Twitter user Ricky Vaughn has been called "Trump’s most influential white nationalist troll." The account drew attention during the 2016 presidential election for political (and often white nationalist and anti-Semitic) posts. Huffington Post reporter Luke O'Brien found the man behind the handle is Waterbury native and Middlebury graduate Douglass Mackey.
Mackey's Twitter and Facebook accounts have both been suspended.
O'Brien said on Vermont Edition that Mackey's widespread popularity on social media was due to his "unique ability to walk this fine line between far-right extremism, and pushing ideas that come from that world, and mainstream conservatism. He was able to blend these two worlds together in a way that very few Twitter operatives have been able to do, and because of that he had an outsized impact on the election."
The wide scope of topics addressed in Mackey's tweets and others posts allowed him to appeal to an audience beyond white nationalists and anti-Semites, O'Brien said. "It was a range of material from the rather extreme and offensive. He would recycle a lot of old anti-Semitic imagery, [such as] an octopus that has Semitic features wrapping its tentacles around the world [and] other images that are very popular with the far-right." O'Brien said he would often tweet using ethnic slurs.
At the same time, O'Brien notes Mackey provided astute commentary on mainstream politics which "broadened his reach."
O'Brien used two methods to assess just how how far Mackey's reach extended during the presidential election: the MIT Media Lab's quantitative analysis of social media and news influencers, which found the Ricky Vaughan Twitter account "was more impactful ... than several major media outlets and figures such as NBC News and The Drudge Report."
He also assessed Mackey's influence as Ricky Vaughn based on his reporting on the alt-right and the white nationalist movement.
"I saw [the] Ricky Vaughn account appearing everywhere," O'Brien said. "People were re-tweeting this, white nationalists were re-tweeting this, mainstream Republicans were re-tweeting this account. It was impossible not to notice the impact of Ricky Vaughn if you were paying attention to far-right politics during the election."
O'Brien joins Vermont Edition to explain how he ultimately pinned Vermont-native Douglass Mackey as the man behind the Ricky Vaughn Twitter account.
Broadcast live on Monday, April 9, 2018; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.