Man Faces a Proposed $13 Million Fine for Racist Robocalls, U.S. Says

A man who telecom regulators say was apparently behind a barrage of racist robocalls in six states — sowing hate in response to the killing of an Iowa college student by an undocumented immigrant and a white supremacist’s murder trial in Virginia — is facing a proposed fine of nearly $13 million by the Federal Communications Commission.

The man, Scott D. Rhodes, who anti-hate groups say is a white supremacist and runs the website Road to Power, was “apparently” responsible for more than 6,000 robocalls in 2018 “with the intent to cause harm,” the F.C.C. said on Thursday.

The commission said that in addition to Iowa and Virginia, Mr. Rhodes targeted people in California, Georgia, Florida and Idaho with the robocalls.

ImageThe F.C.C. said Thursday that Scott D. Rhodes, seen above on a podcast from his website, Road to Power, targeted people in six states with racist robocalls.

The F.C.C. said it traced 827 spoofed robocalls that were made to residents in Brooklyn, Iowa, in August 2018 after the slaying of the University of Iowa student, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented farmworker from Mexico. Ms. Tibbetts, whose murder has been invoked by President Trump in his push for a border wall, was from the small town.

The commission said Mr. Rhodes used an online calling platform to intentionally manipulate caller ID information to display local phone numbers as the source of the calls. That practice, known as neighbor spoofing, violates the Truth in Caller ID Act, the commission said.

“As if this tragedy were not enough, just two days after her funeral, Mollie’s family, friends, and the close-knit community of Brooklyn began to receive a barrage of spoofed robocalls,” Ajit Pai, the commission’s chairman, said in a statement on Thursday. “Preying on the tragedy, the calls contained inflammatory prerecorded messages and a woman’s voice apparently intended to impersonate Mollie Tibbetts saying ‘kill them all.’ ”

Mr. Pai said the caller had been referring to undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Attempts on Thursday to reach Mr. Rhodes, who has used several aliases, were unsuccessful.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Rhodes will face criminal charges for the robocalls, which the commission said were all made in 2018. A spokesman for the commission said he could not comment about possible violations outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Rhodes has 30 days to respond to the commission’s findings before the agency votes on the proposed fine. If the fine is imposed and Mr. Rhodes cannot pay, the matter would be turned over to the Department of Justice for collection, the F.C.C. spokesman said.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate groups, said Thursday that it was critical to hold bad actors accountable.

“It’s a great first step,” Oren Segal, the director of the organization’s Center for Extremism, said Thursday of the action taken against Mr. Rhodes. “Hopefully, the message is clear to extremists and bigots who want to use this technology in the future that there are consequences.”

The commission said that Mr. Rhodes made 2,023 robocalls in November and December 2018 to residents of Charlottesville, Va., blaming the mayor and police chief for the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017. Ms. Heyer was killed when James Fields Jr., who had traveled to Virginia to participate in a white supremacist rally, steered his car into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. Mr. Fields pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced to life in prison.

The commission said Mr. Rhodes was also responsible for 766 robocalls in October 2018 targeting Andrew Gillum, who was the first black nominee for Florida governor from a major party.

In the audio of one of the robocalls obtained by The New York Times, a man pretending to be Mr. Gillum could be heard talking in the exaggerated accent of a minstrel performer. “Well hello there,” it begins, “I is Andrew Gillum.” He then spoke for a little over a minute about mud huts and unfair policing practices, and asked repeatedly for the listener’s vote. In the background were the sounds of drums and monkeys.

The F.C.C. spokesman declined to comment about the robocalls that Road to Power took credit for in December in New York, which were condemned by Columbia University officials.

Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a New York Police Department spokeswoman, said Thursday evening that the case was still under investigation.

“There is no place for hate or intolerance in New York City, or anywhere,” she said. “The N.Y.P.D.’s Racial and Ethnic Motivated Extremism unit is aware of this incident and looking into the matter.”

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