The extent of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is well-documented and yet still not fully understood. Russian agents were responsible for stealing and releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee. Russia used Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to spread disinformation and sow discord among the American public. This was done to benefit then-candidate Donald Trump.
A new report commissioned by members of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee expands upon another facet of Russia’s pro-Trump operation: an effort to divert votes away from Hillary Clinton and toward Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
An analysis from NBC News found an extensive, coordinated effort by Russian operatives to boost Stein’s candidacy by targeting voters from key Democratic demographics.
One example NBC News highlighted was an Instagram account called @woke_blacks, which shared pro-Stein images in the run-up to the election and dismissed valid criticism that votes for Stein would help Donald Trump’s candidacy in crucial swing states.
Black voters were one of the main targets of Russia’s propaganda effort. Previous disclosures by investigators looking into Russia’s election manipulation campaign have noted that a central pillar of their interference game plan involved stoking racial animosity via social networks. It was a tactic mirrored by the Trump campaign itself, which went so far as to admit they specifically tried to suppress the turnout of black voters on election day.
The NBC News analysis found that Russians working with the infamous Internet Research Agency — the Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit with close ties to Putin — tweeted out Jill Stein’s name at least 1,000 times, on a network of fake accounts whose online reach is thought to be in the tens of millions.
That report comes several months after two professors at Clemson University first released their own findings into the pro-Stein campaign undertaken by Russia. As ThinkProgress’ Casey Michel reported at the time:
Some of the accounts also spread misinformation about Stein. One, @KenzDonovan, claimed that Stein had even endorsed Trump during the election: “BREAKING: Jill Stein Just ENDORSED Donald Trump! Watch Her Obliterate Hillary!”
Stein has long been a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation. The environmental activist and erstwhile presidential candidate was in frequent communication with individuals inside Russia, and she herself made a trip to Moscow in 2015 to attend, among other things, a dinner hosted by Russian propaganda network RT, where she sat alongside future Trump campaign aide Michael Flynn and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Stein and her presidential campaign have largely refused to cooperate with the Senate’s own investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. She refused to turn over any communication between her campaign and “Russian persons, or representatives of Russian government, media, or business interests” earlier this year.
Coincidentally, Russian attitudes only began to sour on Stein after she publicly announced a fundraising effort to raise money to pay for vote recounts in key midwest states where Trump’s margin of victory was razor-thin. Those efforts were largely criticized by both the left and the right as a disingenuous money-grab by a campaign in debt.