Social Media Influencer Charged With 2016 Election Interference After Urging Followers to Text in Votes: Feds

"I voted" stickers
Photo by LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, 31, of West Palm Beach was charged with soliciting voters to vote by text ahead of 2016 election

A notorious alt-right social media influencer, who was once considered Donald Trump's most prolific supporter on Twitter, was arrested by the FBI in Florida Wednesday for allegedly conspiring with others to misguide individuals, specifically Black and Latinx voters, ahead of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, according to the Department of Justice.

Douglass Mackey, 31, otherwise known under his Twitter moniker, Ricky Vaughn, was taken into custody at his home in West Palm Beach by federal agents and appeared before a U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart of Southern Florida.

Mackey allegedly conspired with others to "spread disinformation" about how citizens should cast their votes during the previous election, according to the complaint.

He used his Twitter platform, which had established an audience of 58,000 followers, that they could vote by posting a specific hashtag on either Twitter or Facebook, or by alternatively, texting the candidate's first name to a text code, the document reads.

“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. 

Mackey was ranked the 107th most important influencer during the then-upcoming election, according to an MIT Media Lab analysis. His account was ranked above outlets like NBC News, ranked 114th, and people like Stephen Colbert, ranked 119th, and Newt Gingrich, ranked 141st.

Mackey and four others, who were unnamed in the complaint, allegedly conspired between September and November 2016 and created "memes" intended to trick people and undermine voters, officials said.

The complaint continues, saying that Mackey allegedly tweeted an image in November 2016 that featured an African American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for [the Candidate]” sign. The image included the following text: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text ‘[Candidate’s first name]’ to 59925[.] 

"Vote for [the Candidate] and be a part of history.” The fine print at the bottom of the image stated: “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 [Candidate] for President 2016.”

As a result of his misinformation campaign, prosecutors said at least 4,900 unique phone numbers texted the number in an effort to vote for Hillary Clinton, The New York Times reported.

Mackey is charged with conspiracy to violate rights, which can carry 10 years in prison, the outlet reported.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erik Paulsen and Nathan Reilly of the Eastern District of New York, and Trial Attorney James Mann of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.