Russia,  Stateside

“Russia is our friend”

Less than two months after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, by a white supremacist, a few dozen neo-Nazis gathered in the city for another tiki torch-lit demonstration, with (again) the ostensible purpose of protecting Confederate monuments.

The crowd chanted “You will not replace us.” No word if anyone replaced “You” with “Jews,” as many of the demonstrators did in August.

And no word from President Trump on whether he considered some of the protesters “very fine people,” as he did in August.

I’d be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as a rather pathetic display, but for this:

They promised to keep returning to Charlottesville, which they argued had become symbolic of their right to speak and also had come to symbolize the tearing down of symbols of the nation’s history.

“You will not erase us.”

“We are about our heritage. Not just us Virginians. Not just as Southerners. But as white people . . . we’ll take a stand.

“You’ll have to get used to us.

“We’re going to come back again and again and again.”

Then they began singing about Dixie.

They also chanted: “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again. Woo-hoo! Wooo.”

The South may or may not rise again. (Some southerners have been telling us that for the past century and a half, and it hasn’t happened yet.) But as for Russia being their friend, they are precisely correct.

Evidence is mounting of a massive effort by Putin regime-sponsored troll farms not only to swing US elections but also to sow divisions here along racial and regional lines.

For example, as CNN reported last month:

At least one of the Facebook ads bought by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, sources with knowledge of the ads told CNN.

Ferguson and Baltimore had gained widespread attention for the large and violent protests over police shootings of black men. The decision to target the ad in those two cities offers the first look at how accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used geographically targeted advertising to sow political chaos in the United States, the sources said.

Facebook has previously said that roughly one-quarter of the 3,000 ads bought by the agency were geographically targeted, but it has not revealed any specific locations. Facebook has also not revealed which demographic groups and interest groups were targeted by the ads.

The Black Lives Matter ad appeared on Facebook at some point in late 2015 or early 2016, the sources said. The sources said it appears the ad was meant to appear both as supporting Black Lives Matter but also could be seen as portraying the group as threatening to some residents of Baltimore and Ferguson.

New descriptions of the Russian-bought ads shared with CNN suggest that the apparent goal of the Russian buyers was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos, though not necessarily to promote one candidate or cause over another. Facebook’s review of Russian efforts on its platform focused on a timeframe from June 2015 to May 2017.

These ranged from posts promoting Black Lives Matter to posts promoting gun rights and the Second Amendment to posts warning about what they said was the threat undocumented immigrants posed to American democracy. Beyond the election, Russians have sought to raise questions about western democracies.

“This is consistent with the overall goal of creating discord inside the body politic here in the United States, and really across the West,” Steve Hall, the former CIA officer and CNN National Security Analyst, said. “It shows they the level of sophistication of their targeting. They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues.”

And according to another CNN report:

On May 21 2016, a handful of people turned out to protest the opening of a library at an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas. Two held up a banner proclaiming #WhiteLivesMatter. A counter-protest began across the street; video shows a noisy but non-violent confrontation.

The rally — called “Stop Islamization of Texas” — was called and promoted by a Facebook page called Heart of Texas, which had wrongly alleged that the Islamic library had received public funding. But the Heart of Texas page listed no contacts in the Lone Star state. In fact, it was operated by a “Troll Factory” called the Internet Research Agency thousands of miles away in St Petersburg Russia, CNN has learned.

One of the people who attended the rally later complained: “Heart of Texas promoted this event but we didn’t see ONE of them.”

The Houston rally sheds light on an effort originating in Russia to sow discord in the U.S. through social media; in this case it had real impact on the ground.
The Heart of Texas Facebook page had some 249,000 likes shortly before it was suspended. Its posts, some of which have been retrieved by CNN, included diatribes against refugees, conspiracy theories about the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and Islamophobic sentiment. One post called for ‘No More Mosques in America.’

Another complained: “Since when has this country turned into a liberal cesspool full of all sorts of ethnic and sexual minorities?”

If you don’t like “Islamophobic,” substitute “anti-Muslim.” The point is that the Putin regime is intent on sowing division and undermining democracy in the USA, and people like those who carried torches in Charlottesville are pleased to receive the help.

To me the most revealing fact to come out of Vice President Mike Pence’s expensive faux-patriotic stunt Sunday at the Colts-49ers football game was that after Pence’s pre-planned walkout, he headed to California for a fundraiser on behalf of several Congressional Republicans– including Dana Rohrabacher, Putin’s biggest fan in Congress.

As he often does in these strange days, conservative Bill Kristol said it best:

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