A far-right social media influencer was arrested in 2021 after working online to suppress votes targeting people of color in 2016. Things aren't going well in court for them, however.
"Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, 31, of West Palm Beach, was charged by criminal complaint in the Eastern District of New York," the Justice Department said in a release after the arrest. "He was taken into custody ... in West Palm Beach and made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart of the Southern District of Florida."
“According to the allegations in the complaint, 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. “This complaint underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights.”
Mackey is a white nationalist troll that has built his profile as a pro-Trump activist name “Ricky Vaughn."
Mackey's lawyers had two motions before the court, one to change the venue from the Eastern District of New York and a motion to dismiss the charges because his right to tweet whatever he wants falls under the First Amendment. The judge ruled Wednesday that both of those motions are being denied.
"Defendant Mackey's motion to dismiss the Indictment is denied," the judge said in the order. "This court finds first that a reasonable jury could hold, under any one of several theories, that it was reasonably foreseeable that Tweets from a Manhattan-based Twitter personality with thousands of followers would reach or pass through a judicial district as large as the Eastern District of New York, and that venue was therefore properly laid in the district," the judge continued.
"Finally, 18 USC §241 as applied in the indictment does not, as a matter of law, violate the First Amendment because although the case involves false utterances, it is at its core, about conspiracy and injury, not speech. To the extent that the case does implicate the First Amendment, it is constitutional under the standard false utterances set forth by the Supreme Court in United States v.Alvarez .... Although Defendant Mackey contends that the false utterances are protected as satirical speech, that is an issue of fact for the jury."
Mackey is accused of making ads that encouraged voters of Hillary Clinton to text their vote. If they did, they should think that their vote was officially cast. That is a lie. The complaint says that Mackey tricked about 5,000 people into miscasting a Hillary Clinton ballot.
National security expert and legal commentator Marcy Wheeler pointed out that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has been one of the biggest advocates of what he calls "Freedom of Speech" but at all costs.
"The First Amendment doesn't exist to protect comfortable speech. It exists to protect uncomfortable speech," said Gaetz. "If we can't have the freedom to express ourselves online, what's the point of the First Amendment anyway?"
Mackey's antics are the same kind of activity that is at the heart of a great deal of FBI reports to Twitter in 2020 and 2024," Wheeler pointed out. Gaetz and other Republicans in Congress have taken issue with the FBI reaching out to Twitter to report possible illegal activity or activity that violates the Twitter terms of service.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been promoting such emails and contact as an example of federal government overreach. One such email he posted was from 2022, after he took over the platform. The San Francisco office of the FBI suggested a ban on a few accounts for what they said they believed were violations of Twitter. Under Musk's leadership, three of the four accounts are still suspended.