Douglass Mackey ’11, far-right troll, arrested for 2016 election interference

By Hattie LeFavour

Courtesy of HuffPost
Prosecutors believe at least 4,900 people attempted to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton via text message due to Mackey’s disinformation campaign.

Douglass Mackey ’11, a prominent far-right Twitter troll formerly known by the pseudonym Ricky Vaughn, was arrested by federal prosecutors last Wednesday for perpetrating a meme-based disinformation campaign that tricked more than 4,900 Democrats into believing they could cast ballots for Hillary Clinton via text message in the 2016 election. 

Mackey’s images, shared on Twitter and Facebook, featured the hashtags #GoHillary and #ImWithHer and read “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925.” In the months before the election, Mackey also participated in Twitter and Facebook meme campaigns aimed at convincing Democrats that they could vote by hashtag and that Clinton was promoting a “Draft our Daughters” plan to make women eligible for the draft, among others. His campaigns often specifically targeted Black and Latino voters , with many messages written in Spanish or reading “African Americans for Hillary.”

Leading up to the 2016 election, Mackey operated under the Twitter handle @Ricky_Vaughn99 and various others, through which he disseminated racist, anti-Semitic, anti-feminist and conspiratorial claims to tens of thousands of followers. An MIT Media Lab list of the top 150 influencers in the 2016 election ranked the account ahead of both NBC and CBS News, as well as political commentators Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert. Mackey operated anonymously until his identity was revealed in 2018.

Mackey grew up in Vermont and graduated from Harwood Union High School before enrolling at Middlebury, where he was an economics major. He was also a short-lived member of the Middlebury Men’s Track & Field team.

Mackey’s official charge — conspiracy to violate rights — marks the first prominent criminal case that involves voter suppression through disinformation spread on Twitter, presenting a potentially groundbreaking shift in government enforcement of election interference. He is currently released from jail on a $50,000 bond.