Threatening emails. Weird recruiting text messages. A website with an “assault weapon” raffle.
In the weeks immediately preceding and following President Donald Trump’s evening debate nod to the Proud Boys, voters reported a slew of spam messages claiming to be from the far-right paramilitary group. But many or all of these messages are hoaxes, some of which come from a serial prankster who once posed as anti-fascists.
The result is a murky and threatened state of affairs, with some voters worried more than ever for election security as Trump calls on his supporters – including the Proud Boys in particular – to watch the polls.
“We are in possession of all of your information,” read an email claiming to be from The Prod Boys that was shared on social media by several Florida residents on Tuesday. “You are currently registered as a Democrat, and we know that because we have had access to the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation. in Republican to let us know you received our message and we will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you. Good luck. “
Some of the emails ended with the recipient’s home address, Florida today reported. The outlet noted that the first reports on the emails appeared to show them targeting Democrats in Brevard and Alachua counties. Voter information is available on demand in Florida, meaning the sender could have legally obtained names and addresses from the state, instead of having “access to the entire voting infrastructure.” As the email claimed.
The emails, which were addressed to the recipient by name, appeared to come from the address “email@example.com”.
This email address does not match the actual Proud Boys website, however. As Vice previously reported, the sender’s address appears to have been spoofed and effectively passed through IP addresses located in Estonia. (This does not guarantee that the sender is actually in Estonia.)
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, told the Daily Beast that his group was not behind the emails. (The claims of the Proud Boys leadership are at times questionable. After the group’s Philadelphia branch announced an infrequently attended rally last month, the group claimed the event was in fact a hoax intended to deceive the left. Meanwhile, the FBI, which did not immediately return a request for comment, was reviewing the emails, local officials said.
It is not known how far the emails spread. Voters across Alaska also reported receiving a version of the email, along with threatening messages from a sender with “Trump Digital Soldier” in their email address. Like Florida, voter registration in Alaska is also available to the public.
The Proud Boys, along with the threat of pro-Trump electoral vigilantes, gained new visibility after the first presidential debate in September, in which Trump refused to engage in a peaceful transfer of power, called on his supporters to monitor election sites, and called on the Proud Boys to “stand by”. Trump, whose campaign encourages supporters to join a “Trump army” of unauthorized observers, later said he disowned the Proud Boys, a violent group linked to white supremacists.
Prior to Trump’s (at least nominal) disavowal, the Proud Boys celebrated the president’s statements on the debate night and sold T-shirts with his “stand by” quote.
But another person also seized on the comments: Adam Rahuba, an internet troll who rose to prominence for staging a bogus “antifa” rally in Gettysburg, Pa. This summer. This rally sparked a real right-wing response. Members of the militia and the Ku Klux Klan flocked to Gettysburg to counter non-threatening and antagonistic passers-by. the Washington post reported that a heavily armed far-right contingent surrounded a pastor who was wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, prompting law enforcement to intervene.
From the end of August, Rahuba recorded a fake Proud Boys website, he told the Daily Beast on Twitter. He said he also began sending fake Proud Boy recruiting texts to prominent Twitter liberal figures whose phone numbers he found online “to make it more legitimate (and to increase fear of Actual PBs to help boost voter turnout).
“The Antifa and BLM terrorists are destroying our great country!” read one of the texts by Rahuba’s Proud Boyss, shared by a liberal Twitter user with over 200,000 followers. “We have to stop them. Join the PROUD BOYS USA. “
After Trump told the Proud Boys to “get ready,” Rahuba said he started incorporating the slogan into the texts, which he always sent in late September.
The text ended with a link to Rahuba’s fake Proud Boys site, which encouraged potential applicants to fill out a form with all of their personal information. The site also announced a “Win an ‘assault weapon’” raffle and fake Proud Boys phone number, which Rahuba connected to an answering machine.
At least 80 phones have texted or left voicemail messages with the fake Proud Boys number, according to recordings Rahuba shared with The Daily Beast. Voicemail messages ranged in content from insults to several men claiming they wanted to join the group (although their sincerity is uncertain).
The messages may have been the first time some of the recipients have viewed the group.
A man, apparently surprised by the messages, left a voicemail message with his name and phone number asking the Proud Boys to “someone call me and explain to me what you’re doing.”
Others were not so positive. “Fucking organization of bullshit. Misguided patriotism. Read a fucking history book, ”one caller suggested.
Another man, who said he was black, called the group “fucking weirdos” and accused them of perpetuating racism.
One woman, possibly in an attempt to deconvert the Proud Boys, left at least 45 messages, many of them singing hymns about tolerance or reading passages from writer James Baldwin.
“Oh guys, I’m sorry, I’m afraid you accidentally blocked your line,” said the woman on one call, who left voicemail messages from at least two different numbers. “Shoot. Anyway, I thought I missed a few days to read you, but I’m baaack, so hello. Alright, again, I’ll pick up where I left off. This is from the 1962 essay by James Baldwin “The Fire Next Time”. “
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