Russia revelations reveal new push for California secession

Congressional investigations unearth a new Russian account trying to break the Golden State off from the U.S.

A Russia-linked Twitter account revealed yesterday set its sights on California independence. (CREDIT: AP/ERIC RISBERG)
A Russia-linked Twitter account revealed yesterday set its sights on California independence. (CREDIT: AP/ERIC RISBERG)

For the past two months, it appeared that the fake social media accounts run out of Russia only supported breaking off one state from the US: Texas.

But that wasn’t true.

As we learned yesterday, at least one of these fraudulent accounts pushed for the simultaneous secession of California, known colloquially as #CalExit.

Amidst the thousands of Russian Twitter handles revealed by the House Intelligence Committee to be posing as Americans, one stood apart. The @CalifroniaRep account, notably misspelled, appeared to help lead the push for California secession, which gained notable steam in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.

It remains unclear how popular the now-suspended account was – like Facebook, Twitter has refrained from revealing any data on these fraudulent accounts to researchers or journalists – but the feed was noteworthy enough to break into national media coverage.

Moreover, the @CalifroniaRep account also appears to be one of the few Russian handles identified thus far whose reach extended beyond Twitter. A #CalExit Medium account, which remains up as of early November, is linked to the account.

Describing itself as a “Movement for independence of California. Support #Calexit,” the posts – some of which pushed pro-Bashar Assad material – feature many of the same trappings as other Russia-linked accounts unearthed thus far, particularly its reliance on stilted, awkward English. For instance, one April post noted that issues within #CalExit leadership “gave a good reason for laughing to all the Trump supporters in the first place. … We’ll just to have to stay with the union for some more.” Another, from March, read, “It is one of their favorite arguments against progressive communities across America they never forget to mention. The truth, however, is unsurprisingly far from what the’re [sic] saying.”

Questions sent to a Medium spokesperson went unanswered.

To be sure, links between Russia and the California secession movement have been known for some time. Not only did the New York-born Louis Marinelli, a board member of the YesCalifornia group, visit Russia in 2016 to attend a secession conference organized by the Kremlin-funded Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR), but LA Weekly later reported that the secessionists’ travel was itself sponsored by the AGMR. Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, Marinelli opened a so-called “California Embassy” in Moscow, hosted in a space provided rent-free by the AGMR. He then announced he was moving to Russia permanently, while continuing to push to fracture California from the US.

For good measure, Marinelli even tweeted a photo of himself, alongside one of the Texas separatist leaders, on Moscow’s Red Square:

The Russian account revealed yesterday also posted material from YesCalifornia, and called on followers to back the group, writing, “What is going in Washington is another moving force for Californians to rethink their attitude to the ‘Yes, California!’ movement because god, this is a total freak show.”

“This is definitely not [YesCalifornia] and it does not sound like Calexit groups,” YesCalifornia President Marcus Ruiz Evans told ThinkProgress.

The revelations come almost a year to the day since YesCalifornia attempted to raise a banner in San Francisco, claiming that “California and Russia will always be friends!”


UPDATE (11/2/17): After ThinkProgress’s reporting, the Medium account for @CalifroniaRep has been suspended.