A Nazi sympathizer from Montana has been slapped with a $9.9 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission for racist and harassing robocalls across eight states that targeted political figures and attempted to influence the murder case against an avowed white supremacist.
Scott D. Rhodes made thousands of calls in 2018 harassing Black and Jewish politicians including Stacey Abrams, then the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, and Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, as well as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, another Democrat, according to an FCC complaint.
He also sent more than 800 robocalls to Brooklyn, Iowa, a week after the murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts. Relatives of Tibbetts were among those who received Rhodes’ robocalls, telling the Des Moines Register of the USA TODAY Network that the “profoundly racist” calls were “twisted and grotesque.”
And he inundated residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, with more than 2,000 robocalls before and during the jury selection and criminal trial of James Fields, who murdered Heather Heyer when he drove into a crowd at a 2018 “Unite the Right” rally.
“The robocalls contained false information about the death of Ms. Heyer by claiming that she died of a heart attack rather than blunt force trauma from the impact of the car,” the FCC said.
His calls also threatened a local journalist in Idaho, the Daily Inter Lake of Kalispell, Mont., reported.
The calls Rhodes sent included a recording of Adolf Hitler and directed listeners to his podcast where he ranted about Jews, Muslims and other people of color.
TheFCC announced the fine Jan. 14, saying Rhodes had repeatedly violated the Truth in Caller ID Act by making the calls seem as if they came from local phone numbers.
Ajit Pai, who stepped down as the FCC’s chairman last week, said laws clearly ban spoofed robocalls “used with the intent to defraud, cause harm or cheat recipients” and that Rhodes’ calls marked “new levels of egregiousness.”
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Rhodes, 51, has been given 30 days to pay the fine. If he does not, the FCC said it could refer the case to the Department of Justice.
In his response to the commission’s findings, Rhodes complained of “politically motivated gross overreach of FCC authority.”
He also contended that federal law prohibits only criminal conduct and commercial activities, an argument the FCC rejected.
“Illegal robocalls are harmful to consumers whether they seek to advance fraudulent schemes, commercial activities, or social or political positions,” the commission said.
Contributing: The Associated Press