The New York Times today published an extraordinary exposé revealing the extent of Russian interference in the American political process, focusing on the example of how Kremlin-backed internet trolls helped fracture the momentum created by the historic January 2017 Women’s March — mounted in response to the election of Donald Trump — that attracted nearly half a million people to Washington D.C. and over seven million worldwide
According to the article, Russia mounted a calculated propaganda attack designed to create fissures in the women’s movement by exploiting existing divisions and fears already afflicting American society, in particular immigration-based fears and Islamophobia.
“Organizations linked to the Russian government had assigned teams to the Women’s March. At desks in bland offices in St. Petersburg, using models derived from advertising and public relations, copywriters were testing out social media messages critical of the Women’s March movement, adopting the personas of fictional Americans,” The New York Times reported.
“They posted as Black women critical of white feminism, conservative women who felt excluded, and men who mocked participants as hairy-legged whiners. But one message performed better with audiences than any other.”
“It singled out an element of the Women’s March that might, at first, have seemed like a detail: Among its four co-chairs was Ms. [Linda] Sarsour, a Palestinian American activist whose hijab marked her as an observant Muslim,” the newspaper noted.
The article goes on to provide the details of how Russian troll factories sucessfully sabotaged what had been a fairly unified reaction by American women who felt threatened by the radically anti-feminist agenda of the Republican Party under the hyper-mysogynistic Donald Trump.
Why did Russia target the Women’s March in particular amidst their broader cyber warfare during the 2016 election cycle?
“Feminism was an obvious target, because it was viewed as a ‘Western agenda,’ and hostile to the traditional values that Russia represented,” said Artyom Baranov, a former worker at one of the most notorious Russian propaganda mills, according to The Times.
Posing as Black women online, Baranov and his fellow trolls would post divisive social media messages like these:
“White feminism seems to be the most stupid 2k16 trend”
“Watch Muhammad Ali shut down a white feminist criticizing his arrogance”
“Aint got time for your white feminist bullshit”
“Why black feminists don’t owe Hillary Clinton their support”
“A LIL LOUDER FOR THE WHITE FEMINISTS IN THE BACK”
All of these phony messages from fake people were meant to create diivisons in the women’s movement — and in American society in general.
The most sucessful of the Russian propagandists’ efforts to fracture the coalition behind the Women’s March, however, was their Islamophobic trolling that targeted Linda Sarsour, falsely claiming that she was a radical Islamist, “a pro-ISIS Anti USA Jew Hating Muslim” who “was seen flashing the ISIS sign” and wanted to implement Shariah law in the U.S.
Despite the fact that the accusations were false and were simply a rehash of every bit of anti-Muslim propaganda that has been circulation since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Russian disinformation campaign was remarkably successful in creating rifts in the Women’s March coalition and tamping down the organized oppostion to the Republican “War on Women” and to the Trump regime.
Yes, America is divided, but those divisions are merely serving as the entry point for a foreign government that wants to exploit them to weaken our nation for their own nefarious benefit. Americans must not fall prey to their evil machinations.
You can read the excruciating details of the Russian trolls’ attack on the Women’s March and the effect it had on the life and career of Palestinian-American New Yorker Linda Sarsour as detailed in The New York Times article here. (Paywall — subscription required.)
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.