Fact check: Nashville bombing-Dominion Voting Systems link is a conspiracy theory

Ella Lee, USA TODAY
·8 min read

The claim: Dominion Voting Systems is tied up in the Nashville bombing, based on the affected AT&T building's ownership and that the cellular company was contracted to audit Dominion's machines.

There may not be answers to the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville anytime soon.

"Bombing investigations can take years," Darrell DeBusk, an FBI spokesman based in Tennessee, told The Tennessean.

As of Friday, a motive in the bombing remained under investigation by the FBI, the ATF and Metro Nashville police. So did the type of explosives used to detonate the blast.

Yet internet sleuths are searching for their own answers, some looking at thin ties to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election as evidence of a broader plot.

A widely shared post on Facebook alleges that four days before the bombing, a rumor circulated that AT&T was awarded a contract to audit Dominion's voting machines, which were supposedly being sent to Nashville. It also claims the AT&T building that was affected by the bomb is where those machines were being stored.

"The loud speaker was to warn people that the bomb was going to go off.. 5:30a on Christmas morning was picked to ensure that nobody was around.. It wasn't meant to kill people, but to destroy a building. The question is.. why?" the post reads. The user who created the post did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.

Other posts on social media have gone a step further, alleging that Dominion is tied to the bombing through ownership of the affected AT&T building.

"Coincidence? The ATT building in Nashville that was affected by the bomb was owned by Cerebus (sic) Capital. Owners of Dominion Voting Systems,(the company many people are accusing of voter fraud) are former executives from Cerebus," another post reads. That user did not respond to USA TODAY's request for comment, either.

More: Fact check: Joe Biden legally won presidential election, despite persistent contrary claims

What we know about the bombing

Early Christmas morning, police in Nashville came across an RV parked on Second Avenue, outside an AT&T transmission building, while responding to reports of shots fired in the area, Metro Nashville Police spokesperson Don Aaron told The Tennessean that day.

There was no evidence of a shooting, but both officers and witnesses heard a warning blare from the RV: "Evacuate now. There is a bomb. The bomb is in this vehicle and will explode." The broadcast then began a 15-minute countdown, before the RV exploded, according to The Tennessean. The bomb squad was en route.

The Metro Nashville Police Department released footage of the moment the Christmas Day bombing shook the city.
The Metro Nashville Police Department released footage of the moment the Christmas Day bombing shook the city.

The bomber was later identified by U.S. Attorney Don Cochran as Anthony Warner, 63, according to The Tennessean. DNA found at the scene matched Warner's, according to an FBI press release.

"Anthony Warner is the bomber. He was present when the bomb went off, and he perished in the bombing," Cochran said.

The explosion disrupted AT&T wireless and internet services, leading to widespread 911 issues in the Nashville area, The Tennessean reported.

More: Neighbor recalls warning, countdown before Nashville explosion

Posts mix up AT&T buildings

The posts on social media allege the bombing is tied to Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology supplier that's been central to many right-wing, QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. But to draw that connection, a number of other groups are brought into the fold — and it doesn't add up.

First, QAnon. At its core is the prediction that an alleged mass arrest of high-profile Democrats and celebrities would be carried out while now-former President Donald Trump secretly saved the world from a satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. The conspiracy theory has grown into a movement that is promoted by right-wing extremists.

Now, the alleged Dominion Voting Systems tie. Dominion was acquired by private equity firm Staple Street Capital, co-founded by financiers Hootan Yaghoobzadeh and Stephen Owens, in 2018. Both sit on Dominion's board.

Before starting Staple Street Capital, Yaghoobzadeh worked as a senior vice president for private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. According to the post, that firm owned the AT&T building outside of which the Christmas bombing occurred.

Cerberus Capital did briefly own an AT&T building, but the post is wrong about which one.

More on Dominion: Fact check: Viral photo shows fake logo and slogan for Dominion Voting Systems

The Christmas morning bomb went off on Second Avenue, outside an AT&T transmission building. Cerberus Capital previously owned the AT&T Building, once known as the BellSouth Building, where the company has operated its Tennessee headquarters since the building's erection in 1994. That building is located at 333 Commerce St., roughly a quarter mile from where the bomb went off.

The Batman-shaped skyscraper was first owned by Prefco XIV, a limited partnership of Pitney Bowes, which bought the building in 1994 for $100.8 million, according to the building's deed. In 2006, Cerberus Capital acquired it, according to a 2006 News Channel 5 Nashville report. The company put the building back on the market shortly thereafter; MetLife Inc., through subsidiary Prefco Fourteen, now owns the building, public records show. James Murphy, a spokesperson for MetLife, confirmed the company owns the building.

The AT&T building on Second Avenue is owned by BellSouth Telecommunications, an operating company of AT&T, according to local records.

Owens, the other co-founder of Staple Street Capital, did not work for Cerberus, despite the post's claim. He has independently become part of the broader Dominion conspiracy theories, though, with some claiming he's Joe Biden's brother-in-law. That's false.

More: Fact check: No, Joe Biden's brother-in-law does not own Dominion Voting Systems

AT&T wasn't contracted to audit Dominion, spokespeople confirm

AT&T was not contracted to audit Dominion Voting Systems' machines, and no Dominion machines were being held in the building outside of which the bomb exploded, spokespeople for both AT&T and Dominion confirmed.

"Dominion and AT&T have both called on the media and the public to reject the baseless rumors circulating on social media, which suggest without evidence that there was some election-related connection to the Nashville explosion," a spokesperson for Dominion told USA TODAY.

More: Fact check: No, Joe Biden's brother-in-law does not own Dominion Voting Systems

Jim Greer, a spokesperson for AT&T, told USA TODAY the claims are "not true."

Both Snopes and AFP reached the same conclusion. Dominion told AFP the claim is "another bizarre lie being spread by known conspiracy theorists."

Dominion has played a central role in a number of unfounded conspiracy theories alleging election fraud, from foreign ownership to switching votes from one candidate to another. The company recently threatened a number of groups repeating the claims with lawsuits, including One America News Network, Newsmax and Fox News.

Our ruling: False

We rate this claim as FALSE, because it wasn't supported by our research. The AT&T building the posts likely refer to was not the one outside which the bomb exploded on Christmas morning. Both Dominion Voting Systems and AT&T confirmed the communications company was not contracted to audit Dominion's machines.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Claims tying Nashville bomb to AT&T and Dominion are false