Mystery Donor Backing Pro-Trump Disinfo Troll With Bitcoin – Southern Poverty Law Center

Hatewatch found the anonymous donation by analyzing a Bitcoin address belonging to Douglass Mackey, 31, a far-right, pro-Trump internet troll who police arrested at his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Jan. 27. Mackey posted massive amounts of hate and disinformation online, primarily on Twitter, under the alias “Ricky Vaughn,” and became infamous for his activism in support of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Law enforcement took Mackey into custody on charges of conspiring to threaten or intimidate voters during the 2016 presidential election, according to a press release issued by the Justice Department. Hours after his arrest, far-right pundits – including Fox News host Tucker Carlson – and overt neo-Nazis rushed to Mackey’s defense, misrepresenting him as a conservative journalist who law enforcement nabbed in a “witch hunt.” Carlson said his arrest was an example of “martial law.”

Mackey’s “friends and supporters” established his legal defense fund, according to a description on the fundraiser’s homepage. Archived versions of the website indicate whoever set it up did so in early-to-mid-March. Several prominent far-right extremists, including a former White House official who now serves on a commission focused on preserving sites related to the Holocaust, promoted Mackey’s fundraiser on Twitter, Gab, YouTube and other social media platforms, as well as on the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer. Less than two days after this social media push began on the evening of March 11, an anonymous donor sent Mackey 1.026178 Bitcoin, then worth roughly $58,662.50. Hatewatch found that donors have sent around $63,450 in total to the address listed on Mackey’s legal fund since March 11. The donation, which took place on either late March 12 (EST) or early March 13 (UTC), represents roughly 90% of these funds.

Hatewatch analyzed donor information from GiveSendGo, a platform that has marketed itself as a Christian alternative to popular crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe, as well as the Bitcoin address listed on Mackey’s fundraising page, and found that his donors have ties to a range of far-right ideologies. One cryptocurrency donor had previously sent money to Bitcoin addresses associated with the neo-Nazi National Alliance and Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin prior to donating to Mackey. Likewise, several donors who commented on Mackey’s GiveSendGo claimed Anglin, as well as Mark Dice, a prominent right-wing YouTuber, directed them to the fundraiser. In early April, a publishing house run by Matt Forney, a male supremacist author who claimed that beating and raping women is justified, announced it would donate to Mackey the proceeds from an edited volume on the Trump era.

Mackey did not respond to Hatewatch’s repeated requests for comment. Likewise, a spokesperson at the Department of Justice declined to comment.

Mackey speaks in favor of ‘racial separatism’

Federal prosecutors allege that Mackey conspired to create and disseminate memes meant to encourage voters to cast invalid votes, claiming they could use hashtags on Twitter and Facebook, as well as text messages, instead of going to the ballot box. Mackey allegedly posted a meme of a Black woman that included a call to action, saying: “Avoid the line. Vote from home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 55925.” A criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department stated that more than 4,900 people texted the number. However, the document noted that it is unclear how many did so instead of voting.

Mackey conducted this online activity under the pseudonym “Ricky Vaughn.” (Mackey has said he took the name and avatar from Charlie Sheen’s character in the film series “Major League.”) As a 2018 Huffpost exposé on Mackey noted, “Vaughn” posted a blend of antisemitic propaganda, such as a Nazi-era cartoon depicting Jews as an octopus encircling the globe, and pro-Trump messaging on his popular Twitter account.

In early 2016, Mackey explained to the white nationalist publication Radix Journal that he saw Trump as an opportunity to push American conservatives further toward the right. Speaking as “Vaughn,” Mackey said his goal was “to introduce ideas of racial consciousness into the mix so that patriotic American conservatives don’t feel bad about creating all-white communities and shunning mixed-marriages … because we need racial separatism in order to maintain our unique culture and racial heritage.”

A month after Mackey called for “racial separatism,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab published a study that included Mackey’s “Vaughn” persona in its list of top influencers shaping election news and coverage online during the 2016 election cycle. In the study, which looked at the intersection of news coverage and social media, Mackey came in ahead of NBC and CBS News, as well as the Drudge Report, a blog and news aggregator popular among conservatives. Indeed, as Mother Jones noted in an October 2016 article, several Trump surrogates and campaign staff followed “Vaughn” on Twitter at the time of his first suspension in fall 2016.

The far right spread misinformation about Mackey’s case

The anonymous donor who sent Mackey a $58,662.50 donation on March 13 did so after some prominent members of the right-wing media and far-right pundits boosted Mackey’s case on social media and in the press.

In the immediate aftermath of his arrest on Jan. 27, right-wing personalities decried Mackey’s case as a “disgrace.” Among them was Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who portrayed Mackey as a “conservative journalist.” He claimed that federal authorities arrested Mackey because of his “online mockery of Democratic politics,” mentioning nothing about his advocacy for “all-white communities.”

“You can now be arrested for saying the wrong thing. And at 7 a.m. this morning one journalist actually was arrested for that,” Carlson added in a segment aired on the evening of Jan. 27.

Though Carlson told his viewers Mackey was a journalist, Hatewatch was unable to find evidence that Mackey has ever worked in media or as a reporter. HuffPost noted in 2018 that Mackey worked at an economic consulting firm in New York from 2012 to 2016. As HuffPost reported in April 2020, Mackey worked briefly as a consultant for Smartcheckr, the predecessor to the facial recognition firm Clearview AI, in or around early 2018. Tucker Carlson did not respond to Hatewatch’s request for comment.

Jack Posobiec, a former correspondent with One America News Network who has collaborated extensively with white supremacists and antisemites, described Mackey as a “conservative influencer” in a series of tweets from Jan. 27. The same day, Mike Cernovich, a proponent of the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory who rose to prominence for his defense of rape, called the case against Mackey “show trial stuff” and “Stalin level.”

Far-right extremists boosted Mackey’s legal fund on social media

Far-right and right-wing social media users began posting links to Mackey’s legal fund on the evening of March 11 – one day after his second arraignment.

Whoever registered the domain associated with the legal fund used a privacy tool to obscure their identity, according to domain registration records. (The homepage of Mackey’s legal fund claims “friends and supporters” of Mackey established it.) Using these same registry records, Hatewatch identified that an anonymous user registered the domain name on April 6, 2018 – less than 24 hours after Huffpost ran its exposé tying Mackey to his “Ricky Vaughn” persona. The owner of the legal fund’s domain name registered it with Epik, a web hosting company and domain registrar founded by Rob Monster that has curried favor on the extreme right.

The Columbia Bugle, a pseudonymous, far-right social media personality former President Donald Trump retweeted on several occasions, was the first to post a link to Mackey’s donation page at 5:41 pm EST on March 11. The tweet quoted a prior post from January featuring Carlson’s Jan. 27 segment on Mackey. Tor Ekeland, a legal representative for Clearview AI whose law firm is representing Mackey, followed, posting a tweet at 6:27 pm EST with a link to the fundraiser. In the tweet, Ekeland claimed the federal government was “prosecuting [Mackey] for a conspiracy to meme.”

Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi blog the Daily Stormer, posted an appeal to his own website on March 12.

“I am hereby calling on all readers to donate to his defense fund,” Anglin wrote in the post, going on to call Mackey one of “the most influential figures in the entire right-wing.”

An anonymous donor followed the fund’s promotional blitz

Hatewatch’s analysis of Mackey’s donation address found that the anonymous donor transferred 1.026178 Bitcoin – then worth roughly $58,259.30 – to the address at 1:27 a.m. UTC on March 13, or 9:27 p.m. EST on March 12. The transaction took place less than 24 hours after Anglin encouraged his readers to donate to Mackey’s fund.

Hatewatch analyzed the transactions to and from the addresses listed on the homepage of Mackey’s legal fund, as well as the address belonging to the anonymous donor. However, the anonymous donor’s activity offers few clues as to their identity. The 1.026178 Bitcoin donation to Mackey was part of a multi-part transaction that used a coin-mixing technique called a CoinJoin to split and recombine the outputs of several dozen other transactions while obscuring the ultimate source and destination of the funds.

The March 13 donation appears to be the largest single transaction involving the publicly viewable cryptocurrency addresses listed on Mackey’s legal fund.

Other donors had ties to the far right

The promotional blitz around Mackey’s legal fundraiser attracted donors with apparent ties to the multiple wings of the far right.

Two days after the large anonymous donation, on March 15, an anonymous Bitcoin donor who had previously made payments to the neo-Nazi National Alliance and Andrew Anglin donated $282.37 (or 0.005 Bitcoin at the time) to Mackey’s fund. Hatewatch’s analysis of the donor’s history revealed that the same donor had sent $190.71, or 0.006 Bitcoin, to the National Alliance on Jan. 4.

Donors on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding platform, cited Anglin and other far-right extremists for driving them to Mackey’s fundraiser. Hatewatch’s analysis of GiveSendGo data from March 11 to July 1 found that donors contributed $10,251 – a little less than half of the nearly $23,000 raised on that platform as of this writing – through that platform between March 12 and 14, the same time Anglin and others launched their promotional blitz. Far-right YouTuber Mark Dice directed donors to Mackey’s GiveSendGo as well on April 1. Dice included a link to Mackey’s GiveSendGo page in the description of the video on YouTube, which received nearly 250,000 views. Between April 1 and 2, GiveSendGo users, some of whom cited Dice by name, donated a total of $3,200 to Mackey.

On April 1, Terror House Press, a publishing house founded by Matt Forney, announced it planned to donate to Mackey the proceeds for an edited volume about Donald Trump. Writers who contributed to the edited volume include people adjacent to white nationalist and anti-democratic neo-reactionary movements. Its contributors include pseudonymous white nationalist podcaster “Borzoi Boskovic,” who co-hosts a podcast on white nationalist podcasting network The Right Stuff; “Nick B. Steves,” formerly of Social Matter, a neo-reactionary blog popular among white nationalists that was co-founded by a former Daily Caller reporter who eventually left for a Peter Thiel-backed think tank; and “Bronze Aged Pervert,” a far-right internet personality whose work has been praised by former White House officials. Since April, Terror House Press has donated $330 to the fund.

Photo illustration by SPLC

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Mystery Donor Backing Pro-Trump Disinfo Troll With Bitcoin – Southern Poverty Law Center

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