Pro-Trump Twitter troll Douglass Mackey says he was talking trash, not committing election interference in 2016

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Pro-Trump Twitter troll Douglass Mackey wasn’t looking to trick anyone out of their right to vote when he posted memes telling Hillary Clinton supporters to “vote from home” by text in 2016, his lawyer Andrew Frisch told a federal jury in Brooklyn on Monday.

Instead, Frisch said, Mackey was trying to go viral, using his online influence and tens of thousands of followers to spread disruptive ideas meant to knock his political targets off their game.

“Mr. Mackey did not share the memes as some sort of grand plan,” Frisch said during opening arguments.

Mackey, 33, tweeted fake Clinton campaign ads — one showing a Black woman, another written in Spanish — with a text message number urging people to “avoid the line” and vote by text.

Federal prosecutors allege that he conspired with online trolls to post the images as a way to trick people into not voting, crossing the line from free speech into criminal charges. Mackey used the Twitter handle “Ricky Vaughn.”

Frisch said Mackey was merely doing what’s called “s—tposting,” in internet parlance, which he later sanitized for the jury as “stuff-posting.”

“It means what it says — he was posting stuff,” Frisch said. “A lot of it was online trash-talking. Juvenile, sure, and some of it was vulgar.”

He added, “Whatever your reaction when you hear his views ... whether he was a great thinker or a neanderthal caveman, you will see that none of it is proof of a criminal conspiracy.”

Federal prosecutors say that Mackey went beyond foul words and political provocation by conspiring with fellow trolls to create the Twitter posts, work-shopping them to look as real as possible.

“This wasn’t about changing votes. This was about vaporizing votes, making them disappear,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Turner Buford.

Mackey directed people to text a specific “short code” that he and his group “hijacked” from a tech company. People were urged to text the word “Hillary” to that number, Buford said.

“The number was real and set up to receive incoming messages,” he explained. “The release of these fake campaign ads was timed to flood the internet before Election Day.”

Mackey is charged with conspiracy against rights, which carries a 10-year sentence.

Frisch said that Mackey posted the memes on Nov. 1, a full week before Election Day, and that their message was ludicrous to anyone with a basic knowledge of how presidential elections work — voting by text would mean you could vote without proving you’re of age or a U.S. citizen, that you don’t have to prove which state you live in and that you can vote multiple times with multiple phones.

And within a day or two, the memes were the subject of national news stories, which led Mackey to post on Nov. 3, “That feeling when you haphazardly post a meme and it winds up on cable television.”

Judge Ann Donnelly took over as the presiding judge Monday, after Judge Nicholas Garaufis tested positive for COVID on Sunday morning.

The government put several witnesses on the stand the first day of the trial, including Jessica Morales, Clinton’s digital organizing director in 2016. The “vote by text” tweets were concerning enough for the campaign to immediately take action, she said.

“It’s a very sneaky graphic. It’s designed to look like it came from the campaign ... This is designed to look like what we did,” she said.

When asked if she thought the tweets were a joke, she said, “No, not a joke. Not for me. Not a parody.”

The campaign warned voters of the phony campaign on Twitter and via automated messages, according to Morales.