WASHINGTON — Federal agents arrested a pro-Trump social media influencer on Wednesday alleging his Twitter and social media posts tried to intimidate voters in the 2016 presidential race.
Federal agents are charging Douglass Mackay, 31, over memes and social media posts regarding voting and the 2016 election. Mackay, who lives in Florida, has also gone by the name Ricky Vaughn. Social media accounts under the Vaughn name voiced support for former President Donald Trump.
The case will stir the debate over free speech, misinformation and social media platforms.
The government claims Mackay and unnamed co-conspirators violated a federal voter intimidation law with misleading memes and posts aimed at supporters of Hillary Clinton.
“According to the allegations in the complaint, the defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one of the 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.”
Some of the memes and posts sought to get Hillary Clinton voters to cast ballots remotely when those options were not available.
Defense attorneys are almost certain to point their efforts to the First Amendment.
Ricky Vaughn is also the name of a character played by actor Charlie Sheen in the movie “Major League”.
Social media accounts under the Vaughn name and allegedly operated by Mackay drew healthy traffic and followings. Prosecutors claim the Vaughn accounts in question had 58,000 Twitter followers in 2016.
Media and progressive critics of the Vaughn social media pages contend they advocated for far-right policies in addition to their support for Trump.