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Here’s how Russia is trying to divide the Democratic Party — and what that means for November

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Conservative and Russian media outlets — amplified by sketchy Twitter accounts — are pushing a social media campaign intended to drive Democratic voters away from the party.

A surge of tweets with the hashtag #WalkAway began June 23 after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant the night before, and the campaign took off after Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) called for the public shaming of Trump administration officials, reported the blogger Caroline O. for Medium.

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The remarkable similar tweets claimed to be from former Democrats who got fed up with the “hate” and “intolerance” of “the left,” and piggybacked off the “civility” debate going on at the time on opinion pages and cable news shows.

Brandon Straka officially started the “#WalkAway Campaign” in May to encourage Democrats to abandon their party, but the hashtag got an artificial boost into the public sphere by automated Twitter accounts identified as linked to Russian influence operations.

“Once upon a time, I was a liberal,” says Straka, a nearly broke New York hairstylist, in his first video.

The video was initially promoted by Fox News host Charles Payne, Trump superfan Bill Mitchell, Turning Point USA head Charlie Kirk and conservative activist Candace Owens, who helped introduce Kanye West to right-wing politics.

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Then, after the civility debate kicked off, something weird happened.

The hashtag became one of the most popular topics among suspected Russian bots, which skewed algorithms to push the campaign into suggested search terms on Google products and other social media, and gained popularity among actual Twitter users.

The Russian media outlets Sputnik and RT featured segments and videos on the campaign starting last week, and Straka did an interview with RT this week.

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Straka also appeared Tuesday on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program, and the campaign got coverage on conservative websites such as Breitbart, The Patriot Post, Epoch Times and Legal Insurrection.

Hashtag clouds also revealed #WalkAway was frequently associated with the bizarre #QAnon conspiracy theory to push the narrative that the Democratic Party was “sick” and corrupt.

The campaign targeted racial division and so-called “identity politics,” and Trump himself amplified the movement’s claims that Democrats wanted to abolish ICE and open U.S. borders to criminals.

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The Medium blogger said she’d seen similar overlap between Russian influence campaigns and conservative U.S. media, and she warned that more would be coming as November’s midterm elections approached.

“There is reason to believe that this psychological operation — and to be clear, that’s what this is — represents a trial run for future social media manipulation efforts,” Caroline O. wrote.

She suspects the #WalkAway movement could be intended to map out social networks, test messaging and conduct surveillance to study patterns of behavior.

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“If you want to cause chaos or just generally stir up trouble, figuring out how to provoke other users — and determining which users are most receptive to provocation — would be extremely helpful,” she wrote. “This is a great reason to heed the advice, ‘Don’t engage the trolls.'”


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Trump melts down in cabinet meeting when questioned about ISIS: ‘It was me who captured them’

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President Donald Trump reportedly excoriated members of the media on Monday after he was questioned about his decision to pull troops out of Kurdish areas of Syria.

"Plenty of Turks have been killed because of conflicts on their borders," Trump said, according to a pool report. "ISIS was all over the place... it was me who captured them."

After criticizing President Barack Obama, the president continued.

"I'm the one who did the capturing," Trump insisted. "I'm the one who knows more about it than you people or fake pundits."

NOW: From pool report. POTUS says he captured ISIS and “plenty of Turks” have been killed. ?@realDonaldTrump? pic.twitter.com/AnzDXYlnUt

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Legal scholar exposes the strange ‘missing link’ in Rudy Giuliani’s debunked Ukraine conspiracy theory

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Ryan Goodman, a professor at New York University School of Law, has written a new article with NYU colleague Alex Potcovaru exposing the direct link between President Donald Trump's request to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory pinning the blame on Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Writing at Just Security, Goodman and Potcovaru examine past statements made by Giuliani both on cable news shows and on social media, and have discovered that Giuliani's efforts to get Ukraine to probe the 2016 election are also an effort to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Trump Organization boasts about India towers just days after Eric Trump says family doesn’t do international business

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The Trump Organization undermined Eric Trump's lie about the president's family ending its international business dealings.

President Donald Trump's second son falsely claimed last week to Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he and his siblings "got out of all international business" after their father took office.

"The difference between us and Hunter (Biden) is, when my father became commander in chief of this country, we got out of all international business," Eric Trump said.

However, the Trump Organization run by Eric Trump and his older brother Donald Trump Jr. sent out a tweet Monday morning promoting the Trump Towers in Pune, India.

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