Suspected Iranian Hackers Allegedly Posed as Proud Boys Members to Threaten Voters

A pair of Iranian men were indicted after allegedly being involved in a web-based scheme to influence voters and undermine confidence in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursday.

A large portion of the plot involved the men allegedly posing as members of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.

Seyyed Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, both Iranian nationals, have been charged in New York City on numerous counts related to the plot.

The charges for both men include, among other indictments, computer fraud, conspiracy, voter intimidation, and transmission of interstate threats.

Kashian faces a maximum of 11 years in prison for these charges. Kazemi was indicted on additional charges, including computer intrusion and damaging a protected computer, and is looking at a maximum of 26 years behind bars.

The DOJ indictment shows that the alleged plot began in fall 2020 when the pair, claiming to be volunteers from the Proud Boys, began sending out blast emails to high-ranking Republicans and allies of former President Donald Trump. These emails claimed the Democratic Party would attempt to steal the election.

Flag of Iran
A pair of Iranian men were charged with posing as Proud Boys in an attempt to influence the 2020 presidential election. Here, the flag of Iran is seen in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Headquarters in 2021. Michael Gruber/Getty

Emails were also sent to registered Democrats threatening them with physical harm if they did not vote for Trump and change their party affiliation, the DOJ said.

The men also allegedly tried to compromise at least 11 separate voter registration websites. This resulted in the men being able to download information on over 100,000 voters in one unnamed state, according to the DOJ.

The campaign did not stop even after voters went to the ballot box. The day after the 2020 election, Kazemi and Kashian reportedly tried to access the servers of a prominent American media company, which would have allowed them to disseminate even further disinformation about the election.

While the two men pretended to be members of the Proud Boys, the DOJ stated that they are experienced hackers who once worked for an Iranian cybersecurity company linked to that country's government.

The DOJ is offering a reward of up to $10 million for further information on Kazemi and Kashian's activities.

The Justice Department was assisted in their investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), specifically the agency's cyber division.

"This indictment details how two Iran-based actors waged a targeted, coordinated campaign to erode confidence in the integrity of the U.S. electoral system and to sow discord among Americans," said DOJ Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen. "The allegations illustrate how foreign disinformation campaigns operate and seek to influence the American public. The Department is committed to exposing and disrupting malign foreign influence efforts using all available tools, including criminal charges."

"The United States will never tolerate any foreign actors' attempts to undermine our free and democratic elections," added U.S. Attorney Damien Williams. "As a result of the charges unsealed today, and the concurrent efforts of our U.S. government partners, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look over their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice."

Any potential sentencing will occur on a later date at the discretion of a federal district court judge, the DOJ said.

The U.S. and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. Newsweek has reached out to the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran—a de facto consulate that runs as part of the Embassy of Pakistan—for comment.