Sunday, March 12, 2023

Right-wing robocalls targeting Black voters violated the Voting Rights Act and Ku Klux Klan Act

Right-wing activists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman’s robocalls targeting Black voters violated the Voting Rights Act and Ku Klux Klan Act — and the question isn’t close enough to require a jury, a federal judge ruled, reported Law and Crime News.

“The Court recognizes that the free exchange of ideas on issues of public concern and the ability to engage in robust political discussion constitute the foundations of a democratic society,” Senior U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero wrote in a 111-page order on Wednesday.

Marrero nonetheless found that the evidence “establishes that the neighborhoods that Defendants targeted were not accidental or random,” finding that a reasonable jury couldn’t escape the conclusion that the pair wanted to “deny the right to vote specifically to Black voters.”

“Goofballs and political hucksters”

The ruling spells victory without a trial for The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), a civil rights group that sued Wohl and Burkman in the Southern District of New York before the 2020 presidential election.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined the lawsuit, said in a statement on Wednesday saying:

“Your vote is your voice, and I am proud that today the court ruled in our favor to uphold the most important cornerstone of our democracy. Wohl and Burkman engaged in a disgraceful campaign to intimidate Black voters, using threats and lies to keep them from making their voices heard in an attempt to secure the election for their preferred presidential candidate. I will always stand fierce in defense of New Yorkers’ right to vote, and anyone who attempts to take away that right will be met with the full force of the law.”

Wohl and Burkman have been tied to multiple political hoaxes targeting perceived rivals of former President Donald Trump, including then-Mayor Pete ButtigiegAnthony Fauci, and ex-Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Prosecutors, regulators and common citizens claimed the duo crossed a line with 85,000 robocalls, sent out nationally to such locations as New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Recorded by a woman identifying herself as “Tamika Taylor,” the robocalls largely targeted diverse regions with the false message that “if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants, and [will] be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debt.”

Though Wohl and Burkman painted themselves as “goofballs and political hucksters with an irreverent sense of humor,” Judge Marrero rejected that the robocalls were “mere hyperbole.”

“In addition to the specific harms that the call threatened, Defendants dressed the call with a veil of legitimacy to mislead its listeners into believing the statements made in the call were true,” Marrero added. “The Robocall framed Wohl and Burkman’s organization, Project 1599, as a ‘civil rights organization’ with a name reminiscent of the 1619 Project, an initiative of the New York Times that sought to recognize and commemorate the history of the first slave ship that carried enslaved Africans into the United States.”

The stunt also led to criminal prosecution. In the Ohio case, Wohl and Burkman were sentenced to spend 500 hours registering voters living in low-income neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C., area. That was after they pleaded guilty to a felony count of telecommunications fraud. Another case in Michigan remains pending.

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