New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t pull punches with getting the people’s justice. James announced Thursday her office filed a $2.75M lawsuit against two right-ring conspiracy theorists who disseminated false information to Black voters.
Ahead of the 2020 election, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman used a fake organization “Project 1599” to target Black voters. The pair used robocalls to misinform Black voters about vote-by-mail efforts.
“Wohl and Burkman used misinformation to try to disenfranchise Black communities ahead of the election, in a clear attempt to sway the election in the favor of their preferred presidential candidate,” James said in a statement.
Wohl and Burkman’s disinformation campaign violated state and federal law, according to the Office of the Attorney General. The robocalls told voters that voting by mail would expose their information to law enforcement and debt collectors. The automated calls also told people the CDC was collecting data to target Black communities. James estimated the scheme targeted 5,500 New York residents.
News broke last fall that voters in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York reported receiving the deceptive calls. And estimated 12,000 voters in Detroit received the call in August 2020. NPR reported the calls specifically targeted areas with large Black and other communities of color.
Full text of the message sent to prospective voters:
Hi, this is Tamika Taylor from Project 1599, the civil rights organization founded by Jack Burman and Jacob Wohl. Mail-in voting sounds great, but did you know that if you vote by mail, your personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts? The CDC is even pushing to use records for mail-in voting to track people for mandatory vaccines. Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to the man, stay safe and beware of vote by mail.
James explained email evidence obtained showed Wohl telling Burkman they should target Black communities the day before messages went out. Wohl sent his partner a virtual high five, saying the number got angry call backs from Black people and it was a “win” no matter what.
James seeks to join an action brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, on behalf of a number of voters and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The lawsuit alleges six violations including the New York Civil Rights Law, the New York Executive Law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Concerns of Russian election interference persisted after the 2016 election. The full scope of domestic disinformation efforts became more clear since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Former President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans intentionally misled the American public about the safety of vote by mail and routinely lied about the presence of “voter fraud.”
Recently a coalition of civil liberties groups requested the Biden Administration create a task force to address disinformation. Called the Disinformation Defense and Free Expression Task Force should be chaired by the Executive Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
“We urge immediate creation of a task force to identify steps that the federal government can take to combat disinformation while safeguarding freedom of expression,” said the group in a letter.