Judge finds racist robocaller liable for 4,959 illegally spoofed calls

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Justice finally caught up with Scott Rhodes, a man who lived briefly in Sandpoint while conducting a yearslong campaign of hate through racist robocalls directed at individuals across the nation — including the Reader and its publisher, me.

The U.S. District Court in Montana issued a partial summary judgment Feb. 20 against Rhodes, finding him liable for sending 4,959 illegally spoofed robocalls in six separate instances, including in Sandpoint. At $2,000 per violation, this puts the forfeiture amount proposed by the FCC at around $9.9 million. District Judge Dana Christensen ordered parties to submit briefs to the court so that it can determine the final forfeiture amount later this spring.

To say I feel relief is quite an understatement. As many of our readers remember, Rhodes waged a campaign of hate, threats and intimidation against the Sandpoint Reader, our advertisers and me (personally) after reporting by then-Editor Cameron Rasmusson and me first identified him as the person responsible for distributing racist propaganda in Sandpoint, as well as a series of inflammatory robocalls that linked back to Rhodes’ video blog site.

It all started with a police report about an individual observed distributing CDs containing racist propaganda on students’ vehicles in the Sandpoint High School parking lot in November 2017. After a substantial investigation and public records requests, the Reader identified Rhodes as the person of interest in that incident. Subsequent reporting also linked Rhodes to multiple robocalls placed in various U.S. locations. After several follow-up stories reporting Rhodes’ behavior, approximately 750 Sandpoint residents received a robocall on Sept. 20, 2018, which proclaimed, “Ben Olson is a cancer on wholesome North Idaho, and cancer must be burned out. … Punish his advertisers for feeding the cancer on our town. Burn out the cancer, Ben Olson, or the cancer that he is will spread and kill.”

That call was followed by another one a week later, which urged listeners to throw stacks of the Reader in the trash and burn them, and claimed the Reader was “mind poison.”

The robocalls came after Rhodes’ eviction from his rental home in Sandpoint, which he claimed was because I had “blackmailed” his landlord. Needless to say, none of what this deranged man says is or was true. But the harassment didn’t stop there.

In the following months and years, a number of our advertisers reported receiving periodic anonymous messages and fliers falsely accusing me of everything under the sun, from child sex trafficking to blackmail to operating a “cabal” in North Idaho. It was a sustained effort that lasted until January 2021, right after the Federal Communication Commission announced it was issuing a $13 million fine against Rhodes, later amended to $9.9 million.

In a blistering 31-page ruling, Christensen granted summary judgment in favor of the Department of Justice, linking Rhodes to the specific calling services, his video podcast for avowed white nationalists, internet domains and “power dialer” software used to place the nearly 5,000 robocalls using illegal or “spoofed” return numbers.

Christensen referred to a segment of a Sept. 13, 2018 episode of Rhodes’ video blog in which he claimed the news media are “literally terrorists” who “need to be named; they need to be targeted; they need to be punished; they need to be dealt with by the means available to us now.” 

Along with granting the summary judgment in favor of the DOJ, Christensen also granted a permanent injunction that directs Rhodes to obey the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and Truth in Caller ID Act and imposes compliance reporting requirements on him. It also bans Rhodes from initiating any call or message using misleading or inaccurate caller identification information. 

One year after the order, Rhodes must submit a compliance report, sworn under the penalty of perjury, to identify his primary contact information and describe in detail how he is in compliance with the judge’s order. Also, for 20 years after the order, Rhodes must submit a compliance notice within 14 days of any change to his name, including aliases or fictitious names, telephone number, residence address or business address. Furthermore, Rhodes must permit DOJ and FCC representatives to interview any employee or other individual affiliated with him.

I haven’t shared much about this court matter against Rhodes with our readers, because it’s been an open case, but now that we are entering the home stretch I feel the need to bring some closure to one of the darkest periods of my life. I don’t suppose the U.S. government will ever see a dime from Rhodes, but the fact that he’s on the hook for $9.9 million and must remain on a bit of a leash to the U.S. government approaches something close to justice, at least in my eyes.

After the court determines the final forfeiture amount, the Reader will follow up with more news coverage, then we’ll close the book on this ugly chapter.

Rhodes’ despicable actions brought distress to our community. Unfortunately, his threats will always live inside me, in that dark, evil place where journalists put the vitriol that comes with being a reporter. I don’t regret any of the stories we wrote, only that we have such vile people in our world.

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