A far-right Twitter troll who posted fake ads telling Hillary Clinton supporters they could vote in the 2016 election by text was sentenced to seven months in prison Wednesday.
Douglass Mackey, 34, was convicted of election interference in March, after a trial that drew the attention of anti-extremist groups and right-wing politicians and pundits.
Despite his arguments in court motions that his activities were protected First Amendment speech, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Ann Donnelly countered that he was being sent to prison for conspiring to take away people’ right to vote.
“You are not being sentenced for your political beliefs or for expressing those beliefs,” she said. “Each one of us has the right to hold opinions and express those opinions.”
Rather, she said, he used an “insidious” method of spreading lies to deceive people out of voting, describing it as “nothing short of an assault on our democracy.”
“It is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, that’s the right that you conspired with others to take… You decided that certain voters didn’t deserve that right,” she said.
Douglas Mackey tweeted official-looking fake campaign ads for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, urging people to vote by text instead of in person, according to the feds. Mackey, whose wife just gave birth Tuesday, will have to surrender to authorities on Jan. 18. Donnelly denied his request to be free on bond pending his appeal.
“We look forward to Doug’s vindication on appeal,” his lawyer, Andrew Frisch, said after sentencing. Mackey declined comment.
Mackey, a former Manhattan resident living in West Palm Beach, Fla., gained fame and influence on the Internet as the Twitter user “Ricky Vaughn,” posting under the avatar of Charlie Sheen’s character from the movie “Major League,” wearing a MAGA hat.
Jurors saw his past Twitter posts, which included vile anti-Black and and anti-woman remarks, describing women as “children with the right to vote,” and writing, “Black people will believe anything they read ok twitter, and we let them vote why?”
One fake ad he posted shows a Black woman next to the words, “Avoid the line. Vote from home” and a text message code. Another has a similar message written in Spanish, next to a woman using her phone.
Douglas Mackey tweeted official-looking fake campaign ads for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, urging people to vote by text instead of in person, according to the feds. Jurors also heard from “Microchip,” a notorious anti-Clinton troll who tweeted hundreds of times a day “to cause as much chaos as possible, so that it would bleed over to Hillary Clinton and diminish her chances of winning.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Paulsen called a prison sentence “essential” to deter others.
“It’s gonna send a message to the people who celebrated what this defendant did,” he said. “And it’s gonna send a message to those who want to follow in his footsteps.
Douglas Mackey tweeted official-looking fake campaign ads for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, urging people to vote by text instead of in person, according to the feds. Mackey, who said nothing at his sentencing, sought to minimize his role in the conspiracy, which was plotted out in group chats, both at trial and in his court filings, saying that he merely shared a pair of memes he found on the message board 4Chan, as well as another image already on Twitter.
“Mr. Mackey acted with no planning other than the act of clicking upon seeing the memes,” Frisch wrote in his sentencing memo to Donnelly. “Apart from these clicks, Mr. Mackey has never engaged in any criminal activity and never been arrested.”
One of the jurors in the trial wrote a letter asking the judge for leniency, calling him an “intelligent and caring young man who would benefit far greater from community service.”
“Though he made one grave error in judgment (“two clicks”), he is by no means a hardened criminal and does not belong in prison,” said juror Valery Rodolico. “It is my belief that Mr. Mackey acted impulsively, as a passionate twenty-four-year-old aspiring political advocate, and was swept away by Twitter-sphere fame under his avatar persona Ricky Vaughn.”
After Mackey was publicly unmasked as Ricky Vaughn in 2018, he voluntarily entered an inpatient psychotherapy program and turned his life around, Frisch said.
“Ricky Vaughn disappeared years ago, years before Mr. Mackey’s arrest,” Frisch said. “Douglass Mackey has done everything right, everything that he should have.”