Of all the robocalls, voter intimidation ones are strong contenders for the worst. These illegal actors take advantage of people’s fears and insecurities to promote falsities and conspiracy theories. The end goal of these callers Is the deter people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
One case in Detroit saw two right-wing political operatives, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, deliver up to 85,000 robocalls. The two are now in police custody after having surrendered to Detroit law enforcement in the early hours of Thursday, October 15.
Calling to Talk about a Hoax
The two operatives, Burkman & Wohl, perpetrated all kinds of scare tactics to discourage people in the Detroit area (but not only) from voting. These tactics included:
- Falsely claiming that voting by mail would have them placed in a database
- Threatening that such a database will be used to track down people with outstanding warrants
- Claiming that the database will also be shared with debt collectors and creditors
- Targeting people skeptical about vaccines saying that the CDC will use the list to “make people get vaccinated”
The robocalls clearly stated that they were sponsored by Burkman and Wohl’s group, despite the two denying ever making any robocalls
Besides the obviously false nature of the claims, the Assistant Attorney General of Michigan, Richard Cunningham, alleged in court proceedings that these tactics by Burkman & Wohl concluded in “racially insensitive robocalls” because they were disproportionately targeting and affecting communities of color.
Charges for Politically Charged Robocalls
Cunningham went on to demand a $1 million bail for the two robocallers, alleging that:
“It’s the protection of the public we are most concerned about. The protection and the integrity of the election process and using unfair tactics to try to affect the outcome of the election. That’s an extremely serious matter and I hope the court will recognize it as being such”
The total number of robocalls is believed to be around 85,000, though the extent of the operation is unknown. There are concerns that the two have made such robocalls outside the state of Michigan as well, though the exact numbers and destinations have not been released by the Attorney General’s office.
Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl are known right-wing political operatives, having spent several years spearheading tactics against Democratic politicians and various other opponents of the President. These tactics usually involved hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and smears against their targets.
What Are the Charges?
After the two men turned themselves in, their attorneys entered “not guilty” pleas. The argument was that their clients were exercising their First Amendment Rights.
Despite the request for $1 million bail by the Assistant Attorney General, Magistrate Joseph Boyer set the bond at $100,000 cash or surety. Boyer also barred the two from committing any more robocalls as well as causing others to make robocalls or “communications” to “multiple recipients” before election day, adding:
“Given the allegation and the nature of the allegations involve potential harm to one of the most fundamental elements of American society, the court is very concerned about that”
A Change of Heart
Burkham and Wohl had previously denied any connection with robocalls and said they were “categorically uninvolved.” It seems they turned that around to “categorically involved” as they turned themselves in Thursday morning.
Sadly this is far from the only case of voter intimidation robocallers. As providers of technology in the contact center industry, we know just how widespread these operations tend to be as their practices damage legitimate businesses and diminish trust in the voice ecosystem.
That’s why we continue to support the FCC’s efforts towards STIR/SHAKEN implementation and stand ready to help our clients work towards full attestation of their numbers.
For more information on robocalls and STIR/SHAKEN, we recommend you give a listen to episode 6 of our podcast, Truth-Telling in the Age of Robocalls, with Rebekah Johnson.