A 33-year-old creator of a popular pro-Trump Twitter account is facing up to 10 years behind bars over memes the Biden Department of Justice (DOJ) claims interfered with the 2016 presidential election.
Douglass Mackey, who went by the Twitter alias Ricky Vaughn, was charged about a week after President Joe Biden took office — some four years after the memes were posted. While the DOJ claims Mackey conspired to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” people from exercising their constitutional right to vote, the accused’s attorney says the memes were satire and don’t fall under the statute Mackey is being charged with, which is 18 U.S. Code 241.
“One of the arguments is that the conduct of issue does not fall within the scope of the statute as it’s written,” attorney James Lawrence told The Daily Wire in a phone interview. “I mean, this is a statute that was passed after the Civil War as part of the reconstruction process in the south to guarantee the rights of freed slaves to vote without fear of intimidation.”
Lawrence said the memes on Twitter were satire and purely speech, adding that “the conduct doesn’t fall within the scope of section 241.”
According to reporter Luke O’Brien, Mackey’s account had enormous reach, blending mainstream conservatism with allegedly more extreme anti-Semitic posts. The MIT Media Lab’s quantitative analysis of social media and news influencers said Mackey’s Ricky Vaughan account “was more impactful … than several major media outlets and figures such as NBC News and The Drudge Report,” Vermont Public noted.
One of the memes the government zeroed in on from Mackey was reportedly published on November 1, 2016. It shows a woman holding an “African Americans for President Hillary” sign with overlaid text reading, “Avoid the line. Vote from home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 55925.”
Mackey apparently had numerous Twitter accounts but his most popular account with nearly 60,000 followers was openly pro-Trump. The account often used an avatar of actor Charlie Sheen’s character Ricky Vaughn from the movie Major League wearing a superimposed “Make America Great Again” hat. His Twitter banner was also a photo of Trump.
Douglass Mackey, aka far-right influencer "Ricky Vaughn," has been charged in Brooklyn Fed with 2016 election interference, with a scheme to limit black turnout.
The complaint cites this meme and BuzzFeed story. https://t.co/gN6AzrfSVW
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) January 27, 2021
According to the government, some 4,900 people texted the number, but it’s unclear how many people, if anyone, fell for the meme and did not cast the vote they intended to cast; or were merely participating in the joke.
Buzzfeed on Nov 2, 2016, one day after Mackey published the meme, posted a screenshot of a response they received after texting the name “Hillary” to the 55925 number. It appeared to be from the Clinton campaign informing them that the ad they saw was not associated with “Hillary for America,” and directed them to “Hillary for America” via text.
On the same day, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted out that he had “fixed” the issue. The tweets were removed and Mackey’s account was suspended.
Other memes from Mackey reportedly said, “Join Hillary to fight Russia with our greatest asset: diversity,” and, “Vote for her. Vote from home. Post ‘Hillary’ using #PresidentialElection.” There were also reportedly memes about celebrities backing Trump, meant to mock and rile-up Hollywood.
The charges have sparked some criticism about potential First Amendment implications going forward. Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, for example, criticized the Biden DOJ for the indictment.
It’s a “three-fer,” McCarthy wrote, “the prosecutorial creation of a crime Congress has not prescribed, the trivialization of civil-rights law, and the intrusion of government as a monitor of political speech.”
McCarthy told Fox News last year, “It’s really like a toe in the water for the FBI, in the end, to manage communications in election campaigns. And I think we’ve seen in the last few years how well the FBI’s involvement in our elections and our politics has worked out.”
Tucker Carlson & @AndrewCMcCarthy Discussing The DOJ's Ridiculous Prosecution Of Doug Mackey For Making Memes Online
Former Federal Prosecutor Andy McCarthy: "I'd like to just say it's a ridiculous case Tucker, but actually it turns out to be a dangerous one in the end." pic.twitter.com/ULROMQobm4
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) February 4, 2021
Lawrence similarly emphasized that this could impact all Americans, regardless of their political views.
“The reason why this is such an important case for all Americans, Left, Right, and center is, do we want the state, do we want the government to be involved in policing alleged misinformation and disinformation, particularly around our elections?” Lawrence posed.
“We don’t want the government’s nose in that tent,” he continued. “This would arguably expand the scope of liability under section 241 in such a way that the government could use it to target other people’s speech, regardless, really, of their political ideology.”
Mackey has not received support from the Left-leaning ACLU or other free speech groups, which some have speculated is due to Mackey’s personal politics.
The 33-year-old has set up his own website, memedefensefund.com, for financial support, and Lawrence has been asking for prayer for his client and their efforts.
The trial is set for March 16, in the Eastern District of New York.