Just a few days before Christmas, an old marine walked into a government complex and smashed a voting machine with a hammer. He immediately placed the document “Natural Sovereignty” down amongst the shattered pieces that explained why.
This is the true story of what happened.
It was an awful cold morning in South Dakota, and I looked out the window. The wind and snow danced everywhere on a slippery road.
“Not today, I said to myself, it’s too nasty out.”
Christmas was coming, and I quickly drowned it with excuses. I might slide off the road, the blizzard could mess it all up; there was too much to do. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. I slumped back and relaxed for a moment. All the reasons were true, but also true was that there was never a good time. There would always be a reason why it couldn’t happen. Nothing like this would ever be convenient, and in the same moment I hated even the thought of cowardice. If not now, when? If not me, who?
“No. Today is the day.”
Marines are warriors, and they do things quickly. I put on good clothes, grabbed the document, the hammer, a Bible for prison; and skipped breakfast into the dead cold.
On the way I kept my thoughts general. Simple. I was neither excited nor thrilled to destroy it. I was not happy or giddy. I was neither afraid nor especially brave. It was a mission. A mission like the Corps. A job. A necessity, an object. And with coldness of mind, sober without distraction, I entered the parking lot.
I could easily turn back. I could easily make a nice day of my plans cast out the window and no one would be the wiser. No one would ever know that I was a coward and didn’t do it. No one would know; but I would know. I would look into the mirror and know. I would look at my family, my children; they would never realize that they were not worth fighting for, that the old man faltered when they were playing at home; and he would return half a man. Smiling, yes, but with a hollow soul.
No. I would not be that man.
With the cold hammer secured underneath, I entered the county building. The warm, stale office air was comforting. The place was so calm and had no idea what was coming. I enjoyed the walk. The employees I passed were greeted, and I even stopped at the drinking fountain. So neutral, so calm, I stood at the auditor’s door. I had an appointment, and was welcomed in.
I was slightly overdressed for a regular meeting. The slim suit top and polished shoes were more appropriate for a semi-formal, but no one seemed to notice. It had the effect I wanted: to be pleasing to the eye and non-threatening. Indeed, my whole countenance was one of positivity. Yes. It was going to be a good day.
I requested the meeting because I had a classroom. I teach history and civics on a regular basis, and was planning to teach a civics lesson to the kids. Yes. It would be a civics lesson.
I sat down in the office and was pleased with the wonderful conversation. The county auditor was quick and intelligent, and the exchange that followed was at once educating, and a perfect guise.
“I think a field trip is a great idea!”
“When you think about it, I said, kids nowadays have no idea how our voting system works. They grow up, and all-of-the-sudden this world opens up to them. Actually, every time I vote, I have scarce an understanding of how my vote is tallied.” I was obliged deep into the office surrounded by pleasant faces.
“Here is our voting machine,” the auditor said. The apparatus was large and looked heavy. The screen was about fifteen inches across. There were rollers all through it in which approximately fourteen-thousand ballots shot through at every major election. On the side was a double-locked glass window with two flash drives beneath.
“These are only accessible by two keys held by two different officials on voting day. I have one, and the other is held by a state officer so no one person can access the voting data.” I found this very interesting.
The auditor continued: “Any ballots that the computer cannot count for one reason or another goes into this pile. The pile is then transferred to two, or three employees to ascertain visually what votes were cast, and another to record their findings.”
“These are neutral parties?” I inquired.
“Yes. One a democrat, and one a republican to ensure accuracy.”
“And, it is all monitored?”
“Oh yes, there’s a lot of people in here. Actually election day here is very busy.” The elected official heaved a breath indicating it was a stressful day for them all.
Glancing at the large voting machine, I asked, “I wonder how much that thing costs?”
“This right here costs the state about one hundred and fourteen thousand dollars.”
“Yes!” The auditor even seemed to be surprised.
Immediately, I concluded this was not the machine I would destroy. I could never afford that. I wasn’t a millionaire and had a family to feed. There must be some other way.
“And who sells all this equipment to the state? I hear of only a few companies, but there must be many.”
“Every state has their own slew of companies they deal with individually, and all are funded by the taxpayer. Dominion, and Smartmatic are just a few.”
“And we hear about those all the time, I said. Everybody is talking about it.” I thought about the taxpayer. All the expensive gear saddened me. There must be millions of dollars of voting equipment in here. Millions here, and billions everywhere else to cast a vote.
“And, it’s not what everybody thinks, thanks to the media.” The auditor was correct, and I nodded. The public hears half-truths from the media they choose; half-truths are still lies.
“What people need to understand is that this process is secure and monitored. Everything is recorded and backed up, and if there’s a power outage, the votes are literally printed on paper as they come in out the back of that machine.” Pointing to the tray below the expensive machine, I saw what the auditor meant. It did seem secure.
“But all the votes go into those two flash drives regardless.”
“And at the end of the process, you and another state official unlock the door and get the drives.”
“Yes, and we put them immediately into a receptacle that is in state custody. It is all monitored.”
“Interesting.” This was a problem. First, once the drives were handed over, anything could happen. Yes, it all was backed up on paper if the machine was working, but it was not secure in that all that information was in such a small pair of swappable drives. The room was definitely susceptible to external communications, though I doubted the machine was on the web, but there were other ways to change an election: the room was no faraday box. Second, I knew that the process was complicated. Monitored as best they could at the office level, yes, but once it was sent from the state to the federal level, anything could happen especially as the votes are digital; transferred from one official to another, and uploaded through many hands until it reached the top.
The system was over-complicated. Easy to breach. I could see how the whole thing could become bottlenecked. I could see there was a paper trail, if it was accurate, but the reliance on the integrity of the drives, the integrity of the half digital, half paper system marched on a massive base of millionaires, and billionaires that fed them; people with no moral obligation to the constituent whatsoever. A diverse marketplace of companies lobbying, each their respective congressman, for the best, cheapest way to hold an election with taxpayer money. And though I had no problem with capitalism, no ballot should be cast with doubt. No ballot system should take months, or years to calculate.
Surrounded by all the technology, it became obvious to me that while the people torment to find out who was elected, while the officials scramble under all the pressure to figure it out, the election is already lost. No candidate really wins. Time goes by and fervor is exhausted. All lose when confidence is gone. And as a teacher, as an old marine, I no confidence.
“Here are our check-in machines,” the auditor explained. The tabulation machines were little more than laptops in fancy cases. “The voter checks in at these before casting his vote.” I was allowed to pick one up and open it.
“Just here or everywhere?”
“Actually, these are all over the state. They are at every polling station whether it be here, or an hour away in the county. When the voter checks in, the system blocks that same voter from voting anywhere else for that election.”
“To prevent that same voter from voting multiple times?”
I could see it was supposed to be a hedge against fraud, but I also saw another expensive breech to the whole system. The tabulation machine counted all the votes, including the information of citizens who did not vote. I saw the usefulness of it, but I also saw another way to corruption. A mastermind could tally the non-voters, and use that information to send fake (completed) ballots of anyone who didn’t vote in years. Seniors, even deceased citizens could feasibly vote with just a little planning and execution via absentee ballots!
My stomach hurt not because I hadn’t eaten, but because of the expense and complexity of it all. Where half of America did not believe the outcome of the presidential election, the expense was not just money but public confidence; not just ballots and laptops, but the future. I thought of my children. I thought of all the children, and theirs, and so on; the future standing on a base of uncertainty. A place where there is no natural sovereignty left; a place where there is nothing left but obedience.
It was time.
The wonderful conversation was over and the auditor proceeded out of the room. I begged leave to grab a folder purposely left in a faraway spot. All of the sudden I was alone in the million dollar room. With speed, I was back at the laptop. The conversation would never be the same.
It was a job, an object; a mission. The brass hammer was now warm with my side. I pulled it out and hesitated. I looked at it for a second: gold and beautiful. For a second my mind conceived immense upheaval, but then came the faces of my children. All the prayers and torment, all the debating on what I should do, the anguish, the sleepless nights. No more. It was time to act.
The first swing shattered the screen. Hard and direct. Blood. The second was sure and crushing, and the third was for pleasure. It crashed to the floor in miserable pieces.
The racket was so loud the auditor rushed in expecting to see a man that fell. Instead, I had just placed the open folder next to the mess with the hammer. It was done. I could rest.
“What was all this about, then? The auditor was aghast. Are you even a teacher with a class in the first place?”
“Yes, I said, but I highly doubt my class will be able to attend the field trip now.” It was like a dream. Silence.
“I suggest you go and get the police.”
Out rushed the official, and I sat down. I placed the contents of my pockets on the table and waited. Keeping my hands in view, I looked around the room. I was left alone again, so I sent up a prayer.
Blood. I was bleeding. Months before I dreamed of it. I dreamed that I’d swing a hammer and bleed on two middle knuckles on my right hand, and I was. They dripped as the officers walked in.
They served like I did. Yes, my service was years ago, but, I knew what they’d ask, and what they’d want to see. And they saw it. They saw a well-dressed, sober man in a submissive sitting position with all his belongings on the table. They saw a calm, clear-thinking man they soon knew to be a veteran.
“So, what’s going on?”
“I destroyed a voting laptop in the next room.” Silence.
“I don’t understand. Why did you do that?”
“I explain why in a letter I set right next to it.” The officer went in and other officers arrived too. Before long, all law enforcement in the building were there.
“May I have a napkin?” I displayed my fist and was given one. “I must have missed the first swing. That was dumb.”
They emerged from the room and others went in. Soon, all were aware this was no ordinary crime.
“I still don’t understand,” he said.
“I did it because I had to. It is civil disobedience.”
Five minutes later, after all had studied me, my wallet, my old military ID, the same officer emerged after reading the document “Natural Sovereignty” in the next room.
“Well, I wish we would have met under different circumstances,” he said.
“Ok. Please stand up. We’re going to jail.”
As I was patted down and read my rights, I felt for the auditor that was watching the whole while and said, “I am sorry for having ruined your day, I really did enjoy our conversation.”
And just like that, it was done. The voting machine was destroyed, and I could finally rest.
Bail was posted, and I was home in bed that very evening. It passed like a dream. A day, like men, a shadow on the earth, and gone. Planned and executed with no authority save my oath and belief in truth and justice: I could scarce believe it happened. It was unpleasant and awful, yet it was the best night sleep I had in a week.
The next day however, I felt selfish. I was selfish. No one knew what I was planning and it was done in a second. Who was I to do such a thing and drag my family through it? Who was I to explain to my children that it was the right thing to do? They look up to me and I had to tell them I was in jail. That was sobering. Me. The Marine who was in combat and served eight honorable years. The dad who never did anything wrong and followed all the rules. The respected father that didn’t even have a parking ticket. Now, he would have a criminal record. Yes. I felt selfish. I was selfish.
And then there was God. Eighteen hours before, I went to church at night by myself and listened. I asked God to show me something; anything. Though it was placed on me months before - every day for six long months - I still wanted a sign. I sat there in the pew and looked at the hammer. It was an antique with one side stamped “PROTO,” and the other “1430.” I sat there mulling it round and was hit like lightening. 1430. “That looks like a verse.” So I looked it up. That was all the sign I needed.
Reading alone in that instant, I did learn a thing. Good things are not done in our time. Where we as people may do a deed and do it well, I discovered that nothing is done in my time. It is done in His time. And though I know He meant for it to happen, I did rush it. I have since made a solemn regard that I will give Him the initiative before my own. Marines are prized for initiative, but I honor Him more than my oath as a Marine.
In a matter of weeks I would have to answer for what I did, but for the moment I was allowed to be home. Christmas. Homes everywhere were full of light and celebrating, and I put it out of my mind. The precious moment was more important than stressing the future. And, in those few days I learned to wait. I waited for the words to say until they hit me a few days before the judgement.
Why did I do it?
I knew the question would come, and I was prepared. However, I knew that all my preparation could not prepare me for the ominous courtroom. It was like combat. A Marine General said, that “Though you are certainly better for preparing, the war you prepare for is rarely the war you get.” I knew that by experience. I also knew that I would be given words to say that very hour. Nevertheless, I was going to be ready. When asked, I would reply:
“Judge, Sir, I looked around to the voting crisis facing our nation, the world, and I said to myself “I have to do something.” Few seem to understand or even care that there is an existential threat to democracy everywhere.
Not long ago I made an oath to this nation, and it does not have an expiration date. So, I said to myself, “Ok, I’ll send a few emails.” I contacted Congressmen, Senators, Governors, to anyone that may know one, I even mailed Presidents; like they’d ever get back to me. And they didn’t. No reply. Nothing. Why did I receive nothing? Because I am nobody, Judge. I am not a millionaire, I don’t know powerful people, and I don’t have a Congressman in my pocket.
So, I said to myself, “Ok, maybe I’ll get into politics. Run for office, right?” It may be a decade before I might be able to do something about the voting situation if I get elected, and time is running out. The election is in a few months. Then I said to myself, “So, I guess I’ll stand by the road with a sign. Peaceful protest.” What is that going to do in time? And, then I said, “Ok, maybe I can get five thousand other signs and go to Washington DC.” What is that really going to do? It’s been done! Nothing. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the only thing that will make people pay attention is drastic measures. That’s why I’m here. I went into a state office and destroyed a voting machine. I am guilty.
Sir, like I said I have made an oath. I’ve made three in my life and I will not break them. First is to my God. Second is to my wife and family - I am on my first and only marriage. Third is to my country. My country.
Sir, one day I will be called home, but while I am here I am going to make this world better. Not just for my children, but their children; not just my family, but your family.
So, before I did it I had to check a few boxes. Will this act honor God? Yes. Will it honor my family? Yes. Will it honor my country? Yes. And as a Christian man I have a few more than most. Is it necessary? Yes. Is it kind? Yes. Is it constructive? Yes. And lastly, and hardest of all: Am I willing to count the cost? Yes.
I could do no other thing.
There’s a vast difference between keeping your word and honoring it. Most can simply keep it by being good. Following the rules, and doing what you say you’re going to do. But honoring it is different altogether. Honoring it means being active in the pursuit of it either with or without authority. And though I will always keep my oath, I will honor them more. Sir, this is my understanding of truth and justice.
And, I do not blame any of this on my military service, but I will say this: I was taught in the Corps that when there is no leadership, I must step up. War taught me that I must go outside myself for the benefit of others and accomplish the mission; otherwise people get killed.
The machine I destroyed was a call to address the problem, the act of destroying it was the drastic measure people needed to see. A symbol. Because maybe someone, somewhere will notice. Maybe someone somewhere will say “Man, if that nobody can do something about it, maybe I can too. Maybe a congressman will say “If that little guy can go and do something like that, something that bold, I can lift my voice too.” Sir, this is my understanding of leadership and patriotism.
I will not ask any special leniency though it would be welcome. I do not advocate for the destruction of digital voting machines everywhere though I wouldn’t mind seeing it. It was merely a symbol. I have also been given peace that this will never have to happen again. It will never happen again. I don’t want to break the law. I have never been a criminal until now. I don’t even have a parking ticket! I am a good citizen as long as I do what is right, and not merely what is convenient.
What else could I do?
There’s nothing else I could do.”
I was charged with a class 2 misdemeanor, intentional property damage under $400. I expected no less. I pled guilty, no contest. I paid my debt to society, and in many ways I will still pay it. But I did it for the unborn millions. I did it for you. For my children, and your children. My future, and your future.
Many go to jail for horrific crimes. They go for child support, they go for theft, and they go for murder; but going to jail for someone you love makes more sense than all the rest. You, American, and you, my son and daughters, are worth it. America is worth it. I counted the cost. I always will.
-Yes. This is a true story.