L'ingresso nel carcere di Fuorni, a Salerno, con due americani giunti per interrogare un hacker ex dipendente Leonardo su un presunto complotto anti Trump che circolava negli ambienti complottisti di QAnon, l'Italygate, è solo l'ultimo capitolo della biografia politica di Sara Cunial (The entry into the Fuorni prison in Salerno, with two Americans who came to interrogate a former hacker Leonardo employee about an alleged anti-Trump plot that was circulating in the conspiracy circles of QAnon, Italygate, is just the latest chapter in the political biography of Sara Cunial)
- Nadeau, Barbie Latza (November 19, 2019). "Americans Chasing Down Trump's Wild Election Conspiracy Snuck into a Mafia Prison in Italy". Daily Beast. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
The Italian bureau of prisons investigation is focused specifically on how the Americans entered the prison without authorization.
- Marjorie Meyers (January 6, 2021). "Votes Switched throughout U.S. Presidential Race – Institute for Good Governance". Nations in Action. Archived from the original on January 10, 2021. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
- Molloy, Parker (January 6, 2021). "QAnon backers have a crazy new conspiracy theory about the election: Italy did it". Media Matters. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
..it was promoted in places like Parler, 4chan, Gab, and pro-Trump Reddit clone TheDonald.win...supporters of the conspiracy theory tried to get #ItalyDidIt to trend on Twitter...
- Staff report (June 19, 2021). "Fact check: Photos show Pompeo on state visit to India, not evidence of debunked #ItalyGate conspiracy". Reuters. Retrieved February 11, 2022.
- Benner, Katie (June 5, 2021). "Meadows Pressed Justice Dept. to Investigate Election Fraud Claims". The New York Times.
In five emails sent during the last week of December and early January, Mr. Meadows asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, then the acting attorney general, to examine debunked claims of election fraud [that] ... included a fantastical theory that people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.
- Pengelly, Martin (June 6, 2021). "Trump aide asked DoJ to investigate bizarre 'Italygate' claim votes were changed by satellite". The Guardian.
- Bolies, Corbin (June 5, 2021). "Meadows Pushed DOJ to Probe Insane 'Italygate' Election Fraud Theory". The Daily Beast.
- "Trump aide asked DOJ to probe bizarre 'Italygate' election fraud claim". South China Morning Post. June 6, 2021.
- Wild, Whitney; Herb, Jeremy; Fox, Lauren; Cohen, Zachary; Nobles, Ryan. "New emails show how Trump and his allies pressured Justice Department to try to challenge 2020 election results". CNN.
- Blake, Aaron (June 15, 2021). "'Pure insanity': Here's perhaps the craziest election fraud conspiracy the Trump team pushed". The Washington Post.