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Earlier this week, rumors emerged that the conservative, multiracial free-speech group known as the Proud Boys had sent threatening emails to Democrats in Florida.
Received by Democrat voters in the heavily Democrat county of Alachua, the emails had shown a “from” address of [email protected] and a subject line that reportedly read, “Vote for Trump or else!”
The media immediately picked up on the story, but some outlets warned readers that the emails “were sent via servers located overseas, raising questions about their origin,” as reported by CBS News. The warning turned out to be prescient.
In a press conference Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe revealed that the emails had in fact been sent by Iranian operatives. However, it turned out that the phony emails were just one of many sketchy operations that were being used by foreign operatives to affect the 2020 race.
“We would like to alert the public that we have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections. First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” he said.
This explained how the foreign actors responsible for the fake Proud Boys email had had access to the emails of Democrat voters in Florida.
Listen to his remarks below:
“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” Ratcliffe added.
“To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump. You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours, or you may have even been one of the recipients of those emails.”
An example of what the emails looked like may be seen below:
A colleague’s (American) partner received one of the emails purportedly from ‘proud boys’.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence says officials believe Iran is behind the emails.
(Iran denies this) pic.twitter.com/1IQhrhTS18
— Simon Cullen (@Simon_Cullen) October 22, 2020
“Additionally, Iran is distributing other content to include a video that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas. This video and any claims about such allegedly fraudulent ballots are not true,” the DNI continued.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries. Even if the adversaries pursue further attempts to intimidate or attempt to undermine voter confidence, know that our election systems are resilient and you can be confident your votes are secure.”
The announcement should not have come as a surprise to those who are aware of the Proud Boys and its activities.
Prior to Ratcliffe’s announcement, Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, a black Cuban, had made it clear in a statement to the media that the emails were “definitely not” from his group.
“We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group,” he said.
He’d added that though officialproudboys.com is one of the group’s websites, it’s temporarily been down as the group has been moving its content to a new website.
“We don’t send emails. This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” he added.
Yet despite the matter now being cleared up by the highest intelligence official in the United States, another round of rumors have emerged, with known MSNBC conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow leading the chorus.
Sen. Schumer says the idea that Iran was trying to damage Donald Trump was not conveyed in the classified briefing he received: “From the briefing, I had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure…” pic.twitter.com/6ngdIANXPQ
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) October 22, 2020
The concern is that Ratcliffe’s claim that the emails had been designed specifically to “hurt Trump” is somehow wrong or a lie.
Other notable figures have echoed this concern:
It makes no sense. The emails were ostensibly from the Proud Boys — Trump supporters who are “standing by” — threatening Democratic voters. How would that damage Trump? https://t.co/sq8fvNoQPy
— Daniel Goldman (@danielsgoldman) October 22, 2020
If Ratcliffe is talking about the “Proud Boys” emails that aimed to intimidate DEMOCRATIC voters, how does that “damage” Trump? https://t.co/M2kcdHG76i
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) October 21, 2020
1. Ratcliffe & Wray had a press conf on very little notice. Ratcliffe said Iran & Russia were interfering in the election, to damage Trump. He referenced emails, which appear to be emails purportedly sent by Proud Boys, threatening voters who d/n vote FOR Trump. It made no sense.
— Amy Washburn (@AIWashburn) October 22, 2020
If you’re thinking “why would Iran be backing Trump?”, just know you’re not alone. It’s strange. Here’s my initial thoughts. No answers here, just questions.
Just to start with, I have no idea what Ratcliffe meant by saying the emails were designed to “damage President Trump,”
— Matt Bevan 🎙 (@MatthewBevan) October 22, 2020
But it does actually seem to make sense. By threatening Democrat voters via emails spoofed to look like they came from the Proud Boys, a group that supports President Donald Trump, Iran succeeded in amplifying the already prevailing left-wing narrative that the Proud Boys are essentially the president’s “army.”
There are classically liberal voters who would show up as Democrats who may be considering voting for Trump but are turned off by Proud Boys. The disinfo campaign is aimed at aligning Trump to them in a threatening way so they view him through that lens. Not hard to grasp.
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 22, 2020
It’s a fact-free theory with no basis in reality, but it’s prevalent nevertheless:
Trump has autocratic proclivities but not autocratic powers (yet). Dictators count the votes. Trump doesn’t get to count the votes. Dictators call on their armies to stay in power. Not an option for Trump; he’s got the Proud Boys. Stop making Trump sound more powerful than he is.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) October 1, 2020
And in some respects, Iran’s plot worked, because despite DNI Ratcliffe explaining that Iran had been behind the emails, some voters still don’t believe him.
Just assume Ratcliffe is lying about this and save a day in your news cycle https://t.co/ckagGPRZKu
— Marc Lynch (@abuaardvark) October 22, 2020
It helps that Democrat voters — particularly those with fancy blue checks marks — seem to be so stunningly susceptible to foreign propaganda …