WEST PALM BEACH — A West Palm Beach man known as an alt-right internet troll was arrested Wednesday for his role in a scheme to help former President Donald Trump win the 2016 election by duping Hillary Clinton supporters into casting invalid ballots, according to court records.
Douglass Mackey, 31, used several social media accounts under the name Ricky Vaughn to “disseminate misinformation designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court Wednesday.
Mackey was arrested Wednesday, then released on $50,000 bond.
“What Mackey allegedly did to interfere with this process — by soliciting voters to cast their ballots via text — amounted to nothing short of vote theft,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, in a statement. “It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our electoral processes.”
Sweeney’s office led the investigation. The case will be handled by federal courts in New York.
Neither of the 2016 candidates, Trump and Clinton, was named in the complaint in so far as who Mackey allegedly was trying to help win the presidency. But a person briefed on the investigation confirmed to The New York Times that Clinton was the presidential candidate who Mackey allegedly sought to deprive of votes as described in the charging documents.
In 2018, Mackey was identified as the operator of the Ricky Vaughn social media accounts, which promoted Trump’s campaign and as well as anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda.
Mackey’s influence in the scheme delineated in the federal charge was compounded by his popularity on social media. In 2016, M.I.T. Media Lab ranked one of Mackey’s Twitter account as more influential in the 2016 election than those of NBC News, Drudge Report and CBS News.
When Twitter shut down one of Mackey’s accounts, an accomplice not named in the complaint opened another on his behalf. Twitter shut down those accounts, too.
Still, Mackey and unnamed accomplices were able to produce and distribute misleading memes before Mackey’s accounts were closed, or when they were posted and retweeted by others, federal officials say.
In two examples given in the complaint, the group targeted Black and Latino supporters of Clinton.
The document cited a meme Mackey is accused of posting on Nov. 1, 2016, featuring a Black woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary” sign. The instructions in the meme stated, “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text (Hillary) to 59925. Vote for (Hillary) and be a part of history.”
Included on the bottom: “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by (Hillary) for President 2016.”
The group also posted some misleading memes in Spanish.
As a result of Mackey’s disinformation campaign, federal officials say, at least 4,900 unique phone numbers sent text messages in a futile effort to vote for Clinton, according to the complaint.