Florida’s 2000 election ‘coup’ at the heart of HBO documentary

Two weeks after a very close election, an angry crowd denouncing a “coup” burst into an official building to intimidate a group of tellers counting the final ballots that will decide the next US president.

Despite its director’s fears, this scene from the “537 Voices” documentary coming out on HBO is not a prediction of what to expect in the United States next month. This is a look back at the events that really rocked Florida after a hotly contested election in 2000.

“537 votes” recalls how Republican protesters decided to influence the outcome of the vote by breaking into a government building in Miami to protest the hand-recount of tens of thousands of ballots.

This new count, which could have tipped the election in favor of the Democratic candidate at the time, Al Gore, had not been completed and it was finally George W. Bush who had been declared the winner in Florida, with only 537 votes ahead. By winning this state, he had at the same time won the keys to the White House.

For director Billy Corben, the same scenario could well happen again on a large scale in the wake of the November 3 election.

“It’s impossible to say how many Miami we’ll have, and how many states will be like Florida in 2000. It’s a really scary prospect,” he told AFP.

Partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, postal voting, a widespread practice in the United States, has exploded and could lead to significant delays in proclaiming the winner of the presidential election. And experts, like those at the Transition Integrity Project, warn of a period of “political and legal chaos that could result.”

“Street fight”

President Donald Trump has already paved the way. He has been hammering for weeks, without any concrete evidence, that his Democratic opponents use this method of voting to divert votes or stuff the ballot boxes.

Mr Trump further declined to say he would accept the election result and called on his supporters to go to polling stations and “protect” the ballot boxes, rekindling fears of violence.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell reassured citizens that whoever wins the election will take office on January 20, as scheduled.

But the officials of the two camps interviewed for “537 votes”, including Roger Stone, former eminence grise of the Republican Party and former adviser to Donald Trump, do not present things in such an optimistic light.

“The Florida recount was a street fight for the presidency of the United States,” said Roger Stone, interviewed by the film crew last year, before his conviction for lying to Congress and witness tampering. His sentence has since been commuted by his old friend Donald Trump.

For Roger Stone, the “fiery speeches” of the Miami protesters crying out for fraud and the coup “worked extremely well” in securing President Bush’s victory.

Billy Corben’s documentary further claims that “neo-fascists” from the Cuban-born community, which is very numerous in Florida, were “instrumentalised” by Republicans in 2000.

President Trump himself has been repeatedly accused of flirting with far-right groups, including armed militants advocating “white” superiority, for electoral purposes.

“These tactics are working … They worked in 2000 and (Trump) is hoping they will still work,” says Billy Corben. “And if the ballot is close, they can walk again,” he worries.

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