Jason Wilson, The Guardian, January 31, 2020
A neo-Nazi propagandist responsible for sending out racist robocalls across the country faces a $12.9m fine imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The FCC said on Thursday that during 2018 Scott Rhodes, who moved last year from Idaho to Montana, made robocalls that “targeted specific communities with the intent to cause harm”.
The FCC added that the calls “appears to have used an online calling platform to intentionally manipulate caller ID information so that the calls he was making appeared to come from local numbers”, thus violating the 2009 Truth in Caller ID Act.
It remarked that the commission “may not impose a greater monetary penalty in this case than the amount proposed”.
The announcement detailed robocall campaigns orchestrated by Rhodes in California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Virginia.
The calls were timed to coincide with elections or other prominent news events. In Iowa, Rhodes sought to exploit a murder to promote his racist ideology, talking of a “brown horde” of immigrants. In Virginia, he sought to influence jurors in the trial of James Fields, convicted of murdering Heather Heyer after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. In Georgia, racist and antisemitic calls pretended to come from Oprah Winfrey.
In another incident, Rhodes used robocalls to mount a campaign of threats against the publishers of a local newspaper, the Sandpoint Reader, which had first revealed him to be a disseminator of neo-Nazi materials in Idaho and Virginia.
In all of these campaigns, the FCC said, Rhodes was “apparently motivated by a belief that these actions would result in media notoriety and accordingly would enable him to increase publicity for his website and personal brand”.
At the time, Rhodes was producing a racist video podcast called The Road to Power.
The FCC’s fine is not final. Rhodes now has the opportunity to respond with legal arguments challenging the fine.
Sandpoint Reader publisher Ben Olson said in a telephone conversation that the decision was welcome. He said: “For over two years we have been enduring these attacks.”
Olson added: “I wondered if what he was doing was within the law. The announcement shows that it was not, and that the FCC has taken this seriously.”
Rhodes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.