Conservative social media influencer Douglass Mackey, also known as Ricky Vaughn, was convicted of election interference in the 2016 presidential race after posting a satirical meme on Twitter.
Mackey, who is being accused of trying to “deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote,” was convicted on Friday by a federal jury in Brooklyn of the charge of “Conspiracy Against Rights,” the federal government announced.
The conservative meme maker is now facing a maximum of 10 years in prison.
“Mackey has been found guilty by a jury of his peers of attempting to deprive individuals from exercising their sacred right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the 2016 Presidential Election,” United States Attorney Breon Peace said on Friday.
“Today’s verdict proves that the defendant’s fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality and flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote,” Peace added.
In 2016, Mackey’s Twitter account under the name Ricky Vaughn had roughly 58,000 followers. He posted satirical memes telling people they could vote for a candidate (apparently Hillary Clinton) via text message.
“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,” the government says.
The DOJ’s case against Mackey, however, raises questions about free speech rights in the United States.
As Breitbart News previously reported, the criminal complaint alleges that “at least 4,900 unique telephone numbers” sent a message with the candidate’s name to the number given, “on or about and before Election Day,” but it does not say if any of them had actually refrained from casting a real vote.
As Joel Pollak explained in 2021:
The law makes it a crime to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right.” It does not specifically say anything about providing false information.
There has been considerable debate over whether 18 U.S.C. 241 may conflict with the First Amendment. Many of the cases have involved speech that has an intimidating effect that implies a threat to use violence, such as burning a cross.
The original 1909 statute intended to punish efforts to threaten and intimidate voters, including in disguise, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It has since been amended several times, but not in ways that would resolve the First Amendment issues that it raises.
The statute has been cited in defense of free speech, as in 2016, when conservative law professor and pundit Glenn Reynolds argued that Democrat officials’ threats (including by then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris) to investigate political donations to groups that are skeptical of climate change amounted to a violation of the law.
Last month, James Lawrence, a lawyer representing Mackey, told Breitbart News that the American Civil Rights Union (ACLU) “is nowhere to be found” and “MIA” with respect to the DOJ’s prosecution of his client for speech protected by the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, the government’s confidential witness in the case has been making bizarre claims about being the target of a “secret right-wing congressional investigation,” which is causing even left-wing journalists to question his credibility, such as Luke O’Brien, who recently said that the witness is “full of it.”
You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.