Right-wing Twitter troll Douglass Mackey, better known by the handle “Ricky Vaughn,” has been convicted by a federal jury of interfering in the 2016 election.
“Mackey has been found guilty by a jury of his peers of attempting to deprive individuals from exercising their sacred right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the 2016 Presidential Election,” the Eastern District of New York’s U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “Today’s verdict proves that the defendant’s fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality and flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote.”
In a long-awaited reckoning on election misinformation, the Department of Justice readily agreed that most of Mackey’s antics before the election were protected First Amendment speech. He created memes of fake endorsements of then-candidate Donald Trump by celebrities like Lana del Ray, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, usually sporting “MAGA” hats. Prosecutors say, however, that Mackey crossed the line when he posted images encouraging Hillary Clinton voters, especially Black women, to “Avoid the line” of polling stations by texting the word “Hillary” to a five-digit number.
Giving the fake promo a deceptive veneer of legalese, the fine print read: “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary For President 2016.”
That phone number led to a real line, and the thousands who followed the instructions did not immediately receive error messages.
Shortly after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Mackey’s case, claiming this wasn’t free speech but election interference.
On Friday, a federal jury agreed.
“Ricky Vaughn” took his name as the fictional Cleveland Indians pitcher played by Charlie Sheen in the movie “Major League.” In Mackey’s profile picture, Sheen wears a red “MAGA” hat, and anti-hate watchdogs noted that much of the content on the feed mainstreamed white supremacist ideas. One post included an antisemitic image of an octopus encircling the globe, with a Star of David over the creature’s head.
Mackey’s lawyer Andrew Frisch told New York City jurors that the case was not about whether his client was likeable.
“Whether he was a great thinker or a Neanderthal caveman, none of it was a criminal conspiracy to defraud voters,” Mackey’s attorney Andrew Frisch said, adding that his client was mostly “s—posting.”
He faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
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