Russian operatives used Facebook accounts to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in several U.S. cities during last year’s presidential election, according to a bombshell report published by The Daily Beast.
The publication exposed a Facebook group, ‘Being Patriotic,’ as the first evidence of suspected Russian propagandists explicitly mobilizing Trump supporters in real life. The Russia-linked accounts were uncovered in a software-assisted review of politically themed social-media profiles.
The Beast reports:
“The demonstrations appear to be the first case of Russian-linked operatives successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.
The August 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state.”
Videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were re-posted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.
“On August 20, we want to gather patriots on the streets of Floridian towns and cities and march to unite America and support Donald Trump!” read the Facebook event page for the demonstrations. “Our flash mob will occur in several places at the same time; more details about locations will be added later. Go Donald!”
Being Patriotic had 200,000 followers and the strongest activist bent of any of the suspected Russian Facebook election pages that have so far emerged. Events promoted by the page last year included a July “Down With Hillary!” protest outside Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters, a September 11 pro-Trump demonstration in Manhattan, simultaneous “Miners for Trump” demonstrations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in October, and a pro-Trump rally outside Trump Tower last November, after his election victory.
Russian-funded covert propaganda posts on Facebook were likely seen by a minimum of 23 million people and might have reached as many as 70 million, according to analysis by an expert on the social-media giant’s complex advertising systems. That means up to 28 percent of American adults were swept in by the campaign.
The discovery of the ‘Being Patriotic rallies’ suggests that the fraudulent activity on Facebook did indeed involve messaging on behalf of Trump and prompted some Americans to rally on Trump’s behalf.
The pro-Trump events represent “the next level” of suspected Russian influence operations, said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who has testified about those operations to a Senate committee investigating them.
“This would be a direct effort that they attempted in a proactive way around a candidate,” Watts told The Daily Beast. “You can’t deny that’s foreign influence in an election.”
You can read the entire report on The Daily Beast.