William Johnson, a white nationalist, practicing California lawyer, and determined Trump supporter, placed a robocall in the state of Utah alleging that conservative independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin is gay because he’s over 40 and “doesn’t even have a girlfriend.”
Slate reported on Monday that Johnson claims to have paid for the call (which he says cost $2,000) through his PAC American National Super PAC; the PAC, according to its quarterly filing, only has $7,165 on hand.
The call, which was not Johnson’s first rodeo, went as follows:
“Hello, My name is William Johnson. I am a farmer and a white nationalist. I make this call against Evan McMullin and in support of Donald Trump.
Evan McMullin is an open borders amnesty supporter. Evan has two mommies. His mother is a lesbian, married to another woman. Evan is okay with that. Indeed Evan supports the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.
Evan is over 40 years old and is not married and doesn’t even have a girlfriend. I believe Evan is a closet homosexual.
Don’t vote for Evan McMullin, vote for Donald Trump. He will respect all women, and be a president we can all be proud of.
Johnson told Slate on Monday that the robocall will go out to 193,623 residential landlines by Wednesday, a number that Jezebel confirmed with Message Communications, the robocalling service Johnson used. The Trump campaign, which initially named Johnson a California delegate to the RNC (they attributed this to a database error) before hastily rescinding the offer, disavowed the robocall in a statement.
McMullin, a Mormon, is only on the ballot in 11 states but is currently polling ahead in Utah. McMullin’s mother is married to a woman, but the candidate himself is against same-sex marriage (he told the Salt Lake Tribune they disagree on this, but “I love her very much, and she is one of my best friends”). He doesn’t support open borders, and there’s no evidence that McMullin is gay; when questioned by The Daily Beast, Johnson cited “word on the street” and some Reddit threads (which he also sent me, in a PDF titled “evan gay”). When I asked Johnson, a corporate lawyer, why he referred to himself as a farmer, he replied:
“I grew up on a farm. I live on a farm. I am a farmer currently. I think farming is the most salt-of-the-earth profession there is.”
(Mother Jones reported earlier this year that Johnson “grows persimmons and raises chickens at his 67-acre ‘ranch’ in a Los Angeles suburb.” Update: In an emailed response to Jezebel, Johnson wrote: “I am getting older now. I don’t practice law as much.”)
It makes some sense that a white supremacist might veer towards the robocall, a swiftly aging technology on its last quivering legs. Even political consultant Christopher Nicholas, an early adopter, thinks they’re over. The FCC recently cracked down on unwanted robocalls, requiring prior consent for cell phone users and urging carriers to offer customers call-blocking services; politicians had previously been exempt from the Do Not Call registry, but consumers can now request to drop these calls or send them to voicemail.
Effectiveness aside, robocalls are clearly not that difficult to set up. They “can be engineered at your desk. Whereas, TV ads and radio ads require much more engineering,” Johnson told me over email. “The robocall captured on an answering machine is often forwarded to the media, friends, relatives, etc. and thus gets a lot of mileage (for the penny). Of course this only happens when the robocall is by a white nationalist,” he added.
Message Communications offers a free service that removes numbers on the FCC’s national Do Not Call list, as well as free “Do Not Call Maintenance,” which prevents customers from calling “extremely irate individuals” on Message Communications’ company-wide Do Not Call list.
When reached by phone, Message Communications president Robert Mahanian confirmed that Johnson is a repeat customer and told Jezebel the robocalling process is “pretty straightforward”—a customer calls in, gets their message recorded, sends in a list of numbers they’d like to reach, and start their calls directly online, a process that takes about 10-15 minutes. For its cheapest service, each call typically costs about about 7/10ths of a penny.
“As long as the client isn’t doing anything illegal, we’re not allowed to refuse services to them,” Mahanian said, rather apologetically. He explained that they’re required by law to be content-neutral, citing a recent FCC investigation of the company.
“I’d prefer to not be involved with him at all, I’d rather not have this publicity,” he added. “It’s not something we want to be associated with.”
Anyway, seems like a pretty easy thing to do, if you can round up a few hundred bucks! We would never advocate it, of course. No way. I mean, if you need a script, we do happen to have one. But no, definitely don’t robocall Utah voters with 10-20 of Jezebel’s best Trump descriptions (here are more). That’s a really dumb idea.
This post has been updated to include an emailed response from William Johnson on his current employment status.