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Arrested for Memes: In Defense of Ricky Vaughn

Arrested for Memes: In Defense of Ricky Vaughn

Once relegated to obscure online forums, memes are now commonplace on the internet. These images are diverse in their content, ranging from humorous to offensive to insightful. And as the Department of Justice sees it, memes have the potential to be criminal as well.

Douglass Mackey, the man behind the popular 2016 pro-Trump Twitter account Ricky Vaughn, is facing up to 10 years in federal prison—for posting memes.

The website for his legal defense fundraiser summarizes his situation as follows:

On January 22, 2021 two days after Joe Biden was inaugurated, Douglass Mackey was indicted under 18 USC 241, for conspiracy to violate civil rights. Mackey’s alleged crime? Federal Prosecutors claim Mackey was behind the popular Trump-supporting Twitter Account @RickyVaughn99, and used “social media to spread disinformation relevant to the impending 2016 Presidential Election.” Specifically, the government was concerned that “disinformation spread by these individuals often took the form of ‘memes.'”

On what grounds can a meme be illegal? Prosecutors allege that images posted by Mackey, which directed Hillary supporters to vote via text message, constituted a deprivation of the civil rights of said Hillary supporters.

An article from Revolver News explains the DOJ’s argument:

The DOJ claims that the above meme merits a prison sentence of up to ten years, for violation of 18 U.S. Code § 241. The law, which concerns ‘Conspiracy against rights,’ is a subset of the Enforcement Act of 1871, better known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

The DOJ’s argument is that, by posting the above memes on Twitter in 2016, and designing it to resemble a Hillary Clinton ad, Mackey deceived the public into casting invalid text message votes, as part of a conspiracy to deprive them of the right to vote.

To be clear, the federal government can’t show that this actually happened. But the government says that proving a dumb meme fooled a single person is not necessary to find one guilty of the dastardly crime of disinformation.

This last part is key. There isn’t a shred of evidence that a single person, let alone a substantial subset of the electorate, had their vote nullified as a result of Mackey’s Twitter antics. The DOJ believes that the mere act is sufficient to put Mackey in jail for up to a decade. It’s utterly preposterous.

What’s worse, the DOJ has turned one of Mackey’s former Twitter associates against him. The man in question, whose identity remains a mystery, faced similar charges and pleaded guilty. He is now cooperating with the Biden administration, which has shielded his identity on the grounds that, were it to be revealed, he would face harassment. So much for the right to face your accuser.

Speaking of concealed identities, Ricky Vaughn was revealed to be Douglass Mackey after one-time congressional candidate Paul Nehlen posted Mackey’s identity to social media platform Gab in 2018 following a spat. This led to an article in HuffPost—which contained many of Mackey’s personal details—and, later, to his indictment.

Those who weren’t on Twitter in 2016 might not be aware of how effectively Mackey used the platform. Prior to his account’s suspension, he had 62,000 followers and had tweeted over 221,000 times. Mackey’s tweets were so effective that the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s Media Lab listed him as the 107th most influential account regarding the 2016 election cycle—putting him ahead of Drudge Report, Stephen Colbert, CNN Breaking News, and many others.

We needn’t agree with everything Mackey has ever tweeted or said—some of it is undoubtedly offensive—to recognize that the case against him amounts to a political witch hunt. The establishment cannot stand the fact that regular people can anonymously create social accounts and outcompete powerful institutions. The case against Douglass Mackey isn’t merely about punishing someone who gleefully made himself a thorn in the side of the elite—it’s about creating a chilling effect to dissuade future Ricky Vaughns from challenging power.

We should keep Douglass in our prayers. And those of us with the means to do so can support his fundraiser here.

Image credit: Twitter



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  • Avatar
    March 23, 2023, 5:17 am

    This is notng short of George Orwells Thought Police writ large This is hat King George Three's minions were about as they jackbooted the colonists back in the 1770's. This is WHY they wrote that First Article of Ammendment exactly the way they did. If this was happening in Boston in 1775 they'd have had done with the Letter Box and the Soap Box, and be getting out the Cartridge Boxes to preserve their liberty.

  • Avatar
    March 23, 2023, 1:58 pm

    This whole meme issue is nothing more than an attack on free speech, whihc our government seems to be greatly afraid of. Dems undestand that if they can control what is said, what is ALLOWED to be said, they can control what society thinks as a whole. If we allow that, we deserve to be in chains, as that is exactly what will happen.


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