Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Oct. 21 said Iran was responsible for an online hoax that portrayed the controversial right-aligned Proud Boys group as threatening potential voters in crude emails. U.S. intelligence officials have “seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” Ratcliffe declared at a press conference.
Ratcliffe added that Iran had also released a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” The video reportedly features President Trump speaking out against possible mail-in voting fraud and contains a logo with the Proud Boys name.
“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the emails read, adding that the Proud Boys were “in possession of all your information.”
Clapper Rips Ratcliffe
Democrats and their allies took issue with Ratcliffe for painting Iranian foreign interference as aimed against Trump’s campaign. “Just given the track record of DNI Ratcliffe, where he’s used intelligence for political purposes … unfortunately, I hate to say it, but you have to address what he says with some skepticism,” former Obama administration Director of National Intelligence and frequent Trump critic James Clapper told CNN’s Chris Cuomo after the press conference.
Clapper chided Ratcliffe for playing down the Russian election-interference threat, which Democrats believe is meant to boost Trump.
“The other thing about the statement that the DNI made was that it just mentioned Russia and then went on to Iran,” he said. “Well, Russia’s been interfering in the run-up to the election all along. So that’s not a startling revelation. And he didn’t amplify that. And I continue to believe that Russia poses far more of a threat and I think we’re gonna see more of this.”
“And as to the description that this somehow hurts President Trump, well, I can make the case that it helps him,” Clapper continued.
The Iranian emails received widespread coverage in the establishment media, even as skepticism was noted. The Miami Herald labeled the Proud Boys a “self-described militia group” while The Hill, along with several other news sites, used the term “far-right group.” “The Proud Boys has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the Orlando Sentinel related.
Never-Trump Republican group the Lincoln Project completely fell for the hoax, tweeting out on Oct. 20:
“The Proud Boys are attempting to scare voters away from the polls. This is punishable by up to a year in jail and a blatant attempt to prevent people from voting. Let’s find them and make them famous.”
The tweet was later deleted, but as Peter Hasson at the Daily Caller notes, “[t]he Lincoln Project helped the Iranian misinformation go viral on social media, garnering more than 12,000 retweets by amplifying the false claim.”
Ideal Media Bait
Indeed, the Proud Boys play perfectly to dominant media framing of Trump as seeking to deploy armed groups at polling places and conduct other ominous Election Day shenanigans. “Neo-Nazi and Proud Boys groups push Trump campaign poll watching operation online: Reports,” screamed a headline on the ABC News website on Oct. 16, just days before the Iran operation made its splash.
The article leaned heavily on a report by the SITE Intelligence Group, which ABC stated is a “non-governmental agency group that tracks potential security threats online.” ABC luridly reported that:
“The SITE report said efforts by the Proud Boys or similar groups to volunteer for Trump ‘have so far not been followed with direct threats of voter suppression,’ but it could be ‘inferred’ that their ‘presence at election locations as poll watchers would potentially serve to intimidate, pressure and harass oppositional voters.’”
ABC News reported that “experts” are “concerned over the Trump campaign’s use of the word ‘Army’ in recruiting poll watchers.”
“An ‘army’ doesn’t sound like people just there to observe,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of voting rights and election programs at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the network. “An ‘army’ sounds like people there to engage in war with the enemy.”
By utilizing a scenario big-box media outlets are eager to hype, Iran appears to have assured that its rudimentary campaign would have far greater reach than otherwise would be expected.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.