In the run-up to mid-term elections, a wave of white supremacist political robocalls have infuriated Americans and politicians across the country. Many of the calling campaigns, which feature blatantly racist rhetoric, appear to stem from the Road To Power, a white supremacist video podcasting channel out of Idaho.
The Attempt To “Weaponize Race” Through Robocalls
Efforts to inflame racial tensions in America are nothing new, but with the rise of readily-available robocalling technologies, the work of white supremacists and hate-mongers has become easier, and arguably more effective.
The newest of these robocalls targets Andrew Gillum, a Florida gubernatorial candidate who, if elected, would become Florida’s first black governor, according to the Washington Post. The call, reported across Florida, is nothing short of disgusting. Featuring jungle drums and hooting monkeys in the background, a voice speaks from the wilderness, “Well hello there, I is Andrew Gillum.”
Then, continuing on in a mockery of Black English straight out of a minstrel show, the call goes on to talk of how “Negroes […] done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an’ stone.” The call, the intentions of which are clear, has been denounced widely by lawmakers on both the left and the right.
Lawmakers Strike Out Against Racist Robocalls
In a statement to the Washington Post, Gillum spokesperson Geoff Burgan wrote, “this is reprehensible – and could only have from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity. Please don’t give it undeserved attention.” A disclaimer at the end of the racist robocall announces the producer as The Road To Power.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican currently running for Senate, tweeted out, “there is no room for any racial politics here in Florida – none. Florida is a melting pot of people from all over the globe, and we are proud of it. No attempts to divide people by race or ethnicity will be tolerated, from anyone. THIS. STOPS. NOW.”
A separate robocall, approved by State Representative Ron DeSantis, who is running against Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race, has been widely decried as a “dog whistle” designed to rally racist voters in favor of Gillum’s white opponent. The call, widely heard throughout Florida, warns Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum.
Where Are The Calls Coming From?
Scott Rhodes, also known as Scott Platek, has been busy as America gears up for the mid-term elections. A resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, Platek has been linked to a plague of racist propaganda in Sandpoint, along with anti-Semitic phone call campaigns targeting minorities in Alexandria, Virginia and race-baiting phone messages in California.
Idaho White Supremacist Orchestrates Robocall Campaigns
For over a year, Sandpoint’s minority population has been tormented by Platek’s white supremacist rhetoric, the Spokesman-Review reports. Authorities say that Platek is linked to an orchestrated campaign targeting city officials, including robocalls that routinely refer to African-Americans as “negroes” and CDs containing racist material left on cars in a public school parking lot. Several calls, aimed at Jewish officials, have featured audio clips of Adolf Hitler.
In May, Rhodes sent out a flurry of robocalls to phone numbers in California, denouncing the policies of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and encouraging residents of the state to “relocate to North Idaho, where very white is very right.” In the call, heard in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, Feinstein is referred to as a “traitorous Jew.” The same month, Rhodes, who has also gone by the surname Platek, launched The Road To Power, a video podcast discussing white supremacist content hosted on peer-to-peer content sharing platform BitChute.
Mollie Tibbets Robocall Attempts To Inflame Immigration Debate
Rhodes came to national prominence, however, when Iowa voters started receiving calls that attempt to use the death of Mollie Tibbetts, a 24-year-old college student who was murdered in July by a Mexican national, to drum up anti-immigration sentiments.
Like the robocall in Florida, Rhodes’ robocall for Iowa residents is disgusting. “The Aztec hybrids,” the pre-recorded voice says, “known as mestizos, are low-IQ, bottom-feeding savages, and [that] is why the country they infest are crime-ridden failures.” Grammatical errors are not uncommon in calls paid for by TheRoadToPower.com.
The call goes on to say that, if Tibbets were alive today, she would say “kill them all” when asked about what to do with immigrants. Needless to say, Tibbets’ family has disputed this characterization, saying their late daughter would not blame a “whole population based on some bad individuals.”
Are The Road To Power’s Robocalls Illegal?
Probably not. Technically, these are political robocalls, which are exempt from many of America’s robocall-related regulations. While the calls are abhorrent, they may not be illegal, though officials in Iowa and California are looking into the issue.
One of Rhodes’ common robocalling tactics, on the other hand, may be illegal. Rhodes often uses the technique of caller ID “spoofing” to place his racially-charged calls. The calls targeting Iowa voters, for example, purport to have been placed from a number from Brooklyn, Iowa, even though they originate from Idaho.
Spoofing may or may not be illegal, depending on the circumstances, says Lynn Hicks, a spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. According to the Truth In Caller ID Act of 2009, spoofing is only illegal when it’s done “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”
Defining Rhodes’ motivations in those terms would be a stretch. What, of value, is Rhodes attempting to obtain in placing his robocalls? Votes? An increase in racial animus? Rhodes could easily argue that his calls are simply expressing a political view point, a particularly distasteful one, but a political viewpoint nonetheless.
Lynn Hicks would probably agree. “I’ve listened to it,” she told the Des Moines Register. “It’s awful. It’s repulsive. We’re looking into it, but it’s not the typical robocall we get complaints about because it’s non-commercial and, right now, we don’t have enough information to determine if it’s illegal.”