The trial of Douglas Mackey for “election interference” concluded earlier this month without much attention paid to it. But the fate of the internet prankster — who now faces 10 years in federal prison after being convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn for the crime of “conspiracy against rights” — tells us as much as any other recent incident about the way the administrative state is eroding freedom of speech for those who dissent from the approved leftist orthodoxy.
The determination of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to jail Mackey for posting a satirical internet meme during the 2016 election campaign should be considered a turning point in the saga of a corrupt regime’s attempt to use the spread of so-called “misinformation” to intimidate opponents.
Mackey was an internet troll who ran a now-suspended account with 58,000 followers under the name @Rickey_Vaughn99, an evocation of one of the characters in the classic baseball film comedy “Major League.” He used the account to post comic memes, many of which were unsavory. And some of those with whom he associated were known hatemongers, something that explains the reluctance of many to rush to his defense.
But his legal woes are solely due to his posting a fake Hillary Clinton ad on Twitter prior to the 2016 election. The tweet, which included a picture of Clinton and used the color scheme associated with her campaign, made the following preposterous claim: “Save time Avoid the line Vote from home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925 and we’ll make history together This November 8th.” In small text at the bottom, the tweet added the following: “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.”
Voting by text was still considered beyond the pale even in 2020, when Democrats used Covid-19 to remove almost all of the guardrails from the electoral system in most states, with vote harvesting, drop boxes, universal mail-in ballots, and expanded early voting. In the 2016 election, when the overwhelming majority of ballots were still being cast in person on Election Day, a call to vote by texting the first name of one of the candidates was clearly a joke.
No One Was Fooled
It’s true that 4,900 unique telephone numbers sent a text with the word “Hillary” to the number or “some derivative” of it, as the press release from the DOJ’s Eastern District of New York said. But as Mackey’s lawyer told the jury, some of the respondents, many of whom were, by definition, Mackey’s Twitter followers, used it as an invitation to vent their animus for the Democrat with texts that said “Hillary for Prison.” Conspicuous by its absence from the DOJ’s triumphant missive about the conviction was anything about testimony from disappointed citizens who came forward to say they believed the tweet’s promise and were thereby deprived of their right to vote.
Ordinary common sense would argue that Mackey’s tweet — which he hoped would get under the skin of the Clinton campaign — was too silly to be taken seriously by a reasonable person, let alone anyone with the intelligence to cast a vote in a presidential election. But the DOJ persuaded a jury in a county that Clinton carried with 79.5 percent of the vote that it was a criminal conspiracy rather than satire. Using a federal law that was intended to prevent Jim Crow-era racists from intimidating or otherwise preventing African Americans from voting, the Biden administration claimed the meme as well as other fake pro-Clinton tweets constituted a conspiracy to defraud her supporters and “steal votes.”
To back up this assertion, the DOJ made the fantastical claim that @Rickey_Vaughn99 was not the handle of a minor Twitter troll but more important in affecting public opinion than a major broadcast network such as NBC, a ubiquitous political comedian like CBS late-night comedy host Stephen Colbert, or even Newt Gingrich. Federal prosecutors cited a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study from February 2016 that labeled Mackey as “the 107th most important influencer of the then upcoming presidential election.”
How MIT came to this conclusion boggles the imagination since, as anyone who has actually been on Twitter could attest, even in 2016, having 58,000 followers was not a big deal in an environment where legions of influencers have hundreds of thousands if not millions of them.
Denying the First Amendment
The real problem here goes beyond the ludicrous inflation of Mackey’s influence or even unproven assertions about vote theft. Even if Mackey were not a minor figure, the notion that a satire about voting for Clinton by text should be treated as a crime is an astonishing denial of the First Amendment and its protections of freedom of speech.
As we saw with the prosecution of former President Donald Trump, Democratic prosecutors and judges as well as grand juries in deep-blue constituencies are always ready to treat political opponents as criminals. Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis claimed the case was “about conspiracy and injury, not speech.” As for the protections that the law affords satire, he asserted that was “a question of fact reserved for the jury.”
Yet no injury was proven and the idea that a jury, even in Brooklyn, has the right to decide a joke is illegal is an invitation to the abrogation of basic constitutional rights. It has, after all, never previously been considered a criminal act to poke fun at the supporters of candidates, as Mackey did with a post that treated Clinton backers as too dumb to know you can’t vote by text.
Threatening Political Opponents
The timing of the prosecution speaks directly to the political implications of the case. Mackey wasn’t arrested in an FBI raid on his home until Jan. 27, 2021, the week after Biden took office. The decision to try to jail him didn’t take place until the supposedly moderate Attorney General Merrick Garland took control of the Department of Justice.
The verdict may ultimately be thrown when Mackey’s appeals reach higher federal courts. But even if this travesty of justice is overruled, the message Garland and the administrative state want to send to their political opponents is unmistakable. With such loose interpretations of the law being employed, anyone who posts a satirical meme on social media about elections must now think twice for fear it can be treated as an effort to mislead Democrats and lead them not to vote. If Mackey can be dragged into federal court and forced to spend massive amounts of money on lawyers with the possibility of prison awaiting him, then others can expect similar treatment from a corrupt establishment regime.
Or at least they will if they are not Democrats. For example, in 2018, tech billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman gave $100,000 to a group that created fake social media pages that targeted Republican voters in an Alabama U.S. Senate race. The pages were aimed at convincing conservatives who might have voted for GOP candidate Roy Moore to vote for a write-in candidate instead in a race that the Democrat donor’s preferred candidate Doug Jones won by only 20,000 votes.
While Hoffman apologized and The New York Times characterized the dirty trick as an effort to counter alleged Russian conspiracies to steal American elections, no one was punished. Nor should they have been. But, like Mackey, Hoffman’s attempt to sabotage Moore was also a false-flag operation that, by current DOJ standards, could land a Republican in jail for trying the same dirty trick.
Mackey is no hero, but what happened to him is proof of the depths to which a politicized two-tier justice system is willing to sink to punish its foes. Like the Trump case, the one against Mackey is a crossing of the Rubicon for the American political system. The DOJ has now established it is willing to imprison its opponents. You don’t have to admire Mackey or think his joke was funny to understand we are now living in a very different republic than the one we were in when he hit send on that tweet.