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The indictment, which was made publicly available on Friday, hands down charges against 13 Russian nationals and three entities connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian “troll farm” connected with spreading disinformation on social media ahead of the 2016 election.
The nationals allegedly had been working from “in or around 2014” to interfere in the 2016 presidential election including: “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit,” according to the indictment.
Some of the nationals posed as Americans and created false identities to operate social media pages and groups to “attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment reads, and were “falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists.”
The indictment makes it clear that the efforts by Russia were to help President Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign.
“Defendant organization had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election,” the indictment reads. “Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
U.S. law bars foreign agents from engaging in political activities without registering with the Attorney General and bars foreign nationals from making payments to influence elections.
The indictment also lays out how the IRA created false social media accounts ahead of the election.
“Specialists” were tasked with creating social media accounts that appeared to be operated by Americans and were instructed to post in accordance with specific U.S. time zones and were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with the social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”
The pages created included “Secured Borders,” “Blacktivist,” “United Muslims of America,” and “Army of Jesus.”
“By 2016, the size of many organization-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers,” the indictment reads.
Beginning in 2015, online advertisements on social media began to be purchased with “thousands of U.S. dollars” being spent each month.
In regards to the election, in Feb. 2016 the IRA sent out an outline of themes to be published on the controlled social media accounts that instructed the “specialists” to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (expect Sanders and Trump–we support them.)”
Other materials produced by the groups included hashtags such as #Trump2016, #TrumpTrain, #Hillary4Prision” and others, according to the indictment. The group also used social media to encourage “minority groups” in the United States not to vote in the 2016 election or vote for a third-party candidate. They also began to promote allegations of voter fraud starting in in the summer of 2016.
The Russians controlled an instagram called “Woke Blacks.” On another account, they posted: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote." pic.twitter.com/61J4UJotxa— Matt Viser (@mviser) February 16, 2018
Around April 2016 through November 2016, the indictment alleges that the IRA and its groups bought advertisements on social media using their false identities “expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton.”
The ads included: “Trump is our only hope for a better future!,” “We cannot trust Hillary to take care of our veterans!,” and “Among all the candidates Donald Trump is the one and only who can defend the police from terrorists.”
The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States. In addition, three of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five of the defendants were charged with aggravated identity theft.
You can read the entire indictment here.
Update 2:48pm CT, Feb. 16: The president has weighed in.
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).