It’s no secret that Russia is not content with hacking the presidential election, and is actively trying to meddle in other areas of our society and politics as well. Earlier this summer, for instance, Russian bots launched a hashtag campaign calling for Paul Ryan to go.
Earlier this week, we learned that the Kremlin was at it again this past weekend. A member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee revealed that Russia elbowed its way into the debate over NFL players taking a knee before the national anthem.
During a hearing on terrorist threats on Wednesday, Senator James Lankford detonated a bombshell–the Kremlin had unleashed its bot army to influence the growing furor over players taking a stand against police brutality and the White House’s attempt to bully them into submission. Watch here.
About three minutes into his remarks, the Oklahoma Republican told FBI Director Christopher Wray, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, and National Counterrorism Center director Nicholas Rasmussen that he had evidence of the lengths Russia went to influence the “take a knee” debate. Apparently they were going as far as to play both sides.
“We watched even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their Internet folks, start hashtagging out ‘#TakeAKnee’ and also hashtagging out ‘#BoycottNFL.’ They were taking both sides of the argument this weekend, and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to raise the noise level in America to try to make a big issue an even bigger issue as they’re trying to just push divisiveness in the country.”
According to one of Lankford’s spokesmen, Lankford has been getting information about Russian botnets for more than a year as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That spokesman said his boss “made an individual decision” to reveal the bots’ latest gambit “because he believes the American people should know.” That same aide said that Russia has played the same game in Europe for years.
The Russians aren’t the only ones trying to game this debate. Lankford’s spokesman shared a tweet purporting to be from an antifa supporter in Boston supporting the players who took a knee. However, that tweet appeared to have been sent from Vladivostok in Siberia.
That awkward moment when the Russian government forgets to turn off location services on their disinformation network Twitter accounts. pic.twitter.com/SqV2eArN7g
— Common Defense #VetsAgainstTrump (@commondefense) September 27, 2017
As ThinkProgress reports, however, that account was actually operated by a pair of right-wing trolls from Oregon. They took advantage of the fact that Twitter allows desktop users to change the geotag location for their tweets. That account has since been suspended. Aside from that, though, it’s very telling that a Republican Senator recognizes that there is indeed Russian-flavored funny business going on in this country.
It’s especially telling when a Republican Senator from a state where Trump still walks on water is willing to recognize this. At last report, Trump’s approval rating in Oklahoma stood at 54 percent–one of only 15 states where Trump is still over 51 percent approval. It’s safe to say that a good number of that 54 percent believes Trump’s claim that any talk of Russian hacking is fake news.
Lankford is a no-questions-asked conservative; he has a lifetime rating of 96 from the American Conservative Union. Still, it’s refreshing to see that he was willing to take off the blinders and see that the Kremlin really is trying to hack our politics.
(featured image courtesy Lankford’s Facebook)