- The FCC fined Scott Rhodes $9.9 million for making thousands of racist and threatening robocalls.
- Targets of the calls included Black and Jewish politicians, as well as a murder victim's family.
- "In this instance, not only were the calls unlawful, but the caller took them to new levels of egregiousness," the FCC said.
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The Federal Communications Commission said it fined a Montana man $9.9 million for making racist and threatening robocalls that targeted Black and Jewish politicians, the family of a murder victim, and residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, in an attempt to influence a jury in a murder case against an avowed neo-Nazi.
Scott Rhodes made thousands of calls using an online platform to manipulate caller ID so the calls appeared to be from local numbers, a technique known as "neighbor spoofing." The FCC said it was this tactic combined with the content of the calls that resulted in the fine, citing the Truth in Caller ID Act.
"The law is clear: Spoofed caller ID robocalls used with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or cheat recipients is unlawful. And the American people are sick and tired of it," Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman at the time, said in the January 14 announcement of the fine.
"In this instance, not only were the calls unlawful, but the caller took them to new levels of egregiousness," Pai said.
The report from the FCC outlines thousands of robocalls that Rhodes, 51, made from different states in 2018, many of which had been covered by local and national outlets at the time.
In one anti-Semitic robocall campaign targeting Californians, Rhodes? encouraged people to vote for a Senate candidate in order "to rid America of the traitorous Jews," naming Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Other calls made to Georgians impersonated Oprah Winfrey to target then-gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams using racist language, including a reference to Aunt Jemima.
"This is the magical negro, Oprah Winfrey, asking you to make my fellow negress, Stacey Abrams, the governor of Georgia," the call said.
Another set of racist calls in Florida targeted Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee at the time and the state's first Black gubernatorial candidate.
The FCC report said Rhodes also sent calls to citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, in an attempt to influence the jury in the trial of James Fields, an avowed white supremacist. Fields is now serving life in prison for driving his car into a group of anti-racism protesters and killing Heather Heyer.
The robocalls, aimed at places where potential jurists resided, included false information about Heyer's death, "claiming that she died of a heart attack rather than blunt force trauma from the impact of the car," according to the FCC.
Rhodes also made robocalls to people in Iowa after reports that a local college student, Mollie Tibbetts, was killed by a person living in the US illegally. Rob Tibbetts, the woman's father, received the robocall one week after her body was found.
Tibbetts told The Des Moines Register that the call was "unbelievably painful." It contained racists remarks about immigrants, including the phrase "kill them all." Tibbetts said he notified the FBI but the bureau said it could not do much, citing the right to free speech.
In Idaho, Rhodes made threatening calls about the publisher of a local newspaper, the Sandpoint Reader, which identified him in early 2018 as the person spreading racist propaganda at a local high school.
The FCC gave Rhodes 30 days to pay the fine. If he does not, it could refer the case to the Department of Justice.
In response to the FCC findings, Rhodes claimed it was a "politically motivated gross overreach of FCC authority."