On Tuesday, dozens of voters in heavily Democratic Alachua County in Florida received an alarming email from what appeared to be an address belonging to the right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys. The author of the email threatened to “come after” registered Democrats if they don’t vote for incumbent President Donald Trump. An investigation by U.S. intelligence and the FBI found that the emails had been received by Democratic voters in multiple states and that they originated from Iran, not the Proud Boys. Both the Proud Boys and Iranian officials deny having a connection to the emails.
Here’s what the email read as reported by the Orlando Sentinel:
“(NAME) we are in possession of all your information,’’ the emails read. “You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you. (VOTER’S ADDRESS) good luck.”
The address from the distributed emails is “Proud Boys <firstname.lastname@example.org>”
During a Wednesday news conference, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe—who is a former Republican member of Congress, according to the Sentinel—didn’t mention the Proud Boys at all but said that the emails actually originated from Iran and were meant to hurt Trump.
Ratcliffe said that investigators found that “ two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections.”
“First, we have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and, separately, by Russia,” he continued. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”
Ratcliffe specifically blamed Iran for the emails saying that Iranian officials used the data to send “spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.” He also accused Iran of distributing a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.”
According to the Washington Post, that claim about the emails—which Democrats in several states also claimed to have received—came without specified evidence. The Post reported that “other U.S. officials, speaking privately, stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.” Officials in Iran called the allegations “absurd” and denied involvement.
From the Post:
On Thursday, Iran summoned the Swiss envoy in Tehran, which handles U.S. affairs there, to condemn the “baseless accusations of meddling in the U.S. election.” Hours after Ratcliffe’s announcement, the spokesman for Iran’s mission at the United Nations also described the allegations as “absurd.”
“These accusations are nothing more than another scenario to undermine voter confidence, & are absurd. Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election & no preference for the outcome,” tweeted Alireza Miryousefi.
It’s also worth noting that the intelligence disclosure came swiftly and that this type of investigation usually takes a lot longer than a day to conclude.
More from the Post:
First divulged Tuesday by local law enforcement and elections officials in Florida and Alaska, the emails prompted an investigation that quickly escalated to federal authorities, according to U.S. officials. And by Wednesday evening, officials had laid the blame on Iran — the fastest-ever public disclosure of such intelligence by the United States.
In 2016, it took months for the Obama administration to publicly point the finger at Moscow for the hacks and leaks of Democratic emails, despite the intelligence community having determined Russian culpability early on.
As for the Proud Boys, they deny any involvement at all and said that the address belonging to them is one they don’t use.
“Two weeks ago, I believe, we had Google Cloud services drop us from their platform, so then we initiated a URL transfer, which is still in process,” Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Proud Boys and the Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, told the Post. “We kind of just never used it.”
According to CBS News, Tarrio said he believes the emails were sent by “somebody that’s not very fond of us.”
“If somebody’s trying to intimidate voters, they’re probably successful, the damage is done to some people that aren’t very media savvy, you know, like a 70-year-old that gets an email like this and is not going to go out to vote,” he said.