OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma University student received a threatening email demanding she “Vote for Trump or else,” which appears to have been part of an Iranian disinformation campaign the FBI warned of during a press conference Wednesday.
Voters in multiple states have received similar emails, which falsely purport to be sent by the far right extremist group Proud Boys. John Ratcliffe, the intelligence director, said they are designed to intimidate American voters and sow unrest.
“It was horrifying,” the OU student said as she described her reaction to reading the email Tuesday morning. “It included my full name, and then it was just bodily threats.”
The student wanted to remain anonymous, but allowed sister station KFOR to see the email, which read in part:
“…we are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone# everything). You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”
FBI officials announced Wednesday that both Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information. So far only Iran has been linked to the email campaign.
The news conference was held as Democratic voters in at least four battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, have received threatening emails, falsely purporting to be from the far-right group Proud Boys, that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for President Donald Trump.
The Southern Poverty Law Center said “rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.”
“The first time I’d ever heard of them was during the presidential debate,” the student said.
The right-wing extremist group gained attention after President Trump signaled to them during the debate, saying, “Stand back and stand by.”
The group later added those words to their logo, but the leader of the group denies responsibility for the emails. CNN reported that the emails appear to have come from a server in Saudi Arabia.
The OU student, who formerly lived in Alaska, said she reported the email to the FBI.
“What this would … show is there is maybe a concerted effort by a group or organization that’s attempting to share this across the United States,” said Oklahoma FBI Supervisory Special Agent Casey Cox.
“No one has the right to tell a person how to vote through threat, fraud, intimidation,” he said, “and when someone does do that, that’s a crime, and the FBI will respond and investigate that aggressively.”
Oklahoma State Election Board officials said that while voter registration information is available publicly, finding out who a person voted for is impossible.
“How you vote is private and that will never be revealed,” said Misha Mohr, Election Board spokesperson. “In fact, we have no way to actually track that information.”
The student said while the email is alarming, she won’t be intimidated.
“It makes me want to vote more, honestly.”
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.