A self-proclaimed neo-Nazi podcaster who allegedly used the death of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts to spread white nationalist propaganda through racist robocalls – some targeting members of the Tibbetts family – could face nearly $13 million in fines.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Thursday that it is proposing a $12,910,000 fine against Scott Rhodes for using illegal caller ID spoofing to make thousands of robocalls “with the intent to cause harm.” Officials say Rhodes' targeting of Brooklyn, Iowa -- the town Tibbetts lived in -- is part of a pattern of exploiting tragedy to further his bigoted ends.
The 20-year-old Tibbetts disappeared on July 18, 2018, while jogging along a residential street, prompting one of the largest missing person searches in state history. Her remains were found one month later in a nearby cornfield and Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was charged with first-degree murder in her death.
Shortly after Rivera’s arrest in August 2018, Rhodes allegedly used Tibbetts’ death to call for a “whites only” America in robocalls that focused primarily on the small community.
“As if this tragedy were not enough, just two days after her funeral, Mollie’s family, friends, and the close-knit community of Brooklyn began to receive a barrage of spoofed robocalls."
The FCC said Rhodes violated the Truth in Caller ID Act, which prohibits manipulating caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Rhodes used a technique called “neighbor spoofing” to make it appear as if the calls were coming from the community he was targeting, according to FCC officials.
In one of the audio recordings, reviewed by Fox News, the person speaking refers to Mexicans as “bottom-feeding savages” with low IQs.
“As if this tragedy were not enough, just two days after her funeral, Mollie’s family, friends, and the close-knit community of Brooklyn began to receive a barrage of spoofed robocalls,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement on Thursday.
“Preying on the tragedy, the calls contained inflammatory prerecorded messages and a woman’s voice apparently intended to impersonate Mollie Tibbetts saying ‘kill them all’—the ‘them’ referring to illegal aliens from Mexico,” he continued.
Pai said the calls caused emotional distress in the family and sickened her stepmother to the point of physical illness.
It was not immediately clear whether Rhodes had an attorney. Listed numbers for him were out of service, and a message left by Fox News with a family member on Friday was not returned.
Rhodes, 50, has a history of sending racist and threatening communications to a number of targets in recent years, including communities in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Virginia.
According to the FCC, Rhodes made nearly 1,500 anti-Semitic robocalls in May 2018 targeting a candidate in California's U.S. Senate primary. In Florida, he allegedly made almost 800 racist robocalls targeting Andrew Gillum, a black man who was running for governor.
His most voluminous effort was in Charlottesville, Va., where the FCC said he made more than 2,000 robocalls during the trial of James Fields, the man who killed Heather Heyer when he drove his vehicle into a crowd of protestors. The calls “articulated a racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory,” according to the FCC.
In September 2018, Rhodes targeted the town of Sandpoint, Ida., where he lives, after the Sandpoint Reader alt-weekly identified him as a person of interest in the "large-scale distribution of CDs filled with racist propaganda” at a local high school.
After the paper outed him, Rhodes made about 750 robocalls attacking the paper and its publisher, calling on residents to “burn out the cancer."
The virulent threats against the publisher came after the Sandpoint Reader outed Rhodes for links to several racist campaigns that targeted college students, politicians and, most recently, employees at Columbia University in New York City after 18-year-old Tessa Majors was killed near the campus in December 2019.
Authorities say Rhodes has established a pattern of exploiting tragedy to target local communities with his racist, anti-Semitic and violent ideology. The FCC said his actions were intended to heighten his public profile and draw more viewers to his website and listeners to his podcast. Instead, people targeted with the calls have made numerous complaints to the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement.