Dozens of voters in a Democratic county in Florida received emails purporting to be from a far-right group, which threatened to “Vote for Trump or else!”
Several emails were sent to residents of Alachua County, Florida, which in 2016 voted for then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over president Donald Trump by a margin of 58 to 36 per cent. Florida began early voting on Monday ahead of 3 November’s election.
The emails, which appeared to be sent from “[email protected],” claimed to have obtained information about the voters and threatened to “come after” them unless they vote for the president.
The Proud Boys are a far-right white supremacist group that came to national attention in September when President Trump declined to condemn them during the first presidential debate. The group has been designated as a hate group by civil rights advocacy group, the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
“Vote for Trump or else!” the subject line read. “We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything). 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,” the body of the email stated.
However, the far-right group told USA Today on Thursday that it was not involved in sending out the emails.
“No, it wasn’t us. The people (who sent the emails) used a spoofing email that pretended to be us,” Enrique Tarrio, international chairman of the Proud Boys, told USA Today.
He said that he believes the emails were sent by “somebody that's not very fond of us,” and added: “Whoever did this should be in prison for a long time.”
Mr Tarrio told USA Today that he believed the emails showed signs of spoofing, and revealed that the group is working with law enforcement officials as part an investigation into the messages.
“It is voter intimidation, no matter if it came from us or it didn’t — which it didn’t,” he said.
“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,” Mr Tarrio added.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said that the messages appeared to be a scam and confirmed that it was conducting an investigation alongside “partners on the federal level.”
Kimberly Boelzner, spokesperson for Brevard supervisor of elections Lori Scott, said the county had received several reports of the emails, and asked “voters to report it to local law enforcement.”
Stacey Patel, chair of the Brevard Democrats, said she had also received reports of the emails, and revealed that she has contacted the elections supervisor’s office.
Ms Patel added: “We've not seen this kind of voter intimidation in the past and it's obviously really troubling.”