Thirteen Russians were indicted this week as part of the special investigation into Kremlin efforts to sway the last presidential election. The legal details of the FBI’s Russian investigation are fascinating, but consistently bury how these cyber operatives won American hearts and minds.
As most people know, Russian fronts created innumerable fake social media accounts, particularly on Facebook. The content of those accounts, however, is an under reported story. The Russians didn’t set out to create new fissures in American society. They exploited existing divisions — especially those left over from the Civil War. As detailed here, they sought to improve Trump’s chances by targeting mostly purple states. That included discouraging minority voting. They set up sites posing as blacks who claimed the election was a choice between two evils, so why vote? And at the same time they revved whites by playing the Confederate card.
Most of the Russian sites have since been closed, but evidence was captured from successful pro-secession pages in Texas. And this report details bizarre pro-Confederate postings that lingered on Instagram.
Among the memes: Captain Confederate.
All of the South United sites shared pro-secession information and imagery, and linked those to various topics such as opposition to LGBT rights. The goal in all this was to both help Trump and creat hostility and conflict within American society.
The Confederate sites targeted Texas, but also Union states like “South United Pennsylvania.” Although we must tip toe into some conjecture here, it’s pretty darn compelling to follow the implications. By encouraging Confederate thinking among disaffected whites, did the Russians help put a key, blue, Northern state into Donald Trump’s column and tip the election in his favor?
We may never know the precise impact of these Russian provocateurs. But we can see, in their images, they saw Confederate thinking as a key to dividing Americans.