The organizers behind an anti-Muslim Texas protest attended by dozens of demonstrators chanting “white power” were revealed to be Russian operatives, CNN reports.
Last May, around 100 demonstrators descended on the Islamic Da’wah Center in Houston where they were met by dozens of counter-protesters.
The “Stop the Islamization of Texas” protest was similar to others in Texas at the time, with demonstrators carrying Confederate flags and White Lives Matter signs, along with AR-15s and other heavy weapons.
But the organizers of the protest never showed up. Last week, CNN revealed that the protest was organized by the “Heart of Texas” Facebook page. Facebook revealed last month that the page was one of many fake accounts operated from Russia. According to CNN, it was one of 470 accounts Facebook turned over to Congress.
The revelation is a display of the insidiousness of Russia’s information warfare campaign. The operatives seized on a local issue that was trending at the time, spread disinformation to encourage Americans already polarized in their views, and organized a protest where participants were encouraged to bring weapons to face down counter-protesters.
“What’s relevant about the Russia thing is it absolutely validates the concern that people have that the Russians were putting out completely fabricated stories,” Faisal Shah, a lawyer for the Islamic Da’Wah Center, told ThinkProgress.
“What’s kind of remarkable is that a Russian agent would be burrowing down that deep in the weeds to find a story that’s that local, and cooking up something, fabricating something, at such a small picture, such a detailed picture,” Shah explained. “It really gives an indication of the extent to which there must be a major Russian apparatus, that they’re willing to put the kind of resources to drill down that deep. So I’m actually kind of fascinated by just the depth of fake news.”
Ultimately though, the source of the disinformation doesn’t change the growing Islamophobia in Texas.
“Off-the-cuff, my reaction is it doesn’t make me feel any better that the group was started in Russia, or in Timbuktu, because at the end of the day the problem is that there’s an element of society, unfortunately, that grabbed onto it,” Shah said.
Ramon Mejia, a member of About Face: Veterans Against the War, was one of the counter-protesters who came out to demonstrate against racism and fascism.
“Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry exist in the U.S.,” Mejia told ThinkProgress. “The fact that someone outside of the country was able to capitalize on it shows what a real issue this is and the real harm present for Muslim communities with or without outside intervention.”
The revelations from Facebook go to the heart of a much larger problem than just Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. The efforts aren’t just created to push one agenda but rather to stir animosity and division. And the efforts are still ongoing.
Russian operatives have seized on the NFL protests that the president won’t stop tweeting about and have taken to using trolls to amplify hashtags like “take a knee” and “boycott the NFL,” according to Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford.
“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,” Lankford told Fox News.