Federal authorities in New York charged pro-Donald Trump social media influencer and white nationalist Douglass Mackey—also known online as Ricky Vaughn—for his role in a scheme designed to depress minority turnout in the 2016 presidential election. Mackey was arrested Wednesday morning in West Palm Beach, Florida and faces charges of conspiracy against rights and election interference.
The “avowed racist” made national headlines in 2016 by using his massive online following to amplify a series of meticulously doctored ads appearing to come from then-candidate Hillary Clinton which encouraged her supporters to “vote from home” by texting “Hillary” to a five-digit number.
According to the newly unsealed criminal complaint, Mackey is accused of knowingly having a role in constructing and spreading the misinformation to Clinton supporters in an attempt to help Trump win the presidency.
“As the Election approached, Mackey, in conjunction with others known and unknown, spread disinformation about the manner by which citizens could and should cast their votes during the Election—conduct that constituted criminal infringement of the right to vote,” the document stated. “Mackey, together with his co-conspirators, conspired to design and distribute these messages with the intent that supporters of the Candidate would believe the fraudulent information contained therein, attempt to cast their votes via social media or text message and, as a result, fail to cast their votes in the Election in a legally valid manner.”
Though several of the defendant’s “Ricky Vaughn” social media accounts have since been shut down, in 2016 Mackey was massively influential with his online followers. Reports said that analysis conducted by the MIT Media Lab in February of that year ranked him 107th “most important influencer” in the then-upcoming election, outranking NBC News, Stephen Colbert, and Newt Gingrich, among others.
Mackey and his co-conspirators allegedly used Twitter’s direct messaging (DM) function as a forum to discuss “how best to influence the Election,” eventually collaborating to “create, refine and share memes and hashtags” for distribution on various social media platforms.
“Obviously, we can win Pennsylvania. The key is to drive up turnout with non-college whites, and limit black turnout,” Mackey wrote in one of the group’s “war room” forums just days before the election.
Data produced by the company that owned the five-digit text code listed in Mackey’s doctored ads showed that at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers attempted to vote via text.
“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote.” said acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme in a statement Tuesday. “With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes. They will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Mackey made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart of the Southern District of Florida via videoconference on Wednesday. The defendant, represented during the brief appearance by federal public defender Kristy Militello, was released on $50,000 bond.
[images via Twitter screengrab]
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