Lauri and Anni Vuohensilta have been crushing it. The Finnish couple began pulverizing random objects under a 150-ton hydraulic press at their family’s factory five years ago this month, carving out their own genre of “satisfying” internet videos and amassing more than 10 million followers across major social media platforms in the process.
On a video call, I interviewed the Vuohensiltas about what’s left to crush, why the channel appeals to so many people, Lauri’s delightful accent, the effects of the coronavirus on their hydraulic pressing, and how people who don’t have a hydraulic press can fulfill their human need for destruction.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Congratulations on five years of pressing! You said on your celebratory Twitch stream from a few days ago that your favorite items to crush, Lauri, are steel pipes, because they’re satisfying to watch and they aren’t as dangerous. So what is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever crushed?
Lauri: Ball bearings, yeah. So just the balls from the bearing. And those explode the small, smallest fragments. They fly one kilometer per second. So it’s like, not healthy.
And Anni do you have a favorite item that you’ve crushed?
Anni: Bowling balls. Those are best.
Those are great. For people who might not know exactly what hydraulic press is, could you explain it?
Lauri: It’s a machine that is really good on just crushing things. It uses hydraulic pump and piston to generate huge amounts of force. And it pushes against the table, and then you’re gonna put whatever you want there between the table and the piston and it’s going to get crushed.
OK, so you have crushed paper, molten steel, a tooth, soap, Play-Doh, steel pipes, Play-Doh in steel pipes, fruit, golf ball, toilet paper, toys, a whole collection of household items, and hundreds of other things. When I see people leaving suggestions in the comments of things for you to crush, you almost always have always already crushed them. So is there anything that you haven’t crushed?
Lauri: Gold bar. We have tried to get that for like one year now. Yeah, like at least one kilo gold. But it’s not helping that the gold price is just getting higher and higher here. I think it’s like $70,000 now per one kilogram, so yeah.
Yeah, that seems like it might be tricky. Have you ever crushed a diamond?
Ah OK, I missed that one. And it was crushed?
Anni: Yeah. It’s a really old video, the first one.
Lauri: We have done nice diamond, and then raw diamonds later. Diamonds make really good press tools, but they have to be like grinded to right shape, to be able to withstand a lot of pressure. And they’re still like really tiny, so then they’re not super hard to crush with the big press.
What are the things the hydraulic press couldn’t crush?
Lauri: Yeah, lot of things, it’s like a function of the size and how hard is the material. For all the items there is size limit. And I have to say that the hardest things to crush are ceramic bearing balls. Those are really hard. I think it was like 20 millimeters was the largest we can crush. And then you can have one size of your fist and that would be probably like a thousand tons. And we have tried to like destroy them with like, giant hammer. We had shot them with rifles and everything and they just don’t break. They are the hardest things to break with any method. I think it’s like good combination—the material is really hard and then the ball shape is really strong.
So is the challenge for you guys now to think of new things to crush or think of different ways to crush them or finding new platforms to get your hydraulic press videos out? What are the challenges for keeping it fresh?
Lauri: I would say that all of those. We are all the time coming up with the new tools and ways to crush. And then now we have both like a machine that pulls things, and we are fixing that so we can start to test how strong our chains, cables, stuff like that. And then of course the new platforms are always cool and like new video formats. TikTok been really good for us, and also Instagram reels.
Anni: We have the biggest TikTok account in Finland.
Oh, congratulations. You have more than a million Instagram followers—Anni: 1.4 million in Instagram and 7 million in TikTok.
Nice! So you started on YouTube, and now you’re on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch, are there any other platforms?
Lauri: Yeah, Facebook. I have heard some rumors that they’re going to launch monetization like a similar thing on YouTube. Finally in Finland at the end of this year.
Personally, I love the worms that are created when you smush certain material. Do you remember the first worms that you created?
Anni: Actually the worm maker tool was my idea. Because I saw on Instagram, a clip where somebody had like potato …
Lauri: It’s like potato smasher, potato press, what do you call that kitchen tool?
Anni: Yeah, the kitchen tool and slime. And then he pressed the slime through those holes. And I said, “Lauri, we need big version of this.” And Lauri was like, “Yes, we really need it.”
Lauri: I fired up the design program on computer to make the plan.
Anni: All kinds of worm tools are, I would say, the most popular thing.
Lauri: On TikTok and Instagram. And then on Youtube people like to see complicated and dangerous stuff.
Yeah. So you built the worm tool yourself?
Lauri: Yeah, we build all the tools. If there is like sheet metal parts, then we order from a laser cutting company. But we design and machine all the tools.
So in the world of internet videos, the hydraulic press kind of combines the aspect of the “satisfying” videos like slime squishing with an aspect of the destruction videos, like, shooting guns and that stuff, into its own unique thing that’s kind of in the middle. And to me, I think the hydraulic press videos kind of have the same plot as the pimple popping videos. There’s the anticipation, the tension, and there’s the release. And so I’ll say that for me personally, I can’t watch the pimple popping videos because I think they’re gross. But, they’re very popular, apparently. And so I was wondering if you’ve ever considered the similarities between the pimple popping videos and the hydraulic press.
Anni [laughing]: I think, especially those worm makers, they are really similar.
Lauri: Yeah, yeah.
In your recent Twitch stream, you were describing how you do the videos and how it’s kind of too late to change up how you do them and you shared a really funny Finnish saying that my boyfriend and I have been laughing about and hope to work into our everyday lexicon. You said that in Finland “We have this saying that it’s too late for farting when you have already shit yourself.”
Lauri [laughing]: It goes better in Finnish, it’s more compact and flows better I think.
I love it. But is there anything that you wish that you had done differently in the process, or anything you would have changed if you could have?Lauri: Surprisingly little. I think because we tried to keep YouTube a more complicated and dangerous stuff platform. So we waited really long before we started to make videos where we took like 100 Instagram clips, post them together, add some music and make a 10 minute YouTube video. And we did first in March, and those are super popular videos, and they bring a lot of new people in YouTube. So maybe that that’s something that would be probably good idea to do even before.
Anni: Yeah, some kind of combination videos.
So the press is 150 tons, is that right?
OK, so that’s 300,000 pounds. So do you get up to 300,000 pounds?
Lauri: Quite often. There is many materials, it’s pretty easy to predict that, like, you can put this much paper there and it’s still going to explode. So it’s quite often maybe like a couple times a month when you use the full, full force. But with the worm makers, usually the tools break before that, so with the worm makers you can’t go that far.
You crushed a wisdom tooth once—and the tooth was quite strong! Could you tell the story of how you acquired the tooth?
Anni [laughing]: It was my wisdom tooth. And I was really scared before the surgery. And I still say to them, that I really need those teeth.They took two teeth away and I think they got one of those like, apart, but one was like, in one piece.
Lauri: So Anni meant they have to come out in one piece.
Anni: Yeah, the dentist said, “Why do you need those?”
Lauri: Yeah, and it was cool to get it in one piece because we made more money with video than the dentist bill was. So, free wisdom teeth removal!
You’ve said before that you said that you think most children like to break stuff and it’s kind of built inside every person—the need to destroy something. I agree completely, and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for what people who don’t have a hydraulic press could do, how they could go about fulfilling their need to destroy stuff in their daily life.
Lauri: That’s actually a good question. What would be like easy and funny way? We always keep saying “don’t try this at home.”
Anni: I don’t know.
Lauri: I think just like taking up large hammer and hitting stuff if that’s satisfying.
Anni: Yeah. Or maybe like, you know, the potato mash—
Lauri: I think that is big let down after watching the press.
Anni: Yeah, yeah but if you have slime you can try it.
Lauri: I will put just some fruits on the table and go with the hammer. It’s like good amount of mess and satisfying.
Anni: Yeah, and really nice to clean.
Lauri: Yeah. Yeah, that’s also part of the process.
I wanted to ask about the cleaning process. I did see a video the other day of the hydraulic press getting cleaned, but who does the most cleaning of the press?
Anni: [points to herself]
Lauri: I think it’s more even now. Before we used to do like, let’s crush six things, and then it was like, “Hey, I’m going to go edit, have fun.” Now we are doing so much content for like small clips. So it’s going to be like, they’re going to crush like four of the items in the Twitch stream.
Anni [laughing]: Yeah. And now we don’t live at the same property with the work, so you can’t leave me anymore.
Lauri: Yeah that’s true.
I was wondering how you decided to do the “OK Boomer” crushing. Did someone suggest that to you?
Anni: I think it was because I have watched so much TikTok, like for the last one year, and I think it was some TikTok thing that I saw there some “OK boomer.”
Lauri: Yeah it was trending thing.
Anni: Yeah it was a really trending thing. So we did it.
One of the things that I personally love about the press, and that I find validating or optimistic in a way, is that it shows that if you apply pressure to something, it will break. To go a little bit farther, I find it to be kind of like, good and even inspiring, a guiding principle for thinking about how the world works. Have you ever thought about this in the abstract? What you do think about it?
Lauri: Yes, sometimes there’s moments when you realize that when you press something and you’ll see something new about materials or items, you realize how something worked. For example, with the steel pipes, it’s the same idea on the railroad where the tracks end. There are like one meter long, really thick steel tubes. And if the train goes little bit too fast, and it can’t stop, then it’s the end of the rails and the tubes, they’re going to go in the same way that they do in a press.
Right, yeah. And to be more figurative, pressure is pressure—it’s something people could apply in other areas. If people get together and apply enough pressure to something, then they can affect change in an institution, society or what have you. Is that too far out?
Lauri: Yes, that’s true. If you’re just enough of anything to anything something is going to happen always. That’s true.
If you could take the hydraulic press and destroy one thing in the abstract, like one idea, what would you destroy?
Lauri: That’s really hard one. I would want to, like—I’m not sure is there any like one thing that I come up with. I would use my one magic pressing to squeeze out something like miracle technology that is going to save us. I would like to crush something so hard that it’s going to make some kind of fusion power plant and generate endless power, something like that.
That’s a good one.
Lauri: But we have been thinking more abstract things because every week we do something that anybody hasn’t done before and it’s not going to run off there. And I have been thinking that if we do that for long enough we are going to end up coming up with some invention, maybe. If you do weird things you might come up with some new, like, realization about something or solve some problem or stuff like that.
Lauri, people seem to love your accent. [In a** previous interview, Lauri said he and Anni had “talked about my accent and how it was going to be very funny thing on top of the press thing.”] What’s the story behind your accent?** Lauri: It’s just like general Finnish accent. How you pronounce different letters is completely different in Finnish and English for most of the letters. And also the structure of the language is completely different. I think nowadays most of the Formula One and rally drivers can speak a little bit better, but if you take any interview with a Finnish rally driver from the nineties it’s the same. In Finnish, this accent is called rally English. Because it used to be that most famous Finns in other countries are always the rally drivers and they talk in a funny way.
I also wanted to ask if anything has changed with coronavirus and if it has had any impact on your hydraulic press crushing.
Lauri: It was interesting because on January, everybody was in Finland, like, it’s inside, it doesn’t affect us here. And we were like, it’s coming two months, we’re going to buy gas masks and everything.
Anni: Yeah, we knew it’s coming.
Lauri: And then before it came, we bought a new house and took quite large loan. And then after signing the papers, it took like two weeks and the whole world just stops. And we were like, “Uh oh, uh oh how’s it going to go?” And then we just decide that we’re going to do so much work and videos. And people just kept watching. Ad revenue on all platforms dropped off quite much. But then people started to watch twice as more. So it ends up like regular year.
Anni: We moved to the new house two months ago. And this is in the countryside. So this is like really far away from coronavirus.
Lauri: Yeah. Closest neighbor is half a kilometer. If it gets really bad we can go after everybody else has left work to film the press in the middle of the night so it doesn’t matter how bad it gets, we can still get the videos out. The only thing is not sure is how much companies are going to advertise. Online sales are pretty strong and most of our customers are online companies. So i think it will be good.
And I do think that the hydraulic press specifically is kind of a perfect fit for this moment in time where everything and everyone is under this intense pressure and breaking down. I hope you guys keep making a lot of videos.
Anni: I posted a TikTok video where there was like a doll head, and then they press crushed it. And everyone commented, like, “This is me this year.”
Lauri: Yeah but it was in March when quarantine started for most of the countries, we decided that we’re not going to do any corona-related content. We are going to keep it just fun things so it’s like place to have break from all the madness.
Yeah, an escape of a sort. Is there anything else you want to say about the hydraulic press or anything else?
Anni: It has been a crazy five years.
Lauri: One cool thing, I’m not sure did you catch it on the Twitch stream, but when we start this, Anni said that this is going to last half a year and I said this is going to last five years. And now after five years, my prediction is that it will last five more years.
Anni: I don’t say six months anymore!
Nigeria’s SARS: A brief history of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad
In April last year, Kofi Bartels, a 34-year-old radio journalist in Nigeria’s Rivers State, was filming three police officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) beating another man when they and three of their colleagues turned their attention to him.
In a series of tweets, he described being beaten and arrested: “They took turns to slap, punch and kick me while I was struggling with a swollen knee. At least six officers, one at a time.”
Philomena Celestine, 25, has also seen SARS brutality up close. In 2018, she was travelling home from her university graduation ceremony with her family in Edo State, when their car was pulled over by SARS officers and her two brothers taken out.
“My four-year-old niece was in the vehicle but they cocked their guns at our car and drove my brothers into the bush where they harassed them for over 30 minutes, and accused them of being cybercriminals. They could see my graduation gown but that did not deter them. My sister was trembling and crying in fear,” Celestine recalled.
These accounts are just two of many that sparked protests against the unit across Nigeria. It has been accused of harassing and physically abusing thousands of civilians since it was created in 1992. The #EndSARS protests resulted in the Nigerian government announcing earlier this month that it would disband the unit.
But this is the fourth time in as many years that the government has promised to disband or reform the unit that citizens say has terrorised them for decades.
And the problem of police brutality goes beyond SARS, the protesters say. According to Amnesty International, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances each year.
The Nigeria Police was first established in 1820 but it was over a century later – in 1930 – that the northern and southern police forces merged into the first national police force; called the Nigeria Police Force.
In 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes.
Before that, anti-robbery was the responsibility of the Nigerian Police Force generally although, from 1984, anti-robbery units existed separately as part of different states’ criminal investigation departments.
Other special units, which went by different names at different times, included the intelligence response team, special tactical squad, counterterrorism unit and force intelligence unit, formed to tackle rising violent crime following the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970.
By the early 1990s, armed robbers and bandits were terrorising Lagos and southern Nigeria.
Police officer Simeon Danladi Midenda was in charge of the anti-robbery unit of the criminal investigation department in Benin, southern Nigeria, at the time. He had some success in combatting armed robbery, earning a recommendation from the then inspector general of police.
With crime on the rise in Lagos, Midenda was transferred there and tasked with uniting the three existing anti-robbery squads operating in the former federal capital into one unit in a bid to break the stronghold of armed gangs. As the new sheriff in town, equipped with 15 officers and two station wagons, Midenda formed an amalgamated unit and named it the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 1992.
In the early days of the unit, combat-ready SARS officers operated undercover in plain clothes and plain vehicles without any security or government insignia and did not carry arms in public. Their main job was to monitor radio communications and facilitate successful arrests of criminals and armed robbers such as Chukwudi Onuamadike – best known as “Evans” – who was arrested in 2017 after the police spent five years tracking him and placed a 30 million naira ($80,000) reward on his head.
Extorting money in broad daylight
For 10 years, SARS only operated in Lagos, but by 2002, it had spread to all 36 states of the federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It was counted as one of the 14 units under the Nigerian Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. Its mandate included arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspected armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, hired assassins and other suspected violent criminals.
Emboldened by its new powers, the unit moved on from its main function of carrying out covert operations and began to set up roadblocks, extorting money from citizens. Officers remained in plain clothes but started to carry arms in public.
Over time, the unit has been implicated in widespread human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extortion.
SARS officers then allegedly moved on to targeting and detaining young men for cybercrime or being “online fraudsters”, simply on the evidence of their owning a laptop or smartphone, and then demanding excessive bail fees to let them go.
In 2016, Amnesty International documented its own visit to one of the SARS detention centres in Abuja, situated in a disused abattoir. There, it found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells and being regularly subjected to methods of torture including hanging, starvations, beatings, shootings and mock executions.
Now, Nigerians say they have had enough. Since 2017, protests have been building momentum across Nigeria, stemming from online advocacy to street protests. The anger about the unit’s activities culminated in a nationwide protest on the streets of 21 states this month after a SARS officer allegedly shot a young man in Delta State.
Amid the ongoing protests, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the unit would be disbanded. But this has not quelled the protests as young people continue to occupy the streets in large numbers demanding the immediate release of arrested protesters, justice for victims of police brutality, the prosecution of accused officers as well as a general salary increase for the police force to reduce corruption.
Young protesters say they have heard it all before. This is not the first time the government had disbanded SARS and promised reforms.
In 2006 and 2008, presidential committees proposed recommendations for reforming the Nigeria Police.
In 2009, the Nigerian minister of justice and attorney general of the federation convened a National Committee on Torture to examine allegations of torture and unlawful killings but made little headway. In October 2010, the then Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, allocated 71 billion naira ($196m) for police reforms.
In 2016, the inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ use of excessive force and failure to follow due process.
A climate of fear
Historically, police officers who are alleged to have unlawfully killed Nigerians have faced few or no repercussions. For years, Amnesty International has reported cases of unlawful killings and police brutality by law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.
Reports of human rights violations committed by SARS have continued to mount, despite repeated promises of reform and accountability by the Nigerian government. The police authorities created a Complaint Response Unit (CRU) in November 2015, through which the police could process complaints from the public. To date, no SARS officer has been found responsible for torture, ill-treatment of detainees or unlawful killing.
The following year – 2016 – Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions by SARS with victims usually young men between the ages of 18 and 35 arrested during street raids on groups of people doing things such as watching a football match or drinking at pubs. Research by CLEEN Foundation, a Nigerian non-profit organisation which promotes public safety and access to justice, found that the Nigeria Police Force lacked an effective database on complaints and discipline management.
In March 2017, SARS arrested 23-year-old Miracle Ifeanyichukwu Okpara and detained him in Anambra State, eastern Nigeria, on a charge of having stolen a laptop. Amnesty International reported that he was tortured and hardly given any food during 40 days of detention before he was taken to court and charged with armed robbery. The court discharged the case for lack of evidence.
Finally, in 2017, Nigerians launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #EndSARS to document abuse and extortion by SARS officers and demanded the total overhaul or disbandment of the unit.
Promises from government flowed in again. In December 2017, the inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force announced plans to reorganise SARS units. In August 2018, Nigeria’s vice-president and then acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the overhaul of SARS but allegations of abuse by SARS agents continued throughout the year.
Socrates Mbamalu, a 28-year-old writer and journalist living in Lagos, described how he has been living in a climate of fear following multiple encounters with SARS officers. Mbamalu told Al Jazeera that SARS officers targeted him in the street and searched his backpack while he was studying in Ife, Osun State. He does not know why he was targeted – only that he is a young man who was carrying a backpack.
“They searched my backpack and saw my laptop which they accused me of stealing and demanded a receipt,” he explained. “They threatened to arrest and detain me, and searched my pockets, stealing my 1,000 naira ($3). In another instance, they detained me overnight in a smelly police station with dozens of others after they just picked us up on the street while walking at night. I still get traumatised whenever I encounter the police today,” he said.
Since protests began, young protesters have also been targeted by SARS. Judith Caleb, a 28-year-old blogger and one of the activists organising the protests in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, told Al Jazeera that the protest aimed to join in the fight to stop police brutality in the country and ensure accountability and justice for victims.
“In 2015, SARS killed one of our friends, Richard, a university student here in Kaduna. They accused him of buying a stolen phone, detained and tortured him until he died,” she said. “That is why we are out protesting. The police arrived here as early as 6am to stop the protest. They shot into the air to disperse us and arrested three people. But we were determined to continue with our peaceful protest. It is our right.”
‘I was saying my last prayers’
While demonstrations across Nigeria have remained peaceful, security forces have responded with more brutality. The police have shot tear gas, water cannon and live rounds at protesters across the country. Armed men have also disrupted rallies and attacked protesters, forcing the organisers to hire private security to repel the attacks.
Jimoh Isiaq, a 20-year-old university student, was shot dead on October 11, 2020, during an #EndSARS protest in Oyo State, southwestern Nigeria. Isiaq was killed when a police team monitoring the protest allegedly opened fire at demonstrators with live bullets.
On October 12, police officers in Lagos allegedly opened fire to disperse protesters, killing 55-year-old Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo, and arresting dozens of protesters. On October 16, police teargassed and used water cannon on a group of protesters in Abuja. Police officers attacked journalist Gimba Kakanda, injuring him, smashing his phone and slashing the tyres of his car. In a piece for Time about his experience, Kakanda wrote: “I was saying my last prayers. I really thought my life was going to end.”
Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, has decried the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters and said that it makes claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by the Nigerian police redundant.
The #EndSARS movement is the biggest social protest the country has seen since the Occupy Nigeria movement of January 2012. It has attracted attention all over the world, with celebrities such as musician Kanye West, footballer Odion Ighalo, actor John Boyega and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey among a list of people to have voiced support for the protests.
Young citizens mostly in their 20s on the streets say they are tired of the promises of reforms and are expressing their anger at continuously being dehumanised and treated unjustly.
“The Nigerian police motto, ‘Police is your Friend’, has become a mockery,” said 22-year-old protester Maryam Ahmed.
For the #EndSARS protesters, restructuring the unit, changing its name and redeploying its officers to other units is not enough; reform must translate into accountability and justice.
“We are determined to continue these protests until justice is served,” Judith Caleb said as she arranged her placards, ready for another day of protest, hoping to fix a broken system, and along with her fellow citizens, begin to heal from the trauma.
‘Amplifiers for idiots’: Former Google CEO slams social media
Eric Schmidt says more regulation may be needed for social media, but US antitrust suit against Google is misplaced.
Former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said the “excesses” of social media are likely to result in greater regulation of internet platforms in the coming years.
Schmidt, who left the board of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. in 2019 but is still one of its largest shareholders, said the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. government filed against the company on Tuesday was misplaced, but that more regulation may be in order for social networks in general.
“The context of social networks serving as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended,” Schmidt said at a virtual conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Unless the industry gets its act together in a really clever way, there will be regulation.”
Google’s YouTube has tried to decrease the spread of misinformation and lies about Covid-19 and U.S. politics over the last year, with mixed results. Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have also been under fire in recent years for allowing racist and discriminatory messages to spread online.
Schmidt also argued Google’s massive search business — the target of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust suit — continues to be so successful because people choose it over competitors, not because it uses its size to block smaller rivals.
“I would be careful about these dominance arguments. I just don’t agree with them,” Schmidt said. “Google’s market share is not 100%.”
US officials say Russia, Iran have obtained voter information
Intelligence officials link Iran to threatening emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states.
The United States’ top intelligence official has accused Russia and Iran of obtaining US voter information and making moves to influence public opinion ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
John Ratcliffe, director of National Intelligence, made the announcement at a hastily arranged news conference on Wednesday that also included FBI Director Chris Wray.
The announcement two weeks before the November 3 election showed the level of alarm among top US officials that foreign actors were seeking to undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the vote and spread misinformation in an attempt to sway its outcome.
“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately, by Russia,” Ratcliffe said during the news conference.
Most of that voter registration is public, but Ratcliffe said that government officials “have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage”
Ratcliffe was referring to emails sent on Wednesday and designed to look like they came from the pro-Trump Proud Boys group, government sources told the Reuters news agency. A number of voters in Florida and other key states in the election battle between the Republican president and Democrat Joe Biden said they had received the messages.
“You will vote for Trump on election day or we will come after you,” the emails said. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for.”
“I would take this seriously if I were you,” the message ends, adding the voter’s address.
In addition to the threatening emails, Ratcliffe said Iran also distributed a video that falsely suggested voters could cast fraudulent ballots from overseas.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe said, adding that Russia and Iran seek to “to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine confidence in American democracy”.
The top national security official did not explain how the Russians and Iranians had obtained the voter information or how the Russians might be using it.
US intelligence agencies previously warned that Iran might interfere to hurt Trump while Russia was trying to help him in the election. Outside experts said that if Ratcliffe was correct, Iran would be trying to make Trump look bad by calling attention to support and threats by the sometimes violent Proud Boys group.
A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations denied Iran had sought to meddle in the US election.
“Iran has no interest in interfering in the US election and no preference for the outcome,” spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said in a statement.
US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who received a classified briefing on Wednesday afternoon on election security, said he disagreed with Ratcliffe that Iran was specifically trying to hurt Trump.
“It was clear to me that the intent of Iran in this case and Russia in many more cases is to basically undermine confidence in our elections. This action I do not believe was aimed … at discrediting President Trump,” Schumer told broadcaster MSNBC in an interview.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump has directed government agencies “to proactively monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in US elections, and because of the great work of our law enforcement agencies we have stopped an attempt by America’s adversaries to undermine our elections”.
Wray, the FBI director, meanwhile stressed that US election systems remained safe.
“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he told reporters.
“We’ve been working for years as a community to build resilience in our infrastructure and today that infrastructure remains resilient – you should be confident that your vote counts.”
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