Trump-supporting influencer known as Ricky Vaughn leaves Brooklyn court after first day of trial
A Trump-supporting Twitter influencer who is charged with conspiring to deprive citizens of their right to vote in the 2016 presidential election has appeared for trial in federal court.
Douglass Mackey, 33 – known on the internet as ‘Ricky Vaughn’ – is standing trial over his tweets encouraging Hillary Clinton supporters to cast meaningless votes by text message, instead of casting an actual ballot.
Following the first day of trial on Monday, Mackey was spotted leaving the Brooklyn federal courthouse dressed in a navy suit, white shirt, and pink polka-dot tie, with his father walking at his side.
During his opening remarks, Mackey’s attorney Andrew Frisch argued that his memes encouraging Clinton supporters to ‘vote from home’ by text were simply ‘online trash-talking’ in the hopes of gaining viral fame.
‘Mr. Mackey did not share the memes as some sort of grand plan,’ Frisch told the jury, according to the New York Daily News, arguing that the idea of voting by text was patently ridiculous to anyone with basic knowledge of US elections.
Douglass Mackey, 33 – known on the internet as ‘Ricky Vaughn’ – is standing trial over his tweets encouraging Hillary Clinton supporters to cast meaningless votes by text message
Following opening arguments on Monday, Mackey (right) was spotted leaving the Brooklyn federal courthouse with his father walking at his side
Frisch insisted that his client had merely been ‘s**tposting’, an internet term for making provocative satirical posts intended to shock and upset online foes.
According to a criminal complaint, Mackey and unnamed co-conspirators created a number of images purporting to be Clinton campaign ads, with messages such as ‘Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925.’
The phony campaign ads also carried fine print falsely claiming they were ‘Paid for by Hillary for President 2016’.
The phone number in the fake ads received least 4,900 text message responses with variations on Clinton’s name, including some from people in New York, prosecutors said.
‘This wasn’t about changing votes. This was about vaporizing votes, making them disappear,’ said Assistant US Attorney Turner Buford during opening remarks.
‘The number was real and set up to receive incoming messages,’ he argued. ‘The release of these fake campaign ads was timed to flood the internet before Election Day.’
The prosecution plans to call a total of 19 people to the stand before the defense will present its case.
According to a criminal complaint, Mackey and unnamed co-conspirators created a number of images purporting to be Clinton campaign ads, including the one above
Mackey had numerous Twitter accounts, and was repeatedly suspended by the social media company
During his opening remarks, Mackey’s attorney argued that his memes encouraging Clinton supporters to ‘vote from home’ by text were simply ‘online trash-talking’
Mackey, 33 – known on the internet as ‘Ricky Vaughn’ – is standing trial over his tweets encouraging Hillary Clinton supporters to cast meaningless votes by text message
Among the state’s witnesses is an alleged co-conspirator who flipped on Mackey and will testify for the government, and will appear in court identified only by his online pseudonym ‘MicroChip’.
The prosecution began calling several witnesses on Monday, including Jessica Morales, Clinton’s digital organizing director in 2016.
She testified that the ‘vote by text’ tweets were highly concerning to the campaign, and asked if she viewed them as a joke, she said ‘No, not a joke. Not for me. Not a parody.’
‘It’s a very sneaky graphic. It’s designed to look like it came from the campaign … This is designed to look like what we did,’ she said, according to the Daily News.
Judge Ann Donnelly is presiding over the case following a last-minute shuffle, after the planned trial judge, Nicholas Garaufis, tested positive for COVID on Sunday morning.
At the time of the alleged fraud, Mackey had 58,000 followers on Twitter and was considered an ‘important influencer’ in the election, which was won by Donald Trump, prosecutors said.
He had described himself as an ‘American nationalist’ who regularly retweeted Trump and promoted conspiracy theories about voter fraud by Democrats.
Mackey’s online screen name, Ricky Vaughn, is taken from the character portrayed by Charlie Sheen in the Major League film series.
The criminal complaint identifies two Twitter accounts associated with Mackey which were suspended in the weeks before the 2016 election due to alleged spreading of election misinformation.
Mackey had been known as Ricky Vaughn on social media, based on Charlie Sheen’s character in ‘Major League’, which he used as his Twitter avatar (right)
The complaint accused Mackey of working with four unnamed co-conspirators to spread disinformation claiming that people could vote for Clinton by posting a specific hashtag on Twitter or Facebook, or by texting Clinton’s name to a fake text code.
One tweet he sent showed a photo of a black woman with a campaign Clinton sign, encouraging people to ‘avoid the line’ and ‘vote from home,’ it said.
Prosecutors say that Mackey and his co-conspirators planned their election meme campaigns in Twitter DM group chats with names such as Fed Free Hatechat and the War Room.
Mackey is charged with one count of conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution, namely the right to vote.
If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
Source of data and images: dailymail