The European Platform for Democratic Elections urged the EU to consider sanctions and visa restrictions for 34 foreign observers it says were “involved in those “unauthorized activities” it believes to be an act of Russian propaganda.
The Holler has confirmed that one of those 34 election observers was Steve Gill of Tennessee, a staunch Trump supporter and right-wing radio host who was the political editor of The Tennessee Star prior to his August 2019 arrest for not paying child support. (A Williamson County judge denied an order of protection against Gill after his wife filed the order saying she was scared of what would happen when he was released from jail.)
“The European Union strongly condemned the holding of the Russian elections in temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories as illegitimate and strongly rejected this further futile attempt by Russia to legitimize or normalize its illegal military control and attempted annexation of parts of Ukrainian territories.
The United States referred to the sham elections in occupied areas of Ukraine as ‘nothing more than a propaganda exercise’, and stated that it will never recognize the Russian Federation’s claims to any of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. The US also reminded any individuals who may support Russia’s sham elections in Ukraine, including by acting as so-called ‘international observers’, that they may be subject to sanctions and visa restrictions… For around two decades, Russian authorities have employed “international observers” to try to whitewash fraudulent elections, legitimize illegitimate plebiscites, and/or advance their foreign policy interests internationally.”
Here was the list of observers they included in their release:
We asked Steve Gill via email if he was the “Steve Gill” from the list (highlighted above). His response:
“I was there.”
We asked Gill to elaborate about why he went, what he saw, and if he knew the US & EU considered it to be a propaganda stunt. We also asked if he could provide any insight into the nature of his connection to the area, Russia, and his relationship with RT.
His responses were lengthy (provided in longer form below), but the key takeaways were that he took issue with Secretary Blinken calling the election a “sham”, said there were no reporters there to report the “truth” and wanted to see things for himself.
Gill described the election process Russian authorities used in the occupied territories as “actual transparency”, claiming to have had “full access to talk to anybody”, and described voters as “excited” and not intimidated.
He added that he didn’t care or know who won, and went out of his way to add that the ongoing sanctions against Russia are not hurting them, only Americans, and that Moscow seemed very “safe” and “clean” with “tall buildings” – obviously very pro-Russia talking points, especially considering we hadn’t asked those questions.
In our follow-up we asked Gill if he thought it would be easy to put on a show of an election only to rig the results themselves, to which he responded:
“I watched and thought through how I might cheat if I was there, and I could not find a way.”
“Interestingly, Blinken is calling it a sham rigged election. The same wording they are prosecuting Trump for saying but with zero actual proof of anything of the sort. And US and Western Euro media reports are not based on any actual reporting. I didn’t see anybody from Fox, MSNBC, CNN, WAPO, NY Times or anybody else there to report facts or the truth.
I have no relation to Russia and had not been there in 25 years. My relationship with RT is I am frequently contacted to provide commentary and opinion… I had the opportunity to go and went for the same reason I embedded with US troops in Iraq and Kuwait a few times, traveled to see conditions at Guantánamo Bay Terrorist detention center, broadcasted from Democrat and Republican national conventions for years… I’m skeptical of most media reporting, so I like to see it for myself so I can expose the truth based on what I see and hear not what I’m told.
I personally visited seven voting precincts over a couple of days in the Donbas Region, including Donetsk and Mariupol and a couple of smaller towns. I also toured the central election location in Moscow and observed how they collect poll results from around the country.
I had full access to talk to anybody, see anything, ask any questions of election workers, voters, and anybody else we randomly came in contact with… The election processes at the polls I visited, were very similar to what you see in the United States, but more transparent and less likely to allow any form of cheating. For example, they have video cameras set up at each of the 3000+ polling stations across Russia where anybody can watch live feed of what’s happening. Representatives of the political parties and election officials are on site observing as well. And in Moscow with a central election headquarters, the political parties have dozens of representatives with computer terminals, watching in real time whatever is going on at each polling place across the country…
Voters show passports or other government issued photo ID. When they arrive to vote they are issued a paper ballot, at least in most of the voting precincts, although they are experimenting with electronic voting… Voters and stepped behind curtains to cast their votes in secrecy… They then placed their ballots in a large plexiglass box that is locked until the vote count begins. Actual transparency.
There was zero evidence at any polling location of threats or intimidation to encourage voting… Voters were generally anxious and excited for the opportunity to vote. And the polling stations were calm with very efficient poll workers handling the process. Again, very similar to what you would see in any precinct in middle Tennessee…
…I’ve been asked “who won?”, but didn’t really focus on that or care. I certainly didn’t know any of the local candidates. I know the mayor of Moscow won handily, but based upon the clean streets, safe environment, economic prosperity, cranes throughout the city, building new, skyscrapers, etc. that was not surprising in the least. Based upon the economic growth in Russia, generally, and what I observed, in convenience stores, grocery stores, a massive shopping mall next to our hotel, and talking to regular Russians, throughout a several day, stay in Moscow, our sanctions don’t appear to be hurting them. They are hurting American consumers, who are paying nearly double at the gas pump.
…we clearly have a media that is determined to tell only one side of the story, whether it is Covid, the VAX, election fraud, or the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Anytime the media is only telling us one side of the story we should all be much more skeptical. Again, that’s why I went to see for myself when I had the opportunity.
I’ve had several people ask me about whether I felt like I was in danger there in Moscow or anywhere else. Even though we were about 25 km from the front lines at one point, there was not massive military presence, or any evidence of that area of Ukraine being “occupied“.
And Moscow was one of the cleanest safest cities I’ve been in with huge skyscrapers conflicting with the image that most Americans have of Russians, living in cement block buildings from the Soviet era. Plus, as I told some people asking me about the danger of going to Russia, I pointed out that I regularly go to Memphis.
In our follow-up questions we asked Gill if Russia could have shown him and the other observers a seemingly transparent process of voting only to rig the results, and if he had any insight into how the counting of the votes would be protected or confirmed through some sort of independent verification.
“The votes in the precincts are counted locally with the live stream providing viewing of that process, too. Plus local party officials are there for the count in person. The numbers are then shown on the cameras and the tally is also transmitted to Moscow. Unlike here in the states, the votes are transported somewhere else for the count, which would, as we see here, allow for all sorts of mischief. I watched and thought through how I might cheat if I was there, and I could not find a way.”
“And the live video transmissions of the voting process and accounting process are recorded as well, so, if a question is raised they can go back and review the tapes… They also keep a careful count in each precinct of the number of ballots cast, and compare that to the remaining ballots after the voting is closed to make sure that the leftover ballots are the right number based on the total votes cast. Both cameras, and that count prevent any (after the vote time closes) ballots stuffing from taking place.
And unlike our system, once the time for voting comes to an end, votes aren’t allowed to trickle in for days or weeks later. So they have same day results and their elections without tens of thousands of votes being slipped in secretly and with no accountability after the time for voting comes to an end.”
We asked Gill if he went to Ukraine and connected with the Ukrainians at all, if “getting one side of the story” is the issue he has with American media. His response was highly critical of Ukraine, which comes as no surprise to anyone following Gill’s social media:
“I didn’t observe things from the Ukrainian side. They were not having an election. So it wasn’t a matter of reporting on “both sides“ since there was no election on the other side. And the so-called “democracy” being run by President Zelenskyy has actually canceled their elections. If and when they ever have elections, I would hope that fair-minded truth telling journalist would actually observe and report their process as well.
And I would point out that the “Democracy” that we are supporting on the Ukrainian side has seen the president cancel opposition parties, close independent media, and left only state run media operating, gone after the Russian orthodox churches in the country, and cancel the elections unless American taxpayers pay for them.”
The claim of Ukraine not holding elections is true, but the reason is because Ukraine has declared martial law after being attacked by Russia unprovoked. As of June 2023 77% of Ukrainians supported Zelenskyy’s reelection. President Zelensky recently said elections could happen even under attack if the United States helped facilitate.
“And I’d be happy to report things from the Ukrainian side of the conflict, but since they have put out a “hit” on anybody who questions how the money we have provided has been spent, or who has traveled to report from the territory they once controlled. Their transgender American military spokesperson just got fired for threatening to punish those who witnessed the elections. But that was only done after senator JD Vance from Ohio question whether her job is being funded by American taxpayers, and whether the threats she was expressing, were authorized by the Ukrainian government.”
“Finally, I was talking to the residents of Donetsk and Mariupol, who have been residing in what has been called Ukraine for a long time. The overwhelming majority of people who live in these areas, speak Russian rather than Ukrainian; identify as Russian rather than Ukrainian; have been seeking their independence from Ukraine for over a dozen years without Western media reporting that conflict.”
“And by the way, an American born Chilean journalist has been jailed by Ukraine for daring to report, truthfully, from their side of the conflict battle lines and raising questions about their behavior. That is the “democracy“ that we are funding???
“On the Russian side, an American journalist from the Wall Street Journal has been arrested and alleged to have been spying when he was caught photographing munitions areas 240 miles from Moscow. I don’t know if he was spying or not, but the US media should be demanding the release of both journalists not just one.”
Gill is referring to Gonzalo Lira, a Chilean journalist in Kyiv when the invasion began who was highly critical of Ukraine they arrested for spreading what they called “pro-Russian propaganda” (upposedly Lira focused on giving dating and relationship advice under the pseudonym “Coach Red Pill”) and WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich, who Russia arrested on “spying charges”.
Finally, we asked Gill if Kline Preston was with him – a lawyer linked to Marsha Blackburn known to be very pro-Russia/Putin and who reportedly introduced Russian operatives to the NRA.
Gill said yes, Kline Preston was with him.
“Among Preston’s Russian clients and longtime friends is Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian politician who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. Torshin is under scrutiny for illegally channeling Russian funds to the National Rifle Association in an effort to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Preston first introduced Torshin to then-president of the NRA David Keene in 2011 and the pair attended the NRA’s annual convention in Nashville in 2015.”
It’s worth remembering Kline Preston wrote on his old website that he helped lead Marsha Blackburn for Congress, Inc. as recently as 2014 – and that Preston was pictured in the Tennessean with his Russian collectibles from his various trips. His twitter handle is @gittinpaid, and he has “Moscow” listed as one of his locations on his profile:
In general, Gill’s answers to our questions were very pro-Russia, and very negative towards President Zelensky and support for Ukraine in general. Gill says he has no ties to the Russian government itself, however we asked an expert on the region if just anyone could go to the Russian-controlled territories to be “election observers”.
“Even to go there you have to be well connected. Russians wouldn’t take a random person into a war zone.”