Jessica Stackpoole – single mother, laid-off airport worker – was in her Downriver home one evening in early December last year when her phone started blowing up.
“Is that Jesus Jugs?” one of her friends asked about a remarkable hearing going on at that moment in the Michigan House Oversight Committee. It was lighting up social media, with one witness in particular drawing hoots across Twitter. Testifying next to Rudy Giuliani was Mellissa Carone, a woman with a long and ugly history with Stackpoole (hence the derisive nickname), about to become a Sarah Palin-like overnight sensation, complete with signature glasses and the former Alaska governor’s messy updo.
Unlike other witnesses at that strange hearing, Carone didn’t fade into the woodwork after her testimony, which alleged a level of election fraud at the TCF Center in November that is not, in any way, supported by evidence. With her slurry delivery and strong vocal fry, she became an instant meme with its own catch phrase: When Republican Rep. Steven Johnson tried to point out that her story about multiple scans of ballots were not reflected in poll books, she drawled, “What’d you guys do, take it and do something crazy to it?”
In the manner of sudden fame that’s become common in the U.S., Carone took her moment in the spotlight and used it to leverage more of them; she spoke at a Trump rally in Washington and appeared on Fox News and other far-right media outlets. She was parodied by Cecily Strong on “Saturday Night Live.” She was sent a cease-and-desist letter by Dominion Voting Systems.
Now it’s a little more than two months later. And just as Palin upended American politics, this streaking comet of misinformation could do the same thing here. Mellissa Carone has filed paperwork to run for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Carone, who was living in Grosse Pointe Woods, is planning a move to Lake Orion, and intends to run in the 46th District Republican primary in northern Oakland County. The Grosse Pointe state House districts are safely Democratic, but Carone said her move has nothing to do with district-shopping, that she has intended to relocate to Lake Orion for some time. Conveniently, the 46th District’s current representative, John Reilly, is term-limited in 2022, when the race would be held.
No one knows what the district boundaries will look like when redistricting is over, but Carone says she isn’t worried: “District 46 will still remain,” she said, which is true, although whether the house she has yet to buy will be located there remains to be seen.
All of which makes Carone seem like a long shot, even a joke. And while some are taking her that way, others aren’t.
She was interviewed, respectfully, on the MIRS News Service podcast, about as staid and traditional as Lansing media gets. She was a featured speaker at a Macomb County Republican Party meeting in early February. While Carone was on the phone with a Deadline Detroit reporter as she shopped in a Livonia Kroger store, others approached her and called her a warrior for truth.
Remember, people laughed at Donald Trump, right up until he stole the GOP nomination from under their noses.
Carone can’t call upon Trump’s main appeal to many Republicans -- his oft-cited business success. Carone has a verifiable police record, a job history that includes stripping, and a very public spat, involving multiple sex tapes, with the aforementioned Jessica Stackpoole. Carone waves all this away; “everyone has a past,” she wrote in an email to Deadline Detroit.
She also has something else, which caught many eyes when she filed papers of her intention to run for the House -- a bank in McLean, Va., which suggests she has backing from outside Michigan. In fact, Carone has teased “some very, very big names” who are supporting her. Giuliani is one, but she won’t reveal the rest. Or why she has an official campaign-committee depository in the D.C. metro area.
A Trumpian platform
She is running, she said in those emails, on a platform of election integrity. As she wrote: “I will be pushing to go back to in person voting, no more mail-in ballots. I will be eliminating Dominion completely, going back to hand counting our ballots and also integrating voter ID here in Michigan.”
A well-informed voter would know we already have voter ID in Michigan; that mail-in, or absentee, ballots have always been a part of voting here and in fact were added to the state Constitution with Proposal 3 of 2018; and that hand-counting more than 5 million ballots in a state this size is not practical, and probably less secure than putting them through tabulators. Also, that running elections is the job of the Secretary of State and local city clerks, and one legislator can’t “eliminate” a vendor.
In her MIRS podcast interview, she said her campaign manager was Ben Wetmore, a staffer for freshman Rep. Matt Maddock. Wetmore, contacted by Deadline Detroit, said he is no such thing, but he did “answer questions” for her about the process of running.
What else is on her platform? Carone wrote:
“I am going to push to get God back in our public school system, having our children saying the pledge of allegiance and eliminating gender studies. I will fight for our first amendment rights and stopping this censorship of conservative views. I will be making sure this vaccine and all vaccines stay optional to the American people and are not forced upon anyone. I am against pushing for a digital currency, we must keep our cash. I will be standing up for our second amendment rights and making sure we keep our firearms and aren’t taxed for owning them. I am pro-life. I would work with the SOS and other state reps to get these policies pushed through (in) the correct (manner).”
Pretty much far-right boilerplate, sprinkled with now-common triggers about “censorship,” forced vaccination and guns. On one of Carone’s two Facebook pages, there are notes that in January, she became a member of the National Rifle Association and the state and local chapters of Right to Life, so she’s covering the bases.
What do facts matter?
Bill Ballenger is a frequently cited source in overviews of Michigan politics. A former Republican legislator (both chambers), he’s been a public servant in state and federal agencies, in and out of government for decades. Now 79, he can offer this observation of Carone: He’s never seen anyone like her.
“Even though I have a lot of historical knowledge of people who came out of nowhere, I’ve never seen it happen so fast,” he said. And get ready for more like her.
“I think the angle is, this is overnight, this is a rocket ship to fame on steroids,” Ballenger said. “We were shocked by the ascent of Sarah Palin in 2008. Well, get ready folks. In two years she may have slipped into oblivion. On the other hand, maybe not.”
Yes, maybe not. There are so many ways to work a fame hustle these days. Carone could be the Michigan equivalent of the cash-me-outside girl, Danielle Bregoli, who took one phrase -- one! -- and flipped it into a career as a rapper. (Bhad Bhabie, 17 million Instagram followers. You could Google it.) Is it so hard to believe a candidate with a story many people desperately want to believe could get elected to the legislature?
About that story. It’s untrue. As Rep. Johnson pointed out in that hearing, it is impossible for what Carone described at the TCF Center -- multiple lots of ballots being scanned over and over, presumably running up a lopsided lead for Joe Biden -- to reconcile with what the poll books showed. Poll books indicate how many people showed up to vote in a given precinct or counting board. The number of ballots submitted should be the same as the number who voted, i.e., balanced. There were some precincts that had small discrepancies, but in November the total number of imbalances, across the city, amounted to fewer than 500 votes among 250,138 cast, not enough to influence a single race.
Carone, again, waves this away, although in all caps in her email: YES I AM STICKING TO MY STORY. She offers a stew of misinformation familiar to anyone familiar with Breitbart, One America News and Newsmax: “My testimony that I have been publicly stating since election night are facts, not what I ‘think’ I saw. There’s been hundreds of affidavits submitted and several stating they witnessed the same type of fraud occurring. OAN just released the Detroit camera footage from November 3-4 showing the truck pull up full of ballots (150,000 to be exact) also I worked with Mike Lindell, Dr. Shiva, Javan Pulitzer, Matt DePernio, Patrick Colbeck and others this past weekend on a documentary that will be coming out tomorrow and playing for 24 hours straight on OAN about these Dominion machines and exactly how they stole this election, who was involved and why. This is going to be huge and it’s solid proof that Biden did not win this election, it was stolen by Dominion and countless acts of fraud.”
No, it wasn’t. And that documentary she describes, Lindell’s “Absolute Proof,” was prefaced by a lengthy disclaimer on OAN, explaining that the documentary is running on “purchased time,” i.e. that it’s effectively an ad, not the work of OAN. Further, “the statements and claims expressed in this program are presented at this time as opinions only and are not intended to be taken or interpreted by the viewer as established facts.”
OAN and Newsmax, among others, including Carone, have been threatened with large lawsuits by Dominion’s parent company, as well as Smartmatic, another election-software company that was the focus of right-wing misinformation. Carone’s cease-and-desist letter from Dominion’s legal counsel arrived with extra shade: “...you have positioned yourself as a prominent leader of the ongoing misinformation campaign ...when in reality you were hired through a staffing agency for one day to clean glass on machines and complete other menial tasks.”
Carone doesn’t seem to care: “Dominion will never go through with those lawsuits. They will have to go through discovery, which they’re not willing to do.”
Everybody has a past
If you’ve been following the Carone story, you might have seen Jessica Stackpoole’s face somewhere, perhaps on “Inside Edition.” She and Mellissa used to be tight. Now they despise one another. Mellissa is engaged to Matthew Stackpoole, Jessica’s ex, and the two have a baby together. The bombshell that Stackpoole dropped in the days after Carone’s debut -- that Mellissa harassed Jessica by sending her sex tapes of her and Matthew -- was first reported by Deadline Detroit.
Today, Jessica said she lives in fear of Mellissa, that she goes to therapy weekly to deal with the stress, that her son with Matthew hasn’t seen his father for months, and other terrible things that can’t be printed. She does a dead-on vocal impersonation of Carone, and as she tells the story of how they met, became friends and later estranged, one statement stands out.
“I never heard her say one political thing the whole time I knew her,” Stackpoole said. “Never.”
To Stackpoole, who has seen Carone at her worst, it’s very clear: “She saw her moment and she’s going to ride that wave.” And, she added, she’s going to make money from it.
Stackpoole is still laid off, and has lots of time to conduct oppo research on Carone. She points out two fundraisers on GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising site recently linked to far-right activists. One, launched by thedonald.win, was called “Democrats tried to ruin her life” and appears to have raised over $7,000. The other, by Carone herself, first requested funds for “security, legal fees and moving expenses'' and was later edited to “Exposing the fraud and employment.” That one has raised over $11,000.
“I have also been unemployed and seeking full time employment since working the election,” Carone wrote in her request. “If anyone knows of anywhere who is hiring please let me know -- it is very much appreciated.”
Stackpoole also notes that “Inside Edition” paid for her interview, and presumably Carone’s as well. But her biggest fear is that Carone may, against the odds, actually be elected: “Do you know how easy it would be for her to fuck me over then?”
A powerful drug
Or it’s possible Carone is chasing something Dr. Donna Rockwell calls “attention crack.”
Rockwell is a psychologist who has made a study of fame and its effects on individuals. To her, it’s a matter of brain chemistry, and the very real changes fame and attention can render on people who find themselves in the spotlight, whether by intention or accident.
“It’s almost like heroin, and you need to keep getting it,” said Rockwell, who practices in Oakland County. “We blame celebrities: ‘They’re so full of themselves.’ But what it really is, is that the brain changes, the way a heroin addict’s brain changes.”
America is a celebrity-worshipping culture, exemplified by the rise of Trump himself, who for 14 years portrayed himself on television as a business genius, until voters believed it themselves, she said.
“We’re all seeking the hero’s journey,” said Rockwell. “Everyone craves relevance. We all want to hear that our lives matter, that we’re doing something of substance. Having other people know our names gives people the feeling they’re making a difference in the world.”