By Reality Check team and BBC Monitoring
BBC NewsPublished28 November 2020


The Kraken is a gigantic sea monster from Scandinavian folklore that rises up from the ocean to devour its enemies.

It’s also become an internet meme representing a sprawling, unsubstantiated set of claims that purport to outline the case for widespread fraud in the US presidential election.

Pro-Trump groups including QAnon conspiracy theorists have amplified the idea under the hashtag #ReleaseTheKraken, and it’s being widely shared by those supporting the legal campaign to challenge the election results.

The ‘Kraken’ lawyer

Lawyer Sidney Powell – who was until recently part of Donald Trump’s legal team and is now acting independently – has described the case she was mounting as a “Kraken” that, when released, would destroy the case for Democrat Joe Biden having won the US presidency.

Sidney Powell
Image caption,Ms Powell has claimed Joe Biden won the election because of “communist money”

However, once the documents, almost 200 pages of them, were released, it became clear they consisted predominantly of conspiracy theories and unfounded allegations that have already been widely debunked.

Some of these claims have already been rejected in court cases, while others – such as accusations that voting machines are part of a plot originating under former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez – are not backed up with any credible evidence.

Ms Powell did not respond to a BBC request for comment.

The conspiracy theorists

Ms Powell is closely followed by supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who believe President Trump is secretly battling a deep state cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles in the Democratic Party, media, business and Hollywood.

Many in the movement remain convinced that President Trump will be inaugurated for a second term on 20 January, even though he lost the election.

From appearing on well-known QAnon-related online shows, to engaging with and retweeting QAnon influencers or using QAnon phrases in her tweets, Ms Powell has cemented her position as a favourite among its adherents.

Release the Kraken
Image caption,A “release the Kraken” sign pictured at a protest in Berlin, Germany, over coronavirus restrictions

Her reputation within the QAnon world has been enhanced by her connection to Michael Flynn – President Trump’s first national security adviser, and another key figure among QAnon supporters.

Ms Powell took over as Mr Flynn’s defence lawyer after he was convicted during a justice department inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, urging him to withdraw his guilty plea. Mr Flynn was pardoned by the president this week.

Some QAnon followers believe Mr Flynn is directly involved in Mr Trump’s secret battle against the deep state.

Both Ms Powell and Mr Flynn have denied any involvement with the QAnon movement.

The ‘Kraken’ spreaders

Social media conversation about the Kraken is as polarised as the current state of US politics.

Many posts appear to be from QAnon and Trump supporters, confident that the documents released by Ms Powell are proof of massive election fraud, while opponents have mocked them for poor spelling and a lack of concrete evidence.

On Twitter, there have been nearly 100,000 tweets referencing Kraken in the last 48 hours. BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. View original tweet on Twitter

According to public data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool, there have been just over a million interactions involving the word Kraken since Wednesday evening. BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original post on Facebook

What’s in the documents?

The documents include many inaccurate or unfounded election fraud claims we’ve fact-checked previously.

They also make further, more far-fetched claims about the voting machines used in key states.

Ms Powell says the Dominion voting machine software used in Michigan and Georgia allows “computerised ballot-stuffing”, and the machines were accessed by foreign agents to manipulate results in the US election.

There is no evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 US election, or votes being flipped.

There was an issue identified in one county in Michigan, but this was put down to human error and not a problem with the Dominion software. Election officials say the mistake was quickly spotted and corrected.

Ms Powell also says the Dominion software doesn’t allow “a simple audit to reveal its misallocation, redistribution, or deletion of votes” – so the evidence is now “rendered virtually invisible”.

But Dominion machines provide a paper ballot back-up to verify results, and Georgia conducted a hand recount of ballots which confirmed Joe Biden as the winner.

Dominion voting machines
Image caption,Dominion software was widely used in the US election

Dan Wallach, a computer scientist who acts as an adviser on national guidelines for voting machines, says: “With the newer machines that generate paper ballots – including the ones used in Georgia – any sort of computerised ballot stuffing would necessarily involve misprinting those paper ballots, which would be certain to be discovered while the election was ongoing.”

Dominion Voting Systems have denied their machines were in any way compromised.

What happens next?

Legal experts say the lawsuits are unlikely to get very far as they include numerous assertions without citing any convincing evidence.

One of the key pieces of new evidence is provided in a sworn statement by a “Dominion whistleblower”, but their name is hidden.

Legal experts have pointed out that if a witness is put forward, their testimony needs to be challenged, which can’t effectively be done if their identity is concealed.

Lawyer Mike Dunford, said: “If your witness needs to remain hidden due to legitimate concerns for safety, there are ways that can happen. But those ways do not include hiding their identity from the court and the other side’s lawyers.”

We have contacted the Secretaries of State in Georgia and Michigan for their response to Sidney Powell’s lawsuits, but are yet to hear back.

The US government cyber-security agency has said the 2020 US election was the “most secure in American history”.

Reporting by Shayan Sardarizadeh, Jake Horton, Chris Giles and Alistair Coleman

The Kraken: What is it and why has Trump’s ex-lawyer released it? – BBC News