Natalie Harp: Gatekeeper to the Reich

I want to unpack a Marc Caputo story about Natalie Harp, who he says is the person who posted the Reich meme video to Trump’s Truth Social account this week.

Trump’s account posted the Reich video on Monday.

On Tuesday, AP identified a troll (which it describes as a “meme creator”), Ramble_Rants, as the source of the video, and a Wikipedia entry on WWI as the source of the Reich image.

At least one of the headlines flashing in the video appears to be text copied verbatim from a Wikipedia entry on World War I: “German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified Reich.”

In one image, the headlines “Border Is Closed” and “15 Million Illegal Aliens Deported” appear above smaller text with the start and end dates of World War I.

The video appears to have been created by a meme creator who goes by the username Ramble_Rants.

The creator, who is part of a group of meme makers that The New York Times reported has previously collaborated with the Trump campaign, posted the video on the social platform X Monday morning.

In a post on X, Ramble_Rants defended the video, arguing it was about “American peace and prosperity.”

Then Media Matters described (as the earlier NYT story also had) that Ramble_Rants is part of a trolling group, led by a guy named Brenden Dilley, that the Trump team has closely integrated with the campaign.

Regardless of the intention behind the video Trump shared, Dilley and his team’s association with the Trump campaign is noteworthy.

Trump and his campaign have repeatedly shared the meme team’s material, and the campaign reportedly “privately communicated with members of the meme team, giving them access and making specific requests for content,” and “in at least one instance … shared behind-the-scenes footage to be used in videos, according to members of the team.” Trump has been photographed with Dilley and reportedly “sent personalized notes to several of the group’s members, thanking them for their work.”

Additionally, Dilley disclosed that the campaign gave him and another member of the meme team a “special” and “exclusive” press credential for the campaign’s Iowa caucuses night, where “you hang out with all these wonderful people, and Don Jr. comes through, and Eric Trump comes through, and pretty much the entire Team Trump comes through.” (Reporting has indicated that several journalists from mainstream publications, including The Washington Post, NBC News, Axios, and Vanity Fair, have been denied press access to Trump’s campaign events.)

What we’re seeing is the War Room in which Douglass Mackey, Microchip, and Don Jr collaborated to hijack mainstream news narratives together in 2016, integrated more closely with the campaign. It’s not surprising Trump did that. Even in 2016, Baked Alaska described a Trump HQ Slack that was “coordinat[ing] efforts.”

Remember: Andrew Auernheimer, better known as Weev, and then still posting under his handle rabite, was a key early player in professionalizing that effort, even as he was serving as Webmaster for the Daily Stormer.

Given that pure Nazi lineage, the Nazi allusions are surely not happenstance.

In a post called Elon Musk’s Machine for Fascism, I described how since 2016, trolls and their overlords have been working to perfect the conditions that allowed such trolls to have a significant influence in the 2016 election and an even bigger influence in Trump’s attempted coup. One of the only things that stopped the trolls, and Trump, from sustaining his coup attempt after January 6 was Twitter suspending Trump’s account. This time around, neither Elon Musk nor Trump’s own social media platform will do that. Nor will Telegram, where the organizing function for all this trolling has moved offshore, away from the easy reach of US legal process, shut anything down.

All of which is to say, the Reich meme is not some random mistake. Rather, it is the manifestation of a trolling effort with roots in overt Neo-Nazism that goes back to 2015.

Which brings us back to what Caputo did in a story identifying Natalie Harp as the person who posted the Reich meme to Trump’s account.

Caputo is a Florida-based journalist with very extensive sourcing to the far right. He was recently on Roger Stone’s show. His legal instincts — pretty clearly just parroting of what Trumpsters tell him to say — suck ass, but his political instincts are formidable.

About 16 paragraphs into his story, after he presented Harp’s role in printing out content from social media and right wing sources to placate the boss, and after he described Harp’s trajectory from Liberty University to being cured of cancer by a Trump initiative to working for the 2020 campaign to working for OANN to now driving his social media account, Caputo finally got around to identifying Harp as the culprit behind the Reich meme.

Harp also helps manage Trump’s Truth Social media account and has taken over some of the duties from Trump’s former caddy-turned-senior-adviser Dan Scavino.

This can be a taxing job. On Monday, while he was on trial in New York, Trump’s Truth Social media account reposted a video, published first on X by a supporter using the handle @ramble_rants, called “What happens after Trump wins?” The video featured mock old-fashioned newspaper headlines. One of the sepia-toned faux-newspaper stock images included the phrase “Unified Reich.” Maybe not the best look for a candidate who has dined with actual neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes and “joked” that he would like to be a dictator for a day.

After the Associated Press reported about the video, the Trump campaign deleted the Truth Social post and said Trump wasn’t at fault.

“This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a junior staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a written statement that accused Democrats of being more antisemitic than Trump. The campaign wouldn’t identify the name of that “junior staffer,” but sources tell The Bulwark it was Harp. Scavino, one of the few others who has access to Trump’s Truth Social account, isn’t a “junior staffer.” Harp couldn’t be reached for comment.

In most outlets, this would be the scoop, in paragraph one and two, rather than buried 16 paragraphs deep. But that’s not the premise of Caputo’s story. That’s not what a political reporter with very good sourcing in the Florida far right focuses on. Caputo is more interested in Harp’s role as a gatekeeper, which he puts in paragraphs four and five.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Harp gatekeeps much of what Trump sees on social media and reads in the news.

“IF YOU WANT THE PRESIDENT TO SEE SOMETHING, the best route is Natalie,” says a knowledgeable source who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal workings of Trump’s inner team and who has passed information to the candidate via Harp. “Don’t underestimate her importance.”

Caputo is not wrong to find this an important point of emphasis (though some people contest it). Dan Scavino has had a near monopoly on Trump’s social media accounts since 2016. Anyone joining him in that role does play an absolutely central role in his means to power. And to the extent that Trump has moved off reading things on his own phone and instead reading what Harp prints out (is Trump’s eyesight getting worse, or is he simply more paranoid?), she does play an absolutely central gatekeeping role.

Dick Cheney’s memoir included a single solitary hint about the lessons he learned, not least as a very young White House Chief of Staff, that allowed him to become the most formidable DC bureaucrat for almost 50 years: to park someone outside the President’s office. Effectively, Harp is the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Caputo’s story, then, is that the woman who posted a meme that was interpreted — with good reason — as an intentional allusion to Nazism happens to be the person parked outside Trump’s digital office.

Harp’s key role may be why Caputo described posting that Reich meme as nothing more than, “Maybe not the best look.” Because she’s not going to get fired for doing so.

All the more so for another reason. Around about paragraph 21, Caputo describes that Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita “don’t directly oversee Harp and … essentially leave her alone.”

“No one spends as much time on this campaign around him as Natalie,” said one insider. “If people think she’s an airhead because of her looks, they don’t understand how smart she is and how much the president relies on her.”

The campaign’s co-managers, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, don’t directly oversee Harp and, the source said, and essentially leave her alone.

“Natalie fills a role and Chris and Susie know that’s what he wants,” the source said, “so they focus on other things.”

Again, if true (it appears to be single sourced), it is a really important insight: Trump’s digital gatekeeper doesn’t work for the ostensible campaign managers. The campaign — which serially offers statements in response to reporting on Project 2025 claiming that unless something comes from the campaign then it is not official policy — does not control Harp.

Caputo’s source claims that the campaign doesn’t control what comes in and out of Trump’s digital persona. Harp does.

And people amenable to fascism know that, and know how to exploit it.

Don Jr Confesses He and Douglass Mackey Were “Put on Lists” Together

In an interview of far right troll and now convicted felon Douglass Mackey yesterday, Don Jr confessed that he and Mackey had frequented the same lists back in the day.

DONALD TRUMP JR. (HOST): And with that, guys, joining us now is Doug Mackey. Again, if you guys were in the meme wars, like, early adapters like me back in 2015 and ’16, you’ll know him as Ricky Vaughn. But Doug, for the people watching — and it’s great to have you. You know, I know — we’ve probably gone back and forth on Twitter back in the old days and DMs, and I’m sure we were put on lists way back then. But for the people watching, can you explain what happened here? I mean, you literally ran a Twitter account named Ricky Vaughn. And you got charged for posting a meme. What’s going on?

Later in the interview, Trump Jr. told Mackey that his Ricky Vaughn account was “awesome” and “may be my favorite Twitter account of all time” and “maybe the best of all time.” [my emphasis]

I find that particularly interesting, because there’s a troll in the troll rooms released as part of Mackey’s trial named P0TUS Trump. I’ve always wondered whether it could be Don Jr.

I had that suspicion not just because of the name, but also because P0TUS Trump always seemed even more focused on the WikiLeaks releases than the others. The others were busy conducting far more sophisticated campaigns.

On October 12, 2016, as everyone else was excited that Mackey had been added back to their group after being banned, P0TUS Trump was instead pushing #PodestaEmails3.

An hour later, in a conversation with Mackey co-conspirator MicroChip, he pushed #PodestaEmails4.

The next day, as MicroChip and unindicted co-conspirator HalleyBorderCol were casting doubt on claims that Trump was a rapist, P0TUS Trump again was focused on WikiLeaks.

That monomaniacal focus on WikiLeaks while everyone else was focused on other things came in the days after — according to the SSCI Report — WikiLeaks had DMed Don Jr at his normal Twitter account (for which Mueller obtained.a warrant in October 2017) directly to get him to push hashtags, including pertaining to PodestaEmails4.

(U) WikiLeaks also sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents with the Campaign. After Trump proclaimed at an October 10 rally, “I love WikiLeaks” and then posted about it on Twitter,1730 WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr. On October 12, it said: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us … there’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”1731 Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!”1732 Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here:”1733 Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks, but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the WikiLeaks releases when they came out. 1734 [my emphasis]

WikiLeaks remained focused on cultivating Don Jr for at least another year, trying to get him rather than Roger Stone to take the lead on a pardon for Julian Assange, and when that didn’t happen, posting ominous warnings about dropping the source code Josh Schulte had stolen under the Vault 8 label.

And that’s just what’s public.

Imagine if the former President’s failson had a private identity, one playing right along with two men who have been convicted of conspiring to harm the civil rights of Hillary Clinton supporters, the same crime, 18 USC 241, for which Trump now stands accused.

Douglass Mackey Sentenced to 7 Months for Conspiring to Violate 18 USC 241

Douglass Mackey, the right wing troll prosecuted early this year for conspiring to trick Hillary voters into throwing away their votes, was just sentenced to 7 months in prison (the government had asked for 6-12 months).

Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Ann M. Donnelly: Sentencing held on 10/18/2023 for Douglass Mackey (1). Appearances by AUSA Erik Paulsen, AUSA Frank Turner Buford, and AUSA William Gullotta. Andrew Frisch counsel for defendant Mackey (present on bond). Probation Officer Erica Vest, present. Case called. Statement from defense counsel, and the government heard. The defendant is sentence on the sole count of the indictment to seven months imprisonment, two years supervised release, $100 special assessment, and a $15,000 fine. Defendant informed of right to appeal. For the reasons stated on the record the defendants request to stay sentencing pending appeal is denied. (Court Reporter Sophie Nolan.) (DG) (Entered: 10/18/2023)

Yesterday, Judge Ann Donnelly denied Mackey’s bid for acquittal or a new trial and today, she denied his request for a stay pending appeal. This post describes how Mackey and his co-conspirator Microchip set out to “infect everything” during the 2016 election.

This is charge, 18 USC 241, is the third charge with which Trump was charged in his January 6 indictment, so Donnelly’s ruling and any appeal Mackey makes may serve as important precedent in that case too.

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.

“I wanted to infect everything:” The Curiously Expert Pathologies of FBI Informant, Microchip

I’ve now read the substantive transcripts in the trial of Douglass Mackey, the far right troll who was convicted last month of conspiring to violate the voting rights of Hillary voters in the 2016 election.

As I noted in my first write-up of the verdict, the case has lessons that remain quite pressing, as loud boys on, who own, and claim to be interested in regulating Twitter attempt to make the site more welcoming to far right election disinformation. I plan to write that up.

Before I do, though, I want to talk about Microchip, the cooperating witness who pled guilty to the same conspiracy as part of a cooperation agreement in 2022.

We first learned the FBI had a cooperating witness on March 8 of this year, when Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the government to unseal its request to keep its informant’s identity secret. The filings in that discussion did not describe much about the timing or scope of his cooperation, other than that those he is targeting have the technical skills that might lead to him being hacked if he were discovered.

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).

Microchip’s identity can’t be that well protected. As soon as this pre-trial discussion was posted, Mackey’s lawyer, Andrew Frisch, contacted the government to tell them he had learned of the informant’s real identity independently (possibly via Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet) and at least one researcher I’ve spoken with since seems to have a plausible theory as to his real identity.

But I assumed, based on those filings, that Microchip had flipped in advance of Mackey’s arrest.

The actual details are more complicated — and a bit unpersuasive, as AUSA William Gullotta got Microchip to explain in his testimony on March 23.

The thing I find most unbelievable is Microchip’s claim that he only joined Twitter — in any capacity — in July 2015, just months before he started playing a central and expert role in expanding the reach of anti-Hillary trolling.

Q When did you start using Twitter?

A Back in around July of 2015.

Q When did you start using the alias Microchip on Twitter?

A Anywhere from November 2015 through March 2016, somewhere around there.

I find this claim so surprising because, in his description of his trolling, Microchip described the kind of Twitter expertise that normally takes years to build. And two 2017 articles celebrating Microchip’s expertise (Buzzfeed, Politico) describe that he exhibited expertise from the start of his identity in November 2015.

For example, Microchip described how — the implication is all of his engagement was Microchip — he used various levels of operational security to succeed in creating new accounts anonymously, from the start.

Q When you would set up your accounts, did you set them up anonymously?

A I did.

Q How do you go about doing that?

A Using virtual private networks or proxy IP address services.

Q What’s a virtual private network?

A It’s, basically, somebody who sets up servers across the world in different locations and then you can tie into that service so you appear as if you are at that location and then they feed the internet through that.

Q So it would mask your true location from Twitter?

A That’s right.

Q What other information did you need to provide to Twitter to set up a new account?

A Yes, you need an email address or a phone number or both.

Q So would you just set up anonymous email addresses —

A Oh, yeah, through Google, Gmail, you set up a account and then you set up a Google Voice account and then if you need to change a phone number on that, you pay ten bucks and you get a new phone Number.

His description of various means to exploit Twitter to inject extremist views into the mainstream come off as pathological … but extremely savvy.

Q And why would you want it to be on a trending list?

A Because I wanted our message to move from Twitter into regular society and part of that would be — well it’s based on the idea that, you know, back then maybe — I don’t know, 10 to 30 percent of the US population was on Twitter, but I wanted everybody to see it, so I had figured out that back then, news agencies, other journalists would look at that trending list and then develop stories based on it.

Q What does it mean to hijack a hashtag?

A So I guess I can give you an example, is the easiest way. It’s like if you have a hashtag — back then like a Hillary Clinton hashtag called “I’m with her,” then what that would be is I would say, okay, let’s take “I’m with her” hashtag, because that’s what Hillary Clinton voters are going to be looking at, because that’s their hashtag, and then I would tweet out thousands of — of tweets of — well, for example, old videos of Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton talking about, you know, immigration policy for back in the ’90s where they said: You know, we should shut down borders, kick out people from the USA. Anything that was disparaging of Hillary Clinton would be injected into that — into those tweets with that hashtag, so that would overflow to her voters and they’d see it and be shocked by it.

Q Is it safe to say that most of your followers were Trump supporters?

A Oh, yeah.

Q And so by hijacking, in the example you just gave a Hillary Clinton hashtag, “I am with her,” you’re getting your message out of your silo and in front of other people who might not ordinarily see it if you just posted the tweet?

A Yeah, I wanted to infect everything.

Q Was there a certain time of day that you believed tweeting would have a maximum impact?

A Yeah, so I had figured out that early morning eastern time that — well, it first started out with New York Times. I would see that they would — they would publish stories in the morning, so the people could catch that when they woke up. And some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous — sorry. Some of the stories were absolutely ridiculous that they would post that, you know, had really no relevance to what was going on in the world, but they would still end up on trending hashtags, right? And so, I thought about that and thought, you know, is there a way that I could do the same thing.

And so what I would do is before the New York Times would publish their — their information, I would spend the very early morning or evening seeding information into random hashtags, or a hashtag we created, so that by the time the morning came around, we had already had thousands of tweets in that tag that people would see because there wasn’t much activity on Twitter, so you could easily create a hashtag that would end up on the trending list by the time morning came around.

Perhaps most chilling is his description of how participants in this anti-Hillary trolling knew there was nothing to the John Podesta emails they made the focus of their October 2016 trolling.

It didn’t matter. They didn’t care.

They were aiming to cause chaos to hurt Hillary’s chances of winning.

Q What was it about Podesta’s emails that you were sharing?

A That’s a good question.

So Podesta ‘s emails didn’t, in my opinion, have anything in particularly weird or strange about them, but my talent is to make things weird and strange so that there is a controversy. So I would take those emails and spin off other stories about the emails for the sole purpose of disparaging Hillary Clinton.

T[y]ing John Podesta to those emails, coming up with stories that had nothing to do with the emails but, you know, maybe had something to do with conspiracies of the day, and then his reputation would bleed over to Hillary Clinton, and then, because he was working for a campaign, Hillary Clinton would be disparaged.

Q So you’re essentially creating the appearance of some controversy or conspiracy associated with his emails and sharing that far and wide.

A That’s right.

Q Did you believe that what you were tweeting was true?

A No, and I didn’t care.

Q Did you fact- check any of it?

A No.

Q And so what was the ultimate purpose of that? What was your goal?

A To cause as much chaos as possible so that that would bleed over to Hillary Clinton and diminish her chance of winning.

Microchip was actually one of the people who, on October 30, 2016, brought the idea of getting Hillary voters to vote from home from 4Chan to the War Room where anti-Hillary trolls workshopped ways to make it more realistic and ensure that Trump voters wouldn’t also fall for the meme.

Text telling Hillary voters to tweet Hillary on November 8.

And, as he described it, during 2016, Microchip was paying up to $500 a month, between two services, to use bots to expand the reach of right wing trolling.

A Yeah, so one of the first services to kind of seed the followers was a service called Add Me Fast, A-D-D, M-E, F-A-S-T, and that service is kind of like a peer networking service where I would insert the tweet into that service, somebody else would insert a tweet and then, we would retweet each other’s information, right? And you could gain points doing that and, if you accumulate points, you can then expend those on likes, followers, retweets. So that service, I would spend sometimes $300 a month on it. That would give you around a thousand to three thousand retweets, likes, or follows.


Another step is using Fast Followerz and that’s F-A-S-T and then F-O-L-L – – Q O-W-E-R-S? A Yeah, but it’s with a “Z,” it’s with a Z at the end. .com, yeah. And that service you spends like, a monthly fee of, you know, a hundred to two hundred, sometimes three hundred bucks a month. And they have control of all the bots, so you don’t actually retweet anything, but you put in your Twitter handle or you put in a tweet that you want to get retweeted, and the service that I would use would be 50 to a hundred followers, something like that, a day, and then those followers would also retweet or “like” my tweets anywhere from three to five times.

No one explained where Microchip came up with $500 a month to make anti-Hillary trolling go viral.

On cross-examination, however, Mackey’s lawyer, Frisch, did get Microchip to admit that when he started cooperating with the FBI on this case in 2021, he had both IRS and bankruptcy debts.

Also on cross, Microchip described that he’s not paid for any of the assistance he provides to the FBI — though as he prepared for the trial in February, he described liking the “structure” working with the FBI provided his life.

Q Without telling us what you’re doing, how often do you do this work for the FBI?

A As often as needed, essentially.

Q You’re not getting paid for it; right?

A That’s right.

Q In fact — in fact, you met with the FBI on or about February 23, 2023, earlier, about a month ago; do you remember that? Mr. Paulson was there, Mr. Gullotta was there. All three prosecutors were there.

A Yeah, I think that was here in Brooklyn.

Q And you asked — you said — you said — do you recall saying that you wanted to keep working with the FBI because the FBI provided a structure that was valuable to you?

[Frisch refreshes his memory with his 302]

Q And that’s what you said; right?

A Yes.

While the trial showed that Mackey was important to the effort to suppress the votes of Black and Latino Hillary voters because he had so much reach, particularly among the more general public in 2016, Microchip — who claims to have been a newB Twitter user in July 2015 — seems to have played a more important role in professionalizing all aspects of the anti-Hillary campaign.

Mackey made these memes popular; Microchip made them work.

Which makes the timeline more curious. By all appearances, the FBI knew of Microchip long before they charged Mackey, starting in 2018 (about eight months after Mackey was first IDed). That’s when he first offered to cooperate with the FBI.

A No. I talked to the FBI about being useful to them when they came and actually talked to me the first time. I discussed with the FBI in the car at my residence at the time. We actually sat in the car outside of my home, and I talked to them about my use of technology and how it could possibly be useful to whatever they might be working on.

They seem to have paid him a visit, as well, as they prepared to charge Mackey in December 2020. But even in spite of the fact that his key role in preparing anti-Hillary memes would have been readily obvious in warrants served on Twitter in advance of charging Mackey, the FBI didn’t charge Microchip along with Mackey in January 2021.

And only as they looked closer after he reached out did they decide they needed him to plead guilty.


July 2015: Microchip joins Twitter

November 2015: Microchip starts to create his persona

April 5, 2017: Buzzfeed article quoting Microchip claiming, “it’s all us, not Russians” describing he turned to Twitter in response to November 2015 terror attacks in Paris

August 9, 2017: Politico article describing Microchip as an “early player” in hard-right Twitter chatrooms starting in November 2015

December 17, 2018: FBI questions Microchip about July 2018 online threat

December 15, 2020: Second contacts with FBI, including Megan Rees (about which Microchip tells Baked Alaska), Microchip lawyers up

January 27, 2021: Mackey arrest

February 4, 2021: Microchip’s lawyer reaches out to FBI, broaches cooperation

April 22, 2021: Formal proffer with government

June 2021: First of several agreements to toll statutes of limitation

April 14, 2022: Guilty plea

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.