A federal judge in New York has sentenced Douglass Mackey to seven months in prison and two years of supervised probation for his involvement in spreading messages during the 2016 US presidential election. Prosecutors argued that Mackey was part of a conspiracy to provoke, mislead, and deceive voters, including tweets urging supporters of Hillary Clinton to vote by text. Former President Donald Trump is also facing charges under the same statute.
According to US attorney Erik David Paulsen, Mackey and others committed fraud that targeted one of the most sacred rights in a democracy. He believed that a prison sentence was necessary to send a message to the general public. The judge, Ann M. Donnelly, referred to the alleged conspiracy as an assault on democracy.
Mackey, known as “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, had around 58,000 followers on the social media platform. A week before the November 8 election, he posted memes encouraging Democrats to vote for Clinton by text, even though this method of voting was not permitted in the US. The case was tried in the Eastern District of New York, where Clinton had her campaign headquarters in 2016.
Clinton ultimately lost the election to Trump. She attributed her loss to various factors such as the FBI, Russia, Macedonian meme farmers, fake news, and disinformation.
Mackey was arrested in January 2021, just a week after Joe Biden’s inauguration as president. He was charged with conspiracy against rights. The case against Mackey was referred to as the first-ever involving voter suppression through the spread of disinformation on Twitter.
Prosecutors claimed that approximately 4,900 people attempted to text the number Mackey provided, but there were no witnesses who could testify to that. The government relied on an FBI informant as their star witness, who could not be questioned in court. In April this year, Mackey was found guilty by a jury and faced a potential sentence of up to 10 years.
The same Conspiracy Against Rights statute has also been used to charge Trump in connection with the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol. Special counsel Jack Smith is handling the case. Trump, who is currently running for president again in the 2024 election, has criticized the charges and accused them of being politically motivated election interference.
The sentencing of Douglass Mackey serves as a precedent-setting case that aims to discourage interference in future elections. By holding individuals accountable for spreading misleading information and manipulating voters, the justice system aims to protect the integrity of the democratic process.