A few months ago, former CIA chief Michael Hayden let slip something of a bombshell about Russia’s social media interference operations.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, Hayden said “Russian bots” had helped hype conspiracy theories surrounding the 2015 Jade Helm military exercise. The exercise, which took place from Texas to California, was a simple training exercise — but conspiracy theorists claimed that the exercise was actually an Obama administration move to impose martial law. As Hayden said, these bots helped convince “many Texans” that Jade Helm “was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”
At the time, Hayden didn’t provide any evidence, although ThinkProgress first reported that at least one fake Russian Facebook page, “Heart of Texas,” had also pushed Jade Helm conspiracies. As one “Heart of Texas” post read, broken English and all, Jade Helm “is some kind of Washington’s attempt to frighten and subordinate Texas and other states.”
Now a new trove of Twitter accounts associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is offering more insight into what Hayden may have been talking about.
The tweets, found in a database compiled by Clemson University professors Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren and published by FiveThirtyEight last week, don’t show any evidence that these Russian accounts started the Jade Helm conspiracies outright. (The conspiracy theory appears to have been homegrown.) However, they do show how some of the accounts amplified the related conspiracies, directing readers to conspiracy sites along the way.
Among the more notable tweets that pushed the notion that Jade Helm was a massive conspiracy:
- @ExQuote: Real people think jade helm is more than an exercise
- @ExQuote: Jade Helm an odd military exercise Makes me wonder?
- @FundDiet: Jade helm is a exercise for Marshall law Trust me
- @Paolakinck: Why Are FEMA Domes Going Up Behind Texas Grade Schools!
Multiple accounts also linked to a post from the BeforeItsNews.com conspiracy site. Wrote @PrettyLaraPlace, @JacquelinIsBest, and @RaveNicholson, “Jade Helm Death Squads Inserted Into American Communities: Is It Just a Drill?”
Another Russian account, @cannonsher, pointed readers to a post on a gun sales site, tweeting “It’s About Mass Extinction Event Coming 2015 -Jade Helm Update +Videos”
As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Jade Helm appeared to be a popular target for Russian propaganda feeds. RT, citing InfoWars, claimed that the “Helm” in “Jade Helm” may stand for “Homeland Eradication of Local Militants.” Another clip shows an RT host claiming that Jade Helm “has started some kind of war, and this time it’s between America and itself.”
A trio of men in North Carolina were later arrested for planning to bomb some of the members of the U.S. military taking part in the exercise. The men cited Jade Helm conspiracies as their motivation.
While there’s no evidence Russia sparked the Jade Helm conspiracies itself, these account do confirm Hayden’s claim that fake Russian feeds spread the conspiracies to their followers. They also add to the evidence that the accounts played upon existing divisions, and existing conspiracy theories, rather than necessarily introduced new ones.
And like so many other accounts, these feeds also took pains to look as American as possible. As one of these accounts memorably wrote, “This jade helm military exercise looks lit.”