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Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, is on trial for memes. It’s one meme in particular for which Mackey faces criminal charges, instructing voters casting ballots for the 2016 election to vote via text, which is not actually possible.
The trial was meant to begin this week in New York, but Mackey’s attorneys have requested a two-week adjournment after the Southern Poverty Law Center apparently intimidated a witness into withdrawing his testimony.
It was after the SPLC contacted an expert witness who was set to testify in the trial, including asking the witness if his employer, the University of Alabama, knew of his plans to testify, that the witness formally withdrew his name from the witness list.
Once it became known to Mackey’s attorneys that the Southern Poverty Law Center was set to release an article, a hit-piece, on the witness, they encouraged the witness to answer the questions posed “to allay [the SPLC’s] unfounded claims,” and the witness did so, “thereby creating a record for the government.”
A letter from Mackey’s attorney, obtained by The Post Millennial, reads that “The government’s motion to preclude the testimony of Professor George Hawley, an expert witness… is sub judice,” meaning it has not yet been decided by the judge.
Attorney Andrew Frisch continued that he had learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center would be publishing an article about Mackey’s case, which “among other things, unfairly disparages Professor Hawley.” He notes that the SPLC waited until the trial has started before asking questions of Hawley, “in an apparent attempt to paint him as an extremist…”
Frisch tells the judge that he asked SPLC writer Luke O’Brien to hold off on publication until Hawley was able to testify “so as not to threaten the integrity of the trial,” but that O’Brien “insisted on publishing the article.”
Hawley withdrew his name from the witness list. “Whether or not Mr. O’Brien’s approach constitutes actionable wrongdoing, Professor Hawley has asked me to withdraw his name as a witness,” Frisch told the judge.
Frisch concludes his ask for a delay by pointing out that he will have to procure another expert witness, and that “Mr. Mackey is the defendant for whom a defense witness has been gratuitously threatened with reputational harm by an organization which has an ideological interest in his conviction.”
The meme that Mackey is on trial for disseminating was directed at Hillary Clinton voters. Other memes, also instructing people to vote for president via text, were distributed by others on social media telling people to cast their vote for Trump via text. But Mackey faces federal charges.
The case is, as the New York Times reports, “the first criminal case in the country involving voter suppression through the spread of disinformation on Twitter.” The charge is conspiracy to violate rights, and if convicted Mackey faces 10 years in prison for posting a meme on Twitter.
“The complaint, the DOJ said in 2021, “alleges that in 2016, Mackey established an audience on Twitter with approximately 58,000 followers.”
“As alleged in the complaint, between September 2016 and November 2016, in the lead up to Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. Presidential Election, Mackey conspired with others to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages designed to encourage supporters of one of the presidential candidates (the ‘Candidate’) to ‘vote’ via text message or social media, a legally invalid method of voting,” the DOJ stated, describing the meme.
“According to the allegations in the complaint, the defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one the of most basic and sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to vote,” said Nicholas L. McQuaid, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This complaint underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights.”
The case was set to start this week, and the discredited SPLC reports that jury selection in the Eastern District of New York began on March 13. The SPLC refers to Mackey’s meme distribution as a “stunt in which Mackey encouraged people to vote for Hillary Clinton by text message by disseminating an online flyer.”
The SPLC further states that those who defend Mackey are “anti-democracy, radical-right figures, who have depicted him as a victim of state oppression.” The DOJ claims that some 4,900 Democrats were fooled by the meme to vote for Hillary via text.
The SPLC story from O’Brien has not yet been published.
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