Russian internet trolls are taking Trump's lead by hijacking #TakeAKnee to stoke tensions in the US
Civil rights icon Colin Kaepernick and President Donald Trump, composite image. Kaepernick photo by Katrina B. Davis / Facebook and screengrab of Donald Trump from "The Apprentice"

A Republican senator told the Homeland Security committee that paid Russian internet trolls are using controversy over NFL player protests to divide Americans.


"They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend, and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America and to make a big issue seem like an even bigger issue," Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Lankford noted Russian paid social media users were using the hashtags #TakeAKnee and #BoycottNFL in their efforts to enflame emotions.

"The goal is heightened tensions," said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and current senior fellow at the Foreign policy Research Institute. "They'll use organic American content to amplify to American audiences."

"They would much rather use organic American content," Watts explained. "It hits the audience better and it's cheaper and more effective."

Watts was a creator of the website Hamilton 68, which tracks 600 Twitter accounts "linked to Russian influence operations."

The website currently shows that #NFL, #takeaknee and #boycottnfl were three of the top ten hashtags used by Russian trolls in the last 48 hours. MAGA, which stands for Donald Trump's Make America Great Again slogan, was the top hashtag during the timeframe.

Watts explained President Donald Trump is easy to exploit with "active measures" campaigns designed to destabilize democracies from the inside.

"The Russians can just sit back and say: 'Amplify on both sides. Make people angry.' And it works, man, God, it works," Watts said.