Election Interference
by Secretary of State?

"Unofficial Endorsements" & Unlawful Censorship

Chase Matheson - July 3, 2024
Secretary of State Tre Hargett is at it again. 
You may remember in 2022 the Patriot Punk Network released a recorded zoom call between Tre Hargett and the Chamber of Commerce. During this phone call Secretary Hargett had to choose what he said carefully so as to be able to endorse State Senator Jack Johnson without "officially" endorsing him--as to do so would be unlawful.
Jack Johnson at the time was in a very tight race with the founder of the pro-freedom group Tennessee Stands, Gary Humble. Ultimately Johnson won the race and is now serving as the State Senator once again over Williamson County.

Today, we discovered Secretary Hargett is not just a one-trick pony. This time, his potential endorsement comes in the form of obvious 1st Amendment violations perpetrated on multiple Facebook posts bragging about Senator Ferrell Haile (nicknamed by some "Big Pharma Ferrell"). These posts are on the official Tennessee Secretary of State Facebook page.

small sampling of tn sos facebook posts


Incumbent State Senator Ferrell Haile is being challenged in the upcoming Republican Primary by Chris Spencer, who has obtained endorsements from several major political influencers such as John Rich, Riley Gaines and General Michael Flynn.

Spencer said in a recent podcast with the Patriot Punk Network that Haile and several groups supporting him are terrified of Spencer winning the August Primary, and claims they are pulling out all the stops.

We suspect the 1st Amendment violations we have uncovered are yet another one of these stunts.

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So What Happened?

Secretary of State Tre Hargett often promotes incumbent politicians on his Government page in the form of photo-ops centering around local awards and grants. Today there were multiple posts featuring photo-ops with Senator Ferrell Haile. One of today's posts showed that 12 comments had been left on the post, but further inspection shows that only 1 of the comments was visible to us. (We suspect Tre probably has not had the time to check his notifications and hide that comment yet).

To insure we were not blocked by the commenters, we verified with 3 other accounts with ALMOST the same results--with only 1 exception (more on that in a second). To make sure this wasn't a one-off occurrence, I scrolled through a few more posts on Mr. Hargett's page. Just 4 days prior he had shared yet another post where Ferrell Haile was mentioned favorably. This post showed 6 comments at the time of writing this article, but ZERO were visible to us or the other accounts we checked from.
screenshot from one of the posts in question
Some may argue that the hidden comments are "spam" or "phishing links" worthy of deletion. Though this theory seems genuine and well-intentioned, if Secretary Hargett's Office had lawful reasons to remove the comments they would have needed to provide due process to those accounts and would have likely deleted them, not just hidden them. 

Through our back channel network of unrelated accounts we have been able to identify at least one commenter who had their comments hidden. Luckily one of the alternate accounts used in our verification is "Facebook friends" with the person who commented. This person was not given due process or even notified in any way that their comment was "hidden." When a page "hides" a comment the comment will still appear visible to the commenter and their Facebook friends and followers, but it will be invisible to everyone else--essentially silencing their viewpoints.
the commment section of previous screengrab
In an effort to keep the Secretary of State's Office accountable should legal action be necessary, we are withholding the identity of this individual at this time. 
The individual is a real person operating an account under their real name. Their comment was a post alleging corruption within government. 
Though we have been unable to identify the other 16+ hidden comments (on just 2 posts) or the people who posted them, we can attest at least ONE of them was a genuine comment from a real person. We also assume that none of the others whose comments were hidden were given any due process prior to their voices being silenced. (story continued below)
According to the recent Supreme Court decision Lindke v Freed, government officials can be held liable for censoring people on their social media pages, provided that the page operator (Tre Hargett) is authorized to speak on behalf of that office. According to the page itself, the page is the official page for the Secretary of State. Similarly relevant, we all know Mr. Hargett is authorized to speak on behalf of that office--he does so almost daily. 

To clarify if this would count as actionable violations of the 1st Amendment, we reached out to Kevin Lindke--Plaintiff in the recent SCOTUS ruling Lindke v Freed to get his insights. 

“Public officials would be well-advised to strictly adhere to the ruling in my recent SCOTUS case. Blocking constituents, or deleting/hiding comments is a sure-fire way to find oneself a named defendant in a 1983 action.” said Lindke.
It's plainly obvious that the Secretary of State is hiding comments. He has been caught red-handed. We know at least some of the comments centered around potential government misconduct. The question is, were any of these comments negative about incumbent State Senator Haile? If so, is that unlawful election interference?

Such actions should not surprise us. Not only do we have the Jack Johnson Zoom call to show a pattern, but just last month Secretary Hargett was keynote speaker at an event in Rutherford County. Josh Rosales, who is the chapter leader for the group promoting the event, was recently caught by the Patriot Punk Network lying about what district he was voting in, on-camera, while helping another liberal-backed candidate win a school board primary.

In 2021 it was alleged Hargett turned a blind eye to potential malfeasance regarding Mark Goins and ES&S voting systems. A summary of those allegations collected by the Patriot Punk Network can be found here.

 Most recently he demonstrated his inability to give a straight answer when asked tough questions regarding other matters of election integrity, including the lack of verifiable checks and balances on electronic voting machine counts.

Closing Thoughts:

In today's unstable political atmosphere government officials should NOT be censoring lawful comments in a public forum. That's not my opinion, but the UNANIMOUS DECISION of the highest court in the land. It is our opinion that to do so will ALWAYS have a negative effect on civil discourse and discernment in the community. 

For the Secretary of State's Office to do such a thing, in an election year no-less, could certainly have an effect on outcomes--especially when one candidate is getting what we will call "unofficial endorsements" from that same office just days before early voting is set to begin. 

We have reached out to Tre Hargett's Office via the comments, but have not received a response at the time of this publication. We encourage you to watch THIS VIDEO from O'Keefe Media Group exposing how the "unofficial campaigning" is done on a federal level. Then, take a look at the Tennessee Secretary of State Facebook page