Douglass Mackey’s Criminal Twitter Trolling

For the entire time since MattyDickPics started complaining about the fact he couldn’t see nonconsensual pictures of Hunter Biden’s dick, he and other apologists for disinformation have claimed there was nothing to the effort to suppress the vote using Twitter.

A jury in Brooklyn just decided otherwise. Douglass Mackey — who was indicted for attempting to suppress the Black and Latino vote in 2016 — was found guilty of conspiring to violate his targets’ right to vote.

As proven at trial, between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey conspired with other influential Twitter users and with members of private online groups to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages that encouraged supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “vote” via text message or social media which, in reality, was legally invalid. For example, on November 1, 2016, in or around the same time that Mackey was sending tweets suggesting the importance of limiting “black turnout,” the defendant tweeted an image depicting an African American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary” sign. The ad stated: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home,” “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925,” and “Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.” The fine print at the bottom of the deceptive image stated: “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary For President 2016.” The tweet included the typed hashtag “#ImWithHer,” a slogan frequently used by Hillary Clinton. On or about and before Election Day 2016, at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “Hillary” or some derivative to the 59925 text number, which had been used in multiple deceptive campaign images tweeted by Mackey and his co-conspirators.

Several hours after tweeting the first image, Mackey tweeted an image depicting a woman seated at a conference room typing a message on her cell phone. This deceptive image was written in Spanish and mimicked a font used by the Clinton campaign in authentic ads. The image also included a copy of the Clinton campaign’s logo and the “ImWithHer” hashtag.

The people with whom Mackey conspired are a collection of leading figures in the (Russian-backed) alt-Right.

I plan to return to this trial in weeks ahead.

But for the moment, this verdict says that all the disinformation that Matt Taibbi and Elon Musk are working to replatform on Twitter has been found to be potentially criminal.

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.

Matt Taibbi Confesses He Hasn’t Read His Own Twitter Files

Matt Taibbi, whom I have taken to calling “#MattyDickPics” for his wails about tweets that were part of a coordinated revenge porn campaign targeting Hunter Biden being taken down, confessed yesterday he knows virtually nothing about his own “Twitter Files” campaign, including what he himself has posted. In response to a Twitter account with just four followers that observed that his campaign had exposed nothing, MattyDickPics tweeted the following:

Before I use MattyDickPics to debunk MattyDickPics, let’s first unpack his claims: He says that, “These DHS/FBI programs are not for building cases” which he judges is “Not even close to the criminal case-building mission.”

Let’s talk about his premise, first of all — the claim that the “mission” is about “criminal case-building.”

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, the part of DHS that runs what Taibbi calls a “program,” describes its public-facing mission this way:

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) leads the national effort to understand, manage, and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure. We connect our stakeholders in industry and government to each other and to resources, analyses, and tools to help them build their own cyber, communications, and physical security and resilience, in turn helping to ensure a secure and resilient infrastructure for the American people.

In his January 6 Committee testimony, former CISA Director Chris Krebs described the kinds of things CISA would do to help protect the vote.

In terms of the bidding internal to the U.S. Government on who had lead in those three areas [targeting of campaigns, targeting of election infrastructure, disinformation], it was clear, you know, once Jeh Johnson, the prior Secretary in 2017, January of 2017, designated election infrastructure critical infrastructure, it was, you know, CISA had the lead for working with State and local election officials on protecting critical infrastructure — or election infrastructure. That’s the systems. That’s the hardware. That’s the equipment and the processes associated with conducting an election.

Q Ands so can stop you there for a second?

A Yes.

Q Is that primarily protecting against what we would think of as hacking?

A No, not necessarily. It’s, again, critical infrastructure, we had an all-hazards approach. So we worked with election officials to conduct active shooter drills and 13 assessments. We would go look at election warehouses where equipment is stored in the off season, do physical risk assessments. In the wake of hurricanes, we would work with election officials. In fact, Kyle Ardoin, who’s the Secretary of State in Louisiana, in 2000 — the summer of 2020, I guess, where they got hit pretty hard by an election, we helped him work with FEMA and some of the response efforts there to get resources he needed to be able to conduct the election in 2020. So it was not just cyber. That tended to be the public – at least what the public cared about or the media cared about, just because it’s 2016, but it was – again, it was an all hazards. And we did — I don’t want to put numbers on it, because I don’t recall, again, off the top of my head, but a significant number of physical assessments of election facilities.


Q You talked earlier about the infrastructure and protecting that. How did you work with State officials to make sure that their – to help them ensure that their equipment was safe and secure?

A We had a number of different offerings that we had. There’s an entire catalog. There’s an election security catalog. It’s not in here because it’s thick. But we would go out and conduct things like security and vulnerability assessments. We could do red team. We could do fairly in-depth assessments of voter registration database configurations 1) We had a, what’s known as cyber hygiene scan that they would sign up for and we’d do a regular scan to see if anything touching the internet was mis- – well, not misconfigured, but running an old vulnerable version. We developed in the summer before the election a product called – or tool called Crossfeed, which was a little bit more in-depth of assessing vulnerabilities of systems and websites that are touching the internet. ~ And then we would provide them reports and technical assistance on how they might secure things.

The stuff that MattyDickPics is concerned about was an effort to facilitate state election officials’ ability to rebut false claims about elections.

Q We’ve seen some documents that were produced by DHS relating to efforts to connect with social media platforms, Twitter, for example, to working with State and local officials to try to address claims that were being made on Twitter that were false.

A Uhhh,

Q Are you familiar generally with that initiative?

A I think generally, yes. And I gave an example of the 2018 election, at least, how we were able to connect I think it was Ohio with one of the platforms.

Q And it seemed as if that was a fairly robust — I was going to say operation. That’s probably too strong a word. But there was a fairly – it looked to be, from the documents I’ve seen, a fairly well-coordinated effort to put State officials in touch with the social media platforms and try to provide the information necessary to address what were false claims in their respective jurisdictions.

A I think certainly the efforts to make those connections was a priority. We had frequent — I think it was monthly – at least monthly I think monthly, let me put it that way meetings between interagency partners, so FBI, DNI, and CISA, with representatives from the social media platforms. And we sometimes did those out in California. You know, I would attend every now and then some of those meetings. Now, State and local partners were not there. This was just making sure the Federal Government and the social media platforms were connected and were sharing kind of our understanding of how things were playing out, what our concerns were.

None of that, CISA’s role in information-sharing, is law enforcement. The one example Krebs mentioned that involved an attempted hack, CISA passed off to the FBI and intelligence agencies.

And there was a State, Delaware observed an unknown actor trying to exploit an Oracle database vulnerability that they had had patched. So what we were able to do is Delaware let us know. We said, that’s interesting. ~ But because we were integrated with the FBI and the intelligence community and others, we could actually say, hey, 12 guys so it wasn’t just for our benefit, like | said, decision support. We were able to share it with our operational partners for them to go do whatever they need to do. Soit was a functional operational watch cell, also coordinating situational awareness, coordinating action. And that was and that was the day.

CISA didn’t ask for anything back from Twitter because CISA is not a law enforcement agency (note: one other thing MattyDickPics is referencing is that a Signal thread the FBI used for sharing information was treated as one way, but according to Chan, the social media companies would respond by other channels). It has no law enforcement mandate. Is has no case-building mandate.

With regard to CISA — and MattyDickPics is not alone in this gross misunderstanding of CISA’s mandate or legal status — MattyDickPics’ entire premise is false.

But that also means his complaint is wrong. Is MattyDickPics complaining that people make an effort to correct errors about the election? Would he prefer that local election authorities try to chase down rumors and false claims themselves, even as they’re putting in 16-hour days trying to run an election? Does he think that deliberate misinformation about elections, like non-consensually posted dick pics, must be protected on social media sites? Is he angry — as Elon Musk seems to be — that social media sites choose not to be the vehicle for messaging that makes it harder to conduct successful elections?

If you’re complaining that an information-sharing agency is sharing information, then ultimately your complaint is that you don’t think that information should be shared, that you don’t think election officials should make an effort to ensure information about elections is clear and accurate — or at least, you don’t think the federal government should do anything to protect elections. If that’s your view, own it.

Even with FBI, MattyDickPics’ premise that the mission is “case-building” is partly wrong. In addition to its law enforcement mission, FBI has a counterintelligence mission, which would cover a good deal of interaction with social media sites. Indeed, a great deal of entire threads of MattyDickPics’ rants pertain to the FBI passing on assessments about such operations, as when accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency were shared. The FBI has built several cases against the IRA, but that’s not the primary goal. The primary goal is to track how Russia and China and Iran attempt to interfere in our country.

Some of what MattyDickPics seems to misunderstand about this is that foreign spooks will pretend to be Americans as part of their efforts to fuck in democratic elections. For example, MattyDickPics has said nothing about the most significant hack-and-disinformation campaign from 2020, an Iranian attempt to pose as Proud Boys to send messages to Democrats to discourage them from voting. It’s not impossible that some of what he has portrayed as FBI interest in “Americans” was actually an effort to adopt the identity of Proud Boys — effectively maligning right wing Trump supporters — as cover for their operation. This kind of FBI investigation might never result in charges — because you’re never going to arrest the Iranian spooks behind it — but posing as American Proud Boys to interfere in the election could be charged under FARA laws.

One can complain about FBI’s dual mission — lord knows I have! But one cannot claim that FBI has exclusively a case-building mission and be entirely accurate.

Still, maybe all that can be excused because MattyDickPics decided to respond to a 4-follower Twitter account that also misunderstood the premise of some of what this information sharing is about.

It’s the claim that the FBI “program,” at least, is not about building cases, that I find outrageous.

Among the single screen caps that Twitter Files followers have latched onto most — along with one about Adam Schiff inappropriately and unsuccessfully trying to use Twitter’s QAnon rules to protect staffers (I won’t link that because MattyDickPics doxxed the person in question), a CIA official asking to be included in a public event, and the NSA asking whether Twitter still prohibited Dataminr from sharing the “firehose” of Twitter content with intelligence agencies (they did, though under Elmo, the Saudis and Qataris will reportedly be given access to it) — is this one, which they claim is proof that the FBI asked for location data without legal process:

As a threshold matter, note what this is not: an email from Elvis Chan, the guy in charge of San Francisco’s Election Command Post, to Twitter. It is an email from the National Election Command Post to Chan. MattyDickPics doesn’t explain how Twitter got this. He has “censored” how Chan sent this to Twitter.

Before I get into the content, let me repeat some background that two of Elmo’s pets, at least, claim to be familiar with, which I laid out here. Here’s how Chan explained the actions of both the National and San Francisco Election Command Post, which is behind a great deal of the FBI to Twitter requests MattyDickPics wails about.

A. During FBI San Francisco’s 2020 election command post, which I believe was held from the Friday before the election through election night, that Tuesday at midnight, information would be provided by other field offices and FBI headquarters about disinformation, specifically about the time, place or manner of elections in various states. These were passed to FBI San Francisco’s command post, which I mentioned to you before I was the daytime shift commander, and we would relay this information to the social media platforms where these accounts were detected. So I do not believe we were able to determine whether the accounts that were posting time, place or manner of election disinformation, whether they were American or foreign.

Q. But you received reports, I take it, from all over the country about disinformation about time, place and manner of voting, right?

A. That is — we received them from multiple field offices, and I can’t remember. But I remember many field offices, probably around ten to 12 field offices, relayed this type of information to us. And because DOJ had informed us that this type of information was criminal in nature, that it did not matter where the — who was the source of the information, but that it was criminal in nature and that it should be flagged to the social media companies. And then the respective field offices were expected to follow up with a legal process to get additional information on the origin and nature of these communications.

Q. So the Department of Justice advised you that it’s criminal and there’s no First Amendment right to post false information about time, place and manner of voting?


A. That was my understanding.

Q. And did you, in fact, relay — let me ask you this. You say manner of voting. Were some of these reports related to voting by mail, which was a hot topic back then?

A. From my recollection, some of them did include voting by mail. Specifically what I can remember is erroneous information about when mail-in ballots could be postmarked because it is different in different jurisdictions. So I would be relying on the local field office to know what were the election laws in their territory and to only flag information for us. Actually, let me provide additional context. DOJ public integrity attorneys were at the FBI’s election command post and headquarters. So I believe that all of those were reviewed before they got sent to FBI San Francisco.

Q. So those reports would come to FBI San Francisco when you were the day commander at this command post, and then FBI San Francisco would relay them to the various social media platforms where the problematic posts had been made, right?

A. That is correct.

Q. And then the point there was to alert the social media platforms and see if they could be taken down, right?

A. It was to alert the social media companies to see if they violated their terms of service.


Q. And this command post was chosen to be — I mean, it addresses nationwide election-related information, right?

A. So every field office, every FBI field office was mandated by headquarters to stand at a command post at least on election day. And FBI San Francisco was responsible for relaying any time, place or manner disinformation or malign-foreign-influence information to the social media companies as well as accepting any referrals from the social media companies.

Q. So FBI San Francisco had the special job of referring concerns to social media companies?


THE WITNESS: Yes, and the reason for that is because the majority of the social media companies are headquartered in FBI San Francisco’s territory. [my emphasis]

That is, much of this activity (including this screen cap in particular) came in the context of a DOJ Public Integrity determination that lying about the time, place, or manner of voting might be a crime, and — Chan’s understanding at least — referrals to Twitter had already been vetted by a Public Integrity prosecutor.

As I’ve noted, this is not a frivolous claim. In early 2021, one of Bill Barr’s closest associates, Seth DuCharme, then serving as EDNY US Attorney, charged a Jack Posobiec associate named Douglass Mackey with violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act for doing this kind of thing at scale, by tweeting that users could text their vote in rather than show up and cast it, in 2016. Almost 5,000 people responded to this campaign and texted in their “vote” for President. It took two years and some HuffPo reporting before Mackey was identified and several more years to charge him.

Mackey is aggressively contesting the charge, including on First Amendment grounds; his trial is scheduled to start on March 13.

There’s even a tie between Mackey’s campaign and Elmo’s efforts to restore white supremacists to the platform. Right wingers have been lobbying Elmo to reinstate the pseudonymous Ricky_Vaughn99 account.

That’s what this is about: Efforts, some conducted at scale, to suppress the vote of certain Americans by lying to them about how or when or where to vote. And the involvement of prosecutors on the front end indicates that this was not just an effort to alert Twitter to misinformation so it could remove it if it chose to. This activity — which, again, makes up a great deal of what MattyDickPics has wailed about — was conducted in the context of law enforcement investigations.

But MattyDickPics has already confirmed that. The very screen cap in question — one of the screen caps that MattyDickPics’ frothers are most outraged about (caveating, again, that MattyDickPics chose to “censor” how Chan actually passed this onto Twitter) — asks for the following regarding 25 accounts that are “spread[ing] misinformation about the upcoming election:”

  1. Coordination between [San Francisco’s Field Office] and Twitter to determine whether the accounts identified below have violated Twitter’s terms of service and may be subject any actions deemed appropriate by Twitter.
  2. The issuance of preservation letters regarding any of the accounts identified below to preserve subscriber information and content information pending the issuance of legal process.
  3. Any location information associated with the accounts that Twitter will voluntarily provide to aid the FBI in assigning any follow-up deemed necessary to the appropriate FBI field office.

MattyDickPics has focused primarily on Bullet 1: If this violates Twitters terms of service, then — the FBI request suggests — Twitter can choose to do what it wants. That’s the “censorship” of efforts to dupe people into wasting their ability to participate in democracy that MattyDickPics is so outraged about.

Bullet 2, however, single-handedly refutes MattyDickPics’ claim from yesterday. Chan was supposed to ask for preservation letters, a request that Twitter preserve the account long enough that the FBI could follow up with a subpoena and/or warrant to get the subscriber information and then the content. This screen cap is explicitly about FBI’s case-building mission. MattyDickPics proved, on December 16, that MattyDickPics’ claims yesterday are false.

And even Bullet 3 — the reason this was deemed such an abuse — is about building a case. The National Command Post was not asking, voluntarily, for information that would help it identify whose mother’s basement this disinformation campaign was launched from, whether Brooklyn or Iran. Rather, it was asking for location information sufficiently detailed such that DOJ could assign follow-up leads to a US Attorney’s office that might be able to prosecute it. In fact, Mackey is challenging his prosecution, in part, by challenging venue in Brooklyn, a subject on which Judge Nicholas Garaufis has reserved judgment. That request for location information — accompanied as it was by a request for preservation order to get location information with a warrant — was all part of building a case.

One can certainly argue that the prosecution of Mackey and people like him for trying to affect the election by duping people out of their vote is a violation of the First Amendment, just like one can argue, as MattyDickPics is, that Twitter should be forced to permit users to use the platform to dupe others — Mackey allegedly targeted Blacks and Spanish speakers — out of casting their vote.

That’s a debate we can have.

But there’s no debate about whether these Command Post requests came in a framework that envisioned the possibility of case-building. MattyDickPics has already proven that MattyDickPics is lying about that.

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.