On Friday, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian corporations for conspiring to “defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”
Florida voters were targeted. Donald Trump won Florida by 112,911 votes, 4,617,886 to 4,504,975.
From the indictment: “Starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.”
Some of the boldface names and hashtags might sound familiar.
Defendants and their co-conspirators created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, that addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.
They created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them, including the Twitter account “Tennessee GOP,” which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers. Other fake accounts included Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”
They used used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison.”
To pay for the political advertisements, Defendants and their co-conspirators established various Russian bank accounts and credit cards, often registered in the names of fictitious U.S. personas created and used by the defendants on social media.
Some of the Overt Acts in Florida: All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
On or about July 28, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted a series of tweets through the false U.S. persona account @March_for_Trump stating that “[w]e’re currently planning a series of rallies across the state of Florida” and seeking volunteers to assist.
On or about August 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to send a private message to a real Facebook account, “Florida for Trump,” set up to assist then-candidate Trump in the state of Florida. In the first message, Defendants and their co-conspirators wrote:
- Hi there! I’m a member of Being Patriotic online community. Listen, we’ve got an idea. Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red. If we lose Florida, we lose America. We can’t let it happen, right? What about organizing a YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town? We are currently reaching out to local activists and we’ve got the folks who are okay to be in charge of organizing their events almost everywhere in FL. However, we still need your support. What do you think about that? Are you in?
On or about August 2, 2016, and August 3, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through the use of a stolen identity of a real U.S. person, T.W., sent emails to certain grassroots groups located in Florida that stated in part:
- My name is [T.W.] and I represent a conservative patriot community named as “Being Patriotic.” . . . So we’re gonna organize a flash mob across Florida to support Mr. Trump. We clearly understand that the elections winner will be predestined by purple states. And we must win Florida. . . . We got a lot of volunteers in ~25 locations and it’s just the beginning. We’re currently choosing venues for each location and recruiting more activists. This is why we ask you to spread this info and participate in the flash mob.
On or about August 4, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally. The advertisements reached over 59,000 Facebook users in Florida, and over 8,300 Facebook users responded to the advertisements by clicking on it, which routed users to the ORGANIZATION’s “Being Patriotic” page.
Beginning on or about August 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona @March_for_Trump Twitter account to recruit and later pay a real U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform at a rally in West Palm Beach.
Beginning on or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to recruit a real U.S. person to acquire signs and a costume depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.
On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.
On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.
On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, email@example.com, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:
- Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.
The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”
On or about August 31, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, using a U.S. persona, spoke by telephone with a real U.S. person affiliated with a grassroots group in Florida. That individual requested assistance in organizing a rally in Miami, Florida. On or about September 9, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent the group an interstate wire to pay for materials needed for the Florida rally on or about September 11, 2016.
On or about September 9, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through a false U.S. persona, contacted the real U.S. person who had impersonated Clinton at the West Palm Beach rally. Defendants and their co-conspirators sent that U.S. person money via interstate wire as an inducement to travel from Florida to New York and to dress in costume at another rally they organized.