Prosecutorial Discretion in the Age of Shitlords and “Psychological loldongs Terrorism”

I’m working on one more post integrating materials from the Douglass Mackey trial.

But first I want to comment about some investigative and prosecutorial details about the case.

I’ve made a timeline showing what got introduced in the troll chatrooms as evidence, other known activities of Mackey and the cooperating witness Microchip, and investigative details here. The timeline includes the following DM threads that were treated as part of the conspiracy for which Mackey was convicted:

In addition, this exhibit, which was introduced under a different evidentiary rule (largely, but not entirely, Mackey’s comments, rather than those of the conspiracy), consists in part of conversations elsewhere sourced to FedFreeHateChat from earlier in 2015-2016, along with a number of two-person DMs involving Mackey or unindicted co-conspirators 1080p or Microchip.

As you read the threads, remember a few things about them. First, they’ve been extensively sanitized of the racist and misogynist language used in the threads. Anything that wasn’t directly relevant to proving either the means and goals of Mackey’s trolling, a conspiracy between the thread participants, or their intent in sending out false tweets to depress the turnout of Black and Latino Hillary supporters was excluded as prejudicial.

You can read some of what was excluded — and the very important debate about where Mackey’s free speech ended and where an attempt to impair the votes of Black and Latino Hillary supporters began — in these court filings:

  • January 30, 2023: Mackey’s effort to exclude pre-September 2016 language and commentary from when he was banned by Twitter and inflammatory speech
  • January 30, 2023: The government’s effort to get the contents of the four chatrooms, above, admitted
  • February 24, 2023: Mackey’s response to the government’s motion
  • February 24, 2023: The government’s response to Mackey
  • February 28, 2023: The government’s reply to Mackey
  • February 28, 2023: Mackey’s reply
  • March 7, 2023: Mackey letter after meet-and-confer that details objections, revealing content of some excluded files
  • March 7, 2023: Government memo after meet-and-confer
  • March 10, 2023: Judge Nicholas Garaufis order laying out admissible exhibits
  • March 11, 2023: Mackey letter seeking to exclude bigoted speech and FBI agent testimony
  • March 13, 2023: Mackey letter seeking to exclude comment about women voting
  • March 13, 2023: Government letter responding regarding bigoted speech
  • March 19, 2023: Mackey letter objecting to specific inflammatory language and memes showing Trump in violent conquest

The outlines of this dispute will be critical to the inevitable appeal of Mackey’s guilty verdict.

These Twitter DM groups weren’t the only places these trolls organized, as portrayed by trial evidence. After one of Mackey’s bannings, he authenticated his new Twitter ID on Facebook and continued to work with others on Discord. The government did not introduce any of the related threads from TheDonald or 4chan with which — as a tweet from Microchip made clear — their efforts on Twitter were sometimes coordinated.

The exclusion of related 4chan activity is significant. At trial, Mackey took the stand and claimed he had gotten the text-to-vote meme for which he was charged from widely available 4chan threads, not from these DM groups, one of which he did not rejoin after being banned by Twitter on October 5. Mackey similarly claimed not to know the key players in workshopping this meme in the War Room twitter group beyond their user name.

The claim was pretty unconvincing; it may have been an attempt to deny forming a conspiracy with the others, or an effort to protect his online friends.

I’m interested in the picture of the conspiracy provided by these threads for several related reasons.

For starters, I’m interested in the troll — prosecutors referred to the account using a female pronoun — who first created a text-to-vote meme like the one that Mackey was convicted of. On October 27, 2016 on the War Room thread (which Mackey had rejoined after being banned), HalleyBorderCol (HBC) suggested, “let’s depress illegal voter turnout with a nice hoax ;).” Someone using the moniker P0TUSTrump argued they should hold off so the hoax would not get debunked before actually suppressing the vote. HBC responded by addressing him as “Donald” and explaining — using a British spelling for rumor — how rumors work, especially on social media:

people aren’t rational. a significant proportion of people who hear the rumour will NOT hear that the rumour has been debunked.

Then, two days later, HBC posted the first of the vote-by-text (as opposed to vote-by-hashtag) memes using the text number that allowed DOJ to track the reach of those that Mackey would send on November 2.

As far as is public, prosecutors never charged HBC, in spite of her key role in planning a “hoax” to suppress turnout, but perhaps that’s because she lives in a place where they spell “rumor” with a “u.”

In fact, DOJ didn’t even identify HBC as an unindicted co-conspirator in the complaint against Mackey, though it does describe her actions. The complaint names Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet as CC#1 (compare ¶17 of the complaint with this DM), Microchip as CC#2 (compare ¶25 of the complaint with this DM), a troll named NIA4_Trump who got temporarily suspended along with Mackey in November 2016 as CC#3, and a thus far unidentified troll named 1080p who was instrumental in tweaking the memes to more closely mimic Hillary’s graphics as CC#4 (compare ¶22a in the complaint with this DM).

By the time DOJ described the co-conspirators in a footnote to their February 24 filing, however, HBC was first on their list.

As was noted in the government’s initial motion in limine, the government alleges that individuals who posted, shared, or strategized over how to optimize the deceptive images or the messages therein are co-conspirators, and that the statements of those individuals are admissible as co-conspirator statements. These co-conspirators include the Twitter users identified in the Government’s Motion in Limine: @Halleybordercol, @WDFx2EU7, @UnityActivist, @Nia4_Trump, @1080p, @bakedalaska, @jakekass, @jeffytee, @curveme, 794213340545433604 and @Urpochan, the latter of which was described but not specifically identified as a co-conspirator in that submission. The materials provided to defense counsel on September 23, 2023 [sic] include statements from the following additional users which are of a similar character and admissible as co-conspirator statements: @WDFx2EU8, @MrCharlieCoker, @Donnyjbismarck, @unspectateur and 2506288844.

Note this footnote treats a second Microchip account as separate rather than identifying that it knew Microchip was behind both accounts using the same naming convention, “@WDFx2EU#.” This was the period after DOJ had informed Mackey, on February 13, which Twitter handles its cooperating witness had used but before DOJ had publicly revealed that it had a cooperating witness.

When it came to cross-examining Mackey on his claims to know nothing about these people, however, AUSA Erik Paulson prioritized HBC.

Q I’d like to ask you about some of people in that room.

A Okay.

Q Who is HalleyBorderCol?

A That’s someone I just know as HalleyBorderCol. I don’t know anything more about that person.

Q Nothing more?

A Yes.


Mr. Mackey, do you remember this page?

A Yes.

Q HalleyBorderCol says: Let’s did depress illegal voter turnout with a nice hoax.

A Yes.

Q POTUSTrump says: I like that idea Haley, but I think we should wait for the day before or the day of, that way they don’t have time to debunk the rumor. Needs to be earlier than that.

The government’s identification of HBC in the complaint, or not, doesn’t matter legally. What mattered legally for the purpose of the trial was that Judge Ann Donnelly ruled the government had presented sufficient evidence of a conspiracy to treat HBC as one for the purposes of hearsay exception rules; Donnelly ruled that all the accounts listed above were.

But DOJ’s decision to charge Mackey alone, and to make Microchip plead guilty after a series of proffers as part of a cooperation agreement, suggests DOJ exercized discretion to treat HBC and a few other key players differently, even while both at trial and in the development of the offending meme she had a larger role.

She certainly had a larger role in the text-to-vote meme itself than Baked Alaska, for example.

Baked Alaska is all over the trolling effort. He congratulates Mackey for being named the 107th most influential political tweeter of 2016, as everyone else did too, in March 2016. He warns against “roast[ing]” Bernie supporters, “cuz the more hatred they have for hillary the more likely they will join us in national or not vote at all,” in the same April 20, 2016 chat where he discusses the “new smart team” Trump has hired. On April 23, 2016, Baked Alaska asked Mackey via DM if he wanted to join the “Trump HQ Slack for more coordinated efforts?”

In May, Mackey asks for his help making #InTrumpsAmerica go viral. Baked Alaska boasts on July 24 that “we are controlling the narrative this is amazing.” In October, Gionet reminds other trolls to “make [minorities] hate hillary.”

At least as exhibited in the trial evidence, Baked Alaska’s sole overt act in the deceptive tweet involves instructing 1080p to “make a text message version of” the Tweet calling to vote remotely (it’s unclear whether Gionet calls 1080p or jeffytee “Gabe”). The tweets for which Mackey was convicted may have been his idea, but others executed the idea.

But it was enough for others to credit him with some responsibility for Trump’s win on November 9, 2016. “Tonight we meme’d reality,” Baked Alaska said after the win.

One more person’s role is of interest. Andrew Auernheimer — better known as Weev — was all over the earlier FedFreeHateChat, which came in for Mackey’s direct comments rather than as statements of co-conspirators. Weev seems to have spent the end of 2015 helping Mackey fine-tune his trolling skills. “Thanks to weev I am i[m]proving my rhetoric,” Mackey said in FFHC on November 19, 2015. “I just hope all this shitlording goes real life.”

Weev’s involvement is of particular interest because he was helping to run the Daily Stormer in pro-Russian territories. He was always one of the most obvious potential ties between Trump’s trolls and Russia. That’s one reason this paragraph, from the government’s motion in limine, reads very differently if you know “the Twitter user” in question is Weev.

On or about December 22, 2015, the defendant communicated with others in a Twitter direct-message group about sharing memes that would suggest certain voters were hiding their desire to vote for the defendant’s preferred Presidential candidate. The defendant stated, “it’s actually a great meme to spread, make all these shitlibs think they’re [sic] friends are secretly voting for Trump.” Several weeks later, on or about January 9, 2016, the defendant and another Twitter user discussed their Twitter methodologies. After the defendant stated that “Images work better than words,” the user stated “we should collaboratively work on a guide / like, step by step, each major aspect of the ideological disruption toolkit . . . ricky you could outline your methods of commentary / we could churn out a book like this, divide profits / and hand people a fucking manual for psychological loldongs terrorism.” The defendant responded “Yes… I think that would be good / I could do another chapter on methodologies from the ads industry– shit like my twitter ads stuff was very much the result of careful targeting, nobody’s managed to replicate it properly since.” Shortly thereafter, the Twitter user stated, “honestly at this point i’ve hand [sic] converted so many shitlibs that like, i am absolutely sure we can get anyone to do or believe anything as long as we come up with the right rhetorical formula and have people actually try to apply it consistently.” The defendant responded, “I think you’re right.”2 These statements, and those like them, are admissible and relevant to show, among other things, that the defendant’s intent in spreading memes was to influence people.

But Weev doesn’t appear, at least under the handle Rabite, after he celebrated the efficacy of the trolling on the day Trump sealed the nomination.

it’s fucking astonishing how much reach our little group here has between us, and it’ll solidify and grow after the general

“This is where it all started,” Mackey responded. But for Weev, that’s where his appearance in the trial evidence, under the moniker Rabite, at least, ended.

Weev’s absence — under his Rabite moniker, anyway — is all the more striking given that per a bench conference at trial, the search warrant specified that the specific meme Mackey ultimately sent out came from The Daily Stormer.

The search warrant also noted that the one that the defendant sent out was available on the Daily Stormer website, the American Nazi newspaper, as early as October 29, which is a couple days before the defendant did.

That is, Weev may have played a direct role in creating the meme in question. But unless he was posting under the moniker 1080p (who may have been referred to as “Gabe” by others), he was not credited with doing so in evidence presented at trial.

That differential treatment — and the changed focus on HBC in the trial as compared to the complaint — is one reason, but in no way the only reason, I’m interested in some other investigative details:

  • Details about Microchip’s discussions with the government
  • The timing of interviews with Hillary Clinton staffers and its disclosure to Mackey
  • The decision not to call an investigative agent to the stand

According to a motion in limine dispute, an FBI agent named Jamie Dvorsky attempted to interview Mackey in Florida after his identity was disclosed in April 2018, which is when the FBI opened the case. Mackey first raised this issue on March 11 after he received materials on potential witnesses.

According to reports of FBI Special Agent Jamie Dvorsky, marked by the government as 3500-JAD-2 and 3500-JAD-17 (submitted under seal herewith), she and another agent traveled to Florida in 2018 and met Mr. Mackey at a Panera Bread in Boynton Beach. Mr. Mackey told her that he would be happy to speak to the agents if they would first contact his attorney, Richard Lubin. Mr. Lubin thereafter contacted Agent Dvorsky and said that Mr. Mackey would “100% cooperate and talk to the FBI.” Thereafter, Mr. Lubin did not contact the FBI nor return multiple calls.

When the government responded two days later, they described planning to call Dvorsky to explain how and when the FBI first opened the investigation.

As discussed with defense counsel, the government is calling Special Agent Dvorsky to testify as to when the government learned that the defendant was the user of the accounts that distributed the deceptive images and the initial investigative steps that were taken in the wake of that revelation. The chronology matters. As noted above, to the extent the defendant claims or suggests that the prosecution was somehow politically motivated, the fact that the government first identified the defendant in 2018 and began its investigation at that point is relevant in that regard. The government does not intend to elicit from Special Agent Dvorsky testimony that the defendant offered to cooperate with the FBI, but never followed through on the offer. Rather, to the extent that Agent Dvorsky will communicate the defendant’s statements at all, her testimony will be limited to the defendant’s telling her that he worked with Paul Nehlen.4 Accordingly, the limited testimony the government does intend to elicit is simply not prejudicial and does not warrant preclusion

They never did call her, though.

The FBI contacted Microchip, now their cooperating witness, around December 17, 2018 about a perceived threat he had made online in July 2018, but that may have been about a different case. Microchip then contacted Baked Alaska to inform him about the FBI visit, suggesting he has or had resilient ties to Baked Alaska.

Megan Rees, the FBI agent who ultimately obtained the arrest affidavit, was one of two FBI agents who visited Microchip’s home in December 2020, this time in conjunction with the Mackey case. When she wrote up that affidavit, she named Microchip, like Baked Alaska and 1080p, only as an unindicted co-conspirator.

But after Microchip saw that complaint, he reached out to the FBI via his lawyer.

Q Sir, my question to you is this: On February 4, 2021, did you reach out to Agent Rees and tell her that you had become aware that the person you knew as Ricky Vaughn had been arrested, and you believed you had information that would be useful to the FBI. Did you say that to Agent Rees?


Q My first question is: When you reached out to Agent Rees on February 4, 2021, did you tell her that you had learned the person you knew as Ricky Vaughn had been arrested recently? Did you say that?

A Yes.

Q And in addition, did you tell her that you believed you had information that would be useful to the FBI?

A Correct.

Per his testimony on cross-examination, Microchip made a formal proffer around April 22, 2021.

At it, he claimed that the intent wasn’t so much to dissuade people from voting but just to push out as many messages as possible. He also claimed the chatrooms weren’t all that organized.

Q Sir, I’m going to ask you a question. Forgive the profanity in advance, but have you ever heard the term “shit posting”?

A Yes.

Q Do you recall telling the Government at this meeting that the focus was not on one message, it was on pushing out as many — as much content as possible?


Q Do you recall telling the Government at that meeting that the participants in the chats were not as organized as many people believed?

A Yes, I remember saying that.

Q Do you recall telling the Government that there was no grand plan around stopping people from voting?

After several continuances and a revised memory of how organized things were, Microchip pled guilty on April 14, 2022. He had a meeting in advance of the disclosure of a cooperating witness on February 23, 2023. This post describes how Microchip testified to wanting to “infect” everything.

The timing of Microchip’s proffer is important, though, because it might explain any change in focus between the complaint and the evidence as presented at trial. That is, it might explain why prosecutors focused much more closely on HBC than Baked Alaska at trial.

But it also might explain any new investigative direction that DOJ took after first speaking with Microchip.

Mackey’s lawyer, Andrew Frisch (who has also represented VDARE), several times expressed curiosity about why the government used a summary FBI agent largely uninvolved in the case to introduce all the Twitter evidence, rather than putting the FBI agent who led the investigation, Megan Rees, on the stand.

MR. FRISCH: Can I put something on the record, unrelated to our prior conference. I intended at the close of the Government’s place to put a placeholder. But because of the way it worked, the jury was here, I couldn’t do it. I have been concerned as the trial has gone on that no case agent has testified. Maegan Rees didn’t testify, my friend Agent Granberg didn’t testify, and ultimately Agent Dvorsky did not testify. At one time or another. The key agent I’m concerned with is Agent Rees.


MR. FRISCH: I’m mostly concerned about why no case agent testified and specifically whether there’s a reason, a bad reason, why Agent Rees’s 3500 has not been provided, obviously apart from when she attended Microchip interviews and things like that. I just wanted to put a placeholder, I’ll discuss it with the Government, I don’t want to hold things up. I wanted to register an objection at my earliest opportunity so if I can come back to it, if necessary.


MR. FRISCH: I don’t know what she has, I don’t know what she said, I don’t know what’s in the reports. It’s just in my experience, it’s highly unusual that a trial happens without the case agent testifying, without any case agent testifying.

He’s not wrong, really, to question why the government didn’t use a case agent. Often, the government does so to keep someone who knows information inconvenient to the prosecution off the stand. For example, Durham may have used a paralegal in the Michael Sussmann case because the case agents had discovered some of Durham’s claims about the Alfa Bank anomaly were bullshit by the time of trial. Mueller used an agent focused on the obstruction part of the investigation in the Stone trial, who thereby could honestly say she didn’t know some of what DOJ subsequently discovered about Roger Stone’s actual ties to Russia when asked.

But it’s often (as it was in the Mueller investigation), done to hide parts of an ongoing investigation — something that a movement lawyer would surely have some interest in.

In this case, there are two obvious reasons to keep case agents off the stand.

The first is — as was revealed to Frisch after his opening argument — EDNY had a series of 18 interviews with Hillary’s campaign, between March 2021 and January 2023.

As Frisch laid out in a letter to the judge, after he opened, the government revealed those interviews, which, he claimed, he should have obtained.

The government’s second witness was Jess Morales Rocketto. On March 10, 2023, the Friday before the start of jury selection, the government first identified Ms. Rocketto as a witness. Thereafter, during jury selection, the government disclosed a report of the government’s then-recent interview of Ms. Rocketto, without disclosing any of eighteen reports of the government’s interviews of seventeen other representatives of the Clinton Campaign, conducted between March 2021 and January 2023. Ms. Rocketto testified that she was the Clinton Campaign’s digital organizing director; learned of vote-by-text memes using fake graphics during the final days of the campaign; found the memes’ misappropriation of the Clinton Campaign’s graphics and hashtag “#imwithher” to be such a “big deal” and so “jarring” that “you have to make a decision about what to do about something like this.” T 76, 78, 84-85, 90-92. See T 86 (The Court: “If you can avoid asking like terribly open-ended questions to this witness . . . . she has a lot to say, which is fine, but we’re never going to finish.”). On defense counsel’s subsequent cross-examination of Lloyd Cotler (a representative of the Clinton Campaign called principally to testify to steps to remediate the memes’ reference to a short code), defense counsel confirmed an unelaborated statement in the government’s report of Mr. Cotler’s interview that a Clinton Campaign worker named Amy Karr monitored social media, including 4chan [T 103], on which Mr. Mackey had seen the memes that he then shared.

The following morning, the government provided defense counsel with two reports of its interviews of Ms. Karr. At the lunch break, defense counsel requested that the government provide reports of all the government’s interviews of representatives of the Clinton Campaign. Highlights of the reports, summarized in the draft stipulation, contradicted the testimony and inferences elicited by the government from Ms. Rocketto and Mr. McNees. For example, Alexandria Witt, Senior Social Media Strategist, told the government that she referred vote-by-text memes to executive staff, but the general response was lackluster as though – – directly contradicting the very words used by Ms. Rocketto – – “this was no big deal.” Diana Al Ayoubi-Monett, another Senior Social Medical Strategist, said that she was mocked for taking “text-to-vote” memes seriously. Timothy Lu Hu Ball, a senior security expert, said that senior officials of the Clinton Campaign did not take the vote-by-texts seriously. Ms. Witt and Ms. Karr both were aware of and monitored “shit-posters” on social media supporting Clinton’s opponent. Memes containing misinformation about voting began to appear about three months before Election Day; there was no single influencer behind them; and senor staff, including campaign chair John Podesta, did not take concerns about the memes seriously. According to Matthew Compton, Deputy Digital Director (possibly Ms. Rocketto’s principal underling), the “#imwithher” hashtag had been somewhat commandeered with “unbelievable” amounts of irrelevant information, rendering it not “particularly useful.” Multiple witnesses told the government about records created by the campaign to track misinformation on social media (about which Mr. Mackey had been unaware and never attempted to subpoena or investigate). [my emphasis]

There’s no reason to believe these interviews were primarily pre-trial preparation. As the government explained in a bench conference, the government only handed them over after hearing what Mackey’s defense was in Frisch’s opening.

MR. PAULSEN: Your Honor, part of the reason we provided the 302s we did, is that we heard his opening argument, at the same time everyone did, and he made something like that argument. We turned them over at that point because it seemed like he was interested in that.

But even assuming Frisch’s description is accurate, what the Clinton campaign thought about Mackey’s trolling doesn’t change Mackey’s intent.

Which is what Judge Ann Donnelly ruled in the bench conference: this wasn’t Brady material, and besides, Frisch at that point still had several remedies available to him, such as calling the Hillary intern who identified some of the disinformation targeting Hillary on the dark web much earlier than anyone else.

THE COURT: Let me stop you there. I think I understand what you’re saying.

With respect to the issue — the e-mail telling people they could text to vote was not a big deal to the Clinton campaign. Why is that Brady material what their opinion of it is?

MR. FRISCH: Because they called Ms. Rocketto to essentially testify how horrible this was. How something had to be done right away. How she recognized this as a problem. That it specifically, in her view, was either targeted to or designed to affect or had the affect of effecting Latin American and African American voters. She was a terrific — she’s very charismatic and had a lot to say, that’s fine —

THE COURT: Why is someone —

MR. FRISCH: But I couldn’t cross-examine her with this information.

THE COURT: But you opened on it.

MR. FRISCH: But I didn’t know that the Clinton campaign agreed with my defense.

THE COURT: But who cares what their opinion is. The Clinton campaign can’t testify in court about what they think about something, any more than they can come — you didn’t object to it, she did say something was sneaky, I think I stopped her at some point. A particular person’s opinion of what the case is, I don’t understand how that is Brady material.


[I]t’s the Court’s view that it’s not Brady material because it amounts to really, the essence is what the Clinton campaign thought about it, and that’s just not relevant. In fact, their opinion of it is no more valid than their opinion would be about whether Mr. Mackey is guilty or not. That’s not relevant, to the extent that’s the claim.

In his letter demanding an acquittal because of all this, Frisch explained that rather than calling any of these people as witnesses, he drafted a stipulation that the government rejected, which he then just emailed to Chambers.

Defense counsel emailed it to the Court (rather than electronically file it with a letter) when an issue unexpectedly arose early on the morning of the last day of trial about the government’s timely receipt of the draft stipulation; exigencies of the imminent trial day made preparation and filing of a letter impractical. But it would otherwise have been electronically filed to show that Mr. Mackey’s attempt at a mid-trial remedy for the government’s violation of Rule 5(f) and Brady had been rejected (though the government agreed to stipulate to a narrow portion thereof), thereby filling in the record and helping to show the consequent irreparable prejudice.

The letter mostly seems like a bid by a movement lawyer to turn the Mackey prosecution into the second coming of the Durham trial, an opportunity to investigate the victim of a bunch of malicious crimes in the 2016 election, in part to distract from the heinous things that Trump and his allies were doing.

All these interviews took place after the indictment and most presumably took place after Microchip first met with the government in April 2021.

Frisch seems uninterested in the obvious question presented by the revelation of 18 interviews with the Clinton campaign about disinformation targeting her 2016 campaign that went viral after being drafted on the dark web: Why EDNY was conducting these interviews, continuing well after any 5 year statute of limitations would have expired.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I bet the case agents do, which might be a good reason to keep them off the stand.

The other obvious reason to keep case agents off the stand has to do with knowledge of Microchip’s ongoing cooperation, which as the original motion revealing his cooperation describes, is something “beyond the scope” of this case.

In addition, since entering into the cooperation agreement, the CW has provided assistance to the FBI in other criminal investigations beyond the scope of this case. The CW is presently involved in multiple, ongoing investigations and other activities in which he or she is using assumed internet names and “handles” that do not reveal his or her true identity. The CW has not interacted with any witness, subject, or target in these investigations and activities on a face-to-face basis, and the government has no reason to think that the CW’s true identity has been compromised as a result of this work.

There’s no evidence that the ongoing interviews with the Clinton campaign about disinformation the dark web has to do with Microchip’s ongoing cooperation. There’s not even any evidence that the case agents in Mackey’s case are the ones he worked with subsequently; on the stand, he suggested he had not met with Agent Rees since his guilty plea.

Frisch’s job is to claim all this is about Douglass Mackey and it also likely serves his interests to drum up a false scandal about Hillary by publicly releasing these 302s.

But there’s a whole bunch of tangentially related issues that didn’t show up in this trial. There’s a bunch of this that isn’t about Douglass Mackey.

Judge Unseals Details on Cooperating Witness in Douglass Mackey Case

The government was just forced to reveal that it has a cooperating witness against Douglass Mackey, the far right troll who tried to help Trump win in 2016 by tricking Hillary voters into texting their vote instead of casting it legally. The cooperating witness will testify against Mackey, whose trial starts on March 16.

The documents were all made available today:

The charge against Mackey accuses him of conspiring with four other people. As Luke O’Brien laid out when Mackey was arrested in 2021, three of Mackey’s co-conspirators were readily identifiable.

HuffPost can report that one co-conspirator is a prominent alt-right botmaster who goes by “Microchip” and was instrumental in making pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton hashtags and content go viral on Twitter during the 2016 election. A fascist accelerationist who has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazism, Microchip claims to have been involved in the early spread of the QAnon conspiracy cult and repeatedly told this reporter that his goal was to destroy the United States.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

The user ID for a third co-conspirator belongs to a pro-Trump far-right activist who goes by “Nia” and has a long history of spreading disinformation on Twitter. HuffPost has not yet been able to identify the fourth co-conspirator.

The fourth was not.

As the government laid out in its motion, at some point, the cooperating witness pled guilty to the same crime charged against Mackey, a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act. Since then, he has been cooperating with the government on other investigations, presumably targeting the far right.

The CW has pleaded guilty to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241 and entered into a cooperation agreement with the government. The government expects that the evidence at trial will show that the CW had communications with the defendant and other relevant persons over the internet through the use of Twitter, including communications discussing the creation and dissemination of deceptive images concerning the time, place, and manner by which voters could cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election. In particular, the CW participated in direct-message groups that included the defendant and others. In all instances, the CW used an online moniker for these communications and did not reveal his or her true identity, face, or likeness to the defendant or the other participants in the groups.

The government intends at trial to introduce the CW’s communications as exhibits and to question the CW concerning them and the CW’s understanding of the purpose of the deceptive images discussing the time, place, and manner of voting, among other related online activities. The CW has advised that apart from the CW’s family, a former girlfriend. and possibly one or two former business associates, no one is aware that the CW is in fact the user of the relevant internet monikers. As far as the government is aware, the CW’s true identity has never been publicly associated with any of the online monikers used by the CW on Twitter or other social media, notwithstanding the efforts of investigative journalists who have attempted to learn the CW’s identity.

In addition, since entering into the cooperation agreement, the CW has provided assistance to the FBI in other criminal investigations beyond the scope of this case. The CW is presently involved in multiple, ongoing investigations and other activities in which he or she is using assumed internet names and “handles” that do not reveal his or her true identity. The CW has not interacted with any witness, subject, or target in these investigations and activities on a face-to-face basis, and the government has no reason to think that the CW’s true identity has been compromised as a result of this work.

The government provides no other details about the CW (though Mackey’s reply refers to him as male), but it does go out of the way to note that the person had not flipped by 2016, I guess to avoid any possibility Republicans will claim this was part of Crossfire Hurricane.

For the avoidance of doubt, the CW was not cooperating with the government at any point before or during 2016.

The government noted in its reply, the technical proficiency of those who might suspect they were being investigated is such that revealing his identity might make him the target of harassment and cyber attacks.

The fact of the CW’s cooperation is sure to be seen by many in that community as a profound betrayal, with the result that, at a minimum, online harassment is bound to follow the CW should his or her identity become a matter of public record. That harassment can have negative consequences in and of itself. In addition, to claim that intense online attacks do not endanger a person’s physical safety is to ignore the reality of our current world, as evinced in common newspaper headlines. See, e.g., Sheera Frenkel, The Storming of Capitol Hill Was Organized on Social Media, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 6, 2021, available at; Eric Lipton, Man Motivated by “Pizzagate” Conspiracy Theory Arrested in Washington Gunfire, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 5, 2016, available at It is simply (and regrettably) a fact of the times that many acts of politically motivated violence in current society arise from campaigns of online harassment.

Beyond the risk to the CW, the potential consequences include the disruption of the CW’s ongoing work with the FBI. It is certainly true that the nature of this work is online and anonymous, but, if the CW’s name and location were to become known, the CW would become a target for all who believe that they might be under investigation (whether they are or not). Given the technical proficiency of those with whom the CW associates, it is not difficult to envision multiple scenarios in which the CW’s online work could be jeopardized by way of a cyberattack (at a minimum).

While it doesn’t say so, those two past incidences in which online trolling led to violence — January 6 and PizzaGate — are both other instances in which Mackey’s other co-conspirators and those in the same network were involved. Indeed, co-conspirator Baked Alaska is currently serving time for his role in the January 6 attack.

Unsurprisingly, the government provides no details about how long this cooperation has been going on — but it presumably started before Mackey was arrested in 2021. Which is likely to make a lot of right wingers awfully nervous.

Douglass Mackey Allegedly Aimed to Depress Black Turnout in Pennsylvania

The government and the defense team for Douglass Mackey, the Twitter troll accused of conspiring to convince Hillary Clinton voters to throw away their vote in 2016, are fighting over what evidence will come in at trial, which is currently scheduled to start on March 16.

As I have laid out, campaigns like the one Mackey is alleged to have conducted with people including Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, are the reason why the FBI sends Twitter lists of accounts lying about the place or means of voting: The FBI is trying to stop systematic attempts to dupe people out of exercising their right to vote.

Indeed, several times in 2016, Twitter suspended Mackey for lying about the election. “[I]t was because I posted a meme that told Hillary supporters they could text to vote. Lol,” he said in one of the messages the government is seeking to introduce.

In his own filing, Mackey cited the Twitter Files claiming it proves Twitter sometimes gets it wrong when suspending people.

The Mackey case presents some challenging legal questions, and if he is convicted, he’ll presumably appeal on First Amendment grounds.

At issue in the evidentiary dispute are comments Mackey or his alleged co-conspirators made in 2015 and 2016 about how he understood his trolling.

Even in 2015, Mackey understood the power he wielded with his trolling, because of the loyalty of his troll army.

“I have the personality and the ability to convince people now” (DM, Nov. 23, 2015)

“This identity is very powerful. I have something great going on.” (DM, Jan 7, 2016)

“I am going to start preparing myself mentally, spiritually, and physically, to be a leader. . . . I never asked or wanted to be a leader, but so many people are asking it of me, so I feel a responsibility” (DM Jan 11, 2016)

“I have like the most loyal army on twitter. I can get anything I want photoshopped in one hour. I have people offering to do web design for me. My Twitter account is just exploding” (DM Jan 28, 2016)

“It’s like at any one time there is an army of 100 of my followers ready to swarm.” (DM, Aug. 1, 2016)

The government also wants to introduce descriptions of how to deploy that troll army: repetition is key. (Note, it’s not clear whether all of these are Mackey, or whether they come from his alleged co-conspirators, not all of whom have been identified.)

“We can hijack hashtags with memes” (DM, Jan 26, 2016)

“It should be done as a coordinated effort. With the goal of trending.” (DM, May 9, 2016)

“Please help me trend #InTrumpsAmerica. New hashtag starting now” (DM, May 12, 2016)

“Repetition is key…. Repeat it again and again. I just tweeted it. Memes would also be good.” (DM, June 22, 2016)

“Please contribute a tweet to #KaineAndUnable2016, maybe we can trend it.” (DM, July 23, 2016)

“I would say use fewer hashtags, maybe only use one hashtag, and a simple, short message. Other than that, you’re doing everything right. I will keep retweeting you.” (DM, Oct 5, 2016)

“We’re going to need serious memetics to derail the coming mainstream narrative…get on it, folks” (Tweet, June 6, 2016)

“I am looking for roughly half a dozen photoshop experts who wish to join a team, please respond to this tweet with why you are qualified.” (Tweet, July 1, 2016)

The most interesting detail — particularly given Mackey’s ties to people like Jack Posobiec and, through him, to people like Roger Stone — is how closely Mackey’s understanding of the 2016 presidential race matched the Trump campaign’s.

“Hillary’s team is in a panic because black voter turnout in Ohio and Florida primaries was down 40 percent.” (Tweet, Mar 19, 2016)

“All of these polls assume the electorate will be 52 or 53 percent female, while all data indicates female turnout will be lackluster.” (Tweet, July 25, 2016) 7

“One way to depress turnout is to use meme magic to make not voting for Hillary a cool way for young POCs and progressives to ‘protest.’” (Tweet, July 29, 2016)

“A 25 year old latino progressive will probably never vote for Trump, but we can depress her enough to stay home, or vote for Jill or Gary.” (Tweet, July 29, 2016)

“Very few persuadable voters remain. A lot of what we are doing is just keeping our own team fired up, and trying to demoralize other team.” (Tweet, July 31, 2016)

“Obviously, we can win Pennsylvania. The key is to drive up turnout with non-college whites, and limit black turnout.” (Tweet, Nov 2, 2016)

To be clear: Mackey wouldn’t have needed inside information to understand that one way to suppress turnout for Hillary would be to get them to vote for Jill Stein instead of Hillary. That was all openly discussed. Even the claim that “obviously we can win Pennsylvania,” while not the consensus before the election, was embraced by MAGA trolls in advance of the election.

But in August, the prospect of winning Pennsylvania was, according to Rick Gates, “fools gold” because “Trump was unlikely to win there.” And Mackey was part of a network that could have learned of the campaign’s decision to go for fools gold.

Even as self-described reverse Russian chauvinist Matt Taibbi continues to aggressively disinform people about the point of FBI’s interest in combatting election disinformation, the Mackey trial may make clear how easy it was to match such disinformation efforts to the strategy of the campaign.

Sure, it was just trolling, albeit fairly sophisticated trolling. But its means and manner were perfectly tailored to enhance Trump’s campaign strategy.

A Tale of Three January 6 Misdemeanors: Steve Bannon, Baked Alaska, and Hatchet Speed

After pundits have spent 18 months complaining (falsely) that DOJ was only pursuing misdemeanor cases against January 6 culprits, at least a dozen media outlets assigned reporters to cover the week-long misdemeanor contempt trial for Steve Bannon. The triumphal coverage of Bannon’s guilty verdict will, I fear, continue to misinform viewers about the impact of this guilty verdict.

Bannon’s was almost certainly not the most important development in a January 6 misdemeanor case last week.

That’s true, first of all, because Bannon won’t go to prison anytime soon. After Judge Carl Nichols excluded most defenses Bannon would pursue, Bannon’s attorneys spent their time laying a record on issues they’ll raise in an appeal. Some are frivolous — about the make-up of the committee, about whether Bennie Thompson signed Bannon’s subpoena, about Bannon’s last-minute stunt to pretend he was cooperating. But one of the grounds on which Bannon will appeal, on whether he could rely on his attorney’s advice in blowing off the subpoena, is one about which Nichols agrees with Bannon — indeed, Nichols stated that he agreed over and over, as Josh Gerstein laid out.

Perhaps the most central figure in Bannon’s conviction Friday and the key to his potential victory in any appeal is a long-dead Detroit mobster and bootlegger, Peter “Horseface” Licavoli.

Licavoli died almost four decades ago and spent time in federal prison on a colorful variety of charges, including tax evasion, bribery and trafficking in stolen art. However, it was his refusal to testify to Sen. Estes Kefauver’s 1951 hearings on organized crime that produced a legal precedent central to Bannon’s case.

A decade later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a contempt-of-Congress conviction against Licavoli, ruling that he could not rely on his lawyer’s legal advice as a defense.

While the precedent was set 61 years ago, U.S. District Court Carl Nichols concluded it is still good law and, as a result, Bannon could not use the advice-of-counsel defense. The ruling also undercut Bannon’s ability to argue that executive privilege excused him from showing up in response to the subpoena.

However, Nichols said on several occasions before and during the trial that he thinks the Licavoli case may well be wrong under modern legal standards, but he was compelled to apply it anyway.

“I was bound by D.C. Circuit precedent that I’m not even sure is right,” the Trump-appointed judge said Thursday.

Now, Bannon’s lawyers will face the task of trying to get the decision overturned or deemed irrelevant, something that may require getting Bannon’s case in front of the full bench of the appeals court or even taking it to the Supreme Court.

In reality, Bannon’s attorney told him — BEWARE — that his failure to comply would get him referred for prosecution. Bannon was warned he’d go to jail for blowing off this subpoena.

But the facts of whether Bannon really relied on his attorney’s advice would not get adjudicated until after the DC Circuit — and after it, SCOTUS — have a chance to review the precedent. And since Nichols agrees with Bannon that the precedent stinks (and since Bannon is a white collar criminal), he’s virtually certain to let Bannon stay out of jail for his appeal.

So Bannon is probably not going to jail for at least a year. And the precedent of this conviction — showing that the legal system allows a well-lawyered defendant all sorts of ways to stall a misdemeanor sentence — is not one that’s likely to persuade the few remaining people whom it would cover, most notably Peter Navarro and Ginni Thomas, to plead out or cooperate (members of Congress defying subpoenas will have entirely different reasons to challenge one, and people like Tony Ornato have already cooperated, in limited form, with the January 6 Committee).

Meanwhile, there were two other misdemeanor cases of probable greater significance to holding the perpetrators of January 6 accountable.

The first is Friday’s guilty plea of Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet for the standard parading charge most other misdemeanants plead to.

Gionet won’t be going to jail anytime soon, either: his sentencing is set for January 12. Though, given Gionet’s difficulties of late staying out of legal trouble, it is noteworthy that his plea includes the standard condition that committing a crime while his sentencing is pending could void the entire plea.

As noted, Gionet’s plea is just the standard misdemeanor plea that hundreds of other January 6 rioters have already pled to. But both Gionet’s public claims that the government was threatening Gionet with an obstruction charge if he did not cooperate, and the discussion at his aborted plea hearing in May, make it clear that this was one of the misdemeanor pleas in which the government obtains limited cooperation on the front end, in Gionet’s case, probably in the form of sharing communications that would otherwise require decryption (Brandon Straka, whose sentencing memo included reference to a sealed cooperation description, is the most notable of these pleas, but Proud Boy Jeff Finley also seems to have gotten one; a continuation in Finley’s sentencing “to fully evaluate the nature and seriousness of the defendant’s misconduct” suggests he may not be as cooperative as the government expected). Gionet’s plea was originally offered in December with a deadline of January 7, 2022. It seems to have taken some months to fulfill the terms of the deal. Gionet got cute at his first change of plea hearing in May, and proclaimed his own innocence, which almost got him in a place where the government could use the information he proffered in his own felony charges. Publicly, then, Gionet’s plea only means we’re deprived of the amusement of watching him continue to fuck himself, as he did in May; but behind the scenes, DOJ seems to believe he helped the overall investigation, likely by providing evidence against other movement extremists who made the attack on the Capitol successful but who did not enter it.

These misdemeanor plea deals offer less public hint at what the government got in exchange (which may be one reason DOJ likes them). Gionet’s statement of offense focuses mostly on the abundant evidence to prove that he knew he shouldn’t be in the Capitol, as well as the evidence DOJ would have used to prove an obstruction charge against him (which they would now have sworn allocution to if Gionet tries to renege again).

Unsurprisingly for an asshole like Gionet, it is full of the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has really offended Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is presiding over Gionet’s case, when sentencing other January 6 trespassers. Among other things, Gionet admitted to saying:

  • “Let’s go, 1776”
  • “We are the Kraken, unleash the Kraken … trust the fucking plan, let’s go.”
  • “This was a fraudulent election, we’re standing up for the truth, God’s truth.”
  • [Speaking through a broken window to other rioters] “Come in, let’s go, come on in, make yourselves at home.”
  • [Speaking into the phone in a Senator’s office] “We need to get our boy, Donald J. Trump, into office. … America First is inevitable, let’s go, fuck globalists, let’s go.”
  • [In another Senator’s office, probably Jeff Merkley’s] “Occupy the Capitol, let’s go, we ain’t leaving this bitch.”
  • [To the cops telling him to leave] “You’re a fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you piece of shit, you broke your oath to the Constitution, fuck you.”

With both Gionet and Straka before him, DOJ seemed to have abundant evidence to prove an obstruction case, and the pundits complaining about the misdemeanor pleas might be better served asking whether DOJ is getting enough value from these misdemeanor pleas to justify not charging someone as toxic as Gionet with a felony.

I wrote more about the various ways DOJ is using misdemeanor pleas to advance the investigation here.

But we won’t be able to weigh that soon, if ever. For now, though, DOJ seems to believe they got enough cooperation from a key influencer to let him avoid a felony conviction (though I would be shocked if Sullivan let him avoid prison altogether).

The way DOJ has been using misdemeanor prosecutions to advance the overall investigation is important background to something that happened in the case of Hatchet Speed last week. Until his arrest, Speed was a Naval petty officer and cleared defense contractor for National Reconnaissance Office.

The investigative steps described in Speed’s arrest affidavit suggest that after FBI identified him via the Google GeoFence (he was usually masked when in the Capitol), they used an undercover FBI officer to meet with him, during which meetings he provided contradictory but damning explanations for his actions on January 6, including that he went to insurrection with some Proud Boys.

During this meeting, SPEED admitted that he entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and that he “made it to the Rotunda down below.” SPEED told UCE-1 that going to the Capitol on January 6 “was always the plan.” He explained, “We would listen to Donald Trump then all of us would go to the Capitol. Now the reason we were going to the Capitol was to protest what was going on in the Capitol… what they were doing was counting the ballots.”

On March 22, 2022, SPEED met with UCE-1 again. During that meeting, SPEED provided further details about his activities at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. SPEED stated that he went to the Capitol on January 6 with friends who were members of the Proud Boys, with whom he keeps in contact. 1 SPEED blamed “Antifa” for breaking windows and entering off-limit areas of the Capitol, and he blamed the police for using tear gas in a manner to force the crowd into the off-limit areas.

SPEED also blamed Antifa for knocking down fencing around the Capitol. He described walking over fencing and worrying about tripping, but not knowing that he was trespassing at the time.

SPEED claimed that he and the others initially did not intend to enter the Capitol. He said that his plan was to be outside the Capitol and listen to speeches “for the 12 hours it would take to do the 2-hour rebuttal for each of the 6 contested states.” However, SPEED explained, “what the FBI did in advance is they arrested or threatened all the people they knew were going to be the speakers so that there would be no leadership. They wanted to make sure there was no one there…they wanted to maximize the possibility of violence.”


SPEED further told UCE-1 that “there was this staircase leading up to the Senate side, where like we knew it was ‘off limits’ because that was, also the staircase was covered by the structure they’d set up the inauguration…and so, we were like we don’t need to go up there. We’re not here to go in the building. We’re just here to make a statement ‘we are here and we are paying attention’…but, the ANTIFA kept sending people up the staircase and trying to get people to come and we’re all like ‘no, we’re not going to follow you’…”

SPEED decided to go up the staircase because he was “tired of getting tear gassed.” Once up the staircase, SPEED claimed he intended to stay outside the Capitol Building at “this huge portico porch thing which can hold a couple thousand people.” However, SPEED said, he got tear gassed again. He also heard that Vice President Mike Pence had “validated” certain ballots they considered “invalid.”

SPEED described Pence’s act as a betrayal. SPEED stated that, at that point, he “was like, ‘I’m going in there. Like I have no respect for people in this building. They have no respect for me. I have no respect for them.’” SPEED stated, “[S]o we all went in and we took control. Like, when you have that many thousands of people, like there’s nothing the cops can do…it’s impressive.” [my emphasis]

The visual confirmation of Speed’s presence in the Capitol — from a moment when he let down the mask he had gotten on Amazon on December 3 — relies on video that Gionet took (though that’s fairly common).

This is the kind of guy — a cleared defense contractor who went to the insurrection with some Proud Boys “with whom he keeps in contact” — whose cooperation DOJ has used fruitfully in the past. He’s also the kind of guy who presents the ongoing urgent concern about our Deep State being riddled with militia sympathizers.

Perhaps because of the ambivalence of Speed’s comments to the undercover officer, though, he was charged just with trespassing. His case was assigned to Trevor McFadden, the Trump appointed judge who has long suggested, evidence to the contrary, that DOJ was treating January 6 rioters unfairly as compared to lefty protestors.

McFadden has long criticized DOJ’s continued charging of misdemeanor cases, partly because he thinks it treats January 6 trespassers unfairly, partly because it means he has to work hard. Presumably in response and possibly in an attempt to force DOJ to stop, McFadden issued a standing order for misdemeanor cases before him that requires — on threat of sanctions — an immediate plea offer and all defendant-specific discovery within a week of the initial status hearing.

The Government is required to provide all “defendant-specific” discovery information to the Defense by the Initial Status Conference or within one week of the Defense request for reciprocal discovery under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(b)(1), whichever is later. Regardless of any Defense request, the deadline for disclosure of any information covered by LCrR 5.1 is the Initial Status Conference. 1 Failure to strictly follow these timelines may result in sanctions, including likely Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute. The Government is also expected to provide any plea offer that it intends to make no later than the Initial Status Conference.

This makes it impossible for DOJ to use misdemeanor charges as an investigative tool. And the deadlines McFadden imposes, plus his explicit statements making it clear he will let misdemeanants off easy, makes it virtually impossible to use misdemeanors to obtain cooperation, too.

In a hearing on Thursday, McFadden made it clear that he does intend to impose sanctions if DOJ fails to meet the discovery deadline, even in spite of two specific characteristics of this case: that it involves classified discovery (which is not surprising given that Hatchet had clearance) and that DOJ seized 22 devices when they arrested Hatchet, some of which are encrypted. To add to the near impossibility that DOJ can comply with McFadden’s orders, the AUSA in this case, Alexis Loeb (who is prosecuting a number of Proud Boy and Proud Boy adjacent cases) is in San Francisco, so it’s not like she can go sit in Quantico to speed up the exploitation of Hatchet’s devices.

There’s a bit of a loophole here, in that even the standard misdemeanor pleas require sharing ones devices with the FBI, so to take advantage of what would surely be a punishment free plea deal, Hatchet might be required to open his devices for the FBI.

McFadden has, in the past, rewarded a January 6 defendant for espousing civil war. Here, he seems set to ensure that a Naval petty officer with ties to the militia that led the attack on the Capitol likewise escapes accountability.

If that happens, it may lead DOJ to rethink its charging patterns accordingly.

Update: Corrected Speed’s rank.

Brandon Fellows Gets a CIPA Notice

In a truly curious development, Brandon Fellows — the guy on the left in the picture, who is currently accused only of obstruction and trespassing in the January 6 riot — just got a CIPA notice. The Classified Information Procedures Act provides a way for the government to prosecute people using classified information while limiting how much information must be shared with the defendant or made public. Effectively, the government gets to show the judge classified information and argue that it is not helpful to the defense or ask to substitute something more innocuous for the classified information to be used at trial.

It’s not yet clear what kind of classified information the government wants to use against Fellows.

But one thing I’ve been tracking is DOJ’s thus far fruitless attempt to figure out who stole Jeff Merkley’s laptop.

Fellows was one of the people who was in his office during the riot and his arrest affidavit mentions the laptop, but admits that at that point (in January) they had no evidence he stole it.

On January 6, 2021, a live stream video on the DLive platform was broadcasted to the public from user “Baked Alaska” and a portion was later posted on Twitter. In the video, several people were observed in an office that appeared to be within the Capitol. The video showed a person who appeared to be FELLOWS, sitting at a table with his feet propped up on a table, as shown in the still shot below. The chairs, table, drapes, and wall art appeared to be consistent with those in the office posted by Senator Merkley. The conference room in which FELLOWS is present appears to be Senate room S140, the private “hideaway” office of Senator Merkley within the U.S. Capitol. The artwork visible on the walls of the conference room in the video is also visible on a video that Senator Merkley posted to Twitter on January 6, 2021, at 11:36pm, documenting some of the damage to his office, as described above. At this time, there is no evidence that FELLOWS was involved in any of the theft, damage, or destruction – other than being a part of the group that occupied the office for some period of time.

Fellows’ discovery shows they obtained a Pen Register on him (which would allow the government to track his contacts). But it doesn’t show that he received what the guy with whom he was pictured with in Merkley’s office, Justin McAuliffe, received: a picture of the stolen laptop.

In a letter describing the discovery provided to McAuliffe, DOJ included a picture of Merkley’s stolen laptop, among other items.

Since I first started tracking this question — and all the defendants arrested because they were filming in Merkley’s office — in May, several more people who were in Merkley’s office have been arrested.

A (surely partial) list of those who were in Merkley’s office, with their arrest date and current status, includes:

  • Anthime Gionet (Baked Alaska): Arrested January 15, still charged (with just trespassing) on original arrest affidavit
  • Brandon Fellows (upstate NY): Arrested January 16, indicted (with obstruction) February 2, jailed for being an asshole to pre-trial services July 15
  • Justin McAuliffe (Long Island): Arrested January 28 and still charged on arrest affidavit, finalizing plea deal as soon as he recovers from a recent car accident
  • Zach Rehl (Philly): Arrested in the Proud Boys Leadership conspiracy indictment on March 19, charged with conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, among other crimes
  • Felipe Marquez (Miami): Arrested January 19 then later charged with obstruction, only to plead guilty to a misdemeanor on September 10
  • Karol Chwiesiuk (a cop from Chicago who did recon the night before the attack): Arrested June 11, still charged with just trespassing on original arrest affidavit
  • Anton Lunyk (NY): Arrested May 11, charged with trespassing on June 17
  • Antonio Ferrigno and Francis Connor (NY): Buddies of Lunyk arrested on trespass charges on August 31
  • Oliver Sarko (OH): Arrested April 30, still charged with just trespassing on original arrest affidavit
  • Jody Tagaris (FL): Arrested around May 14, charged with trespassing on May 19, change of plea scheduled for October 15
  • Gary Edwards (PA): Arrested May 4, charged with trespassing on May 18
  • Nathan Entrekin (the guy from AZ who dressed like Captain Moroni): Arrested July 15, still charged on original affidavit

Some of these people — like Entrekin and Edwards — were probably arrested to get to video they took, including of what happened in Merkley’s office. Gionet, too, took video, but I would be shocked if he weren’t eventually charged with (at least) obstruction. There’s three buddies from Brooklyn (Lunyk, Ferrigno, and Connor) who realized they were in trouble when they showed up in pictures with Gionet.

Fellows is currently the only one of these people charged with a felony, obstruction.

But given that people with ties to the far right who were in Nancy Pelosi’s office stole a laptop and offered it to Russia, I do wonder whether someone also tried to share Merkley’s laptop with Russia.

That’s the kind of thing that might require classified information to charge.

Update: h/t Eureka for reminding me Rehl was pictured smoking in Merkley’s office.

Update (9/10): I neglected to include Felipe Marquez in this list. He just pled guilty. I’ve added him.

On January 6, Look to the Continuances

Riley June Williams — the woman with ties to the far right who was shown on video directing people around the Capitol and is accused of abetting the theft of Nancy Pelosi’s laptop — has not yet been indicted. Normally, the Speedy Trial Act gives prosecutors a limit of time — roughly 30 days — to formally charge you after you’re arrested. But with Williams, the government has been using a series of motions to extend this timeline. They currently have until July 21 to indict Williams.

That, by itself, isn’t all that unusual. But amid an ongoing conversation about whether the January 6 investigation will hold the most powerful accountable for the insurrection, I want to point to the existing long unindicted defendants to suggest, again, we don’t really know where this investigation is going.

Tracking which January 6 defendants haven’t been indicted is one way to identify cases that might be more interesting than others. Jon Schaffer’s case got continued for months leading up to his entry into a cooperation agreement on April 16. And Christopher Kelly’s case got continued for months before the government moved to dismiss it on June 1. At least some of these weren’t the boilerplate unopposed motions for a continuance, citing the unprecedented challenge of assembling all the evidence in this case, that have been used in most defendants cases; they were more specific requests for more time to conduct the investigation. As the disparate fate of these two men suggests, you can’t really tell what is interesting about a case if the formal charging is delayed.

But such non-boilerplate continuances are one thing I track (and I know other journalists do too) for potentially interesting cases. They happen in formally charged cases, too (for example, QAnoner Doug Jensen’s case got continued until tomorrow in such a fashion after prosecutors enhanced his own legal exposure). But it is easier to track the especially interesting delays in cases, like Williams’, where the defendant hasn’t been indicted yet.

To be sure, such continuances don’t guarantee a case will be interesting. A number of these cases end up in delayed felony charges (though that’s true of the boilerplate continuances as well). Sometimes these delays are attributable to delays in attorneys getting approved to represent defendants in the DC District. In several cases, such continuances were used when either the defendant or their lawyer got COVID. Sometimes, it even seems like the system has lost defendants (with just a handful of exceptions, thankfully not those being detained). There are a couple of defense attorneys and a couple of prosecutors who just seem to like doing it this way.

Often, lawyers attribute the delay to plea discussions (though that’s generally the reason for the unopposed continuances, as well as the consent ones).

Sometimes something else seems to be going on. For example, Prosecutor Brandi Harden has twice gotten continuances in the case of Emanuel Jackson, the developmentally challenged homeless man who walked into the middle of the insurrection off the street and was handed a baseball bat which he used to assault cops, with the explanation, “There are outstanding issues related to Mr. Jackson’s case, that the parties are continuing to address.”

In several cases, such continuances seem to tie to a defendant’s other existing legal problems. For example, Bryan Betancur violated probation by lying about his purposes for going to DC on January 6, and so has been thrown back in jail because of it (though Betancur’s friend, Britney Dillon, was recently charged in the riot). In another example, when the FBI searched Adam Honeycutt’s home in association with this January 6 arrest warrant, they found guns and marijuana that exposed him to charges in Florida; DC prosecutors are delaying his January 6 prosecution until after a trial this week on the possession charges in Florida. But in at least one of those cases — that of Kash Kelly, charged with just misdemeanor trespassing — the delay comes with a defendant who was discussed in a conversation involving Rudy Giuliani and who cooperated against his fellow gang members in his drug-related prosecution in Illinois. The fact that Ryan Samsel’s then girlfriend, Raechel Genco, has had her own trespassing case continued, makes his more intriguing, though there’s a long list of reasons that readily explain why Samsel’s prosecution has been delayed, not least that he was brutally beaten by someone yet to be determined while he in the DC jail.

All that said, I wanted to point to some clusters that may suggest future developments. An easy one are the cases of Emily Hernandez, her uncle William Merry, and their friend Paul Westover all of which have been delayed with continuances. They traveled to insurrection together and show up in pictures showing off the piece of a sign from Nancy Pelosi’s office they stole.

It would be unsurprising to see these cases get combined into a conspiracy, possibly with others from St. Louis.

That said, a goodly number of defendants awaiting formal charges were in Pelosi’s office, including Williams.

Along with Williams, there are others, like Anthime Gionet, who have known ties with America First or were in the vicinity of others self-identifying as America First who are also awaiting their charges.

Then there’s the case of Brandon Straka. He’s the head of the Walkaway campaign, and was a speaker on January 5. There’s no allegation he entered the door of the Capitol, though at a time when he was on the stairs, he was involved in attempting to take a shield from an officer and for that got charged with civil disorder (in addition to the standard trespass crimes). He obviously could be charged with obstruction, but that hasn’t been charged yet. On May 24, the parties asked for a continuance and excludable delay until August, but Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather hasn’t yet issued an order approving that. (There’s one other person that engaged in higher level organizing, but I suspect it’s the choice of her attorney.)

Update: This morning Judge Meriweather signed the Straka continuance.

Update: Doug Jensen wants to go work while he awaits resolution of his case (specifically mentioning self-surrender) so he settle his affairs and take care of his family.

DOJ Moves to Label John Sullivan a Professional Provocateur

Yesterday, the government released a superseding indictment for John Earle Sullivan, the guy who filmed video of the insurrection and then sold it to CNN and other media outlets. In addition to adding two crimes for his possession of a knife he boasted of having in his own video but then allegedly lied to the FBI about, the government moved to seize almost $90,000 in forfeiture. The move is an aggressive step that may be justifiable for Sullivan, but has implications for the five or so other propagandists arrested as part of the riot.

Sullivan was first charged, with civil disorder and trespassing, on January 13, after several FBI interviews. His arrest affidavit described how, repeatedly during the video he filmed of the riot, he made comments egging on the rioters. At the moment he caught Ashli Babbitt’s shooting on film, he had pushed himself to the front of that mob by calling out that he had a knife.

When the government first indicted Sullivan on February 3, the added obstruction and abetting charges to the civil disorder and trespass charges. That happened at virtually the same time the government moved to revoke his bail, based off several violations of the limits imposed on his use of social media. Sullivan responded by arguing that all that media contact was his job; his lawyer even provided evidence of the funds CNN have paid him to obtain his video of the insurrection. In response, Sullivan remained on bail with more explicit limits to his Internet access.

The one public discovery notice provided to Sullivan so far includes:

  • Earlier publications showing his efforts as a provocateur, including “Let’s start a riot” and “How to Take Down a Monument”
  • His criminal arrest record that includes association with past outbreaks of violence at protests
  • An interview he did on Infowars after the riot
  • Subpoenas to CenturyLink and Beehive Broadband, suggesting they were tracking traffic on Sullivan’s website

Then things went quiet in his case until, on May 7, his lawyer filed a motion to get funds in a Utah bank released he said had been seized without warning. It argued that Sullivan is entitled to a hearing at which he can contest that he committed a crime and the funds being seized came from the crime.

Accordingly, the federal courts have held that when the government restrains a criminal defendant’s assets before trial on the assertion that they may be subject to forfeiture, due process requires that the defendant be afforded a post-deprivation, pretrial hearing to challenge the restraint. If certain minimal conditions are satisfied, “[t]he wholesale use of…forfeiture proceedings [should cause] grave concern when the Government has clearly focused its law enforcement energies and resources upon a person and attempts to restrain his property….” United States v. $39,000 in Canadian Currency.” 801 F.2d 1210, 1219 n.7 (10th Cir. 1986).

The United States Supreme Court has made clear that pretrial seizure, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Sec. 853 (f) requires two probable cause findings: (1) that the defendant committed an offense permitting forfeiture and (2) that the property at issue has the requisite connection to that crime.” Kaley v. United States, 134 S. Ct 1090,1095 (2014).

At the outset, defendant notes that he needs the funds in the seized bank account in order to pay his rent and household necessities. Additionally, the proceeds of the seized bank account are not the product of criminal activity alleged in the indictment.

Thus the new indictment, I guess.

The indictment ties the forfeiture not to Sullivan’s civil disorder charge, which would seem to make sense given Sullivan’s past history of profiting off inciting violence at peaceful protests, but instead to Sullivan’s obstruction charge. That seems to argue that Sullivan’s filming of the insurrection, in which he cajoled police to step down (including from the confrontation before Babbitt was shot) and cheered on the seizure of the Capitol, was part of the successful obstruction of the vote count.

Given Sullivan’s past incitement (which, ironically, was well-documented by leftist activists months before Trump supporters and Sullivan’s own brother tried to base an Antifa false flag claim on Sullivan’s presence), this may be a reasonable argument for Sullivan.

But there are at least five other right wing propagandists who were present at the insurrection for whom that might be a really troubling precedent (an InfoWars video editor Sam Montoya also witnessed and magnified Babbitt’s death).

Again, this may all be merited. And perhaps DOJ is tying Sullivan’s new charges for his knife to the seizure. But it seems an important development to track.

Update: Sullivan’s motion for a hearing on the seizures alluded to more discovery. This letter may describe that discovery. It describes a slew of subpoenas, including Square, JP Morgan, Venmo, Discover, Amazon, and others. In other words, the letter reflects a concerted effort to figure out how Sullivan’s finances work.

But the more interesting detail is item 21, reflecting the HIGHLY SENSITIVE estimate from the Architect of the Capitol estimating the cost of replacing a window. Sullivan’s own video strongly implies he broke that window. But he hasn’t been charged with it yet. That’s important, because he could be — and if he is, it could trigger terrorism enhancements.

It was harsh of the government to seize Sullivan’s funds. But what might come next will be far more harsh.

Update: Justin Rohrlich found and shared the seizure warrants. The logic behind this seizure is as follows:

¶31: The affidavit lays out evidence of Sullivan admitting he’s not a journalist, including hims saying on January 5 that he made that claim up “on the fly.”

¶32: A description of how after the riot, Sullivan changed his webpage description to incorporate a claim to be a journalist.

¶34: Citations to the hearing on his release violations in which he presented the contracts he got for the video.

¶35: A brag, right after he left the Capitol, saying, “Everybody’s gonna want this. Nobody has it. I’m selling it, I could make millions of dollars. … I brought my megaphone to instigate shit.”

¶36: A summary of the deposits paid for use of the video.

Last Month, Baked Alaska Got to Ditch His Ankle Bracelet

While I am probably missing a few examples, I can think of just two defendants that DOJ has voluntarily loosened release conditions for without some kind of purpose tied to employment: Jon Schaffer, when he entered into a cooperation agreement with the government, and far right propagandist Baked Alaska, AKA Anthime Gionet, last month.

A warrant for Gionet’s arrest was obtained on January 7 and he was arrested on January 15 on misdemeanor charges of trespassing. He was released on personal recognizance but, unlike many other trespassing defendants, he was outfitted with a GPS monitor to make sure he stayed in AZ.

He was sent away and has never since been charged via Information.

On March 23, DOJ added a second attorney to this simple trespassing case, Christopher Brown. On March 26, Gionet asked to lose the ankle bracelet, based (in part) on a claim that he is media and (in part) on a claim that other misdemeanors he faces in AZ won’t likely go to trial. On March 29, DOJ asked for a consent motion to continue the case for another month past March 29 saying they’re trying to “resolve” this issue; this is the same kind of motion to continue they used in the Schaffer case (as opposed to unopposed motions to continue, as they’ve used in most other January 6 cases). And on March 31, the government said that, while it doesn’t agree with Gionet’s claim to be media, they don’t mind if he ditches his ankle bracelet because he’s been a good little Nazi sympathizer while out on release.

The defendant has asked this Court to remove Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring from his release conditions. In his motion, the defendant argues that he is a member of the news media. The government disagrees. Nevertheless, because the defendant has been compliant with his release conditions to-date, the government does not oppose the instant motion.

On its face, it was an inexplicable move, particularly given the way the January 6 defendants have pointed to each other’s release conditions like 400 children complaining about unfair treatment to their mother.

When Larry Brock, also (currently) facing just trespass charges asked to change his release conditions, the government objected both to permitting Brock to travel freely in TX as well as access to the Internet. “The Defendant has not provided a change in circumstances to justify a change in release conditions,” the government argued. (John Bates overruled the government on the latter point.)

And when Felicia Konold, accused in a more serious Proud Boy conspiracy, made a similar argument about good behavior in a bid to lose her GPS monitor, the government argued that good behavior was insufficient reason to change release conditions. Indeed, in that case they pointed to her pending DUI case (like Gionet’s misdemeanor charges, in AZ), to suggest her behavior wasn’t all that great. “In sum, the defendant has not raised any novel issue that merits any meaningful change of her release conditions,” the government explained in opposing her request.

When Nicholas DeCarlo, functionally equivalent to Gionet as a right wing propagandist (albeit charged, in addition to trespassing, with conspiracy, obstruction, and for damaging the Capitol), asked to have his GPS removed, the government said nothing had changed to justify the change. “Finally, there have been no change in circumstances, other than the passage of time, that would justify these instant modifications.”

But in Gionet’s case, with no visible change in circumstances, and with pending state charges just like Konold, he ditched the ankle bracelet.

It’s certainly possible that the government, in the wake of the Eric Munchel decision (released the same day Gionet made his request), didn’t want to bother fighting this more aggressively. It’s possible they’re more sensitive to the claim that Gionet is a journalist than they let on — except that in the wake of this exchange, they’ve continued to arrest people making similar claims.

Or it’s possible something more interesting is going on. Ordinarily, a Nazi sympathizer facing a trespass charge wouldn’t have anything to deal to the government; nor would a trespass charge incent a defendant to make a deal.

Except that’s not the only exposure Gionet has or had.

On January 22, between the time Gionet was first charged and when he was arraigned, Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Douglas Mackey in a conspiracy to interfere with others’ right to vote, based off Mackey’s social media campaign encouraging Hillary voters to vote by hashtag rather than casting a legal vote. Mackey was the only of the co-conspirators charged, but according to Luke O’Brien — who first broke Mackey’s true identity — Gionet was one of the four other co-conspirators described in the complaint.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

In the time that nothing has been happening in Gionet’s January 6 charge, Mackey has been indicted and his team has been reviewing evidence. On March 29 — just after DOJ added a second attorney to the Gionet case — DOJ added a third attorney to Mackey’s case.

With five prosecutors between the two cases, things are clearly more complex than the filings suggest.

And that may be the change in circumstances that allowed Gionet to ditch his ankle bracelet.

Update: Michael Daughtry, accused of trespassing, also got to ditch his ankle bracelet after wearing it for a week.

Whither the Douglass Mackey Investigation?

Yesterday, the FBI arrested Douglass Mackey, a far right activist who used the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn, for his efforts in 2016 to suppress Clinton voters. The complaint charges Mackey with a conspiracy against others’ Constitutional rights under 18 USC §241. I want to unpack what the complaint says about where this investigation came from and where it might head, if anywhere.

Mackey and others led almost 5,000 people to miscast their 2016 vote

There’s a lot of language in the complaint about Mackey’s social media efforts — which has a number of right wingers, including those who were tangentially involved in this effort, whining about their own First Amendment rights. Ultimately, though, the crime boils down to ads that Mackay made and popularized in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election encouraging Hillary voters to text their vote. If people did so, they would have thought their vote was cast, when in effect they would have texted it to a void.

The complaint notes that the text code Mackey used for the campaign got 4,900 responses.

According to iVisionMobile, the company that owned the Text Code listed in the two Deceptive Images distributed by MACKEY, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “[Candidate’s first name]” or some derivative to the Text Code on or about and before Election Day, including many belonging to individuals in the Eastern District of New York. Of the approximately 4,900 numbers that corresponded with the Text Code, approximately 4,850, or 99%, sent their texts after MACKEY first tweeted a Deceptive Image from MACKEY Account 2. [my emphasis]

Effectively, then, the complaint argues that Mackey tricked almost 5,000 people to miscast a Hillary vote, thereby depriving them of their right to cast a valid vote.

This investigation was started and finalized under a Trump US Attorney

Right wingers are also whining that the timing of this complaint shows that the Deep State is moving against Trump supporters immediately after his departure.

That makes no sense.

First, at least two key steps in this investigation, interviews of Paul Nehlen and filmmaker Loren Feldman, happened last fall.

On or about October 5, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview with the Congressional Candidate. The Congressional Candidate confirmed that “Ricky Vaughn’s” true name was MACKEY, and that MACKEY had offered his services to his/her campaign. The Congressional Candidate added that, although s/he had never met MACKEY in person, s/he frequently communicated with MACKEY by telephone and via MACKEY’s personal email accounts.

On or about October 19, 2020, FBI agents conducted a voluntary interview of the Filmmaker who again confirmed that s/he had interviewed MACKEY in 2016 and that s/he knew MACKEY at that time by his Twitter name of “Rickey Vaughn.” The Filmmaker futher confirmed that s/he had subsequently been shown a photograph of MACKEY and confirmed that the individual in the photograph was the individual the Filmmaker had met as “Ricky Vaughn.”

In October 2020, as now, the Brooklyn US Attorney was Seth DuCharme. While DuCharme spent his career in EDNY, he was a key aide to Bill Barr, both as Counselor and then PADAG. In July, Barr effectively swapped DuCharme back into EDNY and moved the then US Attorney, Richard Donoghue, to PADAG.

In other words, the guy whose name will be on this indictment is among Barr’s most trusted aides.

DuCharme even issued a strong statement about this prosecution when it was announced.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes. They will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

I argued in this post that early indictments in the Biden Administration would (because he’s not immediately replacing all US Attorneys) be approved by Trump loyalists, and this is a perfect example of that.

Actions completed in 2016 are being charged in 2021

One of the most interesting questions about this complaint is why actions that were completed in 2016 and didn’t appear to take much investigation beyond some warrants to Twitter and two interviews were only charged in 2021.

It’s not entirely clear where this investigation came from, but the most likely is that when HuffPo originally exposed Mackey in 2018, someone at the FBI or DOJ took notice. That seems all the more likely given that the complaint relies on some of the research in that original story, including that Mackey had a reach on Twitter well outside his follower count.

There was no mistaking Ricky Vaughn’s influence. He had tens of thousands of followers, and his talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the “alt-right” white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails. The MIT Media Lab named him to its list of top 150 influencers on the election, based on news appearances and social media impact. He finished ahead of NBC News, Drudge Report and Stephen Colbert. Mainstream conservatives didn’t know they were retweeting an avowed racist and anti-Semite, but they liked what Ricky Vaughn had to say.

So the simplest explanation for the genesis of this investigation is that article.

There are other possibilities, though.

For example, as that original HuffPo story noted, Mackey magnified one of the Internet Research Agency’s most effective Twitter accounts, TEN_GOP, which many right wingers mistakenly believed was the official account of Tennessee’s Republican Party.

In the data set of significant accounts we looked at, Ricky Vaughn retweeted @TEN_GOP the most, by far. Although Twitter shut down his @Ricky_Vaughn99 handle in October 2016, another handle he possibly used, @RapinBill, took over and retweeted @TEN_GOP at least 162 times between early March and late August 2017. (@RapinBill also retweeted @Pamela_Moore13, another Kremlin-controlled account, at least 37 times during this period.)

Some far-right sources suggest that @RapinBill might be an account run by another anonymous bad actor, an assertion for which there is no proof, but the account has nevertheless capitalized on the Ricky Vaughn brand of far-right intolerance and fake news. We will update this story as we learn more.

Curiously, @RapinBill, which is still active and followed by Donald Trump Jr., does not appear to have received a single reciprocal retweet from @TEN_GOP during the time period we looked at, perhaps indicating an attempt to conceal the connection. @RapinBill retweeted @TEN_GOP until the end. When Twitter finally shut down @TEN_GOP last August, after having ignored numerous complaints about the Russian account, Ricky Vaughn did not take it well. He groused that @TEN_GOP had been “banned for supporting our president.” Within hours, he was steering traffic to the Kremlin’s backup account:

Another possibility is that this investigation arose out of Mueller’s investigation of Mike Flynn and Roger Stone’s focus on social media during the 2016 election. As Luke O’Brien (the reporter who first unmasked Mackey) noted in his coverage of the complaint, Mackey had ties to efforts involving Flynn and Stone in 2016.

Mackey and the three co-conspirators that HuffPost was able to identify are closely associated with a group of high-level pro-Trump political saboteurs known as “MAGA3X” that had ties to the Trump campaign and Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Presided over by far-right Twitter influencer Mike Cernovich, white nationalist funder Jeff Giesea, who is a disciple of billionaire Peter Thiel, and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec, who counts Roger Stone as a mentor, MAGA3X spearheaded the Pizzagate disinformation campaign on social media that targeted Hillary Clinton in the weeks before the 2016 election.

Mueller’s team focused closely on both Flynn and Stone’s involvement in social media in 2016. In August 2016, Stone pitched both Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon on how to win ugly using social media. The overt parts of Stone’s effort involved an Erik Prince-funded effort to suppress the black vote. One of the still-sealed warrants pertains to multiple Twitter accounts that don’t appear to be Stone’s. And Mueller interviewed several people who worked with Stone on social media campaigns (and asked Andrew Miller about Alex Jones’ campaigns, as well).

The biggest reason to doubt that this investigation comes out of Mueller’s is the venue. While Mackey has ties to Brooklyn, at the time of his actions, he was living in Manhattan, SDNY rather than EDNY. The complaint seems to claim venue based on victims who reside in EDNY, bolded in the blockquote above, not Mackey’s location at the time of his actions. If Mueller had referred this, he presumably would have referred it to where the actions took place, SDNY.

It’s also possible it comes out of the Intelligence Committees’ investigations into disinformation. As Quinta Jurecic noted last night, Mackey’s ads were among those Twitter shared with the committees in 2018, though not by name. But again, the logical place to pick that up would have been SDNY or even DC.

There’s one other possibility. Last fall, in an effort to feed Trump’s conspiracy theories, Barr affirmatively mobilized voter fraud investigations. If someone had been sitting on the evidence unveiled in 2018, Barr’s action would have provided the opportunity to wrap it up into an indictment, effectively using GOP claims of voter fraud as the excuse to prosecute GOP voter fraud.

DOJ charged just one member of a conspiracy

Perhaps the most enticing part of this complaint is that it explicitly includes four other people as co-conspirators.

It describes the actions of Mackey’s co-conspirators to include:

  • Discussing how best to optimize social media campaigns
  • Retweeting Mackey’s campaigns
  • Running several DM-based strategy groups called the Madman Group, the War Room, Fed Free Hatechat
  • Fine-tuning some of the ads used
  • Posting some of the actual ads
  • Adding Mackey’s new accounts back into the DM collaborations after Twitter shut down his accounts

It’s not entirely clear how EDNY chose to treat these four as co-conspirators as distinct from other Twitter users and DM collaboration participants.

O’Brien IDs three of the four co-conspirators:

The complaintlists four co-conspirators referred to only by Twitter “user IDs,” a unique string of numbers assigned to each Twitter account. HuffPost can report that one co-conspirator is a prominent alt-right botmaster who goes by “Microchip” and was instrumental in making pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton hashtags and content go viral on Twitter during the 2016 election. A fascist accelerationist who has expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Nazism, Microchip claims to have been involved in the early spread of the QAnon conspiracy cult and repeatedly told this reporter that his goal was to destroy the United States.

Another of Mackey’s co-conspirators is Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet, a pro-Trump white nationalist who was arrested on Jan. 16 for his involvement in storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Gionet also participated in the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. (A New York Times story reported Wednesday afternoon that Gionet was a co-conspirator, citing a source close to the investigation, and HuffPost can confirm that reporting based on the Twitter ID cited in the complaint.)

HuffPost was able to link the Twitter IDs in the complaint to Gionet and Microchip through previously collected Twitter data, interviews and evidence left by both extremists on other websites. In direct messages with this reporter last year, Microchip also confirmed that he was using the Twitter account associated with the user ID listed in the complaint.

The user ID for a third co-conspirator belongs to a pro-Trump far-right activist who goes by “Nia” and has a long history of spreading disinformation on Twitter. HuffPost has not yet been able to identify the fourth co-conspirator.

It’s unclear whether EDNY plans to add them in an indictment or not. It’s possible they just named them as co-conspirators so as to be able to use their DMs and other Tweets to build the case against Mackey (which would make it a matter of prosecutorial efficacy). It’s also possible they’ll get added when this is indicted.

Particularly given the inclusion of Baked Alaska in here, though, it’s possible that this is an effort to crack down on key far right propagandists as part of a larger crackdown in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.

There’s just one detail that suggests this might go further: the inclusion of a PIN prosecutor in the prosecution team.

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.

Among the other cases James Mann is or was prosecuting are the Andy Khawaja case funneling money from the UAE to both 2016 candidates (though only the Hillary side was charged; George Nader is one of the defendants) and the Elliot Broidy case, whose pardon will close out that case.

While his inclusion by no means makes this a certainty, it raises the chances that this social media activity will either be considered in the scope of campaign donations or might even involve foreign partners.