Idaho Man Fined Nearly $10 Million for Making Racist and Threatening Robocalls

A man has been fined almost $10 million by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for making thousands of racist and threatening robocalls.

Scott Rhodes, a 51-year-old Idaho native living in Montana, placed calls to phones in at least eight states after pre-recording vitriolic messages.

The alleged Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist targeted Black and Jewish politicians, a journalist and members of an Iowa community grieving a murder.

He also attempted to influence the jury in a murder case against a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rhodes made 4,959 unlawful spoofed robocalls between May and December 2018, the FCC determined in a finding issued on January 14 and seen by Newsweek.

The commission found Rhodes deliberately altered his caller ID to appear as local numbers as part of his "campaign to send provocative pre-recorded voice message calls."

Rhodes, who runs a white supremacist and anti-Semitic broadcasting outlet, is said to have targeted voters during political campaigns or residents in communities that had experienced notorious crimes.

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau found Rhodes also sent more than 34,000 messages through a robocalling service called the Dialing Platform.

By manipulating the calls to make them seem as if they came from local numbers, Rhodes was found to have violated the Truth in Caller ID Act with the "intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value."

In early 2018, Rhodes made threatening phone calls to the mayor of Alexandria, Virginia, and other council members. Investigators determined that one of those calls was a recording of Adolf Hitler, the Daily Inter Lake reported.

In May that year, Rhodes placed nearly 1,500 robocalls to numbers throughout California, attacking U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein by referring to her as a "traitorous Jew" while urging white Californians to "relocate to North Idaho, where very white is very right."

In August, he made more than 800 recorded calls to residents of the small town of Brooklyn, Iowa, following the killing of college student Mollie Tibbetts.

Tibbetts was attacked in July 2018 while out running in Brooklyn. Her body was found one month later and the calls began two days after her funeral.

An undocumented immigrant from Mexico was charged with the crime and her death became a talking point for those who support more restrictive immigration policies.

Relatives of Tibbetts were among those who received Rhodes' robocalls, which referred to "brown hordes" and "savages," according to the FCC.

Rhodes' calls also mentioned comments made by Tibbetts' father in defense of Hispanic communities at his daughter's funeral. The calls questioned whether his daughter would feel the same if she were still alive, and described the suspect as "an invader from Mexico." The calls also urged the deportation of all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

In October 2018 Rhodes sent robocalls using racist tropes to mock Andrew Gillum, a Black Democrat who was running for Florida governor. The following month, he did the same with Stacey Abrams, who was running for governor in Georgia.

The FCC found Rhodes was "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." An initial $12.9 million fine was reduced to $9.9 million.

Rhodes has been given 30 days to pay. If he does not, the FCC said it could refer the case to the Department of Justice.

Newsweek has contacted the Federal Communications Commission for comment.

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File photo of a smartphone and earphones as an audio clip is played. Scott Rhodes has been found guilty of making tens of thousands of racist and threatening robocalls. Thomas SAMSON/Getty