FCC proposes $13 million fine against man behind robocalls attacking Abrams, Gillum

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing a nearly $13 million fine against the man who allegedly arranged thousands of racist and discriminatory robocalls targeting political figures across the U.S., including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D). 

The agency said the man, Scott Rhodes, was “apparently” behind the spate of disturbing automated calls dialing up people in Georgia, Florida, California and other states throughout 2018, a pivotal midterm election year. The robocalls promoted anti-Semitic tropes about Feinstein, used “a caricature of a black dialect” to imitate Gillum in Florida, and attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in Georgia. 

“The caller was apparently motivated by a belief that these actions would result in media notoriety and accordingly would enable him to increase publicity for his website and personal brand,” the FCC wrote. “In the process, he apparently broke the law.” 

Rhodes, who is known for promoting white supremacist messages, has 30 days to respond to the allegations before the FCC votes on the proposed fine. 

Racist robocalls apparently from Rhodes’s operation swept across the U.S. throughout the midterm elections, garnering headlines and confusing voters as voices imitating Oprah Winfrey and Gillum continued to call up their phones. 

“Well hello there,” a man impersonating Gillum in a minstrel-stye dialect said in one of the robocalls, according to audio obtained by NBC News. Audio of monkeys screeching played in the background. “I is the negro Andrew Gillum and I’ll be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida.” 

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, ultimately lost to former Rep. Ron DeSantis in the tight governor’s race, which was rated as a “toss-up” by election handicapper The Cook Political Report.

Gillum would have been the first black governor in the state’s history.

And later, Abrams and talk show star Oprah Winfrey were targeted in a racist robocall to Georgia voters.

“This is the magical negro, Oprah Winfrey, asking you to make my fellow negress, Stacey Abrams, the governor of Georgia,” the call began, according to recordings

According to the FCC, robocalls associated with Rhodes’s operation also targeted communities grieving from tragic deaths. In one campaign, Rhodes made 827 spoofed robocalls to an Iowa town after a local college student was murdered.

“The calls talked about a ‘brown hoarde’ or ‘savages’ and said the murder victim would have said to ‘Kill them all,’ ” the FCC said. “Those who received these calls included the victim’s family members.” 

The FCC said Rhodes manipulated caller ID information to make it look like the calls were coming from nearby, violating the Truth in Caller ID act.  

Tags Dianne Feinstein Oprah Winfrey Ron DeSantis

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