Earlier this week, some voters in Gainesville reported they'd received bizarre and threatening emails that demanded they vote for President Donald Trump in the upcoming general election — "or else." The emails, which purported to come from the far-right Proud Boys group, are being investigated by local, state, and federal authorities.
"You will vote for Donald Trump on Election Day or we will come after you," one email read. "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."
Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, who lives in Miami, says his group isn't behind the emails. Last night, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pointed the finger at Iran, accusing the nation of sending "spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump."
Tarrio tells New Times that while the Proud Boys are supporters of Trump, no one should be intimidated about voting, regardless of party affiliation.
"The truth is, we're never gonna do that," Tarrio tells New Times. "We don't care enough to intimidate anyone. And we're never gonna do that, period."
This year, voters are casting their ballots against a backdrop of online misinformation campaigns, concerns about voter suppression and intimidation, and a president who has cast doubt on every aspect of the election. The threatening emails — which were reported in Florida, Alaska, Arizona, and Pennsylvania — only fuel those fears.
The emails came from [email protected] Several media outlets reported that they originated from IP addresses linked to servers in Estonia and Saudi Arabia.
Tarrio says the Proud Boys at one point had two websites — proudboysofficial.com and proudboysusa.com. The former hadn't been updated in about a year and a half and was recently taken down by the hosting company, according to Tarrio.
Trevor Davis, CEO of the digital intelligence firm Counteraction, told the Washington Post that after the hosting service dropped the site, the domain was left unsecured — meaning anyone on the internet could assume control of it and send out the messages. Tarrio claims that if anyone were to receive an authentic email from the Proud Boys, it would come from proudboysusa.com.
Tarrio says an imitation Proud Boys website popped up in recent weeks, and the group's lawyers ordered it taken down. That website, which is archived on the Wayback Machine, advertised an "assault weapon" giveaway.
"If you signed up, they were offering an [ArmaLite] AR," Tarrio says. "Which I thought would be pretty cool, but we're probably too cheap to do shit like that. It was probably a data harvesting operation. My lawyers sent a takedown [notice]."
The Proud Boys cast themselves as a right-leaning men's club that opposes political correctness and supports gun rights, free speech, and traditional gender roles. But the FBI at one point classified the Proud Boys as "an extremist group with ties to white nationalism."
The group's website claims its members are anti-racist and come from all backgrounds, but members attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which was organized by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.