Election officials have reportedly alerted law enforcement to a blast of goonish emails threatening to blackmail voters unless they vote for Donald Trump. According to Vice, which first picked up the story, the subject line read “Vote for Trump or else!” and opened with “We are in possession of all your information.” CNN has reported that officials in Alaska and Florida notified law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.
TJ Pyche, a spokesperson for Florida’s Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, confirmed to Gizmodo that he’s aware of “hundreds” of such emails sent to Alachua County residents alone. In an email to Gizmodo, a representative for Alaska Division of Elections said that they’ve seen emails with the same subject line and have “forwarded that information to the appropriate federal agencies for their review.”
The messages, which were sent from what appears to be a spoofed Proud Boys address, goes on to claim that recipiets are registered Democrats because the perpetrators of this scheme “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” (Party affiliation is on the public record.) They threaten to “come after” targets who don’t change their affiliation to Republican. (Party affiliation does not determine which party a vote is cast for in a general election.)
The email address, email@example.com, is associated with a domain registered in the state of Washington, but one such email, obtained by Vice, included metadata which indicated it came from—or was routed through—an Estonian IP address.
The obviously illegal move would be a setback for the Proud Boys if they’re found to have been responsible. The group has been trying to maintain their sterling reputation as mere “western chauvinists,” not a racist hate group known for espousing Nazi rhetoric and violence. In an interview with Fresh Take Florida, a University of Florida newscast, Miami-based Proud Boys chairman said that “We don’t do mass emails,” and “This is definitely, definitely not us.” Similarly, in a post circulated by Proud Boys groups on Telegram, the Seattle Proud Boys called the emails a “a false flag operation and a larp,” asserting that the domain associated with the emails, “officialproudboys.com” had nothing to do with the Proud Boys.
In a statement shared with Gizmodo, a representative for the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency, the branch of the Department of Homeland Security which deals with cyber threats, said that they are investigating the emails. “While we are looking into the emails, we can tell you this: your vote IS secret,” they said. “These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections. Don’t fall for sensational and unverified claims. Visit CISA.gov/rumorcontrol to get more facts about elections and election security. #Protect2020.”