Russians Staged Rallies For and Against Trump to Promote Discord, Indictment Says
Russians accused of conspiring to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly staged rallies in key states to support him, including one in Florida in which someone was paid to portray Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform while standing in a cage built on a flatbed truck.
The Russians were also accused of promoting discord after the election by simultaneously holding New York rallies, one in support of Trump’s victory and another under the name “Trump is NOT my President!” according to an indictment released Friday by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There was a separate post-election, anti-Trump rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Members of the Trump campaign unwittingly aided the Russians for some of their pre-election events, including by providing signs, after the defendants posed as Americans and contacted the campaign through bogus social-media accounts, according to the indictment.
“To conceal the fact that they were based in Russia, defendants and their co-conspirators promoted these rallies while pretending to be U.S. grassroots activists who were located in the United States but unable to meet or participate in person,” according to the indictment.
Pretending to be Americans, the Russians persuaded people in the U.S. to attend their events, and sometimes paid their expenses, according to the indictment. They allegedly used social-media names including Facebook group “Being Patriotic” and Twitter handle @March_for_Trump. Two such rallies were held in New York in July 2016, under the names “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary,” it said.
One Facebook group called “United Muslims of America” was allegedly created by the Russians to plan a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” in July 2016 in Washington.
The group arranged for one American to hold a sign depicting Clinton and a fake quote attributed to her saying, “I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom,” according to the indictment.
Florida is a particular focus in the indictment. The Russians are accused of staging a series of coordinated rallies; for example, one on Aug. 20, 2016, was held under the banner “Florida Goes Trump.” Members of the Trump campaign who worked on local community outreach unwittingly aided that effort, while the Russians paid to advertise the rallies on Facebook and Instagram, prosecutors said.
Following on their successes in Florida, the Russian campaign replicated its efforts to produce rallies in New York and Pennsylvania, according to the indictment.
The Russians allegedly communicated with a Texas-based grassroots organization that advised them to focus their efforts on “purple states” such as Colorado, Florida and Virginia that could be swayed to vote for Trump.
The Russians tried to cover their tracks after the election by deleting or destroying data including emails and the bogus social-media accounts they’d set up, according to the indictment.