Over the past few days, we’ve learned more about the ways that Russian intelligence operatives have tried to exploit divisions within the United States by latching on to genuine activist movements and co-opting them to help their own agenda.
Now Micah White, one of the activists who co-founded the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, has written in the Guardian about his own experience with Russian intelligence operations trying to use his desire for social and economic change for their own ends.
Specifically, White reveals that he was contacted in 2016 by a man who identified himself as an activist from Black Matters, which White later learned was a Russian disinformation operation intended to co-opt the anti-police brutality movement sparked by Black Lives Matter.
White agreed to conduct an interview with the man — and he quickly grew uncomfortable as he realized something was amiss.
“The interview with Yan Big was immediately uncomfortable,” White writes. “The phone quality was terrible: it sounded like he was calling internationally or through a distant internet connection. He had a strange accent and an unusual way of phrasing questions… I rationalized that he must be an African immigrant living in America and that was why he was interested in protesting against racism and police brutality. His attempts at flattery set off more alarm bells.”
When White later learned that the man was part of a Russian intelligence operation, the strange encounter suddenly made more sense. Since then, he’s done a great deal of reflection on the way that Russia and other governments are using domestic activists to serve their own agenda, and has come away with a chilling conclusion.
“What is qualitatively different about the situation today, and reason for genuine concern among activists, is that Russia now seems less interested in supporting authentic movements and more concerned with outright control,” he writes. “From co-opting Occupy to cloning Black Lives Matter, the next step will be the creation of new, previously unheard of, contagious social protests in America that are conceived, designed, launched and remotely controlled entirely by foreign governments.”
What makes this truly frightening, he explains, is that this kind of foreign interference will be used by the United States government to delegitimatize real protests — and give them an excuse to ignore the concerns that they raise.