AG, SOS investigating robocall to ‘intimidate’ Black voters

By: - August 27, 2020 3:43 pm

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Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday they are partnering to figure out who is behind a robocall that tried to use “racially charged stereotypes to deter voting by mail” in Michigan.

The call, received by Detroiters, claims personal information of residents who vote by mail will become part of an unspecified “public database.” It falsely claims this will allow law enforcement officials to track down old warrants and credit card companies to collect outstanding debts. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

It also claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will use personal information to track people for mandatory vaccines — an unfounded notion that has picked up steam in COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory circles. 

The call ends by telling voters to “beware” of voting by mail.

The source of the call is still unknown, per a news release from Benson and Nessel, but the caller mentions association with Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman.

The two are conspiracy theorists who are well-known for debunked plots attempting to frame multiple political figures, mostly of the Democratic political party, for sexual misconduct. Wohl, 22, is permanently banned from Twitter for operating fake accounts. In February, he pleaded not guilty to felony charges of selling unregistered securities. 

Nessel and Benson said the claims in the robocall are completely false. They also warned Michigan voters to be wary of similar misinformation as the Nov. 3 general election nears. Their offices are further reviewing the incident, according to a news release. 

Benson, a Democrat, is a staunch supporter of voting by mail, and since May has led a drive for Michigan residents to vote via mail-in ballot in order to curb COVID-19 health risks posed by in-person voting. 

Benson said the call is an “unconscionable, indefensible, blatant attempt to lie to citizens about their right to vote.”

“The call preys on voters’ fear and mistrust of the criminal justice system – at a moment of historic reckoning and confrontation of systemic racism and the generational trauma that results – and twists it into a fabricated threat in order to discourage people from voting,” Benson said in a news release. “The Attorney General and I will use every tool at our disposal to dispel this false rhetoric and seek justice on behalf of every voter who was targeted and harmed by this vicious attempt at voter suppression.”

Michigan residents who have gotten the call or similar ones can report them to the attorney general’s robocoll team at [email protected] or online at the state Department of Attorney General website

“This is an unfortunate but perfect example of just how low people will go to undermine this election,” Nessel said in the news release. “This robocall is fraught with scare tactics designed to intimidate Black voters – and we are already working hard to find the bad actors behind this effort.”

In her statement, Nessel thanked Sandra McNeill, a reporter at Detroit-based news station WWJ-AM, for bringing the call to their attention. She also thanked the person who got the call and told WWJ about it.

“The minute we heard about it we pulled in our robocall team and they are alerting our counterparts across the country,” Nessel said.

Per the attorney general, here’s the information the team needs in order to effectively review robocalls:

  • The recipient’s phone number
  • The recipient’s carrier
  • The robocall’s caller-ID number
  • Exact time and date of robocall
  • A recording of the message

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.