TEXT OF THE EMAILS:
We are in possession of all your information 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.
(Recipient’s Address) – good luck 😉
These menacing emails intended to sway the vote of registered Democrats in several states in the November 3rd Presidential Election also hit the inboxes of Marco Island-area residents.
Received last week, the messages were sent from an email address claiming to belong to the Proud Boys, a far-right and neo-fascist, male-only group that engages in violent political protest in America and Canada. However, John Ratcliffe, the U.S.’ Director of National Intelligence has accused Iran as being the source. Both that country and the Proud Boys have denied involvement.
Recipients were shocked not just by the emails’ threats, but also by the inclusion of confidential information such as names, addresses and voter information.
“However, the bogus emails do not represent a major internet hack, much less one of the national proportions,” said Trish Robertson, Public Relations Manager for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections. She said the office quickly posted warnings about the emails to its social media pages as soon as reports started to be received from residents.
“We wanted to make sure that voters understood two things. Number one, there is no national voting infrastructure,” she explained. “When it comes to elections, all the states are decentralized. Number two, some voter information is, in fact, public record, which is how they—the senders—learned things like people’s addresses and party affiliation. Everyone who received these emails, to my knowledge, had their email address on their voter record. The other thing we wanted to be very clear about was no-one knows who you voted for unless you, yourself, are telling people.”
Tuesday, October 20, was the day that Democrats around the country began receiving the emailed attempts at voter intimidation. “By the end of that week, 150 to 200 people had contacted the Supervisor of Elections office to report getting one,” said Robertson.
“Some were spooked by the information that was in there, the fact that it included their address and that the people who did this were able to get their email address,” she explained. “And then you had other people who were kind of, ‘FYI, thought you’d want to know about this, it’s voter intimidation, that sort of thing.”
Jean Hall of Isles of Capri received two of the emails, several hours apart, on October 20. Each one was slightly different than the other. The first one contained a link to another webpage and ended with a “smiley face” icon, while the second did not include the link or the icon.
“My reaction on the first one that had a link at the end was delete, delete, delete,” recalled Hall. “I was a bit freaked because it had my full name and address. Within a couple of hours, I was seeing it on the news. The second email was sent late at night; same text, but I was asleep. I saw it the next morning and called the FBI, the sheriff and the Florida voter fraud hotline. That one didn’t scare me at all because it was the lead story on all the national news channels.”
Ironically, she had already hand-delivered her ballot at the Supervisor of Elections office.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has also posted a warning on its website that states, “Threatening or intimidating voters in federal elections is a federal crime. This matter is being investigated by the FBI. Anyone with information should submit it to www.fbi.gov/tips.
“We are committed to ensuring that all voters in Collier County have a safe and secure voting experience and are able to vote for candidates of their choice,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “We are prepared to provide assistance to our partners at the FBI should they request it.”
Robertson said internet election scams have become more frequent, citing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but threatening emails are a first during her time with the Supervisor of Elections office.
“We’ve been dealing with foreign adversaries since 2016 when they tried to penetrate election officials,” she said. “We’re on guard. We’re prepared. One of the great things is that back in 2016 with that particular threat is we were able to build relationships with the FBI, with DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and local law enforcement in making sure everyone understood that elections are critical infrastructure. I mean, it only took 24-hours for them to figure out what happened this time. I think that is particularly impressive and I credit that to the partnerships we have at the local, state and federal levels.”
The Sheriff’s Office recommends reporting cases of suspected attempts at internet voter intimidation or fraud to the FBI, the investigating agency at www.fbi.gov/tips.