A federal judge in New York on Wednesday sentenced Douglass Mackey to seven months in prison and two years of supervised probation, in a precedent-setting case of “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election.
Former President Donald Trump is facing charges under the same statute.
Prosecutors claimed Mackey was engaged in a conspiracy to spread messages “intended variously to provoke, mislead, and, in some cases, deceive voters in the 2016 presidential election,” including tweets that urged supporters of Hillary Clinton to vote by text.
“They were committing fraud, one that was aimed at one of our most sacred rights in our democracy,” said US attorney Erik David Paulsen, arguing that a prison sentence was necessary to “send a message to the general public.”
Judge Ann M. Donnelly called the alleged conspiracy “nothing short of an assault on our democracy.” Though Mackey resided in Florida, the case was tried in the Eastern District of New York, where the Democrat Clinton had her campaign headquarters in 2016.
Mackey operated a Twitter account under the pseudonym ‘Ricky Vaughn’, after a character played by Charlie Sheen in the 1989 baseball movie ‘Major League’. He had around 58,000 followers on the social media platform. A week ahead of the November 8 election, he posted a series of memes urging Democrats to vote for Clinton by text – something that the US doesn’t yet allow.
Clinton went on to lose the election to Republican Donald Trump, for which she blamed the FBI, Russia, Macedonian meme farmers, fake news and “disinformation.”
Mackey was arrested in January 2021, just a week after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, and charged with “conspiracy against rights.” The New York Times claimed he was a “white supremacist” and called the case against him the first-ever involving “voter suppression through the spread of disinformation” on Twitter, now called X.
Prosecutors claimed that around 4,900 people tried to text the number Mackey posted, but none of them could testify to that. The government’s star witness was an FBI informant who could not be questioned in court. A jury found Mackey guilty in April this year, and he faced a sentence of up to ten years.
Special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump under the same Conspiracy Against Rights statute in relation to the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol. The former president, who is challenging Biden in the 2024 election, has denounced the charges as politically motivated election interference.