‘This never ends for me’
“I knew my life would never, ever, ever be the same,” said Eric Coomer, 50, in an interview with Yahoo Finance earlier this week.
The director of product strategy and security for Dominion Voting Systems—now on paid leave—Coomer was recalling a nationally televised press conference in mid-November when Trump Campaign lawyers Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell denounced him individually, by name, as having helped rig the 2020 presidential election.
In the most in-depth print interview he has given since going into hiding that month, Coomer describes below what it’s like to be public enemy No. 1 to the conspiracy theorists who falsely blame Trump’s election loss on voting-machine fraud.
Coomer’s ordeal began Nov. 9, when an obscure podcaster from Castle Pines, Colo., aired an account of an alleged “Antifa conference call” that the podcaster claimed to have “infiltrated” the previous September. The podcaster, Joe Oltmann, alleged that a man on the call, who was referred to as “Eric … the Dominion guy,” boasted of having rigged the election for Joe Biden. Oltmann accused Coomer of being that “Eric” and displayed Coomer’s photo during the video podcast. Oltmann has been raging against Coomer ever since.
“Eric Coomer, you are a traitor,” he wrote on Parler in mid-December. “We are coming for you and your s*** bag company.”
Oltmann’s sketchy, implausible, incendiary accusation was swiftly picked up by the right-wing blogosphere and then retweeted by President Trump on Nov. 18. The next day, Trump Campaign’s then-lawyers, Giuliani and Powell, propagated the accusation against Coomer to the whole nation.
On Dec. 22, Coomer filed a defamation suit in Denver state court, seeking unspecified damages, against Oltmann and 14 others, including the Trump Campaign; Giuliani; Powell; the One America News Network (OAN); OAN chief White House correspondent Chanel Rion; Newsmax Media; Newsmax contributor Michelle Malkin; The Gateway Pundit website; and radio and podcast host Eric Metaxas.
Most defendants, including Oltmann, have already moved to dismiss, citing either First Amendment protections or jurisdictional defenses, and the rest are expected to do the same soon.
“Oltmann felt an obligation to his country and in the public interest of election integrity . . . to inform his listeners of what he heard,” Oltmann’s attorney, Andrea Hall, wrote in her motion. “Because the issue here concerns matters of grave public concern, it enjoys a high degree of First Amendment protection.”
“We expect to defeat each of the . . . motions,” says Coomer’s attorney, Steve Skarnulis of Cain & Skarnulis in Austin, Tex., in an email. “This is a textbook case of media defamation.”
Coomer’s suit is distinct from four libel suits that Dominion, as a company, filed against Giuliani; Powell; Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow Inc.; and, just today, Fox News. Another voting-device maker, Smartmatic, separately sued Giuliani, Powell, Fox News, and three Fox anchors in February.
A crucial issue in Coomer’s suit will be whether he is a “public figure.” If the judge concludes that he is, the defendants will be entitled to strong First Amendment protections and can only be held liable if they made false statements with “actual malice.” If Coomer is a “private figure,” on the other hand, they could be held liable for false statements made with mere negligence.
“Eric is not a public figure,” his lawyer Skarnulis maintains in an email. “He was pulled into the public square by the very lies that are the basis of the lawsuit.”
Whatever happens with his suit, Coomer said in the interview, life will never return to normal.
“This never ends for me,” he said. “I’m always going to look over my shoulder.”
[Below is an edited transcript of a 90-minute phone interview that took place Monday.]
Roger Parloff: On Nov. 9, Joe Oltmann devoted a nearly two-hour episode of his Daily Conservative Podcast to you. [Oltmann, who runs a data business in Denver, is the founder of a political “movement,” called FEC United, to “defend the American Way of Life.” FEC has ties to a paramilitary group, the United American Defense Force, whose website FEC hosts on its own website.]
“Let’s not sugar coat this,” Oltmann said in the podcast. “We’re gonna expose someone inside Dominion Voting Systems specifically related to Antifa. . . . The conversation will be about a man named Eric Coomer,” he continued, displaying your photo. “C-O-O-M-E-R.”
Oltmann went on to claim that about nine weeks earlier he had infiltrated an Antifa conference call—listening in without others knowing of his presence. One participant introduced another as “Eric . . . the Dominion guy,” Oltmann said. Then someone asked, “What are we going to do if f***ing Trump wins.” To which “Eric” allegedly replied: “Don’t worry about the election, Trump is not going to win. I made f***ing sure of that. Hahahahaha.” (Oltmann admitted he didn’t record the call.)
After Googling “Eric” and “Dominion” and doing additional research, Oltmann drew the inference that “Eric” was you.
So, first: Were you ever on an Antifa phone call?
Eric Coomer: I’ve never gotten on a phone call with anybody purportedly from Antifa ever about anything. I’ve never participated in a phone call about any kind of political action or demonstration. I have never—even joking to friends, family, or loved ones—made a statement that I could affect an election. It’s been something wholly sacred. I take my job extremely seriously.
How did you first hear about this?
I was working at a customer site out-of-state. [Prior to the incident, Coomer lived in a “small, mountain town” in Colorado.] I got a panicked email from a colleague. I had done a panel discussion and somebody left a threatening comment under the video.
So I clicked on the profile of the guy that left the threat. And this person has their own little YouTube channel. And he made some statements which tracked back to Oltmann’s podcast.
To say that that was terrifying is an understatement. Knowing what I do about the disinformation echo chamber, I was immediately concerned. From that point on, every day I woke up in a panic.
Do you have a family?
I am not necessarily single, but I’m not married, and I don’t have kids. I have brothers and parents.
I have two cats. I had a friend that was house sitting. I immediately phoned her and told her to get out of the house. Because the threats were almost immediate. Certainly by the morning of Nov. 10.
What kind of threats?
At first they were coming to my email and general email boxes at Dominion. And a tremendous amount of online threat activity. People posting: “Hang him.” “Decapitate him.” “Hunt him down.” I think it took a week before they got my cell number [and then I got] text messages.
A couple other things came up in Oltmann’s first broadcast. He said he had gained access to your Facebook page, even though your settings were on “private.” He said he found things there that corroborated the notion that “Eric” of the alleged Antifa conference call was you.
He mentioned, for instance, some extremely negative comments about Trump that he said you posted in September and October 2016. [One post said: “If you are planning to vote for that autocratic, narcissistic, fascist, a**hat blowhard . . . UNFRIEND ME NOW!” It added, “Only an absolute F***ING IDIOT could ever vote for that wind-bag, f***tard, FASCIST, RACIST F***!”]
Then, shortly after George Floyd died in police custody in late May 2020, you posted links to some old, but controversial, music videos. These included Body Count’s “Cop Killer” from 1992 and the Scottish punk songs “Pigs for Slaughter” and “F*** the USA” from the 1980s.
And he also said you had reposted an “Antifa Manifesto.”
So let’s start with the real obvious. I made several postings on Facebook over the years expressing a personal socio-political viewpoint. My Facebook page has always been private. Mr. Oltmann has been cagey about how he got access to it. He claims it was legally obtained.
Regardless, what it comes down to is: If you’re going to cast a vote a certain way, I just don’t need to be Facebook friends with you. I’m not quite sure where that’s corroboration for trying to pull off the most serious crime in U.S. history.
Regarding what some people call “the Antifa manifesto”: I think we can all agree that there is no such organization as Antifa. The day that was posted was the same day that the [then-]president was claiming that he was going to designate that as a terrorist organization. And I found somebody that had posted this thing, which was obviously, self-referentially, a joke, because even within this quote unquote manifesto it says that the person that wrote it has no ability or authority to write it because the organization itself doesn’t exist.
Most people I know share my sarcastic wit and got the parody of that message.
Let’s flash back briefly. Where did you grow up?
I was a military brat. Born in Arizona. I’ve lived in New York and outside of DC. I graduated from a public high school in Detroit.
[In 1992, he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., with a degree in engineering physics. In 1997, he got his Ph.D. from the nuclear engineering department of the University of California, Berkeley, where his dissertation related to trying to make nuclear fusion a viable energy source.]
How do you get from nuclear physics to voting?
After nine years, I just decided that academia was maybe not the best fit for me. [He began working in database design and software development. In 2005 he took a contract database development job with Sequoia Voting Systems.]
[At first he thought to himself:] How much more simple can it be? People fill in a ballot and you count the votes? Simple, Right?
But it’s not simple at all. Because voting, by definition, is anonymous. That’s what I’ve always found fascinating about this job is: How do we increase the security and the transparency and auditability while still maintaining that fundamental anonymity of the vote? That’s the whole crux of this job.
I absolutely fell in love with it. Within about six months, I was given the chief software architect role. By 2008 or 2009, I became vice president of software and hardware development.
Then, in 2010, Dominion buys Sequoia.
Yes. And in late 2013, I migrated into the director of product strategy and security. You look at a system, you see problems. Here’s a product that’s going to make your system not only faster and more efficient, but more transparent, auditable, and secure.
Let’s return to 2020. On Friday, Nov. 13, The Gateway Pundit picks up Oltmann’s story. That same day, Michelle Malkin interviews Oltmann on her YouTube channel. There Oltmann urges you to blow the whistle on your superiors. “That might lessen the opportunity for you to get the death penalty,” Oltmann says, “because frankly, I think that treason is punishable by death.”
What’s your life like at this point?
Now Dominion has hired a third-party security team. And these people are telling me that I may never be able to return home.
On Nov. 17, Newsmax carries a report about you. Also, OAN’s Chanel Rion tweets your name, photo, and the alleged money line: “Trump is not going to win. I made f***ing sure of that.” Then Eric Trump does the same. And the next day President Trump retweets Chanel Rion’s tweet to his 88 million followers.
Yeah, I’m still off-site then. I’m still trying to actually work for one of our larger customers. And the security guys are telling me that I may not be able to even walk from my hotel to the office.
We’re now starting to have discussions of: How do we keep you employed? Your career is dead.
The final nail was a couple days off. The tweets were one thing. But on Nov. 19, it’s the absolute craziest of press conferences with [Rudolph] Giuliani and [Sidney] Powell, where they both refer to me by name.
Yes, this was an official Trump Campaign event. Giuliani talked about “the Coomer character who is close to Antifa,” and called you a “vicious, vicious man” who “specifically” vowed “to fix this election.” Powell said “Eric Coomer . . . is on the web as being recorded in a conversation with Antifa members saying that he had the election rigged for Mr. Biden.” (Again, Oltmann had admitted he didn’t record the alleged call.)
Were you listening to this live?
Yeah. I was real close to actually vomiting. You know, that moment when you feel like you’ve got to wake up because this is a nightmare. This can’t be reality.
I mean, I’m nobody. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have the capability of affecting the equipment. I don’t touch the equipment. State and county officials, they take that equipment. They run the elections. There’s so many layers upon layers upon layers in this system. I simply come up with a conceptual design for new innovative products that actually make voting more secure and more transparent and suddenly I’m the one pulling all the levers.
I chain-smoked about a pack of cigarettes in about 10 minutes when that hit. I knew my life would never, ever, ever be the same. I worried whether I was going to have a paycheck. I worried for my family’s safety. I worried that I was going to get shot.
Is that when you went on leave?
The following day. And we’ve been in that waiting state since then. But I will not be returning to my job,
I will never work in elections. That’s not my choice. I have lots of colleagues—whether it’s with consulting firms or state and county officials—and all of them have expressed sadness and empathy, that something that I was so good at, I will never be able to do again.
Is Dominion standing by you?
Absolutely. They have done everything in their power to provide their support.
Powell goes on Fox Business’s “Mornings with Maria” (Bartiromo) on Nov. 20 and says “We’ve got Eric Coomer admitting on tape that he rigged the election. We have pictures of him in other countries, helping people rig elections. . . . And I’m sure that it’s for money.”
Yeah, I’ve been accused of having offshore bank accounts in shell companies. I don’t have any foreign bank accounts. I don’t own any stock in Dominion. I’m finding it hard to pay bills right now.
On Dec. 6, Oltmann posts a picture of what he says is your house. And then on Dec. 14—the deadline for states to certify election results—he says on Parler: “They certify this election and we go to war now. . . . It’s time we fight. And when I mean fight, I don’t mean yelling it’s not fair. I mean we fight these communist, Marxist lying s*** bags. That means Eric Coomer never has peace. . . . Eric Coomer, you are a traitor. We are coming for you and your s*** bag company.”
Yeah, he posted pictures of my house multiple times. Information about both of my brothers. About my father.
Nobody in my family opens windows any more. Shades are drawn. Every person in my immediate family has been affected by this emotionally and physically.
Let me ask this. I understand we all have political views and say things in private. But in retrospect, do you regret saying those things on Facebook? Do you regret taking Facebook’s privacy settings as sufficient protection?
Well, that’s a real interesting question. I do not regret any opinions that I have expressed. I stand by them.
Do I wish that this didn’t happen? Absolutely. Every single day.
Do I bear some guilt that a company that I really believe in is now facing the scrutiny that they are and losing business? Absolutely.
Do I think that I’m responsible? No. Because I’m fodder. They were coming after Dominion long before they knew about me.
And I want to make this point. This was clearly orchestrated disinformation. It was initially about overturning the legitimacy of a free and fair election. But—this is my opinion—that wasn’t the only goal, as evidenced by the amazing, horrific amount of state laws that are now being passed with the explicit goal of disenfranchising people’s right to vote.
When I say people, I mean people of color. Of impoverished backgrounds. It is an avalanche. It is disgusting to me. Nonexistent evidence of fraud is being cited on statehouse floors to enact draconian legislation to make it harder for people to vote.
My job was to create systems that make it easier and more efficient for voters to cast their vote. That is under direct threat. That’s the biggest travesty of all of this.
How do you get out of this, Eric? How does this end for you?
I don’t think it does. This never ends for me. I’m not going to have a moment’s peace. I’m always going to look over my shoulder.
This never ends.
Roger Parloff is a regular contributor to Yahoo Finance and has also been published in Yahoo News, The New York Times, ProPublica, New York Magazine, and NewYorker.com, among others. He was formerly an editor-at-large at Fortune Magazine.
More from Roger:
The wild ride that made Rudy Giuliani, ‘Kraken’ lawyer Sidney Powell, and Fox News targets in the mother of all defamation cases
Nikola’s Trevor Milton left a trail of bitterness on his way to founding the electric car startup
WeWork v. SoftBank: A $3 billion battle involving two ailing companies that were on top of the world 9 months ago
Amazon’s lawsuit over a $10 billion Pentagon contract lays out disturbing allegations against Trump
Behind the Big Tech antitrust backlash: A turning point for America
Jack Dorsey: The enigmatic CEO who could save — or break — Western Democracy
Exclusive: Facebook ex-security chief: How ‘hypertargeting’ threatens democracy