US Officials Blame Iran For Sending Emails From Proud Boys Account Threatening Democratic Voters
Despite the claims, U.S. officials say the far-right group is not to blame— Iran is.
October 23, 2020 at 6:05 pm
With the presidential election just weeks away, Democratic voters in several states say they have been the target of threatening emails they believed were from the far-right group Proud Boys.
In a press conference this week, U.S. officials accused foreign countries of the act, which they say may be an effort to interfere with the 2020 election, The Washington Post reports.
The FBI and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced on Wednesday that the email originated in Iran, despite voters reporting an account addressed as “email@example.com.” An official said the phony email scheme exploited a flaw in the Proud Boys’ digital network.
The emails were received by Democratic supporters in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Alaska and Florida.
Ratcliffe also accused Russia of accessing similar voter information databases.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” he said.
Jessica McCroan, a 24-year-old resident of Gainesville, Florida, said she informed law enforcement as soon as she realized that the email was fraudulent.
“When I clicked it and read more, I was like, this has to be illegal,” McCroan told the Orlando Sentinel.
“[Name] we are in possession of all your information,'' the emails stated. "You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you. [voter’s address] good luck.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the sender's claim that hackers gained “access into the entire voting infrastructure” does not prove that voting systems were compromised because voter registration information in states like Florida is publicly accessible. The public records also don't include information on who voters voted for.
“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said. “When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to quickly take appropriate action.”
Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio said that he had no knowledge of any involvement with the email scheme. Tarrio, also the Florida director of Latinos for Trump, said the group manages two websites but has been phasing out the domain attributed to the email chain.
The Proud Boys, identified as a white supremacist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, made headlines after President Donald Trump elected not to condemn the organization when asked to denounce white extremists at the first presidential debate this year. The group has since sold branded merchandise to commemorate the president’s “stand back and stand by” comment, as Blavity previously reported.
On Thursday, Iranian officials rebuked accusations that their government is trying to interfere with the upcoming U.S. election.
“Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome,” an official told ABC News.
Recently, relations between the U.S. and Iran has grown tenser. In January, the U.S. military executed Iran’s top military commander, Qasem Soleimani.
In August, William Evanina, America’s highest counterintelligence agent, released an assessment that stated “Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections.”
He added that Iran’s efforts “probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.”
In Wednesday's press conference, Ratcliffe also confirmed that Iran was responsible for the distribution of a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.”
The video shows images of Trump and features a logo with the name of the Proud Boys near the end of the clip. The video was shared on a Twitter account but has since been deleted.