BROOKLYN (CN) — The man “on trial for memes” worked to trick Hillary Clinton voters into staying home on Election Day in 2016, jurors determined Friday, entering a conviction after taking nearly as many days to deliberate as they did hearing witnesses.
Douglass Mackey shared from his popular far-right Twitter account phony flyers that encouraged Clinton supporters to vote via text message.
“Avoid the line. Vote from home,” one such flyer states. “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925.”
Mackey operated under the pseudonym “Ricky Vaughn,” after Charlie Sheen’s character in the 1989 movie “Major League.”
With the memes, prosecutors argued, Mackey hoped Clinton supporters would take the bait and throw away their votes. The conspiracy against rights charge, which has a maximum 10-year prison sentence, rested only on proving intent, not successfully keeping voters away on Election Day.
“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,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement.
Mackey’s attorney, Andrew Frisch, said he was disappointed but is looking at the road ahead.
“This case presents an unusual array of appellate issues that are exceptionally strong,” Frisch said following the verdict. “This was the first chapter of the litigation of this case. We would have preferred to win, but I am confident about the way forward.”
Deliberations began Monday afternoon following closing arguments. Trial lasted for four days, including opening statements. Jurors indicated on Tuesday and Wednesday that they could not reach a unanimous verdict, but returned to the jury room after an Allen charge by U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.
At trial, government attorneys pointed to racist and sexist views espoused by Mackey, saying he clearly wanted to target certain groups.
“Women are children with the right to vote,” Mackey said in one tweet shown at trial. In another, he said: “Black people will believe anything they read ok [sic] twitter, and we let them vote why?” Mackey also wrote that children of immigrants and naturalized citizens should not be trusted to vote.
As for the "Text Hillary" memes, one was written in Spanish, and another featured a woman holding a sign that says “African Americans for President Hillary.”
“He did it because he thought those groups were important to the election. He did it because he thought the election would be very close,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Paulsen said of Mackey. “And fundamentally, he did it because he thought that it would work.”
Prosecutors also showed the jury private messaging groups that included Mackey, where other anonymous accounts discussed how best to amplify the images online. A cooperating witness who testified using his alias “Microchip” said he and Mackey never met in person but had a “silent agreement” that constituted a criminal conspiracy.
Mackey’s attorney claimed Microchip’s account wasn’t reliable. Though he downplayed the flyers, calling them memes and “shitposts” intended to deflect attention from real political conversation, Frisch didn’t angle to get support for his client’s activities.
“They are offensive, in bad taste,” Frisch said in his closing arguments. “They cross the line of decency,” Frisch said during closing arguments.
Yet airing out those beliefs in the “marketplace of ideas” allows them to be weeded out, he said.
“Speech regulates itself,” Frisch said. “If you give it air, it will suffocate. No one will give it oxygen. It will die.”
Taking the stand in his own defense, Mackey said he intended to rattle the Clinton campaign but didn’t believe anyone would believe they could vote in a U.S. election via text message.
A Clinton campaign employee who testified at trial said the flyers, which used Clinton’s colors and font, and included fine-print disclaimers at the bottom, were “sneaky” and prompted her to report them to the campaign.
Twitter ultimately deleted tweets with the flyers, often shared along with hashtags like Clinton’s campaign slogan #ImWithHer.
Mackey’s alter ego earned a high rank on a 2016 list of election influencers published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. At No. 107, he came in just behind U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Powerful conservative figures, including U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have publicly supported Mackey, calling his prosecution a political move and First Amendment threat.
Mackey is still on Twitter, now under his true name. “On trial for memes,” states the bio for the handle @DougMackeyCase, set up earlier this month. He has raised more $25,000, according to one of the donation links shared by the account, and garnered more than 5,100 followers to date.
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