Man faces $12.9 million fine for using Mollie Tibbetts’ death to spread white nationalist message

The FCC wants to fine a man $12.9 million for making robocalls to promote white nationalist messages using UI student Mollie Tibbetts’ death.


Mollie Tibbetts

Kayli Reese, Managing Editor

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed that a man face $12.9 million in fines after using the death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts to make thousands of calls spreading white nationalist rhetoric to areas across the country, including Tibbetts’ hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.

The FCC identified Scott Rhodes in a release as the one making robocalls to specific areas across the country “with the intent to cause harm.” News organizations have reported Rhodes is a Nazi sympathizer, and the FCC release said he believed these calls would increase attention to his website and brand.

Rhodes was able to manipulate caller-ID information to make it appear that his robocalls were coming from a local community number, which resulted in numerous calls to law enforcement from people who received these calls. This is in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act, the FCC release said, which “prohibits manipulating caller-ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

The first community targeted by Rhodes’ robocalls was Brooklyn, according to the release. Rhodes made 827 robocalls in August 2018 after Tibbetts’ death.

Tibbetts went missing and was murdered July 18, 2018, after going for a run in Brooklyn. Cristhian Bahena Rivera was arrested for her murder on Aug. 21, 2018, and currently awaits trial for the charge of first-degree murder.

RELATED: Hearing for man accused of killing UI student Mollie Tibbetts begins Tuesday

Bahena Rivera is an undocumented immigrant — a status which Rhodes used in the robocalls.

“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,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in the statement.

Some of the people who received the calls included members of Tibbetts’ family. Pai said in a statement that the calls began in Brooklyn community two days after Tibbetts’ funeral.

Pai added that Tibbetts’ family members said these calls put them in emotional distress and caused Tibbetts’ stepmother to become physically ill.

Rhodes is also accused of making robocalls in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Virginia in 2018, according to the FCC release. Rhodes used a different message targeted toward community members in each area.

“Today, we begin to hold Rhodes accountable for his apparent violations of the law. Our Notice of Apparent Liability will not undo the harm caused by these spoofed robocalls, particularly to the grieving family of Mollie Tibbetts and the community of Brooklyn,” Pai’s statement said. “But it once again makes clear this Commission’s determination to go after those who are unlawfully bombarding the American people with spoofed robocalls.”