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Far-right hoaxers face charges over voter-suppression robocalls

Calls falsely warned recipients that voting by mail could subject them to debt collection, forced vaccination and arrest on outstanding warrants.

Police officers surround Jacob Wohl as he taunts protesters during a Trump/Pence Out Now rally at Black Lives Matter plaza on Aug. 27 in Washington, DC.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Two high-profile far-right operatives were charged Thursday with multiple felonies in connection with false robocalls placed to discourage minority residents in Detroit and other US cities from voting by mail in the November election.

Jacob Wohl, 22, and Jack Burkman, 54, each face four felony counts, including conspiring to intimidate voters in violation of election law and using a computer to commit crimes, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. The pair created and funded a robocall campaign that placed about 85,000 calls nationwide that falsely warned recipients that voting by mail could subject them to arrest on outstanding warrants, debt collection and forced vaccination, Nessel said.

The recorded robocall message warned people about being "finessed into giving your private information to the man" and urges them to "beware of vote by mail," Nessel's office said. 

"We're all well aware of the frustrations caused by the millions of nuisance robocalls flooding our cellphones and landlines each day, but this particular message poses grave consequences for our democracy and the principles upon which it was built," Nessel said. "Michigan voters are entitled to a full, free and fair election in November, and my office will not hesitate to pursue those who jeopardize that."

Wohl, an internet hoaxer and conservative conspiracy theorist, made headlines last year when he was banned from Twitter for setting up fake accounts to spread misinformation. Wohl, a supporter of President Donald Trump, had used the platform to spread falsehoods about people, including special counsel Robert Mueller, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The pair have made a name for themselves by spreading hoaxes and mounting several failed media stunts, including hosting a "news" conference to spread false claims of sexual misconduct by Mueller and Pete Buttigieg. The Washington Post revealed in September that the newspaper was duped into falsely reporting that the FBI had conducted a raid at Burkman's Arlington, Virginia, home. The "raid" was actually a staged event featuring actors recruited by Wohl.

Social media sites have been grappling with hate speech and misinformation on their platforms for years. In 2018, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was kicked off Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, among other platforms. Last October, Facebook banned pages linked to far-right extremists the Proud Boys, and the company said in 2017 that it removes about 66,000 posts a week because of hateful rhetoric.

Nessel said the two defendants haven't been arraigned and aren't yet in custody.

Wohl and Burkman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.