As part of a series of reports from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee covering the influence of Russia on the 2016 general election, the latest release has just been made public. This second report, of an expected five to be made in total, details primarily efforts made by Kremlin-backed entities to have an effect on the election via social media influence and astroturf activism.
Of particular focus in this report is the Russian outfit known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA), headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia. One of the primary objectives of the IRA is to engage in what is described as “virtual and physical influence operations,” a combined effort to sow discord and create wider rifts within this country through digital social media outreach, and on-the-ground efforts in a localized fashion. This last method has a number of actions that took place in the state of Florida, according to the report.
Using a front group called “Florida Goes Trump,” the IRA had operatives in South Florida staging rallies on Aug. 20, 2016. According to a FaceBook page (since taken down) operated by the Russians, the intention was to have rallies in up to 17 cities across the state, but The Daily Beast was able to find evidence on another FaceBook account of at least two of these events. Videos and photos from a Fort Lauderdale rally, and another in Coral Springs, were confirmed.
While this report, and subsequent versions to follow, show clear activity undertaken by Russian interests, what will not be found is any tangible or even alluded-to connection with the Trump campaign. Despite this reality, news outlets, such as Politico, are holding this report up as evidence of Russian meddling, and claiming this undermines claims made by Trump, administration, and their allies that they were not culpable. This, despite the report arriving at no conclusion of any connections, same as the neutered Mueller report.
Further, Politico makes the inaccurate claim that, “There's no evidence of collusion between Ukraine and U.S. Democrats, as Trump and some of his associates have proposed.” In order to make this claim, Politico has to ignore the recorded detail of Ukrainian operative Alexandra Chalupa working closely with the Democratic National Committee, as well as the reports on how the Ukrainian embassy was feeding reports on Trump news items. Hard to see how they avoided this aspect, considering it was covered in the press, including -- in Politico.
This follows the prior established gameplan of the press, which is to loudly tout any suspected connections between Trump and foreign powers, but ignore the proven connections on the other side. Charges of Russian collusion were established by the Steele dossier, using intel from Russian assets and funded by Hillary and the DNC.
The fact is, nobody is disputing that Russia has attempted to influence the 2016 election in some fashion. It has been commonplace from that country for numerous prior elections. Russians had managed to breach some of the outer networks in two Florida counties, but never gained access to our voting system itself. These are all long-established facts, but do nothing to establish collusion.
That Florida was of particular focus of the IRA and other Russian interests is a result of our perennial status as a battleground state. Our consistently close elections made us the ripe arena for Russia to engage in disruptive social media activities. We can expect more of this type of attention again next year.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.