A texting company run by one of President Donald Trump's top campaign officials sent out thousands of targeted, anonymous text messages urging supporters to rally where votes were being counted in Philadelphia on Thursday, falsely claiming Democrats were trying to steal the presidential election.
The messages directed Trump fans to converge at a downtown intersection where hundreds of protesters from the opposing candidates' camps faced off Thursday afternoon. Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground state where former Vice President Joe Biden's supporters believe the outstanding ballots will put him over the top in the presidential election.
"This kind of message is playing with fire, and we are very lucky that it does not seem to have driven more conflict," said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the University of Toronto's online watchdog Citizen Lab. Scott-Railton helped track down the source.
The texts were sent using phone numbers leased to the text-messaging platform Opn Sesame. The company's CEO is Gary Coby, the Trump campaign's digital director. It provides text-messaging services to GOP clients including the Republican National Committee.
"ALERT: Radical Liberals & Dems are trying to steal this election from Trump! We need YOU!" the text said, directing recipients to "show your support" on a street corner near the Philadelphia Convention Center where votes were being counted and tensions were running high.