(CNN)Former President Donald Trump has spent months spreading lies about the 2020 election, which he himself is now calling “THE BIG LIE” as he continues to claim that a massive conspiracy robbed him of a second term.
The result is that many Republicans now question the election results — and the lie has taken on a life of its own.
In Washington, congressional Republicans who recently ousted Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from the party’s leadership over her decision to call Trump out for his lies mostly united Wednesday against a review of the January 6 Capitol insurrection those lies helped incite.
Trump’s allies in Arizona are undertaking a sketchy, circus-like review of 2020 ballots in Maricopa County, even though local officials — themselves Republicans — are openly objecting to the process, which comes months after the state’s election was certified by its Republican governor. (Trump allies are now pushing for a similar review in Georgia, where Republican officials also certified President Joe Biden’s victory.)
In key states around the country, more restrictive election laws are being enacted, ostensibly to guard against fraud that did not happen.
I went back to CNN’s fact checks and historical warnings to put together this guide to the Big Lie and its various elements.
Where did the term “the Big Lie” come from?
It comes from Adolf Hitler, actually. In Mein Kampf, he accused Jews of spreading lies about how the German army performed in World War I.
The historian Zachary Jonathan Jacobson wrote about it in The Washington Post a few years ago:
Adolf Hitler first defined the Big Lie as a deviant tool wielded by Viennese Jews to discredit the Germans’ deportment in World War I. Yet, in tragically ironic fashion, it was Hitler and his Nazi regime that actually employed the mendacious strategy. In an effort to rewrite history and blame European Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler and his propaganda minister accused them of profiting from the war, consorting with foreign powers and “war shirking” (avoiding conscription). Jews, Hitler contended, were the weak underbelly of the Weimer state that exposed the loyal and true German population to catastrophic collapse. To sell this narrative, Joseph Goebbels insisted “all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands.”
Why did people start using that term to describe the 2020 election?
Use of the phrase started as a way for Trump critics to warn about the toxic nature of his election lies.
Here’s Joe Lockhart, a Democratic communications specialist and CNN commentator, writing about it in January.
And historian Timothy Snyder, author of “On Tyranny,” used it in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. “The idea that Mr. Biden didn’t win the election is a big lie,” he told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “It’s a big lie because you have to disbelieve all kinds of evidence to believe in it. It’s a big lie because you have to believe in a huge conspiracy in order to believe it. And it’s a big lie because, if you believe it, it demands you take radical action. So this is one way we have really moved forwards towards authoritarianism and away from democracy. It’s coming to a peak right now.”
How did Trump come to adopt the term?
This is another irony.
There have long been warnings about Trump’s lies. That Jacobson story in the Post is from 2018. Trump falsely claimed after the 2016 election, which he won, that millions of people had illegally voted for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Leading up to the 2020 election, Trump again routinely asserted that voting in the US would be rigged against him, and afterward, when he denied his loss, critics began using the term “the Big Lie” to describe his rejection of the factual world.
Trump, master propagandist, has since seized the term from his critics and now routinely uses it to claim it is he who is the victim of untruths and conspiracies. “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE! ” he said in a statement issued by his PAC on May 3.
Since then, Trump’s use of it to claim his own persecution has arguably eclipsed its use to warn about hi
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