Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) used a video that originated on pro-Kremlin social media networks to attack the U.S. military, but the meme took a winding, weeklong route to the GOP senator's Twitter feed, according to a new analysis.
The video was initially uploaded to TikTok, and featured a Russian recruitment ad relying on ultra-masculine themes to promote its military and a U.S. Army ad focused on a woman corporal's life, which Cruz unfavorably compared, reported Business Insider.
"Holy crap," Cruz wrote in his retweet of the video. "Perhaps a woke, emasculated army is not the best idea…"
Experts who study far-right propaganda watched the meme spread from pro-Russian accounts starting May 13, when it the Russian video was tweeted by Koskovics Zoltán, an analyst at the Center for Fundamental Rights linked to Hungary's right-wing prime minister Victor Orban, and linked to the U.S. video posted by journalist Alan MacLeod, who, although a Kremlin critic, is also a frequent critic of western media's coverage of Russia.
From there, according to Alexander Reid Ross, a fellow at the UK's Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, Zoltán's tweets were cited May 14 by both the Russian far-right outlet Krasnaya Vesnya and the American conservative blog Red State, and Proud Boys co-founder Gavin McInnes discussed them May 15 on his YouTube program.
The videos then spread to discussion on 4chan, and the videos were stitched together and posted May 17 on TikTok, according to Ross.
That content then was shared by a Telegram account that posts "white nationalist and fascist content," and on other far-right forums, and was uploaded to Twitter for the first time on May 18, and that initial post has been retweeted 1,000 times.
A Dutch account that supports the far-right Identitarian movement in Europe and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad retweeted the TikTok video on May 19, and Ross said that post was shared later that day by Texas realtor Pardes Seleh.
Cruz retweeted Seleh the following day.
The senator has delighted in the firestorm over his sharing of the video, and a spokesman defended Cruz for sharing content that originated on the pro-Kremlin far right.
"Sen. Cruz shared a widely-circulated video that shows wokeness is undermining the seriousness and purpose of our military," the spokesman said. "But instead of discussing this very real problem, journalists are dusting off absurd Democrat talking points and claiming the real issue here is racism, Russian propaganda, or both. They're so invested in this liberal narrative they will destroy innocent people's lives to advance it."