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Trump Critics Push Conspiracy Theories About Postal Service Mailboxes

  • Celebrities and other prominent Trump critics have pushed conspiracy theories that the Trump administration is locking up or removing mail collection boxes from around the country in order to hamper the mail-in voting system. 
  • The allegations do not hold up under scrutiny, as the U.S. Postal Service has for years put locks on some of its mail collection boxes to ward off thieves. Boxes are routinely replaced or removed due to low mail volume.  
  • The U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general reported in 2016 that more than 12,000 mailboxes had been removed in the five previous years due to low mail volume.

Anti-Trump celebrities and prominent Democrats are circulating conspiracy theories that the Trump administration is tampering with U.S. Postal Service collection boxes to suppress the vote ahead of the November election, though most of the allegations do not hold up under scrutiny.

From former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill to actress Alyssa Milano to former NBA player Rex Chapman, Trump critics have pushed photos supporting two broad categories of conspiracy theories: that the USPS is putting locks on many of its iconic blue collection boxes, and that the agency is removing boxes from cities across the country in order to delay the collection of mail-in ballots for the November election.

President Donald Trump helped stoke some of the conspiracy theories through his comments in a Fox News interview last week when he said he wanted to withhold funding from the Postal Service so that it couldn’t be used for mail-in voting. Trump has openly criticized mail-in voting, saying that it is ripe for fraud.

“They want three and a half billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said Thursday.

Though there is no evidence that Trump has ordered USPS mailboxes locked or removed in order to stifle mail-in voting, many Democrats and Trump critics have shared photos circulating online to explain what they say is a plot to undermine the postal service.

Rex Chapman, who played for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and has developed a large Twitter following, circulated perhaps the flimsiest of the viral conspiracy theories.

“In your entire life have you ever seen a LOCKED mailbox at the USPS?” Chapman tweeted on Sunday with a photo of collection boxes in Burbank, Calif.

“A disgrace and immediate threat to American democracy. Shame on them. Shame on the GOP.”

But contrary to Chapman’s claim, USPS has for years locked mailboxes in some areas to ward off thieves.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported in April 2016 that collection boxes in the San Fernando Valley would be fixed with locks due to a growing number of thefts.

“We do this where we have had incidents, or there is a problem where the box may be out in a not very well lit public place. The boxes have been retrofitted all over Southern California,” Richard J. Maher, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, told the Daily News at the time.

The ABC News affiliate for the Los Angeles area reported on Monday that a USPS employee said that mailboxes outside of post offices are typically locked to prevent vandalism on days when the facilities are closed.

The locked mailboxes are also accessible from the other side, according to ABC 7.

Other cities, including New York City, have retrofitted collection boxes to prevent thefts.

NY1, a New York City media outlet, reported in January 2019 that “anti-fishing” mailboxes would be installed across the city.

“The plan is to replace all the boxes across the city, all five boroughs. … You will have the new, high security mailboxes, the Cadillac of mailboxes,” Donna Harris, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, told NY1.

An inspector with the New York Police Department explained how thieves stole from mailboxes.

“They take a string and a bottle; they can take a glue trap, a mouse trap, a rat trap and they drop it in and pull mail out of the mailbox,” Jessica E. Corey, the Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s Crime Prevention Division, told NY1 last year.

“They can take that check out of the mailbox and then they can do something called check washing where they take all the information you have on the check and erase it and they can put their own information on and cash it,” Corey said.

Chapman is not the only high-profile figure suggesting that the Trump administration is locking down collection boxes for political purposes.

Former Sen. Claire McCaskill, an MSNBC analyst, circulated a photo on Monday of a locked collection box that she claimed was in Washington, D.C.

“So now they are not hauling them off, just locking them up,” wrote McCaskill. “This one is in DC.”

The photo was actually taken in Seattle in front of a post office in the city’s Capitol Hill district, according to a tweet.

Another image that went viral with the help of celebrities shows dozens of mailboxes stacked up in what appears to be a large junkyard in Wisconsin.

Actress Alyssa Milano, former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, sports anchor Rich Eisen and Daniel Goldman, the lead investigator for the Democrats’ impeachment of President Trump, have all suggested that the image is evidence that the Trump administration is suppressing votes.

But as with the images of locked collection boxes, the viral photo also seems to have an innocuous explanation.

Photojournalist Gary He noted in a lengthy Twitter thread that the photos were taken at Hartford Finishing Inc., a powder finishing company in Wisconsin.

The journalist reported that he spoke to someone at Hartford Finishing who said that the company has handled contracts for USPS for years.

Hartford Finishing did not return The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment, but the company’s Facebook account shows a post from July 4, 2017, of an employee refurbishing a USPS collection box.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the most prominent Democrat to tout the unfounded theory of voter-suppression-by-mail.

“I was joking earlier with a couple on the call. I wonder if you’re outside trying to hold down your mailboxes. They’re going around literally with tractor-trailers picking up mailboxes,” Biden said at a fundraiser on Friday, according to The Washington Post. “You oughta go online and check out what they’re doing in Oregon. I mean, it’s bizarre!”

The Democratic presidential hopeful was referring to viral photos of a truck in Portland toting several USPS collection boxes. A USPS spokesperson said last week that collections boxes were being removed due to declining mail volume, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic. The postal service said on Friday that it would stop collecting the boxes in 16 Western states because of the allegations that the removals were related to mail-in voting.

The USPS inspector general noted in a blog post on Sept. 21, 2016, during the Obama-Biden administration, that 12,000 underused mailboxes had been removed over the previous five years.

“As part of its efforts to keep its collection infrastructure proportionate to customers’ needs at a reasonable cost, the Postal Service has eliminated underused collection boxes that on average receive fewer than 25 pieces a day; it has also added collection boxes where they are convenient for customers,” the blog post said.

USPS did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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