The man behind a once-influential pro-Trump account is facing charges of election interference for allegedly disseminating voting disinformation on Twitter in 2016.
Federal prosecutors allege that Douglass Mackey, who used the name "Ricky Vaughn" on Twitter, encouraged people to cast their ballot via text or on social media, effectively tricking others into throwing away those votes.
According to the Justice Department, 4,900 unique phone numbers texted a phone number Mackey promoted in order to "vote by text." BuzzFeed reported the vote-by-text scam at the time, noting that many of the images were photoshopped to look like official graphics from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) November 2, 2016
Some of those images appeared to specifically target Black and Spanish-speaking Clinton supporters, a motive that tracks with the account's track record of white supremacist and anti-Semitic content. The account was suspended in November 2016.
At the time, the mysterious account quickly gained traction in the political disinformation ecosystem. HuffPost revealed that the account was run by Mackey, the son of a lobbyist, two years later.
"... His talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the alt-right' white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails," HuffPost's Luke O'Brien reported.
Mackey, a West Palm Beach resident, was taken into custody Wednesday in Florida.
"There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote," Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth D. DuCharme said.
"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."