The Ricky Vaughn Witch Hunt
The meme shared by Ricky Vaughn that the federal government believes is illegal.
Douglass Mackey inherited a common upbringing in the small Vermont town of Waterbury, home to about 5,000 souls. This is even where Ben & Jerry’s first factory is located, which was built in 1985.
After graduating from Harwood Union High School, he attended nearby Middlebury College, a longstanding beacon of advanced teaching and learning. Mackey graduated from Elite School in 2011 with a degree in economics and put green Vermont to the back of Brooklyn’s concrete jungle, where he joined John Dunham & Associates, an economic research firm, in 2012.
Nine years later, Mackey in West Palm Beach, Florida, would be arrested for federal electoral manipulation.
The Justice Department alleges he illegally used social media to deny the right to vote to individuals as part of a disinformation campaign during the 2016 elections. The complaint charges Mackey under Title 24 Section 241 of the Civil Rights Conspiracies Act. In particular, prosecutors accuse Mackey and unnamed co-conspirators of using memes to create confusion about the voting process by claiming that Hillary Clinton supporters can vote by posting on Facebook or Twitter, or by texting a number.
Somewhere between Vermont and New York, Mackey took up the pseudonymous person of “Ricky Vaughn” and gave Charlie Sheen’s character from the “Major League” a self-proclaimed old-right twist. As “Vaughn,” Mackey went from being a meek cosmopolitan advisor to a Twitter provocateur. In the run-up to the 2016 election, he was part of a group creating viral memes like “Draft our Daughters,” suggesting that Clinton would start a war and question women for the draft. Mackey has amassed a large following on Twitter despite repeated bans.
The MIT Media Lab rated “Ricky Vaughn” as a more important influence on the 2016 election than NBC News or Stephen Colbert – which arguably says more about her and her content than about him. In any case, Mackey managed to remain anonymous until 2018.
While much ado has been made about his political views, they are irrelevant to the crime Mackey has been charged with. On the other hand, it’s a bit ironic that Mackey was pulled out by Paul Nehlen, an old-right former congressional candidate, in an internal movement dispute.
As a kind of moderator within the movement, Mackey, unlike fellow travelers like Christopher Cantwell, rejected the use of real confrontational or violent methods. Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, another member of the alt-right, accused Cantwell of being a federal informant during the spitting. Cantwell, in turn, accused Auernheimer and Mackey of conspiring to undermine the movement. Apparently frustrated by Mackey’s criticism and demand for moderation, Nehlen revealed his identity.
On April 5, 2018, Luke O’Brien of the Huffington Post posted the first post-Dox detailed profile of Mackey, connecting the dots between “Ricky Vaughn” and the Middlebury graduate behind the avatar. Although O’Brien mentioned the Cantwell-Auernheimer-Mackey dispute, he failed to notice that Cantwell had already confessed to being a federal informant before the Mackey synopsis went online.
Sometime after the disastrous 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cantwell began speaking to federal investigators. “As for the interview with the FBI, I have hinted this publicly, but I have discussed these details with Weev in private,” Cantwell wrote in late March, more than a week before O’Brien published his story. “His plastering our private conversation in a forum should speak to his reputation.” Cantwell appears to have accused Auernheimer and Mackey of undermining the old right, pushing the extreme “avant-gardists” over more moderate “mainstreamers” while also being in contact with the federal authorities.
After Nehlen revealed the true identity of “Ricky Vaughn,” Cantwell posted a recent picture of Mackey on the social media site Gab that was “not available online,” as O’Brien put it, and helped O’Brien Mackeys to confirm identity. Gab then forbade Nehlen to have fucked Mackey. Gab ultimately banned Cantwell as well.
It’s likely that Mackey first appeared on the federal government’s radar in 2018, but for some reason he wasn’t charged by investigators until 2021 for something he did in 2016. In 2019, the FBI investigated former field officer Matthew Q. Gebert for his links to the alt-right – and Gebert accused Mackey, like Cantwell, of not being radical enough and had an ongoing debate with him. As “Coach Finstock”, Gebert created a thread in The Right Stuff forum in 2018 with the title: “Ricky Vaughn is a N ***** f – who has no place in [The Right Stuff]. “Given Cantwell and Gebert’s links to Mackey, it’s hard to see that the FBI or the Department of Justice wouldn’t have noticed him before 2021.
The formal investigation into Mackey appears to have begun last fall with interviews with Nehlen and Loren Feldman, a filmmaker who Mackey briefly met. His indictment began with and was approved by the Justice Department of former President Donald Trump.
“In October 2020, Seth DuCharme was the US attorney in Brooklyn,” said Marcy Wheeler on January 28th. Wheeler is an independent journalist who writes on national security and civil liberties. Mackey was charged with criminal charges in the Eastern District of New York.
“While DuCharme was spending his career in [United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York]He was a key advisor to Bill Barr, both as an advisor and then [Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General]Wheeler wrote. In July, she added, “Barr effectively swapped DuCharme back for EDNY and transferred then-US attorney Richard Donoghue to PADAG.”
DuCharme made a specific statement on Mackey’s case. “There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their voting rights,” he said. “With Mackey’s arrest, we find that those who would undermine the democratic process in this way cannot rely on the cloak of internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes.”
“You will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Not as confident as DuCharme about the legal aspects of the case, esteemed law professor Eugene Volokh released a thoughtful review of Mackey’s indictment. The main question he raises is whether the kind of lies Mackey told can be punished by the government or whether the first change will protect them.
Volokh thinks about it US v. Tobinwhere the government is prosecuting a party official and its allies for “a plan to disrupt telephone lines for election services offered by the opposing political party”. “The aim of the conspiracy was to prevent certain voters from taking part in the elections in order to influence what was perceived to be a very tight US Senate competition.” He notes that a federal judge believed that Section 241 – the Civil Rights Conspiracy Act that Mackey is charged with – would cover such conduct. But in TobinThe decision “did not take into account any argument of the first amendment as the government was prosecuting Tobin for his conduct (blocking the lines) rather than his speech.”
Hence not even Tobin is the strongest precedent for what the government is doing now. “And as far as precedent is set, the breadth of the Mackey indictment is worrying,” writes Volokh.
Volokh is concerned about the ramifications of complying with the court’s reasoning in Mackey’s case that Section 241 prohibits conspiracies “with the specific intent of preventing or preventing qualified persons from exercising the right to vote”. Suppose a candidate is corrupt. Things like non-violent, non-threatening picket lines in front of a party headquarters or protests against voter turnout would be crimes. In addition, a broad interpretation of the language of the Conspiracy Act would “oppress, threaten, or intimidate a person … in the free exercise or exercise of any right or privilege guaranteed by the Constitution or the laws of the United States “That applies to things like turning off public speaking – as left activists are used to.
Volokh is of course right in principle, but in practice there is little chance that this will apply to the left – or at least the brunt of it will be spared. In fact, many have found that Mackey wasn’t the only one giving inaccurate voter information prior to the 2016 election.
“Skip the voting lines for # Election2016 and TEXT when you vote!” tweeted The left influencer Kristina Wong explicitly addressed Trump supporters on November 8th. “Text voices are real. Or vote tomorrow on Super Wednesday! “Wong attached a video to the tweet wearing a” Make America Great Again Hat “and declared her support for then-candidate Trump. “I just want to remind all of my fellow Chinese Americans of Trump, people of color to vote for Trump on Wednesday November 9th,” she said apparently seriously.
That Wong is running free today suggests that DuCharme should have qualified his statement: One will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – if right-winged.
The timing of Wong’s tweet is interesting because it came six days after BuzzFeed News announced that Twitter had blocked Mackey from tweets about voting by text or posting. “Yesterday, Robert McNees, a physics professor at Loyola University, was curiously searching the popular alt-right account @TheRickyVaughn when he came across a series of tweets apparently intended to disseminate misinformation about voting among African-American and Spanish-speaking citizens . BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reported on November 2nd. Under the first graphic in the story is a large picture, supposedly one of the memes Mackey used: “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925”.
BuzzFeed is a massive release. In October 2016 alone, it drew 77.4 million readers. And after BuzzFeed published the story, attn :, a media company with 2 billion monthly impressions and over 500 million monthly video views in 2018, ran its own function on November 2nd with screenshots and information about the text of the number shared by Mackey. On November 3, Forbes posted its own story referencing BuzzFeed’s original report.
The combined range of just these three sales outlets is gigantic. Could they have accidentally fixed eyes and texts on Mackey’s memes by flaunting them?
The judiciary’s complaint notes that Mackey’s campaign received around 4,900 responses. According to iVisionMobile, the company that owned the text code listed in the memes distributed by Mackey, of the roughly 4,900 numbers that matched the text code, around 4,850, or 99 percent, sent its texts after Mackey first shared the images in question. The complaint states that “on or about November 1, 2016 and November 2, 2016” Mackey shared the images. In other words, it is possible that the media expanded its reach almost immediately. Could this have contributed to interactions with Mackey’s memes?
A representative from iVision told me that while it was difficult to pinpoint the effects, it was very possible that media reports induced people to interact with the memes they would not otherwise have seen. iVision Mobile was unaware of Mackey’s activities at the time.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that McNees apparently went out of his way to check out the site of an old-right influencer whose tweets were otherwise contained in an ecosystem of like-minded accounts – also known as the Echo Chamber. “For both scientific information and conspiracy theories, the more active a user is in an echo chamber, the more the user will interact with others with similar beliefs,” wrote social scientists Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonio Scala and Cass Sunstein in a draft entitled “Echo Chambers on Facebook.” The article published in June 2016 was among the earliest studies on the social media phenomenon. “The dissemination of information is usually limited to communities of like-minded people,” the authors noted.
How many interactions did you get from curious readers at BuzzFeed, Forbes, and other reporting companies? How many have been broadcast by and within journalistic circles? The attn: story contains a screenshot of text that appears to have been sent by the reporter who wrote the article. How many of these texts were sent by Mackey’s followers just for fun? The government makes no effort to answer or even ask these questions. Andrew McCarthy, Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute, also notes that “The government’s complaint makes no effort to find out how many of those 4,900 people wrote as lark, how many were eligible to vote, or how many were not voting – much less didn’t vote because of Mackey’s tweets. “McCarthy also caught DuCharme in a slip.
McCarthy points out that DuCharme alleged in his public statement that Mackey tried to “defraud citizens”. But Mackey is not charged with fraud. Real fraud crimes, McCarthy notes and points out Skilling against United Statesare those “in which the accused has actual fiduciary responsibility and betrays it for the clear, corrupt purpose of self-enrichment”. While it was certainly deceptive, he writes, what Mackey did was “not a criminal fraud because he had no fiduciary duty to people who read his social media posts and he was not trying to enrich himself (i.e. which ones any emotional boost he always had Due to Clinton’s defeat, he did not try to acquire property as the Fraud Act interprets this concept. “
“While Prosecutor DuCharme slipped in his press release calling it a ‘fraud’, he couldn’t call it a fraud in the complaint,” he adds. With Volokh, McCarthy argues that Section 241s “patent goal is to scare people into fear of physical harm for exercising their rights” – not sharing memes, no matter how unethical they may be. “The DuCharme slip mentioned above gives the game away because it shows that the Justice Department knows Mackey committed non-taxable fraud and actionable intimidation, the latter being the target of Civil Rights Act.” Mackey is not charged with “election theft” either. Thus, McCarthy writes, Mackey is effectively “criminalizing a crime that Congress has not mandated.”
So the prosecution has put a crime around Mackey’s neck that Congress did not mandate, and the precedent his conviction would set is disturbing in its implications. Yet the legal and evidencing beam from which the noose hangs is remarkably fragile and thin. This probably explains in part why the media focus was on Mackey’s far-right views that, no matter how much you contradict or find them uncomfortable, do not constitute a crime – though that seems to be the goal of high-tech lynching to get that to correct.
Pedro L. Gonzalez is editorial assistant at American size. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.