The self-proclaimed Cyber Ninjas behind the hoax “audit” of the 2020 election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County are scattering to the winds following a string of humiliating defeats. In what looks very much like a desperate gambit to evade $50,000 daily penalties for disobeying a court order, the firm now claims it has disbanded and all staff have been fired.
“Cyber Ninjas is shutting down. All employees have been let go,” a representative for the political firm, Rod Thomson, told NBC News via text message on Thursday. In a subsequent statement to CNN, Thomson blamed “$2 million debt from the Arizona audit and endless legal and character attacks on the company by those who opposed the audit.”
Cyber Ninjas was virtually unknown before last year. That’s when members of the GOP delegation to the Arizona Senate who were seeking to capitalize on conspiracy theories that Donald Trump only lost the 2020 elections due to massive voter fraud contracted the company to audit ballots in populous Maricopa County. The effort was pointless—Republicans were essentially trying to retroactively wish a sinister plot into existence, and the vote count was already certified.
But Cyber Ninjas, run by a QAnon and “Stop the Steal” aficionado named Doug Logan, bravely moved forward regardless, pursuing any leads, no matter how ludicrous. They and an army of partisan, untrained volunteers scanned ballots for nonexistent UV watermarks signifying fraud, looked at them under microscopes searching for nefarious Chinese bamboo, and searched for “kinematic markers” proving... something. In the process, they reportedly wasted around $9 million, including state funds and a reported $5.7 million from donors. The company’s final report ultimately re-affirmed Joe Biden won Maricopa County but listed 77 issues it insisted remain suspicious.
Local election officials released a report this week finding that 76 of those allegations were mistakes or misunderstandings resulting from Cyber Ninja’s incompetence and failure to understand Arizona election law, or otherwise appeared to be completely fabricated. That rebuttal was released as Cyber Ninjas faced the promise of $50,000 daily fines in a lawsuit brought by the Arizona Republic newspaper, which is trying to force the company to release internal text messages, emails, and other records about the audit. Cyber Ninjas has continued to insist that as a private company it is not subject to public records law and does not need to need to release anything, even though the court has already handed down an order demanding they do so.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported, a very fed-up Maricopa Superior Court Judge John Hannah ordered Cyber Ninjas to immediately release the records or pay $50,000 in fines daily, saying: “It is lucidly clear on this record that Cyber Ninjas has disregarded that order.”
Cyber Ninjas was apparently under the impression that dissolving itself is a clever trick that will allow it to continue to evade the records requests. A lawyer for the company, Jack Wilenchik, told the Post that since no staff are left, it can no longer search those records. According to the Associated Press, Hannah said that argument won’t work, as he has seen no evidence Cyber Ninjas is actually out of money and the company could simply forward the records for Senate legislative lawyers to sort through.
“The court is not going to accept the assertion that Cyber Ninjas is an empty shell and that no one is responsible for seeing that it complies,” Hannah said, adding he is prepared to start applying the fines to individuals associated with Cyber Ninjas if the company remains intransigent.
It’s not even clear how many employees Cyber Ninjas actually had in the first place, let alone how many were fired this week. As of Friday afternoon, just three individuals are listed as employees on the company’s LinkedIn page, while only a handful of other profiles list past work there. CNN has previously reported that there is little evidence the firm employs anyone but Logan. The company’s automated voice messaging system directed all calls to its departments of sales, purchasing, and human resources to Logan’s voice mailbox, as well as the line for general inquiries. CNN also found that the address listed for its legal department is a rented mailbox in Sarasota, Florida, where Logan resides. Logan has claimed to be over $2 million in debt, despite paying off a $455,000 mortgage last year and receiving forgiveness for a $100,000 federal pandemic loan.
Wilenchik, who in theory should be the last person still technically being paid by the company, isn’t. According to the AP, he has asked the court to let him quit the case because Cyber Ninjas hasn’t paid their legal bills.
A request for comment submitted by Gizmodo via Cyber Ninja’s online contact form wasn’t returned. We’ll update this piece if we hear back. (Gizmodo is also aware that ninjas are a completely different thing than ronin, who were basically freelance samurai during the Japanese feudal period, but feel free to complain in the comments below.)