Calls to California Jewish institutions smearing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein as a “traitorous Jew.” Messages urging the murder of Latinos, after Iowa college student Mollie Tibbets was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. A minstrel-style recording mocking Florida’s first black gubernatorial nominee, Andrew Gillum.
The national scope and vague name of the purported outfit behind the calls create the impression that they were put out by a well-coordinated white supremacist group.
But they’re actually all the work of one Idaho man, Scott Rhodes, who runs a little-known white nationalist podcast called Road to Power. Organizations that track extremists say Rhodes came out of nowhere this past year, and is using cultural flash points to forcibly insert himself into the national conversation.
Ignoring Rhodes’ message is not a plausible response, those extremism watchdogs told TPM. But, at the risk of giving any more attention to his hateful ideology, they said it’s important for the public to understand that Rhodes is just a lone zealot.
“It’s good for people to know that these robocalls are coming from one guy in Sandpoint, Idaho,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence project, told TPM.
“What he’s discovered, more so than other hatemongers like him, is his ability to amplify himself and his message by pouncing on divisive public discussions,” Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s center on extremism, said of Rhodes.
“It’s not something we can just sort of dismiss because for the communities who receive these calls, it’s jarring,” Segal added. “It interferes in your day it makes you think that hatred is sort of all around you. In some ways, it is.”
The SPLC’s research shows that Rhodes, who also goes by the name Scott Platek, is a 49-year-old man with records of residence in a handful of West Coast cities. He has had federal and state liens lodged against him in California, according to the SPLC. He does not appear to have a criminal record.
Rhodes first came to the attention of authorities in 2017, when police caught him on camera leaving CDs of anti-Semitic, racist materials at a Sandpoint high school. He was banned from the school district’s property for a year, according to the local newspaper.
Mostly, Rhodes operates online, hosting his semi-regular video podcast on the platform Bitchute. His page has only 30 listed subscribers. Rhodes credits Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among racists and anti-Semites, with helping him boost his reach.
“Want 2 here extend sincere thank you to all on Gab who have & continue to voice support for efforts related to our very modest video podcast, most of which comes via private messages here,” he wrote in a recent post.
The calls are Rhodes’ primary way of expanding his platform. It’s unclear how many people he is contacting but the calls appear to be strategically targeted.
The messages boosting a neo-Nazi running for office in California and calling for the “end [of] Jewish control over America” went to Jewish institutions. The racist anti-Gillum calls, featuring the sounds of monkeys and talk of “mud huts,” were aimed at Democratic voters in Florida.
“These are just super inflammatory,” the SPLC’s Beirich said. “They’re not get-out-the-vote or trying to highlight policies. [They] just work to inflame and upset people and make them feel insecure.”
Using technology to spread racist messages is hardly a new phenomenon. Until a recent crackdown, white nationalists and conspiracy theorists operated with impunity on popular social media sites, using platforms like Twitter to harass detractors. During the 2016 presidential election, the American Freedom Party’s William Johnson orchestrated paid robocalls for Donald Trump in several states, celebrating how well the Republican politician’s immigration policies meshed with his own white nationalist views.
These cheap, low-effort robocall campaigns allow white nationalists to bring their messages directly into people’s homes. Unless the perpetrators incite imminent criminal activity or target particular individuals with threats of violence, there is little law enforcement can do to stop them.
“In America you can kind of be as hateful as you want and use all sorts of different platforms to spread that,” the ADL’s Segal said.
Technological advancements allow them to do so “with greater ease than in any time in human history,” Segal added.