A Brooklyn judge will allow a leading internet far-right figure to keep his identity a secret when testifying against a pro-Trump Twitter troll accused of trying to trick 2016 Hillary Clinton voters out of voting.
Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the witness, who prosecutors say “held a prominent position within the far-right online community,” will be identified only by a screen name at Douglass Mackey’s trial this month.
Mackey tweeted official-looking fake campaign ads for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, urging people to vote by text instead of in person, according to the feds. Jury selection began in Mackey’s trial this week and opening arguments are scheduled for Monday.
The trial was transferred Sunday from Garaufis to Judge Ann Donnelly, who presided over the 2021 sex trafficking trial of disgraced music mogul R. Kelly.
Mackey’s trial has become a cause celebre for some conservative personalities, including far-right representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, who has called the charges a politically motivated attack on freedom of expression.
Mackey’s attorney tried to have the case dismissed on First Amendment and other grounds in October, but Garaufis ruled that the trial would go ahead.
The cooperating witness plans to testify about being part of direct message groups on Twitter, coordinating with Mackey on how to trick Clinton voters out of voting, according to court documents.
The traitorous troll has pleaded guilty to anti-rights conspiracy, the same charge Mackey faces, and is assisting the FBI in several other cases, prosecutors said in recent court documents.
“The fact of (the witness’s) cooperation will surely be seen by many in that community as a profound betrayal, with the result that, at the very least, online bullying will follow the (witness) should their identity become a matter of public record,” prosecutors wrote last week.
“That harassment can have negative consequences in itself. Furthermore, to claim that intense online attacks do not endanger a person’s physical safety is to ignore the reality of our world today, as evidenced by ordinary newspaper headlines.”
Prosecutors noted the irony that their witness has in the past engaged in the same type of harassment that they hope anonymity will protect them from.
Mackey’s lawyer will know the identity of the witness and be able to run a background check, but he cannot reveal the name to his client, and the jury and the public will only hear a screen name, the judge ruled.
Mackey called himself “Ricky Vaughn,” a reference to Charlie Sheen’s character in the movie “Major League,” and posted memes in an attempt to suppress the vote for Clinton and get Trump elected, the feds say.
“Avoid the Line. Vote from home,” Mackey tweeted on November 1 along with a photo of a black woman standing in front of a “Blacks for Hillary” sign. The fine print read: “You must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text is not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska, or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary for President 2016.”
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He and several other trolls attended group chats for a workshop on how best to craft the meme to convince people it was real, the feds allege. Some 4,900 people texted the number in the memes, the feds allege, though it’s unclear if anyone was tricked into staying home on Election Day.
Mackey’s lawyer, Andrew Frisch, lobbied for the name of the cooperating witness, arguing that their safety was not at risk and that witnesses against drug cartels and gangs like MS-13 in the past have not been granted anonymity.
“While safety and efficacy are legitimate interests, they are not present in this case,” Frisch wrote. “The government’s concern to protect the accused from online harassment really means protecting them from negative attention, which is not a legitimate interest.
The prosecution has never alleged that the defendant has a reputation for violence, has ever committed violent acts, or has threatened anyone’s safety.
However, Garaufis disagreed, ruling: “The court is not convinced by the defendant’s assertion that violence is necessarily a far cry from online bullying… The court finds that the government adequately demonstrated that there is real concern , not speculative, that revealing the identity (of the witness) could lead to online or physical harassment or danger.”
Garaufis also prohibited any cross-examination of witness work for the FBI in other cases, despite Frisch’s objections.
Opening arguments were briefly delayed when an expert defense witness recanted, after Frisch said an investigator from the Southern Poverty Law Center approached him asking questions “based on private emails” for a pending investigation into the trial. from Mackey.