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FBI Investigating Threatening Emails Sent To Democrats In Florida

This email was sent to registered Democrats in Alachua County by a sender claiming to be from the Proud Boys, an extremist far-right group established in 2016.
This email was sent to registered Democrats in Alachua County by a sender claiming to be from the Proud Boys, an extremist far-right group established in 2016.

Democratic voters in Florida reported receiving threatening emails Tuesday purportedly from the violent, far-right group Proud Boys directing them to vote for President Donald Trump or “we will come after you.”

The FBI and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office were investigating, according to sheriff’s spokesman Art Forgey. The county elections office here said “dozens” of Democratic voters complained they had received the emails. At least some registered Democrats did not.

It was not immediately clear whether registered Democrats only in Alachua County – one of only nine counties in Florida where Trump lost in 2016 and home to the University of Florida campus – received the threatening emails.

Florida is crucially important in the upcoming presidential election, and political polls show a remarkably close race here in recent weeks.

“When I clicked it and read more, I was like, this has to be illegal,” said Jessica McCroan, 24, of Gainesville, who received the email before noon. She called police and county election officials.

McCroan said she already has voted by mail and was upset about what she described as voter intimidation tactics.

“I just can't believe that people are doing this, when we should be pushing people to vote, not making them scared to go vote,” she said.

The email said it came from the Proud Boys, an extremist group active in Florida that has openly supported Trump and has engaged in violent clashes in cities around the United States. Among the group’s supporters is Roger Stone, an occasional adviser to Trump who was imprisoned on charges of witness tampering and lying to investigators until Trump pardoned him this summer. Stone lives in Florida.

When Trump was asked about the Proud Boys during the presidential debate last month, and whether he would condemn white supremacists, he answered: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” He said the following day that he had intended to tell the group to “stand down.”

In the email, the perpetrators ominously claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” but that boast appeared exaggerated: Thousands of registered Democrats in Florida include their email addresses and phone numbers in the state’s voter registration records, which are publicly available to anyone who requests them.

The email warned recipients by name that the group knew their address, email address, telephone number and “everything” – however, those details are generally included in the same voter registration records.

“We will know which candidate you voted for,” the email said, though ballot selections are secret under Florida law. The email directed Democrats to change their party affiliation to Republican “to let us know you received our message and will comply.”

Attempting to threaten or intimidate voters in federal elections is a federal crime punishable by fines and up to one year in prison.

The emails appeared to be sent from a computer server associated with the officialproudboys.com internet address, but control over the account – which was originally created in March 2017 – was changed Monday night, according to internet records. The website was offline by Tuesday afternoon.

The identities of those behind the officialproudboys.com address was shielded in internet records, but they used an email address with a German suffix and were customers of the company 1&1 IONOS Inc. of Chesterfield, Pennsylvania. A company spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at adeluca@freshtakeflorida.com

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