Patrick Byrne, who has a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University, had a vision similar to dot.com entrepreneurs when he acquired a discount retailer in 1999 and rebranded it Overstock.com.
The Utah-based online company became successful, and Byrne became a millionaire.
Today, however, Overstock.com regularly distances itself from Byrne, who has become well known for espousing numerous conspiracy theories.
He resigned from the company in August 2019 after saying he was an FBI informant who maintained a romantic relationship with Russian agent Maria Butina, and he made several claims about being involved with the "Deep State" and working with law enforcement officials whom he called "Men in Black."
►Arizona audit show Biden won: Hand count in Arizona (again) affirms Democrat's victory in 2020
And since last November, Byrne has been enmeshed with supporters of former President Donald Trump trying to overturn the election results that put Democrat Joe Biden in the White House.
Byrne's efforts – backed by at least $3.5 million of his money – were on full display in Phoenix on Friday.
That's when the Cyber Ninjas, a small Florida-based cybersecurity firm with no prior experience in election audits, is expected to formally release results following a monthslong examination of 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County in Arizona.
The Arizona Republic reported late Thursday that the monthslong recount showed Biden won, and the election was not "stolen" from Trump, according to early versions of a report from the Ninjas that the Republic obtained.
In fact, the Cyber Ninjas found Biden beat Trump by a larger margin than the official election results. However, the draft report says the election results are inconclusive, the Republic reported.
Byrne helped fund the effort, and he recently told USA TODAY that he's willing to go on "the world's stage" to apologize if the Cyber Ninjas find that Trump lost.
Several independent audits have shown Biden won the state. And Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, once a Trump ally, confirmed Arizona's 11 electoral votes went for Biden.
Yet, Byrne is undeterred.
"This is not about Trump. It's about the Constitution," Byrne said in a series of interviews this month. . "I'm not a Donald Trump supporter, and I did not vote for Donald Trump…I'm a Libertarian who has never voted for a Republican or Democrat, but I think the election was rigged and it will be exposed."
Byrne added the inquiry has been done "flawlessly," even though the leader of the Cyber Ninjas – as well as Byrne – has been far from impartial.
Critics of the inquiry, including some prominent Republicans, have called the "audit" nothing more than grift to line the pockets of those involved and to raise money for the GOP.
Cyber Ninjas collaborated with Byrne
Doug Logan, the Cyber Ninjas' top boss, has tweeted support for conspiracy theories claiming Trump, and not Biden, had won Arizona and Maricopa County, the fourth-largest county in the United States.
Logan also appeared in a movie released this year called "The Deep Rig" that asserts the U.S. election was stolen from Trump.
The film was based upon Byrne's book with the same name in which he raised suspicions that voting systems were hacked and fake ballots were inserted into the election, without providing proof.
The effort Byrne has funded includes hunting for bamboo fibers to see if fake ballots were shipped from Asia, and a search for “kinematic artifacts” that used untested technology from a Trump supporter who claimed he could root out phony ballots, according to numerous media reports.
Meanwhile, the Cyber Ninjas have been delayed delivering a report on their findings after several key members contracted COVID-19. But Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, who authorized the inquiry, said the report will be delivered Friday in a public presentation at the Arizona Senate floor.
Biggest contributor to Arizona "audit"
Byrne said that in addition to Arizona, he believes 15% to 20% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election was fake by "one flavor or another."
However, there has been no proof of widespread voter fraud in Arizona or elsewhere in the country.
Byrne appears to have been the biggest contributor to the Arizona Cyber Ninjas campaign, which has raised at least $5.6 million through a handful of nonprofit groups including Byrne's The America Project. Other financial contributors to the Cyber Ninjas campaign include groups associated with Trump attorney Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was later pardoned by the president.
Byrne said if the Cyber Ninja audit confirms that Biden won, he and Flynn will "go on the world stage and apologize." Yet, he added: "If we are right, maybe something is there."
Maricopa County Board Chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican, has called the effort, originally scheduled to end in mid-May, "grift disguised as an audit."
Who is Patrick Byrne?
Byrne's involvement in the Arizona audit comes after he left Overstock.com in August 2019.
At the time, he said he was stepping down from the company he founded following a statement he made about the "deep state" and his potential involvement in an FBI investigation.
Shortly before he resigned, Overstock.com issued a press release in which Byrne said he was involved in "political espionage conducted against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and to a lesser degree, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz).
He also discussed helping "the Men in Black (government agents)," which he says he had done previously to help in the case of a friend who was murdered and to "shake up Wall Street" a decade ago.
Byrne, around the time he resigned, said on a cable TV news interview that at the behest of the FBI he had become romantically involved with Butina, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for participating in a Russian effort to infiltrate U.S. political organizations.
Overstock.com has distanced itself from its former CEO, who sold his entire stake in the company in September 2019, giving him about $90 million before taxes.
The company Tweeted on Nov. 28, 2020 – a few weeks after the election – that it had "no current association or affiliation with Patrick Byrne or any of his efforts. He resigned in August 2019, & his personal & political beliefs & actions are his own."
Byrne also operates a website called Deep Capture, which says it was created to bypass the "captured" institutions that mediate our nation's discourse.
Byrne has returned to his alma mater to speak, and a school news release in 2006 noted he had received a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College (Asian Studies & Philosophy), a master's degree in philosophy from Cambridge University as a Marshall scholar, and a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University.
Byrne, according to his website, since 2005 has vigorously fought against what he called corruption in capital markets through securities manipulation, and his website grew out of that effort.
And, he often talks about the "deep state," a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, who are believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.
'More fruitful ways to spend $3 million'
Byrne believes the $3.5 million he's pumped into the Arizona audit has been a good investment, asserting it will expose voter fraud.
But Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who beat an incumbent Democrat last year, adamantly disagrees.
Richer has been a critic of the Cyber Ninjas and the non-scientific examinations of ballots.
He adds that several independent reviews of the 2020 election by experienced auditing firms have shown there was no voter fraud in Maricopa County.
Byrne, however, has nothing but praise for the Cyber Ninjas.
"The guys running the audits are very advanced cyber security people far beyond the skill sets of normal auditors," Byrne said. "By the way, 'normal' election audits are incredibly superficial and don't catch any of the kinds of crimes that we are alleging occurred."
Richer added that it's good to know who's funding the audit to determine what may be their motives or agenda.
Richer was amused that Byrne would spend so much money to help the Cyber Ninjas.
"I can think of more fruitful ways to spend $3 million," Richer said. "But, he didn't consult me."
The Arizona Republic in Phoenix contributed.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cyber Ninjas' Arizona election 'audit' fueled by ex-Overstock CEO