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Monday, May 27, 2024

Middlebury Grad Revealed as Prominent Alt-Right Troll

A Middlebury alumnus was exposed as a leading alt-right Twitter troll who spread Russian misinformation during the 2016 election in a viral article published by the Huffington Post last Thursday, April 5. The alumnus, Douglass Mackey ’11, operated online under the pseudonym “Ricky Vaughn.” 

Under the guise of Ricky Vaughn, Mackey, 28, attached himself to the extremist, white supremacist movement that supported now President Trump in the summer leading up to the 2016 election. It was during this summer that Mackey was fired from his job as an economist at John Dunham & Associates in New York City.

Gaining thousands of followers, he tweeted and retweeted Islamophobic, racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic ideas, while also appealing to more mainstream Trump supporters in the lead up to the presidential election. Mackey’s dissemination of far-right propaganda under the pseudonym put him on the MIT Media Lab’s list of 150 influencers in the 2016 election, ahead of NBC News, Stephen Colbert and other news sources.

When Twitter shut down his account, @Ricky_Vaughn99, a month before the election, the Huffington Post reported that he resumed activity under the new handle of @RapinBill. 

Mackey also began working on the site Gab, a social media platform built around ideas of total free speech and anti-censorship. Gab has become largely populated by white supremacists, members of the alt-right movement and neo-Nazis.

Mackey maintained his anonymity until a white nationalist congressional candidate in Wisconsin, Paul Nehlen, revealed Mackey’s identity last week in a feud over divisions between the alt-right. Nehlen is challenging current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the Republican Primary for Wisconsin’s first congressional district. 

Mackey attended Harwood Union High School in Waterbury, Vermont, before matriculating at Middlebury in the fall of 2008. He was an economics major and a member of the track and field team for one semester. Mackey’s roster photo still remains available on the college athletics website.

“I do not remember much about him. He was a boy who I let walk on the team,” said Martin Beatty, the head track and field coach. “He was pretty slow and weak. He wasn’t on the team for more than a year, if he even made it through the entire year.”

Despite his short tenure on the team, Mackey was quoted twice in The Campus in the winter of 2009. His generic quotes speak to the team's strength, the support between the men’s and women’s teams, and his hope that they would maintain their momentum.

The Campus reached out to economics professors who taught at the college between 2008 and 2011 and may have taught Mackey. Fifteen professors responded that he either had not been in their classes or that they had no recollection of him.

Though Paul Sommers, an economics professor, did not recall having Mackey in class, after checking his records he found that Mackey was in fact enrolled in his Economic Statistics class in the spring of 2009. He remained enrolled in the course for the whole semester, but Sommers said there was no record of Mackey having turned in any assignments or completed any exams.

After graduating in 2011, Mackey moved to New York and has remained active in the college’s network. Mackey donated to the college in 2011 and did so for three or more consecutive years. He also attended reunion in 2016 and a holiday reception in New York City in Dec. 2016.

Mackey’s father, Scott Mackey ’85, also attended the college, graduating with a degree in economics and environmental studies. After graduating, Scott Mackey worked as a legislative assistant to then-Republican Vermont Senator James Jeffords. Jeffords left the Republican Party and began caucusing with the Democrats in 2001.

Scott Mackey currently lives in Vermont and works as a lobbyist with a focus on tax policy. In response to The Campus’s request for comment, Scott Mackey sent the identical statement that appeared in the Huffington Post on behalf of him and his wife Kathy. 

“We were devastated to learn this week of Doug’s beliefs and online activities as reported in the Huffington Post,” the statement read. “They are antithetical to the values we hold and with which he was raised. We are still trying to understand how he could have done something like this and hope he will find some way to make amends for the harm he has caused.”

Doug Mackey did not respond to The Campus’s request for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Douglass Mackey's name.