Enlarge /. Former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks to an audience on March 20, 2019 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Gillum's campaign was targeted by racist robocalls in 2018.
Getty Images | Saul Martinez
A neo-Nazi white supremacist robocaller who "xenophobic scare tactics" and "racist attacks on political candidates" was fined $ 9.9 million for violating the Caller ID Truth Act US law prohibiting Caller ID manipulation, imposing numbers with the intent of cheating, causing harm, or falsely obtaining something of value. The Federal Communications Commission closed the fine on Scott Rhodes of Idaho yesterday, almost a year after the FCC first proposed the penalty.
"This person made thousands of fake robocalls targeting specific communities with malicious recorded messages," the FCC said in an announcement. "Robocalls included xenophobic scare tactics (including a victim's family), racist attacks on political candidates, an overt attempt to influence the jury on a domestic terrorism case, and the threat of language to a local journalist. The caller used it on purpose an online calling platform manipulate caller ID information so that the calls he makes are from local numbers – a technique known as "neighbor spoofing" ".
Rhodes made "4,959 unlawful fake robocalls between May 2018 and December 2018" on multiple different answering machines that "attacked district voters during political campaigns or community residents who witnessed major news events related to or related to public controversy," the loss of the FCC order said.
"I am the negro Andrew Gillum"
For example, in November 2018, Rhodes launched "a campaign against Georgian gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams" with 583 robocalls allegedly from Oprah Winfrey who fought with Ms. Abrams in Georgia, the FCC said in the forfeiture warrant. The FCC command referred to a CNN article from the period that said, "The group behind the robocall is The Road to Power, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic video podcast hosted by Scott Rhodes of Idaho." The robocall contained "racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric," wrote CNN.
Another Rhodes campaign was directed against Andrew Gillum, who was running for governor in Florida. "Well, hello there. I'm the Negro Andrew Gillum, and I'm asking you to make me the governor of this state of Florida," said the robocalls, "with a man who speaks a black dialect in a cartoon," wrote CNN the time.
Rhodes was "motivated by intentions to harm these communities and gain media and brand awareness for its website and personal brand," said the FCC. Rhodes' various Robocall campaigns directed recipients to visit theroadtopower.com. In a November 2018 article in the Anti-Defamation League, the website was described as a "white supremacist and anti-Semitic broadcaster". The article said Rhodes "gained local prominence in late 2017 when police linked him with the distribution of the white supremacist, propaganda at Sandpoint, Idaho High School, harassment of a Sandpoint resident, and threats of anti-Semitic calls to the footage from Hitler included. "
The FCC summarized the other Robocall campaigns from Rhodes as follows:
In Iowa, he forged a local phone number to trick residents of Brooklyn and the surrounding area with xenophobic messages relating to the arrest of an illegal alien for the murder of a local college student. In Idaho, he called Sandpoint residents and attacked the local newspaper and publisher after they reported the caller's identity. In Virginia, he made fake robocalls to residents of Charlottesville based on false conspiracy theory to influence the jury in the James Fields murder trial and asked the judge to specifically instruct the jury pool to ignore the calls.
The fine was reduced from $ 12.9 million
The FCC found that Rhodes' calls violated the Caller ID Truthfulness Act because he wanted to "do harm" and "wrongly get something of value," which is "awareness of his website and personal brand "The Road to Power". " Evidence cited by the FCC that Rhodes intended to cause damage included a phone call to the family of Mollie Tibbetts, the murdered student. Tibbetts' family spoke out against the use of their murder in the debate over immigration laws.
The FCC originally proposed a $ 12.9 million fine on Rhodes, which was given the opportunity to act as usual on proposed fines. "The commission found most of his arguments unconvincing, but reduced the forfeit amount based on evidence that one of the many phone numbers used in the robocalls – those used during a California primary campaign – was indeed the calling number to use," said the FCC.
Rhodes argued that the caller ID numbers he used "conveyed a political message and were therefore protected by the initial change," the FCC said. "The last four digits of his selected caller IDs were either '1488' or '0420', which Rhodes calls neo-Nazi symbols." A footnote in the FCC regulation stated that "the number & # 39; 1488 & # 39; is an amalgamation of the & # 39; 14 words & # 39 ;, a white supremacist slogan, and & # 39; 88 & # 39; ; is what & # 39; Heil Hitler & # 39; stands for. " Rhodes claimed 0420 was a reference to Hitler because he was born on April 20th.
The FCC determined that the use of these digits did not provide Rhodes robocalls protection under the first amendment. Even if Rhodes intended to use the digits to convey a message, which the FCC doubted, "there is no evidence in the records that the called parties understood the message." The FCC continued:
The fact that certain numbers may be intended to carry a political message does not give a caller the right to use the numbers in violation of the Truthfulness Act in Caller ID. The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits the knowingly submitting inaccurate or misleading Caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause, or improperly obtain anything of value. If Rhodes wanted to use phone numbers to deliver a message, he should have been given the right to use the numbers. Additionally, Rhodes' assertion regarding the last four digits of Caller ID numbers does not change the fact that he dialed the first three digits – and in many cases the first six digits – as a local number to: ( 1) hide their identity; and (2) make it more likely that a called party will answer the call thinking that the caller is local. In any case, we note that the spoofing here did not contain a message that was understandable to called parties. Instead, the spoofing was non-expressive behavior and can therefore be regulated.
In the public version of the expiry order, the name of the call service used by Rhodes has been edited, but the service operator informed the FCC that "the caller IDs for the robocalls originating from the Rhodes account were not provided. The caller (Rhodes) had the callers IDs selected. "
The FCC has a poor track record of fining robocallers, partly because proposed fines often do not result in forfeit decisions. In Rhodes' case, he has to pay the fine within 30 days due to yesterday's forfeiture order. If it doesn't, the FCC said it "will refer the matter to the US Department of Justice for further processing".
The forfeiture order was one of the final acts of FCC chairman Ajit Pai before leaving the commission next week. "With today's fine, we are reaffirming our commitment to aggressively prosecute those who unlawfully bombard the American people with fake robocalls," Pai said yesterday.