Russia’s Disinformation War on America Takes Racist Aim at Black Lives Matter

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia operated a concerted disinformation effort that targeted African-Americans more than any other demographic group. Its aim was to maximize social and political polarization, thus it pushed both the far right and the far left; one of its key focuses was to stoke racial conflict. 

As a researcher of disinformation, I expected to see the same kind of interference again for 2020. After all, it had ‘worked’ four years ago, and right now, the nationwide protests against racist policing would seem a perfect opportunity to play both sides, to shrink the center ground and maximize division. 

But what we see now is different. Russian state-sponsored media targeting U.S. audiences, particularly RT, have abandoned playing provocateur on both sides. They are running with an unflinchingly racist line, undermining the legitimacy and agency of the Black Lives Matter movement, that echoes right-wing propaganda in Russia itself.

Early signs of this trend emerged when RT amplified a conspiracy theory imagining George Soros behind the riots in Minneapolis. The article was immediately circulated throughout QAnon networks. In subsequent days, RT doubled down on their opposition to Black Lives Matter, with a video piece claiming the protests were backed by familiar bogeyman George Soros. That piece was credited to the right-wing disinformation outfit, Project Veritas, and was even hashtagged #DefundAntifa.

– RT program on ‘paramilitary Antifa’s secret backers’: Tom Steyer and George Soros, with information provided by Project Veritas, a right-wing disinformation outfit

Soros & Steyer exposed as backers of ‘paramilitary’ left-wing group in undercover Project Veritas VIDEO


— RT (@RT_com) June 11, 2020

RT on ‘paramilitary Antifa’s secret backers’: Steyer & Soros. Research by right-wing Project Veritas

The next stage was to grudgingly admit the Floyd murder was wrong, but…"[T]rying to turn this violent ex-con into a Mandela-like martyr does this crusade a great disservice.” 

The headline of the piece (“George Floyd didn’t deserve to die, but it’s WRONG that he’s being hailed as some sort of saint”) tracked precisely the language used by the pro Trump hard right, not least former Turning Point USA communications director Candace Owen who, in an interview with Glenn Beck, declared, "The fact that [Floyd] has been held up as a martyr sickens me." The video was then retweeted by President Donald Trump.

– Glenn Beck

I don't care WHAT George Floyd did. The officer should have never treated him like that and killed him! But we still must ask: Is he a HERO? BLEXIT founder @RealCandaceO gave her thoughts: "The fact that he has been held up as a martyr sickens me."

— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) June 4, 2020

RT’s editorial line quickly doubled down on the contention that the Floyd protests demonstrated the death of liberalism, and the victory of regressive radicals pushing the false idea of "white privilege."