In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, a Delray Beach man is accused of using his popular social-media accounts to intimidate and mislead voters in an effort to help former President Donald Trump win, according to a federal complaint.
Douglass Mackey, 31, used Twitter and Facebook accounts that operated under the alias “Ricky Vaughn” to spread disinformation in the form of memes, messages and hashtags that he developed for the goal of influencing voters, according to the complaint.
He was arrested on Wednesday and later released on $50,000 bond. Public records show he lives in Delray Beach.
His Twitter handle and alias is a reference to the character Ricky Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen in the 1989 film Major League. One of Mackey’s popular Twitter profile pictures featured a modified image of Sheen wearing a Make America Great Again hat.
Mackey’s arrest comes on the heels of a federal crackdown against supporters of former President Trump who participated in the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.
“According to the allegations in the indictment, the defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one the of most basic and sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to vote,” said Nicholas L. McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, in a statement. “This indictment underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights.”
“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where the charges stem from. “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.”
As the election approached, the complaint says Mackey and others, “spread disinformation about the manner by which citizens could and should cast their votes” by creating and sharing information that said supporters of Hillary Clinton could vote for her by posting a specific hashtag on Twitter or Facebook, or by texting her name to a specific telephone code.
The complaint says Mackey designed and sent out these messages, “with the intent that supporters of [Clinton] would believe the fraudulent information” and “attempt to cast their votes via social media or text message.”
In a statement, the United States Department of Justice shared more examples, including an image Mackey allegedly tweeted on Nov. 1, 2016, featuring an African American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for [Hillary]” sign. The image included the following text: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home.” The image then advised voters to text Clinton’s name to a number.
According to the DOJ, before Election Day 2016, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted to the number.
According to the complaint, Mackey used four different Twitter accounts between January 2014 and April 2018. The most popular account had more than 50,000 followers before it was shutdown in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
However, Mackey’s true identity was unknown until he was exposed in April of 2018.
According to the New York Daily News, infighting among pro-Trump internet influencers led to Mackey being ousted on Gab, a conservative leaning social media site, as a Middlebury College grad who lived in Manhattan at the time. Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin congressional candidate at the time, revealed Mackey’s identity.
According to voter registration records, Mackey registered his address in Delray Beach in June of 2018.
According to the complaint, Nehlen told FBI agents in October that Mackey had previously offered his services to the then candidate and that they frequently corresponded on the phone and through email.
According to the complaint, Mackey frequently worked with four unnamed co-conspirators on Twitter.
Since 2015, the complaint says Mackey also was part of a Group Direct Message chat on Twitter that included dozens of individuals.
The chat “served as forums for the participants to share, among other things, their views concerning how best to influence the Election,” the complaint says. Mackey and others, used the group to “create, refine and share memes and hashtags that members of the group would subsequently post and distribute.”
The charges against Mackey were filed in New York, where he will likely stand trial. If convicted, Mackey faces up to ten years in prison.
Mackey did not respond to a request for comment.
Andrew Boryga can be reached at 954-356-4533 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @borywrites.