Ten Years In Prison For Posting Memes? – OpEd
By Scott D. Cosenza, Esq.*
Ricky Vaughn is the juvenile delinquent Cleveland Indians pitcher, played by Charlie Sheen, to great success in the 1989 film Major League. So it’s no wonder Douglass Mackey chose “Ricky Vaughn” as his nom de Twitter to mock and deride Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign. Mackey’s Vaughn accounts became wildly successful, earning a vast audience. They also earned him a federal felony conviction and a yet-to-be-issued sentence that could be as long as ten years. For memes. That’s right, Mackey’s crime was posting memes on social media.
One of Mackey’s Vaughn accounts was so popular that the Laboratory for Social Machines, part of the MIT Media Lab, ranked it 107 on its list of 2016 Election Influencers — ahead of Drudge, Vox, and NBC News. It’s not hard to understand why. The memes he generated included #draftourdaughters, a satirical campaign identifying Hillary as a warmonger who would put the country’s young women in fatigues to fight her foreign military adventures. Another suggested people could simply text in their vote for Clinton instead of visiting the polls.
Just a Bit Outside
In 2021, FBI Special Agent Maegan Rees filed a criminal complaint against Mackey, saying his criminality came about because he, “[i]n conjunction with others known and unknown, spread disinformation about the manner by which citizens could and should cast their votes during the Election” and that such conduct “constituted criminal infringement of the right to vote.” Rees wrote that Mackey:
“made coordinated use of social media to spread disinformation relevant to the impending 2016 Presidential Election … The disinformation spread by these individuals often took the form of ‘memes.’”
How can this be, with the First Amendment protections for free speech? Doesn’t Mackey, or any American, for that matter, have the right to post a meme concerning an election? Rees claimed that “Mackey and his co-conspirators variously discussed and debated aspects of these memes, including their content, their formatting and the timing of their release, and expressed a desire that the memes would influence the behaviors of those who saw them.”
Memes in the Eye of the Beholder
Courthouse News Services’ Nina Pullano reported from the Brooklyn federal courthouse that Biden’s Department of Justice prosecutor declared, “There’s no joke here … It’s not satire. It’s just fraudulent information on how to vote.” He added that the “defendant is not here because of his political beliefs, what he believed is clearly relevant to how and why he acted.”
Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the verdict “proves that the defendant’s fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality and flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote.” US District Judge Ann Donnelly, a Barack Obama appointee, presided over the case. Mackey is scheduled for sentencing in August.
For those who find value in Mackey’s Vaughn account postings and revere freedom of expression, there is hope. In an email to reporters, Mackey’s lawyer Andrew Frisch said the Court of Appeals would have multiple reasons to choose from to overturn the conviction, and “[w]e are optimistic about our chances on appeal.”
*About the author: Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. is Legal Affairs Editor of LibertyNation.com. Scott writes extensively on legal issues and is the Policy Director for One Generation Away.
Source: This article was published by Liberty Nation