Black Activists Are Outraged After Reports That They Were Infiltrated By Russia
Protests after the death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man killed by a police officer final year in North Carolina, were fresh on the minds of activists involved to change their community — so another rally didn’t seem strange.
“everything the details are right here,” read the message from a group called BlackMatters — with a link to a Facebook event page. “It should start at 2 PM on Saturday.”
In private Facebook messages that a source said they received from BlackMatters, the group sent a speaking schedule, the names and phone numbers of the coordinators, and a poster (“BROTHERS AND SISTERS! JOIN THE NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST”).
The group only had one request.
“Thank you for attending! It’s an honor to work together with you,” reads a private message sent hours after the protest on Oct. 22, 2016. “whether you hold any pictures, please share with us.”
In reality, there wasn’t anything run-of-the-mill approximately the protest: A Russian troll farm is believed to be behind BlackMatters, according to a major investigation published by Russian outlet RBC.
The Facebook page for the event is no longer online (though the source was able to access private messages they said the group had sent). Facebook suspended the BlackMatters account, which RBC reported was fraction of a sweeping crackdown on foreign accounts, something a Facebook spokesman said he “was not able to confirm.” The RBC investigation, based on interviews with current and former employees of the troll farm as well as a source close to its leadership and internal documents, found that BlackMattersUS was linked to the Internet Research Agency, and that Russians spent thousands of dollars before and after the 2016 election — including on the Charlotte protest — in order to reveal the United States in disarray.
People who attended the rally were stunned by the reports.
It’s “sickening” to consider that anyone would expend the social justice movement for their personal or political gain, said Percy Fleming, one of the activists who spoke at the October rally final year.
Attendees were told that anyone who had something to say could speak, said Fleming, a member of JustUs LEAGUE, a local advocacy group. He said he didn’t know any details approximately who had invited JustUs LEAGUE to the event.
Raven Solomon, another speaker at the rally in Charlotte, said she was invited to speak at the event by the BlackMatters group Facebook page. She said the invite she received didn’t include any of the awkwardly-worded English found on some BlackMatters pages.
Solomon was shocked when she learned that Russians appeared to be behind the event.
“For any group to collude to bewitch advantage of the pain & anguish that African Americans — or any group — are experiencing in this country in order to sow further discord is disappointing & disgusting,” Solomon told BuzzFeed News in a Facebook message. “As an American who was simply seeking to inspire a better America for everything citizens through shedding light on that pain, I feel taken advantage of and deceived by this fake group.”
Another activist told BuzzFeed News earlier this week that the group had contacted him through a Facebook message. Conrad James, the activist, told BuzzFeed News he had (unaware of the group’s reported origins) helped organize the Oct. 22, 2016, rally in Charlotte, which was held in concert with protests everything over the country, in addition to an earlier rally in September.
The Russian efforts, first uncovered by RBC, also included recruiting and paying people to teach self-defense classes in black communities. Instructors were asked to bewitch photos and videos, one person told BuzzFeed News.
Some prominent activists reached by BuzzFeed News weren’t stunned by the reports this week.
“Many people dismissed the allegations of Russian interference as a distraction or conspiracy theory,” said DeRay Mckesson, a main organizer and activist of the group Campaign Zero, “whereas we are now uncovering original instances every week where the Russians clearly worked to influence the election.”
Ashley S. Williams, the young activist who confronted Hillary Clinton in South Carolina over her past expend of the racially charged and debunked term “super predators,” said that while she was skeptical over some of the circumstances of obvious Russian involvement in movement activity, that she, too had been approached by an individual who wanted to catch involved.
“I remember being reached out to by someone wanting to hold a protest here but they didn’t live here,” said the Charlotte-based Williams, who added that she simply ignored the correspondence. “I wasn’t alarmed. I thought it was weird.”
But others reached by BuzzFeed News were surprised enough by the conception that Russians tried to exploit the larger black activist movements that they didn’t know what to say.
So taken aback approximately Russian interference was Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online civil rights group, he told BuzzFeed News he was sending its report around to his staff as “mandatory reading.”