The Russians who interfered in the 2016 US presidential election are still at it — and this time, they’re trying to ignite racial violence in America and a partial collapse of the United States.
According to secret documents obtained by a Russian opposition group, hackers have discussed plans to stir up racial resentment in the United States in hopes of tearing American society apart. The operatives are apparently associates of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man who set up a troll farm and was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for his role in 2016 meddling.
Those documents, shared with but not verified by NBC News on Monday night, are extremely troubling.
Prigozhin and his team of Russian trolls tried to inflame racial tensions during the 2016 cycle by operating several social media accounts that tried to discourage African Americans from voting, mainly by repeating messages of police violence and voter fraud.
But the apparent new plot, discussed as recently as 2018 ahead of the 2020 presidential election, goes much further. The documents reportedly contain shocking proposals such as sending black Americans to Africa “for combat prep and training in sabotage,” as well as targeting people who have previously been incarcerated and people “who have experience in organized crime groups ... for participation in civil disobedience actions.”
The goal, it seems, was to encourage the newly trained African Americans to create their own pan-African state in America’s South. That would “undermine the country’s territorial integrity and military and economic potential,” according to one document, by “destabiliz[ing] the internal situation in the US.”
It’s possible Prigozhin’s associates felt they had an opening to do this because President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory “deepened conflicts in American society,” per one of the documents.
This would be quite the dastardly plan, but it’s important to note two things. First, there is no indication of how seriously the documents — titled “Development Strategy of a Pan-African State on US Territory” — and the plan overall have been received in Russia. It’s possible the set of proposals went absolutely nowhere and were viewed as too extreme (or ridiculous) even for Moscow.
Second, there’s little to no chance the plot would have worked even if the Kremlin had put it into action. Russian trolls could try to stir up anger among African Americans online, but it’s multiple steps too far to believe Moscow would find enough willing recruits for a takeover of America’s Southern states.
What the proposals do suggest, though, is that Russians with ties to President Vladimir Putin are plotting ways to weaken America ahead of the 2020 election. What’s worse, it looks like some of the thinking is much more violent than before.
Russia has set its sights on the 2020 election
It’s unclear if the racial violence plot was meant to disrupt the upcoming presidential election. But it’s possible, as top US officials have repeatedly said there’s a good chance Russia is gearing up to mess with the vote.
In the summer of 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Washington audience that when it came to Russian cyberattacks on future elections, “the warning lights are blinking red,” adding that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.” He noted that other countries, including Iran, North Korea, and China, had planned attacks on the US too.
After the 2018 midterms, Coats and other top US intelligence officials said they’d seen no evidence that those elections had been hacked. But they did confirm that Russia had tried to influence them “by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics,” according to a statement released by the FBI.
The Boston Globe also reported at the time that the federal government had logged more than 160 instances of suspected interference since August 1, and that the number jumped to about 10 instances a day in the few weeks before the midterms.
And earlier this year, Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia and the same other three nations would try to interfere in the next presidential race. “We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” he said. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts.”
Based on the new documents, it seems like trying to foment massive racial violence in America could be viewed as a “new tactic” to be used before November 2020.
“Nothing should shock anymore, but this still does,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician, tweeted on Monday.