Russians Tried to Suppress Minority Turnout, Spread Lies About Voter Fraud

The special counsel’s indictment shows that the minority vote wasn’t suppressed only by restrictive state policies.

Voters at a polling place in Ellettsville, Indiana, on November 8, 2016. Stringer/Sputnik via AP

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Russian nationals tried to suppress minority turnout in the 2016 election and spread false claims about voter fraud in an effort to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and help Donald Trump, according to an indictment announced today by the Justice Department.

The indictment says that a St. Petersburg-based company called Internet Research Agency LLC began in the second half of 2016 to “encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”

From the indictment:

a. On or about October 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Instagram account “Woke Blacks” to post the following message: “[A] particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

b. On or about November 3, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased an advertisement to promote a post on the Instagram account “Blacktivist” that read in part: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.”

c. By in or around early November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “United Muslims of America” social media accounts to post anti-vote messages such as: “American Muslims [are] boycotting elections today, most of the American Muslim voters refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton because she wants to continue the war on Muslims in the middle east and voted yes for invading Iraq.”

The Russians also pushed debunked claims about voter fraud, including that Clinton stole the Iowa caucus and received thousands of ineligible votes in Florida. From the indictment:

Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations.

a. On or about August 4, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the Facebook account “Stop A.I.” The post alleged that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.”

b. On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the Twitter account @TEN_GOP.

c. On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

Republicans used many of these same tactics during the presidential campaign, with Trump repeatedly warning of mass voter fraud and Republican-controlled states like Wisconsin passing restrictive voting laws that disproportionately kept minority voters from the polls, as Mother Jones has reported. The Department of Homeland Security has already stated that the Russians tried to probe voter registration lists in 21 states during the 2016 campaign and breached voter registration lists in Illinois and Arizona, though they were unsuccessful in changing any votes, according to DHS.

The indictment includes a list of ads the defendants purchased on social media networks, several of which aimed to discourage minorities from voting for Clinton or to spread voter fraud fears:

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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