The FBI, apparently having finished its investigation into Bubba Wallace’s garage door pull and looking for new dragons to slay, showed up yesterday at the home of a Trump-supporting former Twitter troll and took him into custody on charges of, as a press release from the DOJ puts it, “depriving individuals of their constitutional right to vote.”
The formal criminal complaint alleges more specifically that the accused, Douglass Mackey (AKA “Ricky Vaughn”), conspired to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate persons in the free exercise of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution.” The rest of the complaint makes it clear that all of this supposed injuring, oppressing, threatening and intimidating was conducted in the form of memes. Mackey faces 10 years in federal prison for memes. We should note that Mackey did post plenty of anti-Semitic content and other offensive material. This may be part of what earned him a ban from Twitter several years ago, but none of the memes he posted, however offensive, should put him in line for a decade-long prison sentence.
Admittedly, it is not a great shock to find Joe Biden’s government arresting and prosecuting right-wingers for posting on the internet. If there is any surprise here, it is perhaps only that it took less than two weeks to get to this point.
The New York Times has more details about the case:
Federal prosecutors accused Douglass Mackey, 31, of coordinating with co-conspirators to spread memes on Twitter falsely claiming that Hillary Clinton’s supporters could vote by sending a text message to a specific phone number… As a result of the misinformation campaign, prosecutors said, at least 4,900 unique phone numbers texted the number in a futile effort to cast votes for Mrs. Clinton… Their effort to misinform voters began after the group saw a similar campaign intended to deceive voters in the 2016 referendum in Britain on whether to leave the European Union, also known as Brexit, according to the complaint.
Mr. Mackey and his associates created their own version, sharing photos that urged Mrs. Clinton’s supporters to vote for her on Election Day using a hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. To make the images look more legitimate, they affixed the logo of her campaign and linked to her website.
Some of their memes appeared to target Black and Latino voters. One image had a Black woman standing in front of a sign supporting Mrs. Clinton, telling people to vote for Mrs. Clinton by texting a specific number. Mr. Mackey shared a similar image written in Spanish, prosecutors said.
Back when Mackey and his dastardly co-conspirators first hatched this plan to oppress and injure the innocent through memes, BuzzFeed published a report on the plot which included a screenshot of what those 4,900 people who texted the number apparently received in response. The Clinton campaign sent a reply text informing them that the ad was not legitimate. There is, then, no reason to think that all of those 4,900 people, or any of them, actually did stay home on Election Day under the assumption that they’d already voted through text.
But that is all beside the point. The question is whether it is actually possible for a person to be deprived of their rights, or to be injured, much less oppressed, through a meme. The answer would seem to be no. At least, if there is a meme capable of persecuting all who look upon it, the ones Mackey posted surely do not fit the bill. A constitutional right is infringed, impeded, or removed when a person is, through force or threat, prevented from exercising it. Nobody was prevented from doing anything in this case. Ironically, the only one who can make a credible claim that his rights are being infringed is the very person accused of doing the infringing.
Besides, if any individual was so unfathomably stupid as to read a joke meme on Twitter and take its voting guidance seriously without doing five seconds of additional research, then the fault lies solely with that individual. You cannot always victim blame in cases of fraud, but when the supposed “fraud” is a silly picture on Twitter telling you to vote in a presidential election with a hashtag or text message, the victim does indeed deserve the blame. If anything, the alleged oppressor has done us a favor by weeding out the sort of terminal morons who shouldn’t be voting in the first place. I realize that is not a valid legal defense, but it is a relevant moral consideration.
Here is another important consideration: the government is setting a truly dystopian precedent with this prosecution. After all, a very common joke on social media around the time of any election is for the supporters of one candidate to announce that the supporters of the other are allowed to vote a day late. Is anyone who made a joke like this now guilty of a federal crime? Even if they are, does ten years in prison sound like a reasonable penalty? And if it is now a felony to post a meme with “disinformation” that may influence voting behavior, how far does that go? There are many false or dubious political claims made in the form of memes. Are we going to prosecute everyone who posts or retweets one?
If so, why isn’t the FBI breaking down the doors of people who posted claims about Donald Trump being a Nazi? That is disinformation and, if believed, it could very well influence how someone votes. My question is rhetorical, of course. Disinformation used against Republicans never has been and never will be prosecuted. Mackey’s crime is not that he posted disinformation or infringed on anyone’s right, but that he did what he did in support of Donald Trump. The only way around this conclusion is to point to leftist meme posters who have been arrested under similar circumstances, or else to claim that leftists never post misleading memes. But there are no examples of the former, and anyone who claims the latter is guilty of disinformation themselves.
To prove a point that probably doesn’t need proving, here is a comedian named Kristina Wong, in a video posted on November 8, 2016, telling Trump supporters to vote on November 9. By the DOJ’s logic, Wong is guilty of oppressing untold numbers of people and should be facing a decade behind bars. As far as I know, however, the FBI has not paid her any visits.
This is what it looks like to live under a two-tiered justice system. There is one law for the cultural heretics and another for those who remain faithful to the accepted ideological doctrines of the day. At the head of this system are a collection of petty despots in the form of bureaucrats and politicians. We are governed by their whims and they are accountable to no one.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. This article has been expanded to include more information about Vaughn.