The Lead

Pa. Dems among voters targeted in threatening email campaign, report

By: - October 21, 2020 11:04 am

(*This story was updated at 11:41 a.m. on Wednesday, 10/21/20, with comment from Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks. Updated at 12:41 p.m., with comment from Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.)

Democratic voters in Pennsylvania were among voters in four states that were targeted in threatening emails that claimed to be from the Proud Boys, the far-right group that supports President Donald Trump, but instead appeared to be part of a “deceptive campaign making use of a vulnerability in the organization’s online network,” the Washington Post and other news outlets reported Wednesday.

The emails, which gleaned voters’ information from publicly available voter files, told voters to change their registration and vote for Trump or “we will come after you,” the Post reported. Officials in Florida and Alaska, which were among the states impacted, were investigating the emails, the newspaper reported.

The emails were reported in Alaska, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania. The latter three are all critical swing states, but Alaska does have a closely watched U.S. Senate race, the Post noted.

A spokesman for the Proud Boys’ Florida operation, who also is the Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, denied any involvement to the Post.

“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,” the spokesman, Enrique Tarrio, said in an interview. “We kind of just never used it.”

According to the Post, “technical data embedded in the emails do not make clear who was behind the barrage arriving in the inboxes of unsuspecting voters,” and “online analysts traced the pathway of at least one of the emails through a server in Saudi Arabia.”

During a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose office oversees elections and voters issues statewide, said she didn’t have specific information on the incident, but was “aware that [emails] were sent to voters in multiple swing states. And so we’re working closely with, the Attorney General on these types of things. We have regular check ins with them to make sure counties have been keeping us in the loop on what they’re hearing. It will be investigated should we receive any information.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks said the agency had not received specific complaints from counties.

A spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the state’s top law enforcement office had not been called in to investigate the Pennsylvania emails, but stood ready to assist if it were.

In a statement, Shapiro said his office “has been in court every day for months protecting every voter in Pennsylvania and we won’t stand by idly while groups like this try to interfere and scare voters. I know the president has urged these groups to stand by but if my office finds proof they are meddling in this election — they will be standing with their hands cuffed. This election is underway and each voter’s voice must be heard.”

Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison contributed to this story. 

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.